WINTER RIDING CLOTHING
If you have lived through a Minnesota winter, you know the benefit of layering. Versatility and adjustability are vital to successful dressing for winter riding in a cold climate. At the risk of stating the obvious, there are an infinite number of weather conditions. Each of our bodies are different, so experimenting is the best way to find out what works for you. I ride in the winter with a bag containing a few clothing options so I can add or subtract a layer and have a place to store them.
Many of the winter clothes you already have will work on your bicycle. Because of the speed of the bicycle, wind chill factors can multiply. If you are riding at fifteen miles per hour into a fifteen mile per hour headwind, that is an effective thirty mile per hour wind, which is a significant wind chill. The trick is to block the wind on the front facing parts of your body while leaving more venting on the rear facing. Many bicycle specific clothing articles will provide this feature.
Starting next to skin, you want base layers, which will wick perspiration away from your skin. Wool is an excellent material because it wicks, stays warm when wet and does not get that funky smell that synthetics get.
Hands and Feet
Another area of your body to consider are your feet. These appendages, along with your hands, are more exposed and therefore get major wind chill. You need these to power and control the bike, so you do not have opportunities to move them the way you might during other activities. Also consider how you connect your feet to the pedals -- whether you choose to ride clipped in or on a flat pedal, you will need to consider the outer surface of your shoes. Cleated shoes have holes for the cleat bolts, so I find it useful to remove the insole and put some duct tape over the holes to help seal that area. If you choose to use a summer shoe, remember they are usually designed to have good ventilation so shoe covers will seal off most of the air holes.
Keeping my hands warm has been the biggest challenge personally. The only thing I’ve found to work in really chilly weather are handlebar covers. These odd looking items come by many names including Pogies, Bullwinkles and hand warmers, or Barmitts (a popular brand name). Theirs are neoprene rubber, which does not breathe at all. We make our own here at County Cycles and of course, sell them. In all but the coldest weather a light glove is all I need under this outer layer.
Your head needs a different covering in the winter. My favorite winter head gear are the deceptively simple helmuffs. These fleece ear covers Velcro on to your helmet straps and are all I need for cool weather. We carry a wide variety of hats, caps, and balaclavas which can also be worn under your helmet. At County Cycles you will also find neck gaiters, sometimes called touques, as well as face coverings. We also carry helmet covers to block the air vents and provide another layer.
For legs, I have found that cycling tights without a chamois work the best. Under these you wear your summer shorts giving you that extra layer. For colder temperatures add lightweight long underwear.
Your core is an essential part of staying warm. Many people tend to over dress this area -- you want to be comfortable, but not soaked with your sweat. We stock a variety of long sleeved jerseys, jackets and wind vests are a very versatile -- cutting the wind on the front of your torso while venting in the back. I rarely leave without a vest on or packed for one more layer.
If all this seems expensive, daunting, or confusing, all is not lost for winter riding. You can go out on your bike for a short ride without the perfect clothing and it still will work and is fun. My rule of thumb is that if I am not cold for the first mile, I am overdressed.