Words and images by: Andy Chasteen
Many folks retreat indoors for the winter season, preferring the trainer or not riding at all. But these cold seasons can be some of the best time to ride in NWA, especially if you are rocking the right gear. I’m no expert, but I’m a nerd for good cycling gear, and I know what I like, and I also know why I like it. So I’m gonna go through some of my favorite winter gear for riding gravel in the land of OZ. Many of these items carry over into year-round riding, and that’s ok. Here we go…
Rapha Explore Lightweight Down Jacket. I’ve been looking for a lightweight down jacket that I can stuff into my back jersey pocket for years. Perfect for starting your ride in the cold until you’ve warmed up. Perfect for riding home from the pub after the ride with your friends (almost every single ride I do). This jacket is expensive, but worth its weight in gold. Other companies out there make ultra light down jackets, but Rapha is geared towards the bike, with drop tail for coverage, and non insulated hood for wearing under the helmet. And the best part, like I said above, it packs into a stuff-sack and fits in a back jersey pocket.
Pro tip: the stuff sack that comes with the jacket is too big, the jacket will pack much smaller. I found a stuff sack that is smaller and works much better for putting in your back jersey pocket while you ride.
Genuine Innovations Tubeless Repair Kit. The cheapest, simplest, and most effective tool in my set up. I keep extra “bacon strips” in my tool kit, but I keep the applicator easily accessible – taped to underside of stem or underneath my computer mount – so if I puncture I can jump off my bike, put my finger on the puncture hole, and with the other hand can grab the applicator to plug hole. I personally find these better and more dependable than the more expensive alternatives.
Duct tape tire boot. Inexpensive piece to keep in your toolkit in the event that you tear a big hole in your tire and need to put a tube in it, and the hole in the tire is big enough to pop the tube. I just fold a couple of pieces of duct tape on top of each other with the corners overlapping a bit so that a bit of the sticky part of the tape is exposed so it will stick to the inside of the tire enough to stay in place while inflating tube.
Arundel Top Tube Tycooon. This is my favorite top tube bag on the market (they also make a smaller version with magnetic closure). It’s roomy, made of waterproof material, can bolt or strap to your top tube, sleek in design, and not riddled with annoying brand logos.
Pro tip: if you ever have any zipper issues from dirt or gunk getting into it, clean the zipper teeth and apply small amount of chain lube, or even better, chain wax to get it zipping smooth again.
Rene Herse Oracle Ridge 48 Tire (Endurance Casing). Rene Herse has that reputation for soft, weak-walled tires that are supple, ride super well, and puncture like crazy. But I’ve found the endurance and endurance + casing of their tires to hold up well on NWA gravel. And around here, I have moved to riding nothing smaller than 45mm tires on gravel – new rolling resistance tests have shown that larger tire volume on the gravel is not slower, and in fact in many cases is actually faster. I prefer a tire that is 47-50mm if your bike will take it. You won’t be sacrificing speed, and will be gaining more puncture protection and can run lower pressure which is more comfortable and gives more grip on our local rowdy terrain.
Dropper Post. I prefer the Rockshox Reverb XPLR AXS dropper with 75mm of drop, but mechanical actuated droppers work awesome too. I can feel folks rolling their eyes right now, but hear me out. If you ride a lot of single track on your gravel bike, which I do every single time I go out and ride gravel, then a dropper is gold. If you never ride single track on your gravel bike, you’re missing out. But you also don’t need a dropper.
Rapha Merino Gloves. These gloves cover the widest range of temperatures of any glove I’ve ever worn. I’ve comfortably ridden them in 35 degrees all the way up to 55. They are warm and comfortable, and the way they have weaved the merino gives it much more durability than most merino products.
Your favorite bandana. My bud Ben Craig takes a bandana on every single ride, mostly for keeping arms, face, hands free of sweat. But a bandana can serve a number of uses beyond that, including for cleaning, tourniquet (god forbid), fashion statement, or bull fighting. But what I mostly use it for is to take up space in my top tube bag to keep things from rattling. I keep CO2, multi tool, food, and other misc items in my top tube and the bandana takes up the space regardless of how much stuff is in it the bag, keeping it from rattling and driving me crazy on rides.
Lezyne Hand Pump. I use the smaller mountain bike hand pump version and mount it on the side of my bottle cage. I’m not partial to any particular brand of pump, but the conditions in NWA can be wet, humid, muddy, and dusty, which does a number on rubber gaskets and seals. I like the Lezyne cause it has the flex hose that is internally protected from the elements – you screw that onto the valve, then screw other side of hose onto the pump. This creates a nice seal on the valve and the flexible hose keeps you from damaging the valve when you’re airing up the tire. The only crux you need to worry about is accidentally unscrewing your valve core when you’re removing the flex hose from your valve. But I carry a tiny valve core remover like this in my toolkit just in case (you need to carry this, plus a spare valve core in your toolkit anyway).
Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM. I’ve tried every single computer head unit on the market. And while I would argue there are fancier ones with more bells and whistles and features, the Wahoo is not fancy but just works. It loads routes seamlessly from the app, is the best at ride uploads to Strava and other platforms, has great battery life, integrates well with other programs, navigates well, and its app is far and away better than anyone else’s. IT JUST WORKS.
Rapha Merino Collar. I’ve always loved to ride in the winter with gators or collars, whatever you like to call them. I’ve found that riding in cold temps is much easier on the throat when you have your mouth covered. The merino collar has a nice opening at the base for comfort around the neck, and tightens at the top for fitting over your mouth, and ears, when the need arises. We all know that if you breathe into something over and over and over it’s probably going to stink, but the merino collar fends off that bad odor longer than any other material, which means I don’t’ have to wash it after every single ride (is that gross? Maybe that’s gross, my wife would say that’s gross. Whatever).
Pro tip: Cover your mouth on flats and downhills, uncover on the climbs. It’ll keep from fogging up your sunglasses.
Lead Out Half Frame Bag. This is the best half-frame bag on the market. The design allows you better access to your water bottles, while still being able to carry a huge amount of gear inside. I like to carry toolkit on left side, then have food and other miscellaneous items on the right side. It also looks good. It’s much more secure (and aerodynamic) than a handlebar bag. They offer a wide array of colors to choose from, and also offer and ultra light material version.
Pro tip: Buy Velcro straps that match your bike frame so the straps blend in with your frame. Easy to find on Walmart.com.
Front and Rear lights. I find myself caught out at the pub after a ride, and I’ve stayed too long. And it’s dark. So during winter months I just keep the lights on my bikes. There are so many companies out there making great lights right now. I use the NiteRider Lumina Pro 1200 lumen light with an adapter that bolts it to the underside of my Wahoo computer mount for a clean look. I’ve found that type of lumen power to be plenty for me on the gravel. For tail light I’ve ridden the Bontrager Flare RT rear light for going on almost 10 years now. It’s small, powerful, rechargeable, and durable. I’ve had a few break over the years and Trek/Bontrager has never asked questions, always just replaced them. I like it when a brand stands behind their products, no questions asked.
On clothing: I generally prefer riding in knicks if it’s above 30 degrees, personally finding them more comfortable. If you are new at riding outside in the winter, you’ll need to play around with your clothing set up until you’re comfortable with it. Some folks run hotter or colder than others. Layer up so if you get hot you can shed a layer or unzip a jacket. Play around with shoe covers and gloves – I don’t ride in shoe covers if it’s above 25 degrees, because my feet are eventually going to get cold and numb no matter what. I often bring two pairs of gloves if it’s really cold, because my winter gloves are too warm and eventually make my hands sweat. I always wear merino wool socks, even preferring them in the summer.
I could add 100 more cool things to this list, but these are my favorites. Winter doesn’t have to be the season of losing fitness, getting depressed, or being bored out of your mind on the trainer. It’s actually one of my favorite times to ride here in OZ.
What’s your favorite winter essential riding gear? Shoot us an email at email@example.com and let us know. We’d love to share yours!
Disclaimer: Rapha is owned by RZC Investments, a Bentonville-based investment platform for Steuart and Tom Walton.