While any sane human being might reasonably give up bicycling as the temperature dips below freezing and the snow flies, some of us live by the motto, “there is no weather too nasty for cycling; there is only insufficient clothing.” While you can certainly get away with short trips by bicycle in almost any warm clothing, there are some things that I find particularly helpful.
Under-layers: The stuff that gets sweaty
If you don’t sweat a lot when biking, you can get away with a lot more, so long as your clothing is warm enough. I sweat, though, so I need good base-layers to wick all that wet away from my skin so that I don’t get too hot, get wet, and freeze. I love my Merino wool long underwear so much that I wore them nearly constantly last winter (almost to the point of gross), so I bought two more pairs this year.
If you can afford Merino, it’s the best stuff out there; I’d suggest getting the base-layer (stuff right against your skin) first, since that’s going to have the most effect. If you can’t afford Merino (which is totally understandable, since that shit’s expensive), look for stuff that breathes and handles moisture well.
Mid-layers: Look like a grown-up when you get to work
Unless you’re planning to change when you get to your destination, your mid-layers are likely what everyone is going to see. They don’t have to be as good at handling moisture, although breathing is still pretty important, so that all that wet doesn’t get trapped if you sweat.
Again, if you can afford Merino, it’s great stuff (both for shirts and sweaters). But don’t let the price-tag prevent you from winter cycling — just wear something else breathable. I tend to wear jeans, although you could really wear any pair of pants (winter-biking in skirts takes very good under-layers, and a special level of dedication).
Outerwear: Waterproof breathables are your friend
Your outer layer is what protects you from the wind, the sleet/snow/rain/road-spray, and in large part, the cold. As with the mid-layers, breathability is important — you don’t want to trap moisture.
I generally wear rain pants to keep my legs dry(er), and on my torso I tend to wear some combination of extra sweaters, insulating layers from coats, and either the (warmer but not-so-waterproof) shell from the ski jacket I got when I was 16, or my (thinner-but-drier) rain coat.
In my continued quest to turn into a sheep, I recently picked up a boiled wool jacket for spring/fall riding, and also for layering with ALL THE THINGS in winter. I want a wool pea coat so that I can actually get off my bike and look like an adult, even in winter. Plus, it’s long enough that I won’t get that stupid cold crescent on my back where neither my coat nor my pants cover sufficiently.
Footwear: Keep your toes toasty
I generally wear warm wool socks (sometimes multiple pairs), my bike shoes, and a pair of shoe covers. Shoe covers are a pain, because you need to take them off before walking anywhere, or you’ll shred the bottoms. However, I’d say they add at least 5ºC to my foot-comfort-range, AND they keep my feet dry, so they’re totally worth it.
If you don’t have cleated pedals, you can probably wear good socks and your regular winter boots (just check whether you can bend your ankles enough). Specific winter-cycling boots do exist, but they’re all super-expensive. I’ve been drooling over a pair of Wölvhammers, but at roughly $350? Oof.
Bits and pieces: Hats, gloves, and scarves
The little accessory bits can make a huge difference to overall warmth. For hats, Merino wool balaclavas are a popular option (Icebreaker, Smartwool, and 45NRTH all make them), but any reasonably fitted, reasonably thin hat should work. Balaclavas protect more of your face, and can slightly warm the air going to your lungs.
I’ve been mostly using my hoods, a tube-thing (not Merino), and a cashmere shawl as a scarf. I really like having a nice big scarf around my neck, because it keeps the cold air from whistling right down my front between my boobs — never a good feeling. I’m looking at getting a Merino balaclava, though.
As to gloves, I’ve been wearing a pair of gloves with a mitten-flap, and Merino wool liners inside those. The mitten-flap is great, since it keeps my hands a little warmer for riding, but then I can still lock/unlock my bike without taking my gloves off and freezing my fingers. However, at some point, it’s simply too cold out to be able to wear enough insulation on one’s hands AND still be able to unlock one’s bike. For the colder weather, I recently picked up a pair of mittens. For this winter, I’m also looking into getting pogies for my bike, to add another layer of weather-protection around my hands.
But I’ll talk more about those in my follow-up post on winter cycling gear!
Winter-biking homies, what are your favourite things to wear in the cold times? Any tips for keeping fingers and toes warm? How about staying warm without breaking the bank, or justifying it when you do?