Tips & Recipes

How to dress for winter riding

Magdeleine Vallieres gives advice on how to stay warm when the temperatures plummet

December 29, 2022

Oh, the weather outside is frightful — so let’s ride!

You may think that winter riding is not for the fainthearted but according to Magdeleine Vallieres, it’s simply a matter of learning how to layer. Once you’ve mastered that skill, you’re likely to have trails and gravel roads to yourself as you pass snow-covered trees. A winter wonderland awaits. We asked our Quebecois rider to share her advice on how to prepare for riding in sub-freezing temperatures (and how to even enjoy it!).

What temperatures do you encounter in Sherbrooke, Quebec?

At the moment, it isn’t so bad. I think about -5°C (23°F) was the coldest day which is ok. The worst I’ve ridden in is -30°C (-22°F). When it gets colder than that, I usually ride the trainer.

Do you ride on the road in the winter?

It depends on the conditions. A snowstorm can be ok for riding but be careful that it doesn’t get dangerous. You have to watch out for cars. Usually I’ll do a gravel loop but obviously it’s just snow and not really gravel. It’s around 80 kilometers that I usually do which is around 4 or 5 hours. I go on the fat bike and do a loop. Normally I ride alone. Sometimes I go with my dad but if he does one ride, then he’s cracked for a week or two so I ride alone most of the time. People find me a bit crazy so I head out alone most of the time. Since I got my fat bike, I’ve pretty much always ridden outside in the winter. It’s a good idea to ride a loop that you can cut if it gets too cold. You just need to be prepared.

What do you wear to keep warm without overheating?

I always have shoe covers, warm socks, and shoes of course. I’m always trying to figure out new ways to get my bum warmer because it gets really cold but if you put an ass saver, it helps. I have long tights from Rapha. Sometimes I put leg warmers under my tights because when it’s -10, -20, -30°C (14, -4, -22°F) you need something extra. The leg warmers under the tights are just to have a double layer. The tights are already pretty warm and pretty thick but my knees get cold pretty easily so they hug the knees. I love how the tights have the clip in the back so you don’t have to take off all the layers when you need to pee. You can just unclip. It’s the best.

What about a base layer?

A really warm base layer is important. I really love Rapha’s base layer with the turtle neck because then you can put your ponytail in it. It’s really awesome. It keeps you warm. You’re trying not to sweat because then it will freeze but it keeps your temperature and it’s super warm. Even if it’s 0°C (32°F), I could wear that and just a small jacket and I’m fine. I’ve found that having a base layer is the key to riding in the winter. Then I put on the winter jersey and the GoreTex insulated jacket. On top of that, I have a buff and a hat and then glasses. You can’t see any skin.

Do your extremities get cold?

The feet and the fingers are key for me. Once you start with good gloves and you get a little bit warm, you’re ok. The feet, sometimes you have to get off the bike and run a little bit to get warm. You can swing your hands and arms to get the blood moving. I have good gloves because it helps to have the biggest gloves possible.

What happens if the weather changes while you’re out riding?

Be prepared. Always have an extra layer you can add. A base layer is the most important. Usually I’ll bring an extra rain jacket in my pocket. I’ve had it happen once where I flatted four times and I didn’t have any more tubes and I didn’t have any more layers. It wasn’t so cold, maybe 3°C (37°F) and raining, but I was all wet so it wasn't great. I was stuck there for about an hour until someone could come pick me up. It was not nice so now I always bring spare layers.

What about hydrating?

Water freezes. You can keep a bidon in your back pocket and it stays drinkable. Make sure you don’t get dehydrated. Before, I've been five minutes into my ride and I couldn't drink because the bottle had frozen, so now I keep it in my back pocket so my body can warm it up a little.

Any other tips?

I always look at the weather and then decide how many layers to wear. The goal is to not get wet. Once I’m dressed, I check the weather again. Now I have really quality clothes, I’m really well equipped so I feel like I can pretty much ride in anything.

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