Tuesday, October 07, 2008

From the readers: Cold Weather Gear

I've started getting a lot of e-mails from readers regarding cold weather and suggestions for riding in it.

To those who've e-mailed me, I've pretty much covered this in my replies to you.

what works best for me isn't guaranteed to work that well for you. It depends on how hard you ride, how much heat you build up on your own, and how far you have to ride. Your best bet is to experiment. Here's what I use, though:

  • Below 50: A long-sleeve t-shirt under a short-sleeve. Long pants (cargo pants or jeans) over bike shorts. A headband to keep my ears warm and some light gloves
  • Below 40: A windbreaker over a t-shirt, long pants over thermal long johns and a balaclava (kind of like a ski mask) with some light gloves
  • Below 25: A thin coat over a t-shirt, long pants over long johns, a balaclava and heavier gloves
  • Below 10: A thin coat over a sweat shirt over a t-shirt, long pants over flannel pants over long johns, balaclava with ski goggles (keeps the eyes from freezing) and heavy gloves
  • Below 0: A thick coat, sweat shirt, t-shirt, long pants, flannel pants, long johns, two ski masks, ski goggles, and mittens. No, really. Mittens. Keeping the fingers together keeps them warmer.
People vary in their comforts, a lot. You've got people like Kate who I think bundle up quite excessively for temps in the high 40s. Lobster claws? Fritz took this photo last year and I asked him what the temperature was, commenting that I didn't think it got that cold in the bay area.

Then you've got people like Doug who overheat wearing a balaclava (ski mask) even with a -25°F wind chill.

Experimenting is simple. Just keep a log of the temperature and precipitation, then write down what you wore and how well it worked or how badly it sucked. Use that as a guide for the next time. I didn't log every single condition I've ridden in, but I keep track of especially great clothing combinations and I've found that any setup I use is good for about a 10 degree range.

Dressing in layers is great, especially if you have some spare room in your bags to store the layers if you need to peel them off. Additionally, I usually keep one light layer with me in case the temperature drops or I under-guessed the weather.

Your ideal clothing setup for cold-weather riding will probably feel a little chilly when you first get going. It doesn't take long to warm up, though. Dressing too warm can actually be worse than not dressing warm enough. If you're sweating excessively, you run the very real risk of hypothermia. You might be okay while you keep moving, but if you're soaked through your clothes and need to stop to fix a minor issue with your bike, you won't stay as warm and the moisture will quickly sap heat away from your body faster than you're generating it.

Adding or removing layers isn't the only way to regulate your temperature, though. You can also try putting some more effort into the bike if you start to feel chilly, or slow down a bit if you're getting too hot.


Anonymous said...


Check this link out for how to dress in most conditions.

Anonymous said...


Check this link out for how to dress in most conditions.

David Glandon said...

There are two things to remember about dressing for winter riding; dress in layers and stay away from cotton. Dressing in layers was well stated in the article above, so I will not dwell on it.
I cannot emphasize enough on how important it is to not wear cotton in the winter if you are going to be active. Cotton hold the perspiration inside the fiber of the material just as a sponge holds water. Because cotton holds the water in the fibers it takes longer for the material to dry. Instead you should look for a base layer to wear that is made from polyester, wool, and other man (or animal) maid materials. These man maid fibers will not hold water but instead let them pass through to the other side. Most of these materials will be found in clothing that would be labeled “wicking” clothing. Wicking material moves the perspiration from your skin to the surface, or outside, to evaporate in the air. This keeps you cool and dryer for summer wear, warm and dry for winter wear.
You should also follow the no cotton rule when adding your second and third layers. You have removed the perspiration from the skin in the first layer you want to continue to move the moister away in the following layers. The farther the perspiration is away from your skin the warmer and safer in the cold you will be

Noah said...

Good points. I should have mentioned that my "long johns" are cheap wicking base layers I got from Target. They're meant for athletic use and have lasted me two whole winter seasons, and they will probably last through this winter as well. Wal-Mart and Target sell relatively cheap wicking athletic gear. Most of the "T shirts" I wear are wicking "DRI-MORE" shirts from wal-mart ($6 each). So yes, that's a good point.

Also, don't forget about WOOL. Seriously. It's natural. It wicks. On me, synthetic acquires a funny smell. wool, for some reason, does not. It might require some extra care. It might be more expensive, but wool (quite literally) rocks my socks.

About the Civia Cycles page... I would BURN UP wearing some of those clothing combinations, and others would feel really cold. I stand by my assertion that people really need to experiment to get it right. The Civia guide is well-presented and offers suggestions that make a good starting point for your clothing experiments.

Yokota Fritz said...

I'm one of those who runs hot and dresses fairly lightly even at very cold temperatures (I haven't always lived in California... :-))

Cotton kills in the wilderness, but honestly for short distance in city cycling it's not that big of a deal. Synthetic or wool layers are ideal and I own all that, but if you manage your speed and don't overdo it and conditions are reasonably dry, you don't really need the high tech outdoor fitness gear.

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