It’s been said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. But the weather on the highveld is markedly different to the coast. Here’s how to wrap up for the chilly months depending on where in SA you ride.
Winter woollies are fine for sheep and grandma, but cyclists need something a little more technical to beat the chill. South Africa is a challenging place to recommend the ideal setup for cold-weather riding, as there are three distinctly different types of winter weather that riders face. Inland riders face sub-zero temperatures, but very little rain, while Cape coastal riders need to prepare for rainy weather, but moderate temperatures. The third group is the KwaZulu-Natal coastal riders, who we will simply ignore out of pure jealousy, as their idea of winter is about 15 degrees warmer than anywhere else in SA.
Let’s firstly look at what a Gauteng-based rider is likely to need to stay warm and cosy on a fresh highveld morning: With little or no moisture in the air, the big enemy is pure cold air. Standing still in temperatures nearing freezing point is chilly, but manageable, but add a 20 or 30 kph wind in effect, that is what you are doing by riding and the chill factor drops well past freezing. Start with a sweat-wicking base layer, followed by a standard cycling jersey short- or long-sleeved, your choice and a heavy-duty winter jacket. Choose a jacket that is as visible as possible, with reflective strips and piping, as you will more than likely be riding before dawn or after dusk, when visibility is at its worst.
Gloves are critical, as cold hands make it very difficult to brake or change gear, and there are a number of cycling-specific sub-zero gloves on the market. They may feel hot and bulky in the shop, but out on the road they are well worth it. A thin balaclava will protect your ears and head from the cold, dry air, that is channelled through the well-vented through helmet you bought in summer, and make sure it covers your neck and tucks into your jacket without leaving gaps for the cold air to get in.
The bottom half of your body is easier to keep warm, as it is working harder and creating its own heat. Normal cycling shorts, maybe with a slightly thicker grade Lycra, matched with fleecy leg warmers should do the trick, and a pair of neoprene booties will keep your tootsies toasty.
For the coastal riders, the look is less Michelin man, more train spotter. For the majority of your rides, you will benefit from a base layer and a long-sleeved cycling jersey, with a windproof shell jacket. The jacket will keep you warm enough on all but the coldest days, and when you are surprised by a rainstorm. When it comes to riding in the rain, there is no real need to keep you dry, and no real way to do so without creating a sauna effect inside your rain suit. A water-resistant shell will keep the majority of the deluge off you, but still allow the heat created by your body to escape, keeping your body at a reasonable temperature. A fully waterproof jacket will trap the body’s heat, and you will end up just as wet inside as out, but from sweat instead of rain.
For gloves, something a bit thinner than the ski gloves your GP counterparts are lumbered with will be necessary. You might even find that long- fingered mountain bike gloves will do the trick. There is no need for balaclavas, or even ear-warmers, on anything but the coldest days at the coast, and knee warmers will keep your knee area warm and supple. Your feet will be happy with an old pair of socks stretched over your shoes – looks very Euro-pro and does the job too! Or a thin pair of nylon booties for colder or wet conditions. The key here is to dress so that you can remove layers as it gets warmer, so knee warmers can be stuffed in jersey pockets with jackets and gloves, ready to be used again if the weather changes around the next hill. Which it does, all too often.
We have talked about the extremes for both coastal and inland riders, and that will be the lot of the guys who need to train before or after work, or early on weekends when the family needs its fair share of attention after missing out during the summer season. If you are lucky enough to ride during the day, or at any time in the KZN coastal region (grumble, grumble), the dress code is simple: An undershirt, a cycling jersey, your normal shorts, shoes and socks. Start out with knee warmers, arm warmers, thin cotton gloves and a windproof singlet, all of which can be rolled up and stuffed in your back pockets once you, and the weather, warm up, and you should be ready for any weather out on the road.
Look out for our Winter Gear Guide coming soon!