Upgrading the rider, rather than the bike, has been my main rule of thumb for a few decades now. While “upgrading the rider” generally means spending some time lifting weights, doing yoga, or cross training, it also means keeping the rider well protected (but not overly protected) from the elements. An hour long ride on a rainy 40° day is short enough to be tolerable with sub-par apparel, but that is no longer the case once ride time surpasses the 3 hour mark. For many of us, mountain biking means an adventure of at least a few hours in the mountains, and with that in mind, we have the necessity for good winter apparel.
I live in the top left corner of the United States- heck, I can literally see Canada from my doorstep. This means we have somewhat “real” winters.
While we have “mild” winters here in the Pacific Northwest, the term “mild” is slightly misleading. In a “real” winter, stranded by endless snow and ice, mountain biking becomes simply a memory accompanied by a collection of scarred shins and collar bones; or perhaps the sport is simply some penciled dates on the calendar for a quick trip to Moab- a trip that will likely be cancelled and replaced by a few more days on the ski hill. You see, our “mild” winters give us the illusion that we can continue to enjoy the trails, which in turn means we often venture out in 37° rain, determined to enjoy our sport in the belly of the winter. After all, it’s a “mild” climate, so it shouldn’t be a problem right? Well I’ll admit that, in 37° rain, along with the PNW humidity, it can indeed end up being a challenge to enjoy riding, “mild” or not.
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After 5 winters up here, I’ve learned that good winter clothing is an absolute necessity, perhaps more so than soft, sticky tires or decent fenders. But fenders and tires are also a really, really good idea. Anyhow, I’ll organize this in order of most important items to more luxury.
I work a lot with Jenson USA, and as I no longer have a formal apparel sponsor (I was supported by Kitsbow for over 6 years, but they changed their marketing strategy) and Jenson requested that I try some of the clothing lines they stock. While there are still a ton of brands I haven’t experienced yet, it’s been an honor trying the below items. Considering that my most recent apparel for comparison (Kitsbow) is VERY high end and set some pretty high expectations. Luckily, a lot of this stuff has gone way beyond what I expected.
For fit reference, I’m 5’8″ (174cm) and weigh 170lbs (77kg). This is almost always size medium (M).
I had always found myself using my typical, regular mountain biking gloves on winter rides. And as many of you know, wearing your summer gloves in the winter is a futile effort. They get water logged quickly- even if it’s not raining, they’ll still absorb a ton of water from trail side bushes and branches. And wet or not, regular gloves end up being insufficient to keep my fingers warm. And finally, many winter gloves are too thick for me to really feel my controls. However, these Giro gloves did everything I was looking for: hands stayed plenty warm while still having good bar feel. To me, these feel just as good as a lot of summer gloves. Another testament to how warm these gloves are is I have used them while riding my motorcycle! I bought a pair, loved them, then when I connected to Giro I asked if they could kick down a second set. They obliged, and I’ve had great experiences with both pairs. HIGHLY recommended!
Waterproof socks have been a GAME CHANGER! I bought a different brand online years ago, and haven’t tried these that I’m linking to, but they appear to be very similar to these at Jenson. I purchased the SealSkinz socks, in a thicker model, and they keep the water out while also keeping the heat in. I have been throughly impressed by these and absolutely improved my quality of life on winter rides. I DO NOT use a winter specific shoe. Those are often too bulky for our climate here, and the waterproofing can be suspect after a year or two of abuse. After 5 winters with my first pair of SealSkinz, I finally bought a second pair to use when the originals are still wet. No durability complaints, as the original pair are still going strong.
My LAST pants (that I’ll ever need for winter riding)
Waterproof pants? Yep, they are a thing. And I’d highly recommend them! The goal of waterproof pants is to keep your bum dry. Furthermore, they keep muck (and some water) from dripping into your shoes and socks. The end-of-ride cleanup routine is far improved with good pants.