Earlier this year Lachlan Morton rode the 500-mile Colorado Trail, finishing in less than four days, two hours shy of the record. The remote and high altitude route runs from Durango to Denver, through the San Juan, Sawatch and Front Range mountains. In his own words, “it was absolutely brutal.”
“I rode it during the summer, but it still was some of my coldest memories on a bike,” says the man who’s gained a reputation of riding a fine line between world-class cyclist and professional masochist. “One night I had to emergency bivy at 13,000 feet. I have quite a bit of nerve damage in my fingers from that ride. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, by a significant amount. The elevation, rough trail, weather, and wear and tear on your body adds up.”
A strong statement for someone who in the same year set records on the 2,000-kilometer GBDuro and Kokopelli Trail, and broke the Everesting record twice in one week.
Now residing in Boulder, Colorado, the Australia native admits that riding in the cold didn’t come naturally: “I had a steep learning curve. When I first moved here it was January. I was determined to get up in the mountains every day and didn’t understand why other riders weren’t doing the same. I wasn’t accustomed to checking the weather and on the third or fourth day out I got caught in a storm, my gears stopped working, everything was iced up, and I was in a bad situation, quickly.”
Since then, Morton has learned systems for staying warm and safe, which help him ride outside for most of winter. Check out his favorite tips and gear and you might start thinking like he does: “Winter riding is really enjoyable because it’s different. It feels epic no matter what.”
1. Manage Your Layers
Fresh off the Giro d’Italia, Morton says that wearing the right layers is the most important thing you can do to stay warm: “Most of the race was in the mid 30s with consistent rain. We were soaked and cold. The key to riding in the rain, snow and cold during winter is staying dry. I always have a waterproof jacket on when it’s raining, and especially when it’s cold, I try to avoid sweat. For longer training rides, sweat is the ultimate enemy.”
Morton suggests adding and removing layers frequently, even if you find it annoying: “That’s the only way you’re sure to stay warm for the full ride. Strip off layers when you’re starting a climb to a point you’re borderline cold. Then add them before you make your way down.”
Morton will wear up to four layers for his longest training rides, starting with a Rapha long sleeve thermal baselayer and a pair of winter bibs with full tights. He’ll wear a winter riding jacket on top, and as needed, add a few more layers, too. “The mistake I see a lot is people wearing their puffy jackets on the outside, instead of a windproof layer. Even if it has to come on and off a lot, always wear a shell on the outside.”
2. Store More on the Bike
To carry a few extra things, Morton suggests a frame bag or handlebar bag so that swapping layers isn’t as big of a hassle. “This allows me to carry extra gloves and an extra base layer, just in case I get really wet and need to swap them out. I always bring a warm pair of gloves and stuff them inside the frame bag. Even if I don’t use them every ride it’s more than worth it.”
3. Turn on the Lights
As a kid, Morton would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to ride for three hours before school. “No one was making me do it, I wanted to ride. I’ve always enjoyed the discomfort of it.” While Morton admits he rarely used lights when he was young, today he wouldn’t ride without them. “I feel vulnerable when I don’t have my rear light. I use a Garmin Varia that detects when cars are coming and gives me an alert. It’s also really bright. I pair that with a Garmin front light that uses the same mount as my computer. This makes everything simple and lets me charge them all with the same cord. It’s become a routine before I ride.”
4. Increase Your Visibility
With considerably less daylight and many trails and sidewalks shut down, it’s important to also consider reflective and bright clothing. “We’re lucky the EF Pro Cycling kit is bright pink and naturally high vis. I do have a Rapha reflective vest that I add in really low vis days, like in snow.”
5. Beef Up Those Tires
In the winter Morton suggests doing more dirt riding, where there’s often more traction than on icy paved roads. “I also ride 33cm cyclocross tires with a little lower pressure, to get more grip, while leaving a little clearance for mud and dirt. Larger tires are a bit slower but that means you’re warmer because you have less wind. And on really bad days I’ll ride my mountain bike with larger, knobbier tires. I don’t add full fenders in the winter but do like a simple ass saver.
6. Mind Your Extremities
“In the winter I often double up on gloves. I’ll wear a liner underneath and something warm on top, often a pair of ski gloves for steep downhills,” explains Morton. Not a fan of thick booties, Morton will wear a lighter shoe cover and sometimes add a smaller toe warmer on the coldest days. “Having waterproof covers is really important in wet and snowy conditions. They need to be able to keep water out or you’re in real trouble. They should also sit under your tights, so water doesn’t drain into them. Morton often wears a winter cycling cap that covers his ears and keeps in the heat.
7. Know When to Stay In
Morton will search out bike paths or flatter trails that he can ride slower and safer when it is snowing, but he’s also prepared to take what Mother Nature gives him. “I only ride inside if I think it’s actually dangerous out. Usually that’s very low visibility in a blizzard. If it’s too icy on the roads I’ll think about riding a trainer. The more important thing is to plan ahead. I’ll look at the weather a week out and figure out when I’m going to do my long ride, picking a warmer day to be out for more hours. You need to be pretty flexible with training if you live in a cold place in the winter.”