Start Winter Commuting Part II: Getting Dressed for Winter Success

Yesterday we looked at how to pick the right bike to ride during winter, check out Part I of our series here.

While you’re working this week to get your bike ready for a ride to work on Friday, we are going to continue looking at what you need to get out of your house and onto you bike this winter;

Part II – The Clothing;

Chances are right now you have the clothing in your closet to keep you warm on your way to work.

Head;

Okay so apparently it is a myth that you lose 90 percent of your body heat through your head, turns out it is closer to 10 percent.  The problem is, there are a lot of tricky body parts that need covering on your head, not the least of which, are your eyes (see the next section) chin, nose and ears.  The easiest way to get everything covered at once?  A balaclava or baklava (there are lots of different spellings) covers your head, ears, face and nose all in one shot.  There are a lot of different designs and materials used so try a bunch on to find the right fit.  Our favorite? This one it allows for good breathing and a variety of options of ways to wear it.

Looking for a cheaper method for covering your face and ears?  Try the cowboy look with a bandana tied around your face, or grow a beard.  For the ears, you can wear a cycling cap with ear flaps or 180’s.

Eyes;

You have to shield these somehow, otherwise it is going to be a miserable ride. Without some sort of shield your eyes will immediately begin to water, and going down hill?  Forget it, you won’t be able to see anything.

The best method?  Grab some ski goggles.  You can find them on clearance racks everywhere right now, and your eyes will never be warmer.

The cheap and easy method to fix this? Just grab some big sunglasses.  We will warn you that if you are planning on going this route, be ready for foggy glasses.  When you stop at lights you will be breathing a little hard and your glasses will quickly steam over.  There are lots of products out there to prevent fogging glasses, quick spit works for us.

Hands;

Your hands are not going to be the first thing to get cold, but they are the most prohibitive.  There have been several rides that we have had to cut short because it felt like our fingers were going to freeze solid.  It isn’t just about comfort, it is also about safety, fingers that are stiff with cold, have a harder time gripping things like the handlebars and squeezing the brakes.  We have tried literally dozens of combinations of gloves, mittens, $70 Pearl Izumi Lobster gloves, windproof, waterproof, high-tech, and low tech options, and we have settled on one answer; if you want you hands to stay warm no matter what the circumstances, get yourself to Fleet Farm and pick up some choppers. Seriously, nothing will keep your hands warm like them, and as an added bonus, they’re cheap!

Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself, you’ll never have a cold finger again.

One word of caution, it will be a little bit awkward at first trying to shift and brake using the gloves, but once you get used to it, your hands will be so warm you won’t care how hard it is to use.

Feet;

After hands, feet are the next thing to go numb.  Standard socks aren’t going to cut it on your ride into work, either get yourself some wool socks, or double up with a thin moisture wicking layer and then some boot socks.  This is all assuming that you don’t have clipless pedals and the shoes to match. If this is the case then your best bet is to use shoes covers. These handy sleeves (usually made of neoprene) slip right over your shoes and have pre-cut holes for your cleats.

Our method?  Two pairs of socks, winter boots and platform pedals.

Bonus points; an old messenger trick is to wear two pairs of socks with a plastic grocery bag between the two layers.  Your feet will stay warm all day long.

Upper body;

The hardest part about dressing your upper and lower body for cold weather is finding the right balance to keep you warm, but not make you sweaty.  Our experience?  If you wear more than two layers plus a jacket, you are going to be sweating bullets after two blocks.

Start with a base layer. You want something thin that is going to wick moisture away from your body.  You do not want to sit at work all day long with a damp cotton shirt on. We are giving away a great under layer as part of our contest this week, but there are lots of options in all different price ranges.  Those long underwear you have in your closet will work too!

Layer two depends on what you can get away with wearing at work.  Best case scenario is to bike to work in your work clothing.  For us that usually meant under layer then a button up shirt.  For shorter rides this shouldn’t be a problem, but once you hit major sweating, you might want to wear one thing, like a long sleeve t and bring a folded dress shirt in a back pack or panniers.

Jacket.  Waterproof, waterproof, waterproof.  Your jacket is going to get wet, it will be a sloppy commute, so wear something waterproof.  The added bonus is that waterproof items are usually pretty good at cutting the wind also.

Wearing this combination is guaranteed to keep you toasty.

Lower body;

Similar to the upper body clothing tips, the lower body depends greatly on what you can wear once you are at work.  Have to wear dress pants?  No problem, throw on some waterproof pants overtop and you are ready to go.  Otherwise, if you want to bring your dress pants, roll them up like a tube stating at the cuffs and going up to the waist, then stick them in your bag.  When you get the work and take them out they will be mostly wrinkle free.

If you can wear jeans at work, you might be able to get away with wearing simply one under layer (such as bike tights, or long johns) and your jeans.  Keep in mind that usually winter rides are sloppy rides so you might want to put something on that you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

Wrap Up;

In the descriptions above, we have given you a lot of tips which will help you get out on your bike during the winter time.  But there is one really important thing to remember, almost everyone reading this post is an adult so we assume that you have been dressing yourself for many years.

This is no different!  Just get out and ride.

One last rule of thumb, if you are warm when you first step outside, you are going to be too hot on your ride.  The human body is an amazing heat producer when you are doing physical activity.

Additional Resources;

1) Commute by bike pictorial on dressing appropriately by temperature.  This doesn’t necessarily provide any other information than what we have done above, but the pictures are fun.

2) Get some local flavor on dressing that only the Bike Jerks can provide.

3) Standard generic posing about layering, but it has some good additional tips that we didn’t want to re-post.

4) Readers sound-off in the comments about what works for you.

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11 Responses to Start Winter Commuting Part II: Getting Dressed for Winter Success

  1. Pingback: Wednesday Give Away: Winter Warmer Grab Bag. | Cycle Twin Cities

  2. Pingback: Start Winter Commuting Part III – Planning. | Cycle Twin Cities

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  4. Chris Warren says:

    I picked up the Louis Garneau 0 Degree shoes because neoprene shoe covers didn’t sound like they would cut it below 20 degrees or so, and I really prefer clipless shoes. I also got them slightly larger than my normal road shoes so I’d have room to wear an extra pair of socks on the really cold days. They’ve worked great so far.

  5. Rob Williams says:

    I find wearing too much is more a of a problem than not wearing enough. Once you get out there and get going, staying warm isnt really an issue except on feet and hands. Use chemical warmers in your shoes (or ride platform pedals and get the battery heated Columbia winter boots like I did ;). For hands, wear a thin base layer liner under some choppers or a pair of iQ lobsters. Make sure to get them a little big so you can have some warm air pockets in there.

  6. Randall says:

    Here’s what I’ve been wearing:
    Shoes/Pedals: PLASTIC Platforms and Sorel Boots
    Lower: Heavy Merino Wool and Levi 501 Rigid, Endura Overtousers if it’s really cold.
    Upper: T-Shirt, Hoodie, PacLite Goretex jacket. On really cold days (highs less then 5) I wear a t-shirt/hoodie and a Helly Hansen Down Jacket
    Head: Wool face mask, Ski goggles, Giro Atmos Helmet
    Hands: Hestra Ski gloves

  7. Pingback: Start Winter Commuting Part IV – The Ride | Cycle Twin Cities

  8. Luke Francl says:

    I wear winter boots (not super heavy ones, but wind- and water-proof ), wool socks, long underwear and pants or knickers depending on how cold it is.

    On top, I have some Icebreaker wool base layer shirts I picked up heavily on sale at Midwest Mountaineering — they’re awesome, very nice fit and not itchy at all. I even like wearing them to bed. Then I put on a wool jersey, and if it’s really cold, another wool sweater. I have a Pearl Izumi windbreaker that I wear on the outside.

    For mittens, I had some choppers but I lost them on a trip, so I need to get another pair. Those ones were my mom’s, they must have been 30 years old. Right now I’m doing windproof cloves inside of fleece mittens and it works OK.

    I wear a balaclava and my regular helmet with the hood from my windbreaker. That’s a bit cold, especially starting out. I would like to get a snowboard helmet or a skullcap.

  9. Alex says:

    I’m a big fan of layering outer gloves over some thin liner gloves – that way if your hands sweat you can just wash the liners and not have to worry about stinking up your outers!

  10. ben says:

    I would like to see something on wool and its great properties.

    I love my wool mittens and socks.

  11. moose says:

    I love wool socks! Two pairs *can* be awesome, but only if they fit properly. You don’t want to cram your feet into your boots and stifle your circulation. On really cold days, I will wear wool dress socks or liners underneath heavyweight knee-high wool socks (think snowboarding or skiing socks–I like Smartwool), but usually I skip the liners. I think the taller wool socks serve the same purpose as legwarmers, which many friends have also recommended.

    I have chronically cold feet and poor circulation, so I find it helpful to change into fresh socks right before going outside (no risk of residual moisture) and I usually bring a change of socks for every stop I am planning to make (>15 min).

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