Dressing for Cool Weather Riding

by John Donoughe

For those bicyclists so inclined, it should be "no sweat" to ride comfortably in cool or cold weather. The idea is to wear just the right combination of clothing that will both keep you warm and avoid excessive perspiration. "If part of the body feels cool, cover it."

Cool conditions for some cyclists start with temperatures in the lower 60's. Significant gains in riding comfort come from somewhat small changes in clothing that protect exposed skin from the effects of wind chill.

Dress in layers -
Wool or modem, synthetic materials like polypropylene, which wick moisture away from the body and retain their insulating properties when damp are good choices. Thin, multiple layers of these materials are better than one heavy layer, because more spaces of insulating air are trapped. When you get too warm, you can remove one of the thin layers to regulate excess heat and perspiration. Avoid cotton clothing. Cotton absorbs and holds moisture which may cause a chill.

Develop a personalized wind-chill chart for specific conditions. For each 5 degree range of wind chill, record the clothing combination you found comfortable. Over time you can fine tune the chart or modify it to include new clothing purchases or accommodate newer, advanced materials.

Dress for the riding conditions that will exist after this warm-up period. It takes a cyclist a few miles to warm up to operating temperature.

Dress for success -
Don't be afraid to use non-traditional biking clothes. If it is already in your closet, it's comfortable and accomplishes the goal of keeping you warm - use it!

Leg warmers, tights, or Polypropylene long underwear are some ideas.

Gloves worn inside your bike gloves can keep your hands warm. Various types of neoprene gloves are available for very cold weather. Wind breaker-style mittens are also available for chill control without bulk.

Arm warmers or a long-sleeved jersey, long sleeve t-shirt or turtleneck under a jersey will help cut the chill. A nylon wind breaker with a zipper to control ventilation or a winter cycling jacket with wind-proof front and breathable back fabrics for very cold temperatures are also ideal.

Face and ears:
Balaclavas, head or ear bands, or a wool hat should do the trick.

Wool socks, goretex socks,or neoprene booties work well depending on the temperature (some folks put sandwich baggies over their toes, between their socks and shoes, as a wind breaker.)

Close-fitting glasses or ski goggles help protect the eyes from the wind and cold so be sure to wear them.

Very cold air can make breathing difficult. Cover your mouth with a balaclava or scarf or wear a breathing mask if the temperature is below 30 degrees.

The key to staying warm is to have just enough space of dry, dead air around the body to insulate it. If the size of your shoes, gloves and helmet remain constant, adding layers can inhibit air circulation and blood flow - two essential elements of staying warm. Hands and feet don't have muscles to generate heat and have to depend on warm blood circulating through them to maintain warmth. In order to comfortably accommodate additional layers the size of shoes and gloves may need to be increased one or two sizes and the pads in your helmet may need to be smaller.

Reprinted from "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American Bicyclists, Jan/Feb 1997. Effective CyclingTM.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site, www.bikeleague.org, or e-mail them at bikeleague@aol.com.

Serving the Pacific Northwest for over 12 years.

Home | Clubhouse | Sponsors | Links | Webmaster

©1998-2010 Seattle Bicycle Club, Inc.