How to Bike Winter

From Bike Winter...

Always remember to Ride Safely, especially in winter.

For most folks, the key to getting through the winter is personal climate control. Your torso generates plenty of heat while your extremities suffer--sort of like an apartment with a central heater. The warmth just never seems to make to the bathroom.

Head: The wind can be brutal on our ears and eyes. A thin scarf wrapped around your head and neck under a helmet is all many people need during brisk fall days. (If you do wear a scarf, it should be a short one or one that you wrap around you well enough that the ends do not dangle. You don't want even the slightest chance of the scarf getting caught in your own wheels or caught up on a passing vehicle.) For colder weather, try a balaclava (face mask) that covers everything but the eyes. Use non-metal wrap sun-glasses or goggles to protect those.

Glasses: On frigid days, treat the lenses with a bit of gel toothpaste to prevent fogging. This toothpaste trick is a much cheaper alternative than getting the expensive lens spray sold at skiing stores. However, do not use a toothpaste that has baking soda in it or you will scratch the lenses.

Feet: On days with snow and slush, get some water proof boots that are tall enough to prevent slush from easily spattering onto your socks. On any days where the temperatures are very cold, wear wool socks or ski socks; on frigid days, your toes may get numb quickly if you are wearing cotton socks or dress socks. Make sure that your boots or shoes are big enough to accommodate thick socks; you want enough room for a warm air pocket. When your toes get cold, wiggle them or get off your bike and run briefly. Some cyclists prefer to have synethetic liners between their boots and their shoes. If you are using your bike to commute to work, you may want to leave a pair of regular pair of shoes at your work location or else use shoe covers.

Hands: The main challenge here is staying warm without losing dexterity. You need to be able to brake and lock or maintain your bike. A glove liner with mittens can work. You can use lobster gloves, which are somewhere between a glove and mitten. Some cyclists prefer to use a simple winter glove; choosing ones that have an insulation layer on the inside will help keep your fingers warm on long rides. If you use leather gloves, be careful of ones with dyes that smudge easily; you'll arrive at your destination with smudges under your nose, not realizing that you had been wiping it!

Torso: Many cyclists swear by the three-layer approach. The innermost layer is the wicking layer/base layer, the middle layer is the insulation layer, and the outer layer is the wind/rain/snow protection layer. Avoid cotton base layers because they retain moisture and will leave you cold and clammy. Instead, use synthetic or silk or cashmere fabrics that wick moisture away. The middle layer keeps you warm. It can consist of one or more sweaters, fleece shirts, etc. A waterproof windbreaker is useful as the outer layer. I like coats with armpit zippers to prevent overheating and a bit of a tail to cover my bum. One advantage of the layer approach is that you can add or remove layers as needed to keep you comfortable on the ride.

Legs: The layer approach can also be adapted to your legs. Rain pants or techno-pants can block the wind, keep you dry, and protect you from road spatter. Thus, they can work well as an outer layer on bad weather days. Some of these pants are also heavy enough to serve as insulation. Tights or light pants can serve as a middle layer. Synthetic long johns make a good base layer.

Where can you get stuff?
  • Thrift stores
  • Army Surplus
  • Blain's Farm & Fleet
  • Local bike shops (Cycle shops that give attention to commuter cyclists and year-round cyclists often have some great winter clothing.)
  • Swanky sporting goods places
  • For women tired of not finding stuff that fits them:
  • For big array of silk stuff: www.wintersilks.comp
  • For reasonably priced outdoors stuff: 


Shopping List:

Must haves:
·         Insulated gloves or lobster mitts
·         Balaclava or windproof hat and ear band
·         Shoe covers or insulated cycling boots
·         Something reflective or brightly colored to be seen
·         A good head and tail light
·         Some sort of wind resistant shell for top and bottom
·         Rain pants, for those slushy/yucky days

Really nice to have:
·         Arm warmers
·         Winter cycling tights
·         Glasses with a clear or yellow lens
·         A good base layer made of wool or synthetic material
·         Clip on fenders

Making life a little easier:
·         Wind resistant mid layer and vest
·         Toe and hand warmers
·         Boot or shoe dryers to dry sweat/laden boots
·         Full fenders
·         Studded tires

Super Cold - So What Do You Do? - Tips by India

Yup, it's cold.  It may not be as cold as that forsaken place where your friend has a friend who bikes to work uphill both ways, but it's hitting the super cold margins for Madison.

Here are my tips for -20 to -40 windchill riding:

Right before I gear up, I slather my face with almond oil (you could use any hydrophobic substance of your liking)- it seems to create an extra protective barrier between me and the frigid air.  And I use some form of lip balm over that.

I bust out my warmest lobster mitts.  No matter how cold it is out, I sometimes work up enough heat that my hands begin to sweat, so I also carry lighter weight gloves to change into if necessary.  This way my super warm mitts are dry when I bike back home.

Not surprisingly, I wear extra layers on top.  I have zippers on all but my base-layer so that I can regulate my temperature by zipping various layers up and down.

I don't usually need any layers under my non-vented winter sports helmet (it has ear flaps), but on days like today I add a thin balaclava to prevent frigid air from finding its way to my head.

The very last piece of gear that I pull out of the closet is an extra ear warmer- it goes around my face and covers my nose- between my scarf and my goggles.  That way I can keep the tip of my nose covered, my scarf is not pulled all the way up to my goggles causing fog, and the air streaming out of my nose has an escape route and doesn't make my scarf as icy.   If I heat up, I just pull the ear warmer down and let it dangle around my neck.

Oh yeah, and because it's so so dry out, I try to stay hydrated between rides.  I have heard that your body is better able to regulate it's temperature when you are hydrated, and at least anecdotally it seems to hold true.

-India Viola