Be Prepared for the Elements During Winter Riding

The right gear can make or break your winter rides.

This winter, I hope you embark upon your off-season with excitement. If, on the other hand, the cold has you a bit worried, fear not. Let's talk about some Euro tricks to keep you warm once winter settles in.

Base Layers

A house without a foundation is called a trailer--and no one wants to live in a trailer. You're right, that sounds snotty. What I mean to say is that you may dress in the fanciest duds around, but if your base layer is a low-performance fabric, you'll be hating life before you know it.

Any sporting endeavor starts with the right base layer. You've heard about synthetic wonder fabrics (Patagonia's Capilene, Pearl Izumi's UltraSensor, Hind's DryLete) and they all work. DeFeet also makes a great cycling base layer, but any quality polypro-style fabric should perform well.

More: Why I Bike in Cold Weather and How You Can Too

The Euros still go for the tried-and-true mainstay: wool. Wool absorbs moisture more aggressively than a synthetic and insulates even when wet. But wool's shortcoming is that it will absorb almost its weight in water. As with all base layer fabrics, your next layer up should absorb whatever moisture your base layer wicks off the skin.

Finding a good wool base layer can be tricky stateside, as synthetics rule the market. One company of note, though, is Vermont-based Ibex, which is expanding its line of wool-based cycling duds.

Wool socks are a wise investment, too. SmartWool and other sock companies make wool models that are thin enough for cycling shoes.

More: 4 Winter Weather Riding Tips

Feet and Hands

Shoe covers can be indispensable. They come in all sizes and materials. Mountain bikers are less apt to wear these, but if you purchase a slightly larger size than fits your road shoes, you'll enjoy the extra warmth. I wore a pair of Northwave thin neoprene ones over my Carnac mountain shoes all last winter.

Neoprene--the material from which wetsuits are made--is great shoe-cover material. It's windproof and fairly water-resistant. Companies like Northwave, Pearl Izumi, Assos and Hind all make several models. Heavier neoprene obviously gives you more warmth and water resistance. The drawback is bulkiness and the tendency of really heavy models to rub on the inside of a crankarm.

You might also choose a lower-cut model, which ends at the ankle, or one offering more protection up the leg. Pearl's Typhoon bootie was once the heaviest one out there, with rubber-reinforced toes and coverage up the ankle, but remember, it will be overkill in summer. Look at a lighter model if you plan to use it year-round.

More: Winter Bikes: Building the Perfect Beast

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