Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How To Dress For The Cold Weather Commute

Those "things" on my handle bars are essential for successful cold weather commuting.
There isn't any "bad weather" for riding bicycles, just "bad clothing choices".

You've likely heard that and thought to yourself, "Yeah.....whatever Buddy! I bet you don't ride when it gets really cold out there!"

Well, as a matter of fact, I do- and so could you.

Here's how I tackled a 7°F commute straight into a 22mph Northwest wind, (so wind chills were, ya know....ridiculous!), and returned when it was a bit balmier. If you can call 12°F "balmy"! I'll walk you through my equipment choices and clothing here, and then you'll have to decide what will work for you. I am not saying to anyone that my set up is "the set up", but I am saying it could be a guide for you and I hope this encourages you to stretch your boundaries of what you think is possible for bicycling in Winter.

Equipment: I choose to ride my titanium Mukluk in Winter because my commute crosses several snowy sections, places where snow drifts, and several places where there is ice. Fat bikes are inherently stable beasts, and of course, they have tons of traction, so they are a good bicycle to use for Winter commuting, but you can use a fixed gear bike, hybrid, or a mountain bike if you want. Just make sure that it is in good running order, with great winter tires for traction, (maybe consider studded tires), and that everything is lubed and in order. The last thing you want is to have a break down when it is cold! Finally, I highly recommend "pogies". These are the fabric "covers" over the bars which you insert your hands into on the open end. Think of them as big, warm "hand socks" which block the wind, and you'll get the idea. If you suffer from cold hands, these are indispensable. I got mine at Blaine's Farm & Fleet as a gift. The "ATB" pogies, or "bar mitts", are cheaper, and oversized for bicycles, but they typically sell for less than $20.00 a pair. "Real" bicycle pogies are smaller and less apt to catch the wind but are higher priced.

Take me to your leader!
Clothing Choices: Starting with the feet, I used some heavy wool boot socks and my Keen Brixen boots, (out of production) which are lighter Winter boots. Obviously, I don't use clipless pedals, but instead I use flat platform pedals with traction pins. This works a trick in Winter since I don't have to worry about getting into or out of pedal bindings and I can wear footwear that actually keeps my feet warm!

On the bottom, I opt for wool long underwear and a pair of Dickies 874 work pants. That's all I need to stay warm on the bottom, but if I weren't so warm blooded, I'd maybe add a pair of rain pants to block the wind. Your call....

Up top I use a wool long sleeved base layer, my cotton t-shirt I have to wear for work, and then a hooded jersey. Mine is an old Nike thermal hooded jersey, but you might find other brands or even wool ones now days. I put an old Zoic Black Market jacket over this. It is a windproof synthetic jacket that fits fairly loose. Choose something windproof that is similar and you should be fine. On the head, besides the hood, I put on a Challenge Tires branded fleece cap and then my Bell helmet. On the way to work, into the wind, I used a Craft balaclava, which is thin but does a wonderful job of keeping the wind off your face. That goes on first, by the way. On my eyes I used Spy Optic Daft glasses with the amber tinted lens. The rimless design with mucho coverage works like goggles without the bulk and weight. On my hands I used some Polarfleece gloves that are MallWart cheapos. Under the pogies, you can get away with almost nothing on your hands. And.....that's all. 

Keys To The Kingdom: Whatever you decide to wear, you should always be a bit chilled to start out. Working the pedals and if there is any wind, or hills, will cause you to build up heat and you'll be fine. Start out all warm and toasty and you'll end up overheating and getting sweaty, which will end up freezing your butt off, amongst other parts. It might also be wise to pack extra clothes to switch into later in case you have a longer commute or need to look "presentable" when you get to your destination. Whatever you do, don't choose your commuting/cycling Winter clothes primarily based upon looking good. Function over fashion here.

Okay, hope that helps get you started on tackling a situation on your bicycle you thought was undoable. Ride on!


Doug Mayer said...

Dang, winter came too fast this year! Just heard Buffalo, NY has 2 ft & counting of snow on the ground.

Glenn said...

I'm a year 'round commuter too.

I was hesitant to invest in real pogies because my bike parking is outside, and I didn't want to take them off in the morning and put them on at night, so I invested in some alpine mountain mittens. My hands have never been happier!

Do you have fogging problems with those glasses? Any glasses I wore would got over, that's why I switched to ski goggles.

Guitar Ted said...

@Glenn: The glasses will fog over if I wear my balaclava a "certain" way. If I don't wear it, no problems. I know some guys that wear a larger bandana, Buff rag, or other veil-like clothing over the nose and mouth to redirect exhausted air from the body downward. This typically will alleviate any fogging issues.

Hook said...

I've wondered about pogies for winter commuting, but always wondered if they would make signalling turns a pain.

Guitar Ted said...

@Hook: The shorter, more compact and formed pogies, like 45NRTH's are really easy to enter and exit with regard to hand signaling. They do command a much higher price than mine do though!

Jerry Wardlow said...

I highly recommend the Dickies 874 flannel lined variant, they're a lifesaver in the cold!