10 ways to stay warm on colder rides

© Alexander Böhle

The temperature is dropping but you can keep warm on your bike with these simple body-heating techniques.

1. Change your routes over autumn and winter

On cooler days consider adjusting your routes for a warmer and more enjoyable ride. Avoid exposed terrain or high peaks and stick to roads which are warmed by sunlight but sheltered from cool winds by hedges or trees. In general, the lower the altitude, the warmer you will be, but be wary of sun-starved valleys.  

It can also be beneficial to repeat a series of shorter loops on autumn or winter rides, so you always have an exit plan. “The weather can be quite unpredictable at this time of year, especially if it’s windy,” warns Hayley Simmonds, a professional cyclist and the 2018 Commonwealth Games time trial bronze medallist.

“So consider a series of shorter loops that stay closer to home, rather than one large circuit where you could end up hours from home when the weather turns. Avoid long descents too, as these are areas where you’re more likely to get chilly.”

2. Warm up before you leave the house

Start warming up before you leave the house with a short spin on the turbo trainer or some simple bodyweight exercises like lunges and squats. If you are trying to warm up in the first few kilometres of your ride, it’s too late. Warming up at home will crank up your body temperature and wake up your muscles before you even swing your leg over the bike.

3. Use your head

When it comes to kit choices, start by focusing on how to keep your head warm. “We all know that a lot of heat is lost through our heads, and a lightweight skull cap can provide extra warmth and protection against any cold winds blowing into helmet vents,” explains Simmonds.

© Alexander Böhle

In cold conditions, wearing a buff over your mouth can also protect your lungs from the cold and dry air so you avoid respiratory problems over winter.

4. Choose the right autumn gloves

Your hands are at the periphery of your circulatory system, which is why they are often the first body parts to get cold when your core temperature dips. You therefore need to select the right gloves for autumn.

“In autumn it can be difficult to decide what to do, as full winter gloves can feel bulky and make changing gears difficult, but short mitts or no mitts can result in cold hands,” says Simmonds. “Spring gloves – thin full-fingered gloves – are perfect for this time of year, but glove liners, which are designed primarily to provide an extra layer of warmth beneath your main gloves in the winter, are another good option.”

5. Keep your feet dry

The other peripheral body parts that will quickly get cold are your feet. “There’s nothing worse in the autumn or winter than wet and cold feet,” says Simmonds. “Even if it isn’t actually raining, damp roads can cause spray and result in your feet getting wet. Thin waterproof overshoes are a great choice and can also be combined with toe covers for when it isn’t quite cold enough to pull out the full neoprene winter overshoes.”

6. Stay well fuelled

One of the surprising causes of body chills on cold rides is poor fuelling. “If you haven’t eaten enough then you’re much more likely to feel the cold towards the end of a session,” warns Simmonds. “Make sure you have adequate nutrition with you for the length and intensity of the ride you are planning.”

Think of eating food as throwing fuel on your fire. But be intelligent about when it is best to take on snacks. Riders will be familiar with the post-snack chills, when blood gets diverted to your stomach to digest your food and you begin to feel cold.

So eat smaller snacks at strategic moments, like in sheltered areas or when you know you have a climb coming up that will soon get you feeling toasty.

7. Carry a hot drink

On colder days many pro riders are encouraged to carry an insulated flask full of warm lemon juice or sweet tea. It entices them to drink more fluids on a cold day, but it also helps to elevate their body temperature during their ride.

Riders can also stop off for a coffee mid-ride, but be careful when you get back on the back as your muscles will have cooled down, so you will need to gently warm them up again. A quick swig from an insulated bottle is a more efficient way to warm up your body without stopping mid-ride.

Remember to prepare your drink warm but not piping hot – those insulated bottles are surprisingly effective and you don’t want to be riding along with a scalded tongue.

8. Pack a gilet

Sweat is your invisible enemy on cooler days. “If you have intervals to do and you sweat a lot during those efforts, you might start to feel cold afterwards,” warns Simmonds. That is because the sweat will evaporate on your skin, leaving you feeling chilly.

“Carrying a gilet, rain cape or another light layer in your back pocket will give you the option of putting on an extra layer for the recovery periods after your intervals, or for the ride home when your kit may be damp,” suggests Simmonds.

© Alexander Böhle

“Gilets also come in useful at this time of year to protect you from the wind. Often the temperature isn’t that low but it can feel much colder if it’s windy.”

9. Vent your chills

Be wary of dressing in too many layers. If you start to overheat, you will sweat even more, which will only make you feel colder. It is best to wear a jacket with vents, which are typically placed near the armpit, to ensure you stay warm and dry without accumulating damp patches that will cool you down. Your kit should be warm but also breathable.

10. Crank up the effort

When you feel your body getting cold, it is natural to want to slow down, but it is actually much smarter to do the opposite. Increasing your effort to a middle-intensity – fast enough to stay warm but not fast enough to overheat – will crank up your core temperature, helping to keep you warm for the rest of your ride – and ensure you get home faster.