Tips & Recipes

Alex's Ultimate Guide to Winter Rides

The mountain man shares his best tips

January 10, 2021

Alex Howes is a mountain man through and through. If you’ve been tracking him on social media these days, you’d notice the Colorado resident and US National Road Race champion simply thrives in the winter time.

So long as the wind is calm and the sun is out — he’ll endure temperatures as cold as negative five degrees Fahrenheit. “On the flip side, with a bit of wind and some rain, 33 degrees Fahrenheit is just horrible,” said Howes.

So there’s no one more equipped to share their wisdom and guidance on how to best prepare for a nice day out in the coming months. Howes walks you through everything you should pack, wear, and put in your thermos (add some tea and honey to your grocery list) to ensure your next ride out is a good one.

Is there a temperature that’s too low and you won’t go out in?
It really depends on what bike I’m going to be riding and what the overall weather picture looks like. In general, if it gets below -20°F I’ll opt for something other than the road bike and I’ll avoid the higher intensity zones. When it’s really cold, high intensity can be hard on the lungs and getting sweaty when the mercury drops is a sure fire way to freeze your butt off.

What’s the coldest you’ve ever been in a bike race/ride and how did you push yourself through it?
2012 Volta Catalunya was probably the coldest I’ve ever been. We raced through slush for hours. I gave away most of my best clothing to our leaders to try and keep them warm and was racing in almost nothing. After I thawed out, my whole body was horribly inflamed and swollen for days. A close second was up near my house here. A blizzard blew in and a section of road that usually takes 30-40 minutes took me over two and a half hours (pedaling time) to cover. It was easily fifty plus mph winds and full white out conditions. I had to walk most of the time because the head wind was so bad. At one point, I couldn’t hold onto the bars because my hands were so frozen so I dug a pit in the snow behind a big boulder and tried to build a fire but my hands were too cold to light a match. So I cried for a while… and got back to marching. It was pretty dire but I still think I was colder in Catalunya.

What do you typically wear on a cold weather ride?
Layers, layers, layers! For general riding, I start with a long sleeve wool undershirt and bib tights. Add to that a thermal long sleeve jersey, an insulated vest, hat and gloves and a windbreaker jacket and most of the bases are covered. Shoe covers also help a ton but for proper winter riding, insulated winter riding shoes make all the difference.

Having a bar or frame bag to stash layers in has been a real lifesaver. Anytime I ride over 7000ft in the winter (which is almost every day) I always pack an insulated puffy jacket, an insulated pair of gloves that will fit over a smaller pair of fleece gloves and a pair of wind stopping nordic pants. If a storm blows in or I need to stop to make a repair, I can throw these on over the top of my usual riding gear and stay nice and warm.

Do you prefer the heat or colder weather?
I honestly prefer the cold over the heat. When it’s hot, relief can be hard to find. When it’s cold I can always add another layer or just put the hammer down.

Do you enjoy riding in snow at all?
Yes! With the right equipment snow offers a fun challenge. There’s nothing better than riding a frozen trail alone in the backcountry with nothing but the moose and the mountains for company.

How have the weather conditions been in Colorado this winter?
We have had a few cold weeks and some rowdy winds, but overall it would seem climate change has made life in the Rockies a bit more hospitable.

Any last tips on how to best prepare/endure a cold weather ride?

1. Lights! The days are short and visibility isn’t always great. Invest in a good set of lights (Garmin has a great selection here). Be sure that tail light is on when riding into the sun. Dirty windshields heading into the sun can reduce visibility close to zero. Be extra careful and make sure you’re seen.

2. Fenders! Wet butt is a cold butt. Wet feet are cold feet.

3. When it’s really cold, an over the bar cover makes a huge difference. Poggies on the MTB or Bar Mitts on the road bike are a huge game changer.

4. Keep eating and drinking! When your body runs out of energy it becomes a real challenge to stay warm. Eating can be difficult when wearing multiple layers and thick gloves. Set an eating schedule and stick to it. It’s easy to forget to drink when it’s chilly out but your body still needs fluids. I’ll admit I often fall behind here and when I do my post ride productivity and recovery really suffer. A thermos with warm honey tea is my go to on the coldest days. Little life hack, flipping your bottles upside down (make sure they’re tightly closed!) will keep the drinking nozzles free from ice significantly longer.

5. Stay on top of your electronics. Lights, Garmins, phones and electronic shifting all need to be charged more often in the cold. No one wants to be stuck in one gear with a dead phone and no lights.

Thanks for these tips Howesy. Need a little more motivation to get out there this winter? Here’s one final thought to get you on the trails. “Even on the worst days when everyone else is inside and you have the world to yourself? That’s something truly special,” said Howes.

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