Winter is coming but it doesn’t have to signal the end of your riding. The right gear, a little planning and the right mental approach will see you bounce through winter, emerging fitter and stronger at the other side.
Gauge Your Needs
We don't live in the Antarctic, so it's never going to be that cold that you can't head out for a pedal. The key is adequate clothing for the conditions—too little and you'll obviously freeze, but overdressing can leave you equally uncomfortable. Stick a thermometer on the outside of your bedroom window and get familiar with what you need to wear in certain temperature ranges. That way, you'll only need to crawl out of bed, look at your thermometer and dress according to the conditions. You won't be faffing around trying to figure out what to wear, so you'll be more likely to get out the front door.
Keep your fingers warm and you will feel far more comfortable. However, most winter cycling gloves are designed for roadies and they don't seem to offer the 'bike feel' and robust build required for MTB use. There are one or two MTB specific winter gloves, but you can also use a thin polypropylene liner under your normal full fingered gloves. They are sold through outdoors/ski stores and add warmth without much bulk. Liners are also handy because they can be removed if the temperature rises later in your ride.
As with your fingers, cold toes can make you feel uncomfortably chilled all over—it's funny how much our bodies value these 'extremities'. Once again you'll find plenty of 'booties' designed for road use, but you wouldn't want to wrap them around your MTB shoes and walk in them—they wouldn't last long. Thermal or windproof socks are the solution for colder conditions. You can even find wind and water resistant boot liners that will keep you reasonably cosy in truly horrible and wet conditions. If you live in a truly cold part of the country, you could even purchase some winter MTB shoes; don't expect to see them on the shelf in your local store but they do exist (the Europeans love them for cyclocross). Alternately, buy some shoes that are a fraction too big and wear thick thermal socks—obviously overkill in most of Australia, but it could be just the ticket for winter rides in the Victorian high country or Tassie.
Most people get hooked on physical activities like cycling as they enjoy challenging themselves. Try looking at winter as an added challenge; all you need is the right clothing and bike set-up to ride with some comfort. With the right mental outlook, you'll gain satisfaction from enduring harsh conditions in the same way as you feel good after conquering a tough hill or a 100km race. Don't feel obliged to do the same distance as you'd take on in more amicable conditions, but still try to get out there—you'll feel better for it.
While looking after your extremities will keep you comfortable, maintaining your core temperature will keep you alive. Wind vests are ideal for maintaining your core body temperature without causing you to overheat. They also take up very little room in your pack, making them an ideal emergency item in changeable weather. In fact, they are probably the most versatile item of clothing within any cycling wardrobe. You can mix and match them with other items to regulate your warmth through a huge range of temperatures.
It's much harder to bail out on a ride if you've planned to meet up with someone. Use this to your benefit and arrange regular group rides during the cooler months. Once a routine is established, you'll be able to drag yourself out regardless of the weather conditions. Riding with others is also more fun, so it's a win-win for all concerned.