whatcha wearin’?

This is my first full winter commuting regularly, and it happens to coincide with my first winter in Michigan. So let’s talk about what we’re wearing when we’re out on the bike and Jack Frost is smacking us in the back of the head.

  • Under my helmet I wear a fleece cap that covers my ears. It’s excellent, and I highly recommend it.
  • I wear a balaclava around my neck and pull it up over my mouth and nose. This works decently, but I’m debating whether to switch to a neoprene mask, as the balaclava has a tendency to slip down and thus leave my nose exposed.
  • Around my core, I’ve been wearing (in addition to whatever clothes I have on for work) two layers. The first, for warmth, is made of cotton and typically something akin to a sweatshirt in terms of weight. I’m using what I have available, but I’d prefer wool or fleece. Cotton is by far the worst material there is when it comes to insulation. Over that, I have a winter parka shell, which provides ample protection against wind and moisture.
  • On my legs, I usually have a pair of wind/rain pants over whatever I’m wearing for work that day. Blocking the wind makes the biggest difference when it comes to staying warm. These have ten-inch zippers at the cuff, making them easy to get on and off. They also fold up very small, so they’re easy to keep with me at all times.
  • On my feet, I wear fleece socks and ordinary shoes.
  • On my hands, I’ve been wearing a pair of 180’s Storm XTG Gloves. When I first bought these, I thought they were absolutely terrific. Now that I’ve had more opportunity to use them in colder temperatures, I’ve found them tremendously lacking in warmth. They’re good against moisture, but the cuffs aren’t long enough and the insulation is insufficient. They have small pockets for chemical hand warmers, but that seems a waste for such a short commute. I’ve gone back to using my rag wool, Thinsulate-lined gloves from L. L. Bean while I search for another option.

On the whole, I stay plenty warm, save for my hands. All I really want now (besides better gloves) is something for my eyes that won’t fog up.

The main point here is that winter riding is simply not that bad. Road conditions can be challenging, and extra care is needed. But the cold should not be what keeps you from riding. Technical gear is not required. Only two or three of the aforementioned items are “cycling-specific,” and none of them were anymore expensive than ordinary clothes. The only thing that makes them cycling-specific is that they’re designed to work with a helmet, to allow ease of movement and maintain coverage while pedaling, and provide adequate dexterity when operating brakes and shifters.

For more on winter riding, I’m digging into the archives and recycling a few posts from last winter. The first is “slip slidin’ away


11 responses to “whatcha wearin’?

  1. Don’t give up on the balaclava. I do a lot of winter riding & I use one made of a thin moisture wicking material that leaves only the eye area open. It goes up over the nose & has mesh material in the mouth area so, if you are wearing glasses or sunglasses they won’t fog up. A tight knit stocking cap over that & I’m usually good to go.
    Also, I always layer up in the winter & I find a moisture wicking material shirt works best as a base. It really does keep the heat in while taking the moisture away from your skin. Your right about the wind pants and jacket. Like you, Still looking for better gloves

  2. It’s not the cold that keeps me from riding. It’s seeing what happens to my car in this weather and I don’t want it happening to my bikes.

  3. If you have the time, like winter riding, & haven’t done it already, try the Kiwanis Trail on the north side of Adrian. Not sure about this year, but in previous years they did a good job of keeping it plowed. Beautiful ride in winter. From the parking lot at Bent Oak & Riverside to the end at Green Hwy and back is approx. 13-14 miles. Great ride on my very old Trek 930. Fairly smooth blacktop & best of all, no cars.

    • I am absolutely thrilled to hear that the trail gets cleared during the winter months. That’s got to be a better option than the roads once the latter are narrowed by plowed snow and dusted with sand and salt.

  4. True. True. But then again, that’s just what you need to make the perfect case for acquiring another bike (some sort of beater) that you can use in the winter for worry-free riding.

    I’m in Rhode Island visiting my brother, and we’ve been hitting local bike shops. Today, we were checking out cold weather gear. Wow. There is some sweet stuff out there. I want a Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Thermal Jacket, but I’m not sure riding back and forth to campus is is enough to justify buying one. On the other hand, if I had the coat, maybe I’d have reason to ride more. Hmmm…

  5. Scott, I think you need to switch to a one speed coaster 😉 Then you can use the Pearl Izumi Lobster Gloves no problem (no shifting). Wouldn’t it also solve your slipping rear wheel problem? I tried my new cold gear today — quilted lined flannel work shirt over my work shirt plus a new AC neoprene jacket on top. Much lighter and more flexible than my heavy leather coat.

  6. Indeed, I’ve heard very good things about those (lobster gloves and single-speed bikes, both). I’ll ponder your suggestion accordingly.

    Your setup sounds like a good one. The length of my commute has grown by ten minutes each way on account of the time it takes me to don and disrobe my many layers.

  7. I ride single speed fixed gear and enjoy it very much. This is my first year on Fixed. If I coast now on one of my other bikes (Raleigh 3 speed or Huffy 3 speed with Shimano hub) I feel loss of control and must use the brakes which is difficult since I wear mittens. Gloves are not as warm as mittens! Even when shoveling snow last year in Elgin Illinois the nylon gloves were not as warm as my old leather down filled mittens. I popped for a Grandoe pair of mittens from Sierra with sheepskin on one side and have been happy with the warmth. Buy an old ten speed and go fixed gear and get mittens and forget shifting. In winter the speed is not fast anyway because of the slush and snow etc. My Schwinn ten speed used to get frozen at the chain around the tensioner because of the freesing and I left the old heavy beater outside. a varsity 1976 which was stolen. I now bring in my bikes into the office or carry it into the church on Sunday and keep it warm. I removed the fenders from the Raleigh Twenty and use a Trek rear rack and do not seem to get any slush on me. The rack is more solid than the stock Pletscher as far as metal shelf design which blocks the slush if I kick any up at my slow speed. Gearing is 52/14 with 170 mm cranks and 406 wheels with 20 by 1.95 tyres. Thanks Eduard

  8. Buty the Pearl Izumi it is on sale at less than 100 bucks. My wife filled up the gas tank last time for 55. it is all realitive. You save gas by biking. The jacket will last at least 10 years. 10 bucks a year. Just buy it ! If your lawyer friend made it , it would cost 3200. The chinese guy works cheap. Too bad it is not made in Traverse City or Elgin Illinois. Buy it the doctors apptmt. if you get sick is 75

    • Well said on the relativity of the expense. When spread out over the life of the equipment, bicycles and all their trappings are exponentially less expensive to own and operate, and they offer an exponentially higher return on investment. Unlike motor vehicles that require you to spend more in order to keep them running (i.e., not only in terms of fixing things that break down, but also in decreased performance) until you decide to cut your losses and start over, bicycles actually cost you less to own the longer you have them (i.e., not only in terms of the equipment and gear costs being spread out over time, but also in terms of increased performance thanks to improved health and riding skill).