In this special edition of Winterized, our cold-weather riding guide, we hear from Kona Adventure team rider Spencer Paxson. Spencer grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has been dealing with cold wet winters his entire life, so he’s got some creative ideas on how to make your winter rides a little more tolerable.
During the winter I am riding a wide range of bikes, either MTB trail, cyclocross, or a road bike for winter training. Setup is a little different for each, so here are some of my go-to’s:
In general, layering is key. I live in a place that is really wet but doesn’t get super cold (by midwest or Alaskan standards, anyway). I find that for anything where you actually get your body temperature up, as long as it is above 35deg F, a combination wind resistance and fleecy/wool insulation is best. I rarely ride in waterproof anything since I just get wet from the inside with condensation. My most heavily used winter riding items are: wool arm warmers (I can pull down on hot climbs and pull up for cold descents), wool socks, wool base layer, windproof lightweight vest, fleeced nylon long-sleeve jersey, trousers for MTB or fleeced nylon leggings w/ windproof front for road, and neoprene booties for road.
It’s not snow… but it’s wet and cold, so that counts for something.
Keeping Feet Dry and Hands Warm:
On the mountain bike, I’m a huge fan of riding in trousers, especially on the dank, cold days. They’re not waterproof, but they are windproof, at least on the front, with good ventilation. Pants need thick enough fabric that they hold a tiny pocket of air against your legs. They keep puddle splash off of my shins and keep more stuff out of my shoes. Plus, they look way better than tights and make a lot more sense than shorts in the winter. I also ride with an extra set of regular weight gloves in a Zip Loc bag, and use trail shoes with a thick flap over the laces, like the Shimano ME7. I hate riding with thick gloves on the MTB, so I keep a few extra dry pairs around and just plan to get warm on climbs and not linger too long at the top.
For cyclocross I just deal with being cold. It’s cyclocross! Usually no gloves and definitely no shoe covers. It’s race pace, so warmth usually isn’t an issue. I warm up in similar stuff to what I wear on the road.
On the road bike wind resistance is way more important here since speeds are so high, so wind chill is a HUGE factor, even on mild/warmer days. For cold/wet conditions, I wear neoprene booties and gloves, with good wind-proof coverage on my arms and legs to keep circulation working…otherwise the warmest gloves or shoes do nothing. My faves are thick Overshoes by Endura, and “Glacier Gloves” if it’s wet, or thick wool gloves if it’s cold and dry. A little neck buff is also good – keeping the back of your neck warm makes your whole body feel warm.
Best Tires to run:
MTB: Very personal preference, but if you live in a wet, soft ground, rooty place like I do, I’m a big fan of a tire that has aggressive, wide-spaced knobs, but can also run well at low pressure for deformation and traction over roots. This season I’ve been a fan of the WTB Vigilante 2.3, soft compound in front, hard compound in back. Depending on what I’m riding, I run anywhere from 14-18psi front, and 15-19psi rear. For reference, I weigh around 155-160 kitted up with a ~30lb bike.
Cyclocross: Very conditions dependent, but I’ve been doing well with the WTB Cross Boss 35c at around 24-25psi front and rear. For less sloppy days, I’m a fan of the WTB Riddler 37c – fast rolling center for road transfers (training) with aggressive side knobs that hook up on turns.
Road: Something thick and very puncture resistant, because the worst is changing a flat on the side of the road with cold hands. I run the WTB Horizon or WTB Nano 40c so that I have options to go off-road or deal with winter crap on the shoulder of the road.
Best Winter Snacks:
Hmmm…well, CLIF product is my go-to, especially the chocolate-peanut-butter bars, but to keep it toasty and pleasant I’m also a fan of:
Costco muffins…the poppyseed or maple nut
Sin Dawgs by Dave’s Killer Bread
For really big, gnarly rides in the cold, I’m a huge fan of the Mountain House freeze-dried backcountry food. bring a camp stove and enjoy an almost real food meal.
A little flask of rye whiskey for the summit
A thermos of hot tea or coffee with something in it to warm the fat furnace, like butter or coconut oil
Random tip – Ride with a 3-pocked “XC nerd” jersey so you can put your phone in one of the pockets and use your body heat to keep the batter from dying prematurely in the cold.