Let’s face it, it is now cold outside and getting the motivation to kit up and head out on the bike gets more difficult with each degree drop. But, with a few additions to the gear you can hit the streets and still work up a good sweat. So why neglect the trails or your commute these winter months? So here is my approach to cold weather cycling gear still fits within the budget friendly world. So let’s get started.
One of my biggest issues is the cold air for breathing, seeing, and my nose. I am already denied the fun of all those cool cycling sunglasses because I wear regular glasses. But a benefit to the glasses is that I do have some sort of protection against the cold wind when I am out in the morning before the sun comes up without having to resort to goggles. That said, the downside is that I do have to fight with fogging up. Aside from some oversized goggles I haven’t really found a good solution. Anti-fog cleansers can work, but only on a temporary basis and isn’t a solution in my opinion. Luckily I have found that the only time I have uncontrolled fogging is when I am stopped at stoplights.
My nose, on the other hand can’t help but run when the really cold air is blowing on it. Sorry, seems a little gross but it is what it is. Breathing in that cold air can also hinder the amount and depth of breaths that you take. And then there are the ears, who doesn’t feel like their ears are going to freeze up and fall off in the winter? So the solution for all three of these is wrapped up into one item, a balaclava. For anyone who gets out on the slopes will know the benefits of having one of these cozy things. I picked up a Pearl Izumi balaclava for $34.99 and in 32 degree temps have no effect on my head. The specific one I chose is also marketed to allow to adjust the mouth section to alter the fit if you don’t need as much coverage. The couple times I have done that I have found it very uncomfortable so I just leave it in place once initially put on.
Because your nose and mouth are covered, when you inhale the air gets filtered and will knock out some of that cold making breathing a more pleasurable experience which in turn makes it less strained, kind of important on the bike I think. The surrounding air also loses some of that cold ‘bite’ which means, at least for me, the running nose goes away.
Something to keep in mind with the balaclava is that you need to pay attention to how you exhale – I’m talking the direction here. You have to be very away of the direction you are exhaling your spent air. Aside from your eyes, your face is completely covered. That coverage means that when you exhale some of the air will be filtered up and through that opening which will fog up your glasses, sunglasses, goggles. To counter that I have found breathing down to my chin prevents all that from happening.
And I think it goes without saying (but I’m apparently doing it anyway as you can see) but having your ears covered is something we have been trained to do since we were little ones with the stocking caps with the little poof-balls on the top – I couldn’t be the only one who wore those as a kid was I, an LA Rams one at that.
With the head taken care of let’s move on down to the body and arms.
Dressing for biking in the cold weather is no different than dressing for going out in general in the cold weather, layers is key. Starting with a base layer is one of the keys to staying warm on the bike. A base layer is a tight shirt that you wear under your jersey and can be long, short, or no sleeved. You can buy all sorts of brands and styles of base layer specific shirts at all your LBS be they the small mom and pop or the chains. Looking around at all the choices out there I was shocked at the prices for these shirts. I was surprised to see the price range going from XXXXXXX, that is equal to the cost of a jersey, and this is for less material – and no pockets! -so that got me thinking. Time to look elsewhere, and this is where we step away from the bike shops and to the ‘real world.’
I headed over Kohl’s (but Target, Wal-Mart, etc. can also work) and check out their sportswear section. I was able to find a few different temperature control base layers for $12 a pop. You can stock up on a several shirts that way for the cost of one of the ‘bike specific’ ones and still be nice and warm. Problem solved!
Now when it comes to jerseys and keeping your arms warm you have two main choices, long sleeves or short. Personally I don’t get winter long-sleeved jerseys. I am less likely to wear the long-sleeves for most of the rest of the year so why spend the money on jerseys that I would only wear for a couple months a year? But I hear you now, “AJ, my arms will freeze and fall off and I am no good riding hands free.” My solution to this is to pick up some arm warmers. I spent $25 on a pair of arm warmers that I can use to, well, keep my arms warm. These easily slide over the arms and will stay in place even with rigorous riding. An added benefit to this is that if you are starting off on a long ride there will get to be a point where you will warm up enough and can remove the sleeves and still be comfortable for the remainder of your ride. You wear them as needed and slide them off when you don’t. Sure you will still only use these for a couple months a year, but at a third of the cost of a jersey and they will work with all your short-sleeved jerseys.
There is one more layer that I employ on these cold rides, and that is a thin rain jacket. For $40.00 the material that helps keep me dry – from the elements at least – also help ensure that the jacket is wind resistant. With that as my outer layer I stay nice and comfortable for the rides. Heck, I have even toyed with the idea of not wearing the sleeves in some of my rides, clearly I have a little more playing around to do.
Now to be honest, I haven’t found the perfect pair of gloves for cold weather riding yet. Well, at least I haven’t encountered cold enough weather for the current full-fingered gloved that I have. But basically you want to get something that is more lycra than wool because you will have better wind and water resistance. The best way to stay warm, as we have seen, is battling that cold wind. The gloves I have are great for that but I think are a little too warm for the above 32 degrees temps. My hands end up sweaty even after my commute ride (15 miles) in the morning. So I will update as I find a better suited pair.
Top half is covered so time to continue down to the legs. Like with the jerseys, you have an option of getting full legged or shorts. I already have a stack of cycling shorts so, again, why would I get pants that I will only wear a couple months out of the year? So what are the options for your legs then? Well, you have two options there, you can get leg warmers which, as you most likely guessed, acts just like the arm warmers, or you can get leggings. No not yoga pants and not jeggings. These are basically full legged cycling pants without the padding. These are to be worn over your padded shorts to keep the rest of your legs warm.
Ok, time to be a little honest. I do have a pair of the long legged padded pants. I picked up a pair that was on sale for a super cheap price. I wanted to see what the difference was between using them vs legging/shorts combo that I have been doing. What I have found is that I am warmer with the combo versus the all-in-one.
Ok, time to talk socks! I haven’t found another sport that is so fascinated with socks other than Roller Derby. But, even with all the really wild patterns, designs, and colors of socks that you will find in a bike shop, this is another opportunity I take to head to a ‘real world store’ (yes, Kohl’s again) to pick up some socks. What I suggest is finding a pair of socks that come above the ankle enough to have overlap with the leggings. The more skin you keep covered the warmer you will be. Many times you can find a deal for ‘buy one get another 50% off’ so I was able to pick up 6 pairs of socks for the same price I would have paid for 2 at a bike shop.
Socks will help keep your feet and ankles warm but when you get to the 32 and below temps that is where you have to employ some bike specific gear again. Road shoes are not built for warmth but toe or shoe covers will help add that little bit of warmth and actually rain protection for those feet. Two areas you don’t want to go numb while riding is in the saddle and the feet, doing so makes for a miserable ride. So keep those feet covered and your motivation will thank you.
So there you have it. It might sound like a lot of extra gear to worry about, and to a point I can understand that perspective going into it new. If you want to be able to stay in the saddle on the roads and trails, or extend your commuting capability then these items are key. Luckily nothing on this list goes over the $50 price point, hell, the socks and base layers you can just add a little at a time AND you can use them all year long, double bonus. Sure, if you add everything up it can seem pricey but if you do what I did and just add an item or two at a time then you will be good to go. For all you Team Performance Buyers Club people, you could even use your points to get some of these ‘free’ or at least with a discount.