How To Survive Winter On A Bike
Mr Andy Hampsten at the Giro d’Italia, June 1988. Photograph by Mr Cor Vos
The 1988 edition of the Giro d’Italia is famous for probably the last thing you’d expect from a bicycle race that takes place between late May and mid-June in Italy: snow. And lots of it.
On the morning of 5 June 1988, riders woke in the start village of Chiesa in Valmalenco to bitterly cold conditions and heavy rain, only to learn that more than 1m of snow had been dumped over the Gavia Pass and its 2,621m summit, which formed part of that day’s route. The roads were cleared for the cyclists and the 120km stage went ahead, but it carried on snowing.
Conditions at the top of the Gavia Pass were said to be so bad that one competitor had to be carried on his bike to a shelter to thaw out, his hands frozen to his handlebars. Two-time winner Mr Giuseppe Saronni ducked out of the race into a spectator’s home and emerged with a cockle-warming glass of grappa.
Hailing from Colorado and used to Midwestern winters, Mr Andrew Hampsten’s 7-Eleven team raided local ski shops for leftover gear. Kitted out with a neck gaiter and a woolly hat, handed to him from the team car, Mr Hampsten attacked the base of the mountain and pelted up in the lead. He was chased down and eventually passed by Dutchman Mr Erik Breukink 7km from the finish line, but came second in the stage and went on to become the first American to win the race.
“Cyclists now appreciate weather conditions by asking themselves the question, ‘It’s cold out, but is it Hampsten cold?’” say the Velominati, the self-proclaimed authority on cycling etiquette. “If the answer is no, then… get your ass out training.” All of which should put your commute this winter into perspective.
If you ride a bike to work, or anywhere else, the old mantra about bad weather and unsuitable clothing takes on new meaning, especially as the nights draw in and the temperature drops. “Bad weather is subjective,” says Mr Rémi Clermont, co-founder and creative director of French cycling brand Café du Cycliste. “I make sure that I have a few riding friends who are braver than I am. Our marketing manager is Irish. He is a good option when motivation is needed on a bad day.”
Pas Normal Studios is another brand that, due to its location (it’s based in Denmark), knows a thing or two about bad weather. “Cycling has always been a year-round activity for us,” says the label’s Mr Brandon Van Haeren. “The winter season offers something completely unique that cannot be matched during the summer. It is honest and has this austere simplicity, which strengthens our mental fortitude against challenging conditions.”
Which is one way of saying now is a good time to get out your bike and set a few new personal records on Strava. All you need is the right kit.
The base layer
“The primary concern for riding through the winter is the ability to remain comfortable by maintaining a warm base,” says Mr Van Haeren. “How we build up our kits for a ride is largely dependent on the type of riding we will be doing, but we have found that a fleece bib and a heavy long-sleeved base layer consistently provide a strong foundation for any type of winter riding. From there you can build up the rest of your kit with long tights or different types of jerseys or jackets depending on the conditions you can expect to face for the day.”
For the short, cold days of winter, a long-sleeved jersey is a must. Café du Cycliste’s Clemence jersey features distinctive knitted panels that add warmth, regulate body temperature and add a wee touch of Caledonian charm. Reflective details make you more visible in dark and foggy conditions. “I can’t say I like the rain, but I’ve built a familiarity with very wet conditions,” says Mr Clermont. “The wind is my big weakness. I simply hate it.” Cut through the worst of it with a shell gilet.
Café du Cycliste’s Alphonsine jacket is made from a polar fleece merino fabric, which traps air close to the body to keep it warm. It’s designed with mountain climbs in mind, so should make your commute a breeze. And coming soon to MR PORTER, Pas Normal Studios’ Shield jacket features a Schoeller c_change membrane to regulate your body temperature in cold conditions. “The tightly knitted fabric, in addition to the taped seams, makes this piece completely wind and waterproof,” says Mr Van Haeren. For now, the brand’s Stow Away cycling jacket is one to sling on to beat the rain.
It’s important to keep your extremities warm. “The head is where I feel the cold,” says Mr Clermont. “Without a winter cycling hat, I feel naked, regardless of how many layers I am wearing.” Hands and feet are often the first parts of the body to get cold. “How much you enjoy your winter ride will be determined by how efficiently you can keep your extremities warm,” says Mr Van Haeren. “Fingers, toes and ears are always the first things to get cold. I would not leave the house for a winter ride without gloves, a neck tube and headband.”
The winter chill can wreak havoc on your skin. “My knuckles are usually the first thing to start cracking,” says Mr Van Haeren. “I typically have a bottle of hand cream close by at the office. By the new year, I am also usually well equipped with an arsenal of lip balms.” And don’t forget your aching muscles. “My little grooming secret is an artisan muscle balm that I buy from a producer in the Roya Valley,” says Mr Clemont. “She makes it with local plants. This ‘earth balm’ on my legs and a good cup of tea are perfect post winter ride.”