Long before 1986, when Team 7-Eleven rider Alex Stieda became the first North American to ever wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, he cut his cycling teeth on the cold, wet roads outside his hometown of Vancouver. Like most Canadian youngsters, Stieda's athletic dreams started on the hockey rink, but at the age of 16, his talents on the bike took him elsewhere. Within two years, he’d earned multiple national championship titles on the track and was starting a career filled with Olympic Games appearances and wins at the Tour of Texas and Coors Classic.
Now 59, Stieda still rides as much as ever. Living in Edmonton, Canada, he doesn’t let a little wet or wintery weather keep him off the bike. “I’ll ride down to -15 degrees Celsius….I grew up riding outside in the winter.” Stieda explains. “You can [too] if you take the right steps.”
Here are a few tips from this North American cycling legend to stay rolling through the winter.
Winter riding can mean a lot of different things to different people. In Santa Barbara, it's putting on a wind vest and some arm warmers, and you're probably good to go. Whereas if you're up in the Pacific Northwest like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, you're dealing with rain, and that's a whole other level of winter riding.
Since a helmet is mandatory, work with it to integrate layers and insulation for different conditions. Use the Aeroshell, which fits over the top of the helmet and covers the vents [to keep the wind out and the heat in].
Ears get cold really quickly. I have a number of different head coverings that I wear depending on the temperature. I have a headband that goes below the helmet and just covers the tips of my ears. I also have a light skullcap, or I’ll even wear a Balaclava because they are light and made of wool, and they cover your head and down around your neck. You can even pull it up over your nose. But they are super thin, so they don’t affect how the helmet fits you.
If you're riding in the rain, you need full fenders, front and rear, with mud flaps. And the mud flaps are critical. They keep the spray from your front fender off your feet, but in the back, they also keeps the spray from flying into the face of the guy behind you.
Toes get cold too, and shoe covers or booties can help with that. I generally use a mountain bike shoe for winter riding on snow, but often that’s not warm enough, even with the booties. So, I’ve adapted a downhill ski boot insole that’s electrically heated with a battery. Using a little bit of elastic Velcro, I can attach the battery with the wire on it to my ankle, and then the wire goes down the back of my shoe, which is a winter cycling shoe/boot. I turn that on low, and I put a bootie on, then I'm good to go for five hours if I want to.