Lycra in Winter

Riding between fields of snow can be magical if you dress right, but some of you might wondering how anyone can handle a ride at 25F. To help out, I offer my year-round guide for the lycra-perplexed. We go by temperature zone, and it’s all about layers. Layers and layers of layers.

Your zones may vary. Call me a wuss, but I’ve listed the temperatures that I use to determine my clothing choices. If you’re a heat engine you might want to recalibrate, but there has to be some point at which you really will need a good winter jacket, gloves, and bootees. I’ll adjust my zones 5 degrees cooler if it’s sunny. If it’s rainy, all bets are off. The coldest I think I have ever been on a bicycle was going down a French mountain pass at 40F in the rain.

Zone 1, 80+, one layer is all you need, and some places not even that. Just don’t get arrested.

Zone 2, 65F-79F, 2 layers up top: A light wicking layer under your jersey is a nice thing to wear. By the way, Miguel Indurain always wore tights when training in this zone and below. Wimp.

Zone 3, 50F-64F, 3 layers up top: An undershirt, a wind vest over your jersey, arm warmers (or a long sleeved jersey) and knee warmers.

Zone 4, 35F-49F, 4 layers. Up top, an undershirt, perhaps long-sleeved, two jerseys, one of them long sleeved, a light jacket or arm warmers and a windproof vest, perhaps even a full jacket if it’s going to stay below 40 for the whole ride. Shorts with full leg warmers on the legs, and thin shoe covers to keep the cold out. Full finger gloves (or thin wool gloves under regular cycling gloves gives a bit more flexibility). On my head, a lycra skull cap to keep ears warm.

Zone 5, 20F-34F, 5 layers top and toes. For me, feet are going to be the limiting factor when it gets below freezing. I wear wool socks, sometimes with regular socks underneath, and either neoprene booties, or a lycra shoe cover under a windproof fleeced bootie. Legs are protected by shorts and full tights — if it’s going to stay in the lower half of the range, then knee warmers under the tights are nice too. Up top, similar to zone 5 except a good winter jacket is a must — the team winter jackets are excellent. On the hands, ski gloves, or liner gloves under full finger cycling gloves. Under the helmet, a full lycra hood helps stop your jaw freezing so you can keep talking about how tough you and your buddies are, and how clever you are not to live in Minnesota! And you may want to follow Saccone’s rule: keep your ride under one mile per degree.

Zone 6, below 20F: 6 layers of clothing required. Find a friend in Minnesota for proper advice!