Living in the Midwest, a region that undeniably has 4 very distinct seasons, one is presented with the full spectrum of riding conditions. In the past year I’ve worn ice socks down the back of my jersey for training in July and snowplowed down untouched roads in remote areas in January. Being able to ride, and ride safely in any type of weather condition that Mother Nature can throw at you requires one thing: preparation. When I say preparation, I mean preparation on every possible level. Today I want to look at what you can do to ensure safety and enjoyment on all of your fall and winter rides during the cyclocross season.
The first thing you’ve got to do is do a little bit of research as to what exactly you’re getting yourself into. By that I mean pull up your preferred weather outlet on your phone or computer, or even cue up the local news if you’re into that sort of thing. Regardless, you’ve got to know what you’ll be up against so you can plan your next steps accordingly. For our ride today, let’s just say that we’ve got a “Midwest Special”, 39 degrees and raining. In my opinion, this is just about as bad as it gets. I HATE being wet.
When riding in the cold and rain you’ve got to think about your extremities. My two favorite strategies for keeping my feet and hands comfortable are both cheap and easy. I don’t own any high-dollar waterproof booties or shoecovers, but I sure do have a few pair of DeFEET oversocks and some plastic grocery bags. Quite simply jam your foot into the bottom of that grocery bag, tear a hole in the bottom so your cleat can get into your pedal, then cover the whole mess with your shoecover or oversocks. Now you’ve got yourself some very capable and very cheap waterproof booties! As for your hands, I would recommend a similar strategy involving thin plastic or rubber-like gloves. What you’re looking for is something that you can keep the water out of you regular gloves. You have a few options here, depending on how particular you are with your hands and gloves situation. I like to put one pair rubber gloves on first, then a pair of thin wool gloves, and then on top of it all, another pair of the thin rubber gloves. Your hands might get a little prune-like from the lack of breathability in this set up, but it should provide maximum comfort and sustained feeling in your fingers, while your competition is sitting on the couch. Oh, and to top it all off, makes sure to throw on some sort of waterproof rain cape and a cycling cap and your riding attire should be spot on.
Now that your body is ready to go, you’ve got to get your bike up to the task as well. The first item, an absolute must for your bicycle, is a set of fenders. I rode for a long time without fenders on my bike, and I had no clue what I was missing. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for riding in adverse conditions. I use a set of SKS Raceblade fenders that can be easily mounted and removed in the span of 2 minutes. When you’re riding in the freezing rain, you don’t realize how much of the discomfort comes from having your feet and backside constantly soaked with water coming off of your tires. A good set of fenders are worth their weight in gold! The final adjustment I make to my bike for riding in foul weather is lowering the tire pressure. When it’s cold and rainy and the roads are covered with leaves and other debris from the trees, you need all of the grip you can get, and grip comes from tire contact. I like to run my 25c training tires around 75-80 psi during the winter because it offers a much smoother ride and also gives a nice solid contact area between the tire and the road. The next time that you go out, experiment with lower tire pressure and I bet you’ll find your steed becomes more sure-footed as you get down under that 100 psi mark.
The final aspect of safe and enjoyable late season riding comes from how you ride your bike. When you’re riding in adverse conditions, you’re bike and tires aren’t exactly performing up to their summer standard. And by this I mean, your bike doesn’t stop as quickly, and you’ve got less traction at your disposal. With these factors you need to be alert and thinking, as well as looking, down the road so that you can anticipate any situations that may be coming your way. You’ve got to be processing information about leaves on the road, a corner with painted lines in the middle of a steep descent, really surveying the situation with a critical eye and riding conservatively through those obstacles.
Like I said, it’s all about being prepared. If you’re dressed for success, your bike is doing its part, and you’re mentally prepared for the obstacles that you might encounter, you’ll be having more than your share of fun and safe rides even when the sun isn’t shining.