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Riding through the elements
A 10-time Courage Classic rider's best tips for winter training
Every year, hundreds of cyclists suit up for the Alaska Airlines Courage Classic, a 173-mile bicycle tour over three of Western Washington’s most well-known mountain passes. It’s a challenging and fun event that raises money to support the Rotary Endowment for the Intervention and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect – which provides significant support for Mary Bridge’s Child Abuse Intervention Department (CAID).
With this year’s ride less than 160 days away, and with spring weather still a month away, we asked Mark Craddock, a 10-time Courage rider and top fundraiser, to share his favorite tips for training in inclement weather.
“I started riding all winter about five years ago when I needed a break from running,” says Craddock. “So I bought some booties and a jacket and was in business!”
Craddock and his biking buddies now ride every weekend, even in the worst weather. They ride in downpours, cold winds and even snow when it’s too wet to stick – but riding in the winter requires having the right gear to make the ride enjoyable. He says with the right gear choices he can ride in the worst storms and still have fun and be comfortable.
Craddock’s riding mantras:
- There’s no such thing as a bad day, just bad gear
- Make every day an adventure
- Ride more, worry less
- Breathable fabrics: check out brands like Gore-Tex, H2No and E-vent. Coated gear will get wet on the inside and then get cold. The increased cost of breathable fabrics is well worth it over time in terms of comfort. The more comfortable you are, the more you’ll ride, and the more you ride the stronger you’ll be – and you’ll be that much more likely to zip up the mountains in the Courage Classic like a Tour de France rider.
- Hard shell: Craddock says he’d recommend a hard shell jacket over a soft shell every time. The REI Stratos jacket (available in men’s and women’s sizes) is one of his favorites. Soft shells are bulkier, and not as conducive to layering. They also tend to be less waterproof. They may be trendy, but are not so great for biking in the Northwest.
- Head protection: beanies work well under helmets, even in the heaviest of rain. Try fleece, polypropylene or wool to stay warm and dry. There are also several kinds of helmet covers available to help keep you noggin warm. The "shower cap" type is effective but not as sleek and pro as the clear-plastic, fitted kind, like those available from Lazer for their Helium and Genesis helmets.
- Base layer: stay warm with a base layer of polypropylene or wool, with a fleece and jacket on top.
- Waterproof gloves: these are important. Gore-Tex is not necessary unless your hands tend to get really sweaty. Try Specialized Radiant or Pearl Izumi Amfib gloves.
- Legs: choose a pant that is tapered in the leg so it won’t catch on your bike chain. Craddock says he favors Gore-Tex and neoprene, and prefers a pant without a chamois so he can layer in his own. Try the Pearl Izumi Amfib pants, which are neoprene all the way around, and toasty Ibex wool knickers. Use an extra layer of Capilene, wool or other synthetic long underwear between the chamois and waterproof layers on the coldest days.
- Foot covering: try wool socks with Gore-Tex booties over your bike shoes for the gnarliest days. The Pearl Izumi neoprene booties are also good for slightly less gnarly conditions.
- Fenders: don’t forget fenders. These used to be uncool but will now engender respect from other winter riders. Try SKS Race Blades, which have a narrow profile and are easy to take on and off.
- Lights: visibility for drivers is much worse in the winter. Use a lot of lights.
Craddock says his top gear picks are not the cheapest options, but are worth it for a serious rider who commutes to work every day on his bike. For those just starting out, try investing in one quality new piece every few months.
Even with the best gear, Craddock says he never forgets his number one goal on a ride: to make it home safely so he can ride again the next day. Don’t ride on snow or ice, he says. You will fall and you will get hurt.