In this second in a series of three posts on winter biking I’ll talk about what sort of gear I use to stay comfortable on mid winter rides.
When it comes to clothing the general advice I give those who are new to winter riding is don’t skimp on quality but don’t think you need a ton of dedicated bike clothing either. I suggest you start of by investing in a few key pieces of gear that form the foundation of your winter biking wardrobe based on the range of temperature and conditions you will be riding in and how you will be riding.
In my case there are two distinct types of riding I do in the winter, training and commuting. For training rides I have to be careful about regulating my body temperature to avoid sweating too much and allow the moisture I do produce to get wicked away from the surface of my skin and escape through my clothes, which also have to protect me from the wind. It is for these rides that I wear dedicated biking gear configured specifically for the ambient temperature as shown in the list at the bottom of the page.
The second type of riding I do in the winter is commuting and for this I like to wear clothes that function both on and off the bike. I am generally not it a situation where I simply make one ride to an office where I can shower and change clothes and then one ride home. I have multiple stops on my winter journeys and I also use my bike as much as I can for things like short trips to the store.
My commuting kit is simple: I use the basic approach of a three layer outfit that consists of a base layer, an insulation layer and a shell layer. The base layer is worn under my regular shirt and pants and then I increase the warmth and thickness of the insulation layer (i.e. my regular clothes) as the ambient temp drops. I wear an outer layer jacket that is wind and waterproof but also breathable and if it is snowing or raining I wear rain overpants that can be easily taken off. I wear my hiking boots or normal shoes until the temps drop below 45 then switch to winter boots and carry a lighter pair of shoes in my bag when it gets colder.
One consideration many people don’t think of is that the length of your ride should also influence what you wear. In a somewhat counter intuitive fashion the longer the ride the lighter your clothes should be since your body heat will build up over time. For a quick ride to the store in cold weather I will wear a warmer outfit that what I would wear for a 5-10 mile commute.
There are certainly a lot of other good options out there in a variety of styles. It used to be that virtually all the winter bike gear available was sport rider styled in bright colors and was basically not the kind of thing you would wear off the bike unless you were planning on advertising that you were a dedicated winter biker and ensuring that you are “the bike person” at every social function you attend.
I find a lot of my winter gear at REI, where they sell clothes meant for outdoor pursuits that are also just regular clothes. The “go to” brands for me are the REI house brands such as “Co-op” for cycling gear and Mission Workshop. Both companies provide a lifetime guarantee on everything and the quality of what they make is top notch, more importantly their style does not scream “I am a biker” and allows me to hop on the bike whenever I want without having to go change into my “biking clothes”.
There are number of other great brands such as Kuhl, Patagonia and others that sell clothes meant for an active lifestyle. Near the bottom of the page I have created a list of my top 10 winter cycling wardrobe items to give you an idea of the specific pieces I wear. The full coverage fenders on my bike keep me pretty dry and I don’t have a job where I need to look pristine upon arrival at the office, when I did I just carried my work pants and shoes in my bag. If you are going to commute in sub freezing temps a set of ski goggles is also a great idea to keep your eyes from watering too much and then freezing up.
These days I wear a thin base layer of REI or Patagonia long underwear under my everyday clothes when it gets below 40F and a medium weight base layer below 20F. For gloves I wear my Giro cycling gloves or my choppers if it gets really cold. For boots I used Merrell slip on’s for cold weather and my work or hiking boots with thicker wool socks when the temps get above 40. As long as they are waterproof and not so big they slip off the pedals just about any winter boot will do. For most people it makes more sense to by a $20 pair of platform pedals than a pair of $200+ winter cycling boots but now that I am training for races all year long I have a dedicated pair of 45 North winter boots so I can ride 2+ hours in sub 30 temps.
My training ride kit is shown below. This can provide a good starting point for people to figure out how they need to get outfitted for winter training or commuting.
55F: and above – normal clothing with a wind breaker jacket or gilet.
40-55F: A long sleeve wool base layer and possibly cycling tights for training or lined water resistant pants for commuting
30-40F: A shell layer with plenty of ventilation such as arm pit zippers and a base layer for training or commuting. Shoe covers and winter gloves. Glasses or maybe even goggles if I am riding fast on a training ride.
20-30F: A full synthetic or wool base layer with a zip neck top, a long sleeve wool jersey and tights for training rides and my 45 North Wolverhammer boots with thin wool socks for training. A full wool or synthetic base layer for commuting and a full shell layer with rain pants if it is wet for commuting.
Below 20F: A full light or mid-weight base layer with zip neck top, long sleeve thick wool or synthetic jersey for insulation, and if it is really cold an outer layer of wind and water proof pants over my tights. The Wolverhammer boots with thick wool or possibly a thin liner sock and a mid weight wool sock. Winter gloves plus bar mounted hand covers for training. For commuting I dress like I am going on an arctic expedition with a full winter coat, furry hat, big boots and ski pants. I look ridiculous but I smile a slightly crazy smile and it all comes together…
Note: With my shoes I will only use clipless pedals when the roads are clear. If there is snow or Ice I run shoes with flat bottoms and platform pedals with no toe clips to ensure I can put my feet down quickly in case I lose traction.
My top 10 pieces of Cycling Gear: