We’ve been lucky in the UK. The winter has been very mild, meaning a lot of us cyclists haven’t suffered from cold extremities. However, that all changed on Boxing Day for a lot of riders. The day saw cold driving rain, resulting in large areas of flooding and with temperatures we’re more accustomed to in December. No doubt a lot of riders got caught out and finished their rides with numb toes.
The temperatures are a bit warm again at the moment but have no doubt, it will start getting colder again and with it brings tough conditions for your feet. Over the years, I’ve developed some techniques to combat cold feet, built up through trial and error and nuggets of wisdom handed down by grizzled old timers on their lugged steel frames.
So what could you do to help you jump in the shower after a winter’s ride and not suffer from painful chilblains?
1. Take a look at your shoes
Take a look at your cycling shoes. No doubt they’re your only pair, and because of this are more of a summer shoe. So they will be riddled with mesh, ventilation holes and the like. This is the last thing you want in the winter. So invest in winter specific cycling shoes/boots (a lot of brands are now producing these type of heavier shoes). If this isn’t possible, then at least, cover the mesh and holes of your summer shoes with electrical tape, especially if you have holes on the front end of the soles. This tape is very adhesive and waterproof, and will stop cold air penetrating. More importantly, water can be sprayed up from wet roads, and will hit the toe area of your shoes at some force. The last thing you want is this water penetrating any holes, which can happen even if you’re wearing overshoes.
So you’ve made sure you don’t have ‘leaky’ shoes. What now?
2. Invest in good socks
Or a flexible sock system. It’s wise to have a variety of different socks to add versatility to cope with various winter conditions. For instance, I own thick merino socks. I also own Parentini’s thermal Windtex socks and a good pair of thin cotton socks. On a cold but dry day I might opt for the merino socks. On a mild but wet day I go for the waterproof Parentini socks. On a cold and wet day the thin cotton socks add a nice thermal layer when worn under the Parentini socks, and with both being thin they don’t add bulk.
Lately, I’ve been wearing the Parentini socks a lot. And they work superbly.
3. Invest in good overshoes
Even if you own a pair of winter specific shoes, it would be wise to buy some sort of ‘overshoe’ protection. A type of oversock would be ideal for this, adding extra warmth on very cold days and protecting your shoes on wet grotty rides. Trust me, it’s far easier to wash oversocks than your winter shoes. But if you own a summer weight shoe, then you need a more technical overshoe. And here you have two choices – neoprene or windproof softshell.
A windproof softshell layer really helps stave off the cold wind, and results in a thin, less bulky overshoe. However, Parentini decided that the windproof (and waterproof) Windtex layer makes more sense directly next to your skin, in the form of a sock. So the two overshoes that Parentini offer are the neoprene type. I much prefer this combination. The neoprene outer layer is very thermoregulating, and in the case of rain, soaks up the water. It’s the same material used in a wetsuit – the wetsuit soaks up the water but traps a layer of air next to the skin that is warmed up by the divers body heat, keeping their core nice and warm. Neoprene overshoes work in much the same way, soaking up the rain but keeping your foot warm. The Windtex sock then does the job of keeping your foot dry.
Whichever type you buy, you need to be mindful of how the overshoe is fitted. Some use Velcro backs, others a zip. Velcro closures give flexibility to how tight you fit it, however, they are fiddly if you have gloves on. I prefer a zip, much easier to use, coupled with a Velcro ankle closure. The Parentini P.Uno and P.5000 overshoes feature this type of system, the beauty being you can tighten the ankle closure to help stop water penetrating through the top of the overshoe.
4. Heat up before you ride
So your shoes are sorted, you’ve bought some warm socks and chosen an overshoe. You get up on the morning of your ride, stand on the cold bare stone floor, get changed and then grab your shoes from the cold porch.
Your feet don’t really stand a chance. You’ve already made them cold before you’ve even started your ride, so it’s either going to take miles to get them back to the temperature they were when you were laying in bed or they never get warm again on your ride.
So give your feet a fighting chance. Find somewhere warm to put your socks on, you can even warm your socks on a radiator or in an airing cupboard before you put them on. And the night before, place your shoes and overshoes somewhere warm. Once you’ve got everything on, your feet are going to feel toasty, and it will be easier to keep them at this temperature out on a ride rather than hoping they will heat up to a comfortable temperature.
5. Don’t be tight
Numb toes can not only be caused by cold weather – they can be the result of having your shoes too tight. Remember if you’re wearing thick socks or doubling socks up, back off tightening the Velcro, ratchet or dial system from the setting you’d normally use in the summer. You could even look at buying a size up if you decide to get some winter specific shoes.
6. Keep hold of old newspapers
One final thing. Always hold back some newspaper (or a similar type of uncoated paper) from the recycling bin. Despite all the above advice, there will be biblical weather days like Boxing Day, when your shoes and feet get wet. If you adhere to our suggestions your feet will at least be warm.
Once back from your ride, you need to make sure your shoes are dry for the next day. So take out the insoles (if they’re removable), leave them to one side to dry out, then pack your shoes tightly with newspaper. Some people use nappies, but that means you have to have some to hand and despite being super absorbent they are costly!
Stuffing your shoes will draw the moisture quicker from the fabric and if you store them somewhere warm they should be OK for the next day. Drying out your shoes quickly will also mean the shoes won’t go smelly or mouldy, making them last longer too. This regime is also applicable in the summer, when it unfortunately still rains!
If you’re interested in keeping your feet warm with Parentini, take a look at the list of dealers in the UK.