How I'm Surviving a German Winter
What happens when you take a cyclist that’s never lived in winter conditions and introduce him to Germany? …in the winter. It wasn’t fun, I’ll tell you that much. You may not know, but I’ve been in Germany since October of 2018. When I arrived here, I stopped in Bavaria for a few days and then Aline, Ruffy and I hopped in a rental and went up to Berlin for a month. Now, before I jump into what Berlin was like, just know that I wish I had more time to see Berlin. I was swamped looking for freelance jobs, sight seeing, and of course…dealing with the foreigners office for my residence permit. Since that’s out of the way, back to riding in Germany!
All I brought with me for riding was a pair of thin long finger gloves, a couple summer jerseys, one merino long sleeve jersey with wind breaker material on the front, winter tights, short bibs and a Rapha Pro Team short sleeve. If you know your kits, pro team basically means freeze your ass off if it’s not warm. All I have to say, is “never again.” Riding around Berlin was great, before the temperature started to drop at night. I still remember the first night ride led by a member of the Rapha Berlin store. Oh man, did that teach me a lesson. First of all, we got to see tons of different sights around Berlin and went up some pretty cool climbs that really only the locals know about but it was amazing seeing such a fascinating city by bike. Keep in mind, I’ve only been in Germany for a couple weeks now. All the altbau (old) buildings were so new to me and I definitely was not used to the cobblestone. The only thing I didn’t really see coming, was how cold my hands were going to get that night.
Icicles in a Glove
By the time I got back home to the Air BnB, my hands were like icicles and it was the first sign of what I knew would be a very rough winter. Every ride after that my hands just wouldn’t warm up. I tried putting on a puffer jacket but that either ended in sweating too much or leaving it and trying to stuff a t-shirt under my jersey. (It’s uncomfortable, I don’t recommend it.) Now I’m working on getting some base layers for the coming months. Finally, I hopped on Instagram to do some research. “What gloves are cyclists wearing for the winter?” I thought. That is what led me to Grip Grab (Instagram). I heard good things online, found a store close by and finally decided to take the plunge and purchase the Grip Grab Ride Waterproof Gloves. One of the main reasons I bought them is because they’re rated for -5ºC to 5ºC (23ºF to 41ºF). (Before I continue, know that this is my personal opinion with the circumstances I am currently dealing with.)
“The Ride Waterproof is a fully waterproof and windproof winter glove with excellent insulating properties….DoctorGel padding in the palm adds comfort on longer rides…” - GripGrab
I hate to say it, but they just didn’t work for me. During the day, 5ºC (41ºF) or more, sure! They work great and even make my hands a bit clammy. Anything even remotely close to freezing, and I just can’t get my hands warm enough. Yes, even after a hard effort. But remember, not everybody can hop on a bike and put down 30+ miles at a hard effort, in the cold, with rain/snow/hail/wind. This is not necessarily a review, even though it kind of just became one, I’m just sharing my experience figuring out this whole “winter thing.” Again, this does not apply to everybody, and according to a few sources, I might be dealing with Reynaud’s which would make a bit more sense. The Grip Grab team were kind enough to send over some recommendations so we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll try merino liners now that the polyester ones I bought didn’t help much either…
Castelli’s Diluvio Overshoes
After we left Berlin and made our way down to the south of Germany, I started noticing the temperature drop even more. Winter was coming in fast! At this point, my research had turned into a full on university class on layering, the right gear for which temperatures, how much of an effort I should put in, etc. I sure knew what to do and get, but have you seen how much cycling gear costs lately? Phew!! So, first step was to go out and ride again. So I did. Then my toes froze. It seriously felt like this was it. “I’m done cycling in winter. Let’s look for a trainer and call it a day. Oh wait, smart trainers are a lot too…” So that thought process went out the door real quick! We walked over to this bike shop around the corner called JOOS E-Bike Center. I can’t say it was too roadie-friendly but they were happy to order up a pair of Castelli overshoes for us and have them there the next day.
We ended up getting the Castelli Diluvio C Shoecover 16. Details, you say? 3mm neoprene, waterproof, windproof, and slightly insulating. Pair those with a nice merino sock and you should be fine in temperatures around 0ºC (32ºF) even if you’re prone to colder extremities like myself. If you know me by now, I like to talk about the cons just as much as the pros. I believe that we should always keep an open perception about others’ experiences because it can affect some of the decisions we make. So to keep it short, the rear of the overshoe where the reflective backing is, slides down under the back of your shoe during your ride. Unfortunately, the front has started to rip at the toe already as well which of course would allow water and wind to get in. Other than that, they’re awesome!
Cozy legs are happy legs
Now that my toe problem was solved and I realized I needed to ride harder to warm up my hands, what was left? Oh right, everything else! Luckily I already bought a pair of Rapha Core Winter Tights from LA. Funny story? The first day I got them, I ate it on a patch of wet road and ripped a big hole in them which you can see HERE. Rapha’s crash replacement program had them back to me in a few weeks though. So far, they’ve done pretty well as long as I don’t just cruise along. Being that they’re not windproof, on the colder, windier days, my knees can get pretty cold. As we all know, the knees are the part of your leg that hit the air most often so I’d recommend something a bit warmer for those days that max out at about 3ºC (37ºF) plus or minus.
Santa…I mean, Santic Saves the Day?
To this day, I still don’t own a single base layer, but help came in the form of a brand called Santic Shop (Instagram). They sent me their Men’s Fodi Jacket that is not only waterproof and windproof, but also insulating. I must say I was nice and toasty for a couple of rides. It really saved me when the weather was subzero and the rain/snow/hail decided to attack me on rides. The only thing is that there was still another problem. The fit just wasn’t right for me. A little too large and flappy, the rear pocket is only on the left so if you fill it with anything, it pulls the left side of the jacket and it hangs down a bit too much on the front. On days when it’s crazy freezing and I need to layer 5x then it’s okay. I can fit like 20 shirts underneath it…In all honesty, it gets the job done and considering how cold it’s been, I’m extremely grateful to have it!
This is already quite a bit about winter cycling, so let’s recap. We’ve covered:
How important it is to get a pair of gloves that suits your needs
Overshoes will save your toes!!!
Winter tights are awesome.
Get a winter, riding jacket.
Layered Like an Onion
…which brings me to layering. This is a very delicate topic to talk about. Layering is an art form that some will master and others, like myself, will absolutely fail at until they take the plunge and get the right gear. (News on the “right gear” coming soon!) Essentially, layering includes a base-layer (which was a t-shirt for me), a long sleeve jersey, something to block the wind and then a winter jacket. For the bibs, it’s either thermal bib shorts with leg/knee warmers or a comfy pair of winter tights. All I have to say is stop wasting your time and just get the right gear. I would highly recommend something that is merino based because not only will it help regulate your body temperature and wick away sweat, but the fabric feels really nice and won’t get smelly as fast. Currently, I own the Rapha Brevet Windblock Jersey which I absolutely love for warmer days with a bit of wind. Word on the street is that Isadore, a cycling brand from the minds of the Velits Brothers, has created some amazing, quality merino pieces that every cyclist should highly consider adding to their collection. More on that later and you can find their Instagram HERE.
Other Essentials to consider:
Arm warmers - You can put them on before a ride, then take them off when things heat up.
Merino headbands keep your forehead and ears warm when that windchill picks up. I have this one.
Neck warmers are pretty important to keep your neck warm so you don’t risk getting sick or letting too much cold air sneak into the top of your jersey. Isadore, Rapha and Brubeck all have nice merino ones as well.
Chemical Heating Packets……you’ll thank me later. They’re for emergencies or days when you want to cheat and be warm for a shorter ride and a lot less effort.
I gotta say, this whole winter riding thing is seriously a pain in the ass but I guarantee you that every time you walk back in the door, you’ll be thanking yourself for going out and doing it. There’s a reason why we put ourselves through harsh weather just to get out on the bike again. Even if it’s so bad out that you have to go home after a few miles, that’s okay!! At least you got up, got dressed, and got out there. Every winter ride I do makes me a better cyclist...a more confident cyclist. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes and enjoy what’s left of the winter, wherever you are, in warmer clothes.
There are great things coming (hopefully tomorrow) and I’m working hard to create more content for your viewing/reading pleasure. I would love to hear your comments on what you liked or didn’t like and any tips you may have for winter riding.
As always, if you’re not following me on Instagram, I post daily stories there, a few posts a week and look forward to talking to you guys soon!