So… it’s winter in Melbourne.
It’s cold in the mornings, the days are short, and there is the ever increasing presence of the rain. If you’re lucky, you can be both cold and wet! A potentially disappointing combination for maintaining typical levels of riding satisfaction. BUT we all own jackets, gloves, vests, and shoe covers; so why not get amongst it and use them?
As an avid commuter during the week (30 years old and I don’t yet own a car…), I have found myself having to ride in some abysmal conditions to get to and from work over the years. Unlike a weekend loop or a bunch ride with your mates, a commute to your place of employment has to go ahead rain, hail or shine – gotta earn the money to pay for the sweet bike stuff somehow!
Faced with this, I have become firm believer in the phrase “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing”. People say it’s rubbish, but when you break it down, what is it that makes it bad weather? Is it the cold? Is it the wind? Is it the rain? Or is it the horrendous combination of all three together?
Sure, I’m not saying it is easy to convince yourself to step out of your nice warm house and throw a leg over your bike in the single digit or monsoonal mornings. However, armed with the right mental approach, and clothing, your first tentative steps out in to the weather may not be quite as hard to take as you think.
It’s all about your clothing, and I have a few “go to” items for the cold days.
Merino Undershirt – figure hugging, wicking, and resistant to becoming too smelly. These are a go to item for nearly every ride from April to September. I currently have three, however have plans for expansion on this – you can never have too much kit!
Merino Gloves – not the warmest option, but they allow some breathing to occur and stop my hands sweating up. I run these when the thermometer reads anything below 10 degrees, and they perform well in the rain.
Buff – brilliant for keeping your neck warm, and stopping cold air going down your front and chilling your core. Can be pulled up over face in the event of ‘nek level’ cold weather. Brilliant for descending in the cold. And last but not least you get to channel your inner Michael Matthews while wearing one. The guys at MAAP Apparel just released one that has leapt its way to the top of my ‘must buy’ list!
Rain Jacket – water proof, great for keeping cold rain and wind off the core. Jersey and undershirt will still get wet if it is really raining, but not at a soul destroying rate. Normally don’t breathe well, so reserved for days when the threat of water from the outside is greater than steaming up from the inside.
Softshell Jacket – warming! Can be worn over undershirt and jersey or just undershirt. Breathable (fabric dependent). Brilliant insulation qualities. The thicker material is great for keeping you warm when you step outside in the harsh cold weather. A downside is being “too hot” or overdressed, but a simple unzip can help the thermal control.
Shoe Covers – Defeet slipstream – these are great for adding a layer over your shoes, slowing the air from rushing through your shoes, but also allowing some breathability for your feet. Useful on the colder mornings, but only really appropriate in the dry. Lots of colours available; I chose the ‘hi-viz’ yellow for commuting visibility.
Shoe Covers – Velotoze – can take some wrestling to get on, however they are magic, and well worth the extra five minutes of prep time before heading out the door. Effectively a “rubber glove” for your cycling kicks, they all but stop the rain from drenching your shoes and socks. Brilliant at stopping both wind and water, they are a must for winter riders. Can be used in wet or dry, however they don’t breath, so if it’s dry, you might end up with drenched shoes from your feet sweating anyway… But if it’s cold enough, this is a hit worth taking!
Knee Warmers – very useful in the cold, however I’m still not sold on them for the raining conditions. Once they are wet, they effectively make sure your legs stay cold! No good!Brilliant for keeping the cold off in the dry and freezing though, make sure you have a pair (or two) in your arsenal. My Castelli Nanoflex are the go to pair if it’s a bit damp or drizzly -they repel a bit of water.
So that’s your clothing well sorted.. you probably have most of it already, so kit up, and let’s get in to the next point.
Mental Strength and approach. I’m far from an expert on the matter, so all I can do is give some pointers based on my experience. So here goes.
1) DO NOT obsess over the BOM radar or the weather, just take a quick glance to take note of what may come so you can prepare appropriately. I find if I get stuck on the forecast, it is far too easy to get bogged down in how “terrible” it’s going to be and talk yourself out of riding at all.
2) Head out with a plan. Be it three reps of 1 in 20, a distance goal, a TSS goal (for the power training nerds out there), a new loop ( I use Strava courses a lot to hunt down new roads), or even a classic loop. Having a plan gives a me an idea of how long I’ll be out in the weather, making easier to push through the tough conditions, and motivate myself during efforts. A plan also makes it easier to plan in the requisite brew stop on the return home!
3) Set clear goals for yourself, be it an up coming race, a new goal time up your favourite climb, or beating your mates up theirs (which is possibly more satisfying!).
4) Keep your stops short and infrequent. Stopping too frequently or for too long can lead to the cold taking over. While you’re riding, if dressed appropriately, you’ll have no problem maintaining comfortable body temperature. Once you stop however, the cold can (and does!) set in rapidly, making it difficult to find your rhythm, which then snowballs in to the difficulty to generate body temperature again. Do yourself a favour, stop to top up with water, or quickly eat something (if you can’t manage while riding), but save the long coffee stops for a destination close to home.
5) Finally, just remember why you love cycling – the sense of freedom, exploring new roads and areas, beautiful scenery, pushing your physical fitness, or rolling along with your mates – all of these reasons still exist even when the weather is sub optimal. We are lucky in Australia (yes… even in Melbourne) that our winter is just not that bad relative to other parts of the world.
So there you have it – get out there and ride in the weather, you may find it’s not as bad as you imagined… and you’ll feel badass at the same time, since no one else is out riding!