How To Dress for Cold Weather Cycling

How To Dress for Cold Weather Cycling

We are very lucky to be able to live in an area where we can ride outdoors year-round. Barring a torrential downpour or 105 degree heatwave, we don’t really face conditions here that make cycling a bad idea. True, there are usually a few weeks here and there in the winter when it gets into the low 40s, or sometimes even the high 30s in the morning, but our comrades in places like Massachusetts and Illinois would mock us to no end if they heard us complain about those kinds of temps. Since we don’t want that to happen, here are some tips on how to dress appropriately for cold-weather cycling.

Principles and tips:

  • Heavy sweating is your enemy during cold-weather rides. If it’s cold enough, and you get wet enough, not only will you be uncomfortable, but hypothermia can become a risk. You want to dress just warm enough that you’re not in pain from the cold, and no more than that.
  • It is normal to be uncomfortably cold during the first 10+ minutes of a ride. If you’re warm and comfy when you start out, you’ll overheat very quickly.
  • If you keep your head, neck, and torso warm, it’s a lot easier to keep your extremities (hands and feet) from getting cold.
  • Dress in layers — it allows you to adjust to changing weather and circumstances.
  • The more consistently you ride in the cold, the quicker you’ll acclimate to it. It hurts the first few times, but once you know what to expect, it sucks a lot less.
  • Everyone has their own pain threshold for cold-weather riding. You’ll need to experiment and see what combination of clothing works best for you. There are no hard-and-fast rules that work for everyone.
  • Don’t over-tighten your shoes. Keeping them a teeny bit loose allows for better circulation.

Shopping List. For each section of the body I’ve ranked the gear in order from warm- to warmest. In other words, the colder the weather, the further down the list you’ll be wanting to go in that category.

Upper Body

  • Arm warmers (can be rolled down around your wrists if you get too warm)
  • Windproof/resistant vest
  • Warm long-sleeved jersey (typically a fleece-like material on the inside)

Head

  • Headband / ear-warmers
  • Scullcap
  • Balaclava

Lower Body

  • Knee and/or leg warmers
  • Toe covers
  • Neoprene booties

Hands

  • Glove liners (can be worn over your normal fingerless cycling gloves)
  • Full-fingered, insulted cycling gloves or “lobster claws”

Sizing is important, so most of these items are best purchased at a brick-and-mortar store where you can actually try stuff on. (This is especially true with hand coverings. Too tight or restrictive will cut off circulation. Too loose and they’ll be clumsy, which can affect your ability to operate your shifters.) I’ve found the largest selection of cold-weather cycling clothing at places like REI, SportsBasement, and Performance, but good local shops like Livermore Cyclery are also worth checking out.

 

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