How To Ride In The (Really) Cold


You don’t have to let the single-digit cold stop you from exploring the trails. With the right clothing, you can get out even when most folks are ensconced on the couch.

We’ve talked about how to dress for the cold before, and with the right gear, riding in temperatures in the 20s and 30s can be really quite comfortably if you learn how to layer correctly. A little practice, a little informed guess-and-check on what to wear, and you can make some pretty chilly days really rather pleasant.

However, with the weather and temperatures that have just dropped on Traverse City, we have to take these tips a little further. When it's this cold, the consequences for getting your gear wrong a little higher. When temperatures hit the single digits, even before wind chill, it does take more work to make sure you’re safe. We’ve picked out a few small things to add to your winter wardrobe that are partly for comfort and partly for safety.

Pack Some Heat. First, temperatures this low require hand warmers and foot warmers. Chemical packets in your gloves and on top of your toes in your boots can make a huge difference, especially to make sure you don’t get that deep, bone-chilling drop in temperature the first thirty to forty minutes of your ride. Pop these in before you step out the door to let them start working and start warming your gear; we usually try to start them ten minutes before we start riding. Of course, it’s also a really good idea to bring more for later in the ride, too!

Cover Your Skin. We can’t stress enough how quickly skin can succumb to frostbite, and how any exposed skin can fall victim. In single-digit temperatures, you can start to get frostbite in as little as twenty minutes! Use neck gaiters, hats, goggles, sunglasses, even tape to cover your face, neck, and ears. And don’t forget, even as you warm up from riding, your skin can still get nipped; make an effort to check your skin regularly on a long ride to make sure it isn’t turning white or ashy.

Bring Back Up. It’s one thing to dress for riding, but if you should suffer a flat tire or mechanical, how long with you stay warm if you’re forced to stop? Pack a shell, another pair of thick gloves, a hat, and even a space blanket if you’re going for a big ride in the cold. Especially if you plan on riding solo, bringing everything you need to make a repair and keep moving is crucial, as well as bringing a way to keep your hand warm while you make those quick fixes, too.

Bring A Buddy. When it’s really cold, don’t go it alone if you can help. Two minds are better than one, and you’ll be safer if you have a helping hand if something should happen deep in the wild. Always inform someone of your ride plans and give them an idea of when you’ll be back. If you have a live tracker through your GPS or phone, keep it turned out to let folks know you’re out there and moving!

Know your abilities, your limits, and what your gear is capable of handling. Don’t put yourself or others in a dangerous position, but if you are prepared and confident, it’s a pretty special opportunity to enjoy the beauty of winter in all its glory by bike!