As we know, it’s not always sunny and 70 outside. Especially in Seattle! This means one of two things: either you stay inside most of the winter, or you put together a winter warrior outfit! Personally, I vote for the second one, I get cabin fever if I don’t ride outside after a while.
So what does one need to be comfortable in bad weather? Well first off is a mind-set. It’s not going to be comfortable, what we are looking for is tolerable. Good enough that you will get on the bike and make some miles. Hell even I won’t ride during a monsoon, and last year I skipped a ride in March, that I had pre-paid for, because I woke up to snow! I crawled back in bed with my gorgeous wife and was VERY happy about my decision.
However, barring monsoon rains and snow, I get outside whenever I can. So lets talk about what you can wear to survive this. First rule: COTTON KILLS! In the summer when it’s warm, cotton works perfectly. In the winter, if it gets wet, it will suck the warmth right out of you. Learned this from many a mountaineer. So no jeans or cotton hoodies.
We’ll work from the head down.
A light weight stocking cap or balaclava under the helmet will keep the head and ears warm. Even though it’s a myth that you lose most of your body heat through your head, I will tell you, going fast down hill when it’s in the 30s or 40s is damn cold on your head without something on it!
Your helmet can also help, especially if you get a helmet cover. This blocks the wind nicely.
Go for the layered approach. There will be times when you overdress, or the sun comes out unexpectedly. If you can’t shuck a layer you will overheat and that’s almost as bad as being cold.
I go for a polylpro or other synthetic shirt next to the skin. Then a layer of fleece, either a vest or a pull over top, depending on how cold it is. The most important piece of your entire outfit comes next. No matter how many layers you have on, you need something that stops the wind. Without it, it will cut right through you! A simple windbreaker does wonders. I have been doing this a while, so I have three. I know when to wear each, but it took a lot of experimentation to make it happen.
You will need multiple sets of gloves, at least I do. Super cold days, Most cold days, starting to warm up days, and nice days all have their own sets. Waterproof and wind blocking will keep your fingers toasty. Cold hands annoy me more than anything else while riding!
Legs are tricky. I can wear shorts when most don’t. But when it’s too cold for even me, or its raining, I either wear the gortex bike pants, or my soft shell pants. Remember, the legs are doing all the work, so they generate a lot of heat. This is why I can skip a polypro layer. Many people buy winter tights at bike stores, but I guess I am not a tights kinda guy.
Warm wool socks will help, and I broke down and bought feet covers from REI. They are a neoprene type material, and slide completely over the shoe. They go a long way in keeping the feet dry and relatively warm.
Finally its all about experimenting. Don’t worry about looking good, worry about being as comfortable as possible while riding. Throw an extra upper layer and heavier gloves in your bag or pack back just in case. It never hurts to stop and add or subtract layers. Soon, you will walk outside, and know JUST what to wear. Then you can make fun of your more timid friends!
Here’s me in the Chilly Hilly a few years ago. Wearing almost everything I had listed here. Instead of the Helmut cover, I had a baseball cap underneath. Not a bad option if I do say so myself. I won’t say I look good, but I am warm!