Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Secrets of winter riding, Part 1 – Clothing

There are only two things to sort out about winter riding: Clothing and control. First I’ll talk about clothing. If you dress right, it’s easy to stay warm, even comfortable, in temperatures down into the teens.

Most people overdress for winter riding, outfitting themselves like Admiral Peary embarking on a North Pole expedition. The main difference between you and Peary is that he spent his day standing stock still on the hind end of a dogsled, whereas you are exercising, and generating heat. (Another difference is that you can’t simply claim to have actually made it to the office and expect people believe you for the better part of a century.) Your pedalling can add 20 to 30 degrees to the perceived temperature, and if you’ve dressed according only to the thermometer, you’ll quickly overheat. So on your torso and legs, you need to underdress a bit. My default outfit for temperatures between about 23 and 35 degrees is two long sleeve woolen layers (at least one a turtleneck), topped by a medium weight (sort of “heavy windbreaker”), lightly water-repellent cycling jacket. On my legs I wear, over standard cycling shorts, a set of winter stretch cycling tights. Set up in that fashion I may be chilly for the first five or eight minutes but by the 10th I’m usually sweating.

(I swear by a Devold woolen zippered base layer I bought from Rivendell Bicycles a few years back. Rivendell no longer sells that brand and the closest thing I can find nowadays on the Devold website are its “Multisport” zip undershirts. Rivendell is now selling a similar high-neck zippered undershirt from New Zealand, which I’m sure is superb.)

The principle of underdressing does not apply to your hands, feet or face. They benefit little from your exertions and it’s important to make sure they’re well covered - don't skimp. Experiment with different weights of gloves and socks for different temperatures – you want your hands to be warm, but arctic gloves that are good at 15 degrees can feel really confining and uncomfortable at 40. A balaclava will keep your face and ears comfortable, and you can carry it scrunched up in a jersey pocket on days when you’re not sure you’ll need it or not.

Oh, finally. All of this assumes that you’re riding straight through to your destination, where within a minute or two after arriving, you’ll be moving indoors. Once you stop pedalling you will begin to lose heat very quickly – and thanks to your sweat, even more quickly at the end of the ride than at the outset.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John!

    I am now bicycle commuting on Chicago's Divvy system, spring summer fall or winter, rain or shine. 6 miles each way all flat.

    I dislike sweating and at 220 pounds I seem to sweat A LOT. In fact I sweat so much that I've taken to attaching my back pack to the basket on the bike as actually wearing it leads to a very sweaty back even in winter. Thankfully I have a shower available at either end of my commute.

    My riding wear, regardless of the season, is the clothes I wore the previous day (on the way in) or that day (on the way home). In winter this comprises jeans, shirt and sweater.

    I prefer riding in winter because I am able to compensate for the sweat just by wearing less. If it's around freezing or slightly warmer I find that jeans and a shirt are perfectly fine after 10 mins of pedaling. As it drops to 0F I find I need to add layers with a reasonably fine balance. The first layer that goes on is a sweater. Slightly cooler and I lose the sweater but add my spider jacket. Colder still and I keep the spider jacket but reintroduce the sweater (This is 0F, the coldest I've ever ridden, and still adequate).

    I can't agree more with regards to the extremities. I swap my bike helmet for a skiing helmet. I swap my sweat band for a balaclava. I add ski goggles to stop my glasses fogging up. I wear thick ski gloves.

    I look quite a sight but I don't get too sweaty and my wife still loves me.

    Rob W (reader of your transamerica blog, formerly from London, now Chicago bicycle commuter).