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Road Cycling

5 (Less Conventional) Ways to Keep your Extremities Warm in Winter

Cold getting the better of you? Give some of these methods a go...

Cold weather can be off-putting for cyclists. Often once you start pounding out the miles your chest and legs will start to warm up, but your hands and feet are left cold as circulation is limited.

Cold feet can be painful and if your hands become numb simple but necessary actions such as braking and shifting will become difficult. Roadies tend to suffer more with these issues because of the continuous, endurance focused nature of the sport – you’re often out for several hours at a steady state on a weekend ride, and little movement in the saddle makes for limited opportunities to warm up.  Thankfully, the fact that so many cyclists struggle with numbness in the extremities means that a number of solutions have been sought out.

Here’s a look at some of the common methods – some of them are a little unconventional…

First up: check your gloves and shoes actually fit

Before you start covering your hands and feet in Vaseline and wrapping them in cling film, make sure your shoes and gloves fit.

Gloves that are too tight will cut off circulation and make it hard for your hands to stay warm. The same goes for cycling shoes. Some riders choose to have a pair of winter boots for cold weather cycling, buying them a size larger to allow for thicker socks. If you’ll wear the same shoes, try merino socks which are warm without being thick, cover up summer vents with duct tape, and invest in a good pair of overshoes.

Vaseline, warm-up oil and Naqi Votra Plus

Warm-up oil does what it says on the tin – it provides a warming sensation to the skin. This crafty stuff is sometimes called Embrocation, and there’s an array of options available. Most cycling skincare brands having a version including Muc Off, Rapha and Elite and a bottle or pot usually costs between £10 and £20. Apply a thin layer, about 20 minutes before your ride for optimum performance, and see how it feels. Just don’t be the butt of all age old jokes and mix it up with chamois cream.

Read more: Should you be using Warm Up Oil? 

Whilst warm-up oil provides a heating sensation, good old Vaseline can be used as a barrier to the elements. Some riders apply a thin layer to their lower back and bum to prevent the worst of cold spray from dampening a ride, but it’s more conventionally used on the face and lips to cut down on wind chill.

For those who really suffer with cold feet, warm-up oil and chamois cream specialists Naqi offer Votra Plus. This is designed specifically to provide warmth to the feet, without impairing normal skin functions.

Surgical gloves and sandwich bags or cling film on your feet

Sounds sweaty? It is. But if your standard gloves and socks aren’t doing the job, then adding an extra layer will help. If that layer is plastic then it’ll really keep in what warmth your body can generate.

Of course once you’ve added a plastic layer between your skin and gloves and/or socks, you’ve got to accept that you’ve forsaken any breathability in your cycling gloves or shoes and socks. You will get sweaty hands and feet, but that sweat will warm up and keep you toasty as long as you’re still moving.

If this isn’t up your street, but you do like the idea of locking in warmth, then check out Castelli’s Diluvio gloves and overshoes. These feature neoprene and don’t allow breathability, which again means sweat stays in, but warms up against your skin for a radiator-like effect.

Hot hands hand and foot warmers

Know you’ve got a really cold ride ahead? Open a pair of ‘Hot Hands’ hand and/or foot warmers. These small rectangular slithers are air activated, so once you open the packet they’ll start working. Just slip one into your shoes or gloves for up to ten hours of cosy warmth.

Thermal or heated insoles

The problem with ‘Hot Hands’ for hands and feet is that they’re not reusable. If you want to invest in something to keep your feet warm over and over again then you might need to look elsewhere.

3M offer Thinsulate™ Thermal Insoles that will slip into most types of footwear. They work by trapping air between the shoe and the outside, and also promise to offer moisture wicking that will prevent sweat from cooling on your skin. These cost just £11.99, which isn’t a lot more than a pack of five pairs or Hot Hands.

If you really want to step it up a gear, then European heated clothing specialists EX0² have a treat for you. Their ‘HeatSoles’ are powered by a tiny Li-Ion battery. They slip into your shoes and self-regulate to 55 degrees Celsius, though you’ll have to attach the battery to your leg with a strip of Velcro. Constructed from leather and covered for comfort, you’ll need to cut these to fit. A pair will cost you about £89.99.

Spin faster!

Ok, just telling you to ‘ride faster’ probably isn’t that helpful – and though riding at a stronger pace will mean you warm up quicker that isn’t what we mean. Spinning your legs quickly in a lower gear generally makes your heart pump faster than grinding out in a high gear with low cadence, which will mean blood is pumped around your body more quickly. So drop the gears and spin it out for a warmer body.

You might also like… 

How to Stay Safe Riding in Icy Conditions

Cycling in Icy Conditions: Areas to Take Special Care

Our winter cycling clothing reviews 

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