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Commuting 101: Bike Clothes For All Weather

by Warren T

Fritz recently asked your opinion on things you’d like to see discussed and there were several requests for a post on winter clothing. I’d like to refer you to a CBB post from last year that was a big help to me. Bear in mind, everyone is different so what works for Nick got me close — but I as this last winter progressed I kept track of temperatures and the clothing that got me through a 20 to 30 minute commute in relative comfort without too much sweat at the end of the trip. Use either Nick’s or my guide to get you going, then I suggest you keep track of your experience by writing it down. Once next fall comes around you won’t have to try to remember what worked for you over the winter… Here is a list of what works for me:

  • 5°F (1°C) and above I can get by with a tee shirt and shorts.
  • 5° – 5°F (10 – 1°C), I need a long sleeved tee and can still wear shorts.
  • 4° – 4°F (7 – °C), long sleeved tee, work out pants and I replace the ankle socks with longer socks.
  • 3° – 4°F (3 – °C), tee shirt, sweat shirt, work out pants, wrap around ear muffs and ditch the no finger gloves for full gloves.
  • 3° – 3°F (0 – °C), tee shirt, lined jacket, work out pants, wrap around ear muffs and full gloves
  • 2° – 3°F (-4 – -°C), tee shirt, long sleeved shirt, work out pants, jacket, two pair of socks, balaclava and full gloves.
  • 2°F (-°C) and below, tee shirt, long sleeved shirt, long john bottoms, work out pants, jacket, two pair of socks, balaclava and full gloves.
  • And remember, if you start feeling cold — pedal harder.

    If you’ve been a bit timid about cycling when the weather turns colder, I’d suggest giving it a try. You’ll finish up the ride invigorated will enjoy the feeling that comes with people thinking you’re “hard core.” There was a stretch of a couple weeks this last winter that my boys and I didn’t get to ride due to all the ice on the roads. You hear people say that you never forget how to ride a bicycle — keep riding this winter and don’t let this happen to you:

     
    Burley nomad 229

    30 Responses to “Commuting 101: Bike Clothes For All Weather”

    1. Joe says:

      I’m learning on the fly this year as it’s my first winter commuting and here on the west coast (Oregon) it doesn’t get into the 20′s all that often, and only an occasional day in the high teens, which doesn’t last. It’s predominantly between 28-38 degrees for the most part. Interestingly, I’ve been wearing the same thing every day for about a month now even with weather down below freezing. I simply wear a polypro thermal shirt, and a regular tee shirt over that, under a nylon shell. On the warmer days I have the shell unzipped some and have the pit zips wide open. On the bottom I wear pearl Izumi medium weight (polyester/fleece) tights. I also wear a stocking cap under my helmet which covers my ears. On the warmer days I go with just a headsweats skull cap to absorb the sweat. I also wear fleece gloves and thick socks. I keep a pair of rain pants in my panniers in case it rains for the ride home ( I drive if its really raining hard in the morning-a light sprinkle I still go).

      This setup has worked great and I can only see me wearing an extra pair of socks when it gets really cold (for here) and thicker skiing type of gloves. I usually have a good sweat on when I get to work and so I am confident that I can handle the full onslaught of winter when it comes.

    2. Quinn says:

      Well, last winter was my first winter commuting in the Sierras, and thanks to Traveling for a few year, I was out of shape, had to deal with about a 500 ft elevation change, And only having jeans, and long sleeve polos to wear, Pneumonia!
      SO
      This winter NO cotton, right now mornings are high 30s, by mid afternoon it is 65-70, so what I have done is to have pieces AKA- short sleeve jersey, shorts, base-layer T-shirt, arm and knee warms, this way I can have a lot of control, modulating my temp, I am also, planning on getting a mid wait jacket w/ zip sleeves, and thinner synthetic pants.

    3. Fritz says:

      Quinn, it looks like you learned the hard way; ouch! Stay well this year.

      Good job on this, Warren. I had a similar clothing guide on my old Colorado bicycle blog, but that domain went away a couple of years ago. I’ll need to dig that up and maybe bring it back to life (with some updates).

      Folks, look for more specific clothing recommendations in the near future here on CBB.

    4. Ghost Rider says:

      I have simliar problems as Quinn experienced — Florida cold weather is so fleeting that it is hard to be prepared for morning (or night) commutes when the starting temp is in the 50s and the temps warm up to the 70s — I find that I’m either underdressed, or usually OVER-dressed. Lots of layers to shed or put on seems to be the trick, which I haven’t really mastered yet…

      I have found that an insulating skullcap under my helmet (with earflaps!) is the key to staying warm — even if I don’t have enough clothing on the rest of me, the skullcap keeps me nice and toasty.

    5. Rick says:

      I’m not commuting yet. Haven’t quite worked up the endurance to do 22 miles each way AND put in a full days work. I am, however, looking forward to my first winter of NOT putting my bike away for the season.

      Is there a point at which you look at the thermometer and say “Nope. Too cold today”?

    6. Warren T says:

      The lowest starting temperature I rode in last winter was ° F (-1° C) with a windchill of -° F (-2° C). I wasn’t ever really cold. It is all about the layers.

      One note: my bike computer doesn’t seem to like temperatures below 1° F.

    7. Fritz says:

      Rick, “too cold to ride” for me depends on the distance I’m riding, my clothing, and cold tolerance. When I had a 20+ mile commute (one way) several years ago, anything below about 1°F was too cold for the clothing i had. The coldest I rode to work in was 4° below zero, but it was only about a mile to work.

      Adding distance adds comlexity — cycling generates quite a bit of warmth and so we don’t dress as warmly as we might if were just standing around. But what happens if you break down ten miles out and you drop your cell phone in a snowbank? You can get dangerously cold fairly quickly.

    8. Kaz Kougar says:

      I think your attire also depends on how hard you ride. For my commute, 8 miles each way, I bust @$$ and try to get to work/home as quickly as possible. I typically wear knickers in any weather below 60, along with a Dri-Fit longsleeved shirt over a cotton T. I find that on the colder mornings, below 45, I usually wear longer socks and that’s about it as I warm up after about a mile or two. anything under about 40, I will wear a Dri-Fit cold weather-type half zip pullover and thicker kinckers

      I have found that for the rain, sometimes it’s best to just get wet as majority of the raingear (in my price range) makes me sweat.

      If there’s ice on the road I’m driving!

    9. michell says:

      Also a Colorado winter rider on the front range. Last year was the year of the 8 weekends of blizzards. I could not ride for weeks not because of the cold, but the condition of the roads. When I started riding again the melting, freezing of the snow created really hazardous ice patches, some over 20′ long, that had to be walked. Otherwise I have ridden in the single digits with no problem. If it is icy, I throw my bike on the bus and usually by the afternoon it has melted off so riding home is not a problem. The only thing I am doing differently this year is using some pedals that will allow me to ride with my pacboots on, i.e. no clips or cages. They have little screws that come up from the pedal which fit into the waffle on the sole of the boots, keeps them on the pedals quite nicely. For me keeping the head, face, hands and feet warm usually will keep the rest warm too.

    10. Fritz says:

      Michell — two words for you: Studded tires. They rock.

    11. Mike Myers says:

      Wool, wool, wool. A good wool jersey can take the place of two layers of clothing. Like GR, I live in Florida–but a bit north. Last winter the temps were regularly in the 20s when I left for work, and in the 70s on the way home. I usually wore a wool jersey ,arm warmers, wicking undershirt, a light shell(hi viz), knickers, wool socks, and toe warmers. Full fingered gloves and a skullcap. For the ride home I was usually able to pack away the warmers and shell and just ride in knickers and my jersey. Knickers are a highly underutilized piece of clothing. Yes, lyrca knickers may not be everybody’s bag, but they work.

    12. Kaz Kougar says:

      -If Lycra knickers are not your bag, Chrome makes a nice pair of more stylish knickers or man-pri’s as I like to refer to them. For those of us on a budget a pair of $2 pants from a thrift store, even wool if you please, cut off and hemmed, if you prefer, makes for a great pair of cycling knickers as well

    13. Craig says:

      Ocassionally I will have to break out the Ski Goggles on some rides in the winter…They always seem to keep me nice and warm on those windy nights home.

    14. Quinn says:

      Craig,

      I like that idea! Any one know a good pair of goggles? ones that I wount have to donate my kidney to get?

    15. CJ says:

      A couple of questions for you all.

      Ok, so I know how to dress for winter. But last winter I did it on an extreme budget. This winter I have just a few more dollars to spare. So, I am looking for a nice soft shell. Any suggestions??? I was considering either this one by Cabelas- http://www.cabelas.com/cabelas/en/templates/product/standard-item.jsp?_DARGS=/cabelas/en/common/catalog/item-link.jsp_A&_DAV=MainCatcat21082-cat601804_TGP&id=0047991923047a&navCount=3&podId=0047991&parentId=cat601804&masterpathid=&navAction=push&catalogCode=QW&rid=&parentType=index&indexId=cat601804&hasJS=true

      Or the Hoss soft shell that was reviewed here not long ago. But other suggestions are WELCOME!!

      Oh, and for homemade kickers. I used a pair of Dickies that I had sewn by my Mom. I am 31yrs old and I am still having Mom fix my cloths..ha ha ha. But, I would be interested in anyone who knows where a guy could come across some cheap 100% wool pants. Cabelas used to sell European Military surplus wool pants that would be perfect, but I don’t see them on the website or in the catalog any longer. I really like knickers offered by both Chrome and Swobo!!! But 175.00 bucks for one pair of knickers is a little outrageous for me, even if the piece of clothing was produced in America, by American employees.

      Peace out

    16. CJ says:

      Well, I guess on the pants I spoke too soon. I did another search and found them here: http://www.cabelas.com/cabelas/en/templates/links/link.jsp?id=0022262932051a&type=product&cmCat=search&returnPage=search-results1.jsp&QueryText=wool+pants&N=4887&Ntk=Products&Ntx=mode+matchall&Nty=1&Ntt=wool+pants&noImage=0

      I live in Nebraska so I was able to have the pants shipped for free to the closest store to me which is about 45 mi away. I can go and pick up the pants on my next trip into Omaha. Be aware that these pants do not always fit as the size indicates. That warning comes from a costomer review, as well as the sales assistant whose husband has personal experience with these pants as well. So, buyer be ware, but for 4.88 a piece I am not sure how one could really be out to much. I would just be really honest with yourself when you order. Are you really a 32 inch waist, or do you just pull your gut up over the top of your jeans and wear those said jeans very low around your hips! Ha Ha Ha

      Peace out

    17. Quinn says:

      look at attire from Cannondale, Pearl Izumi, and Louis Garneu

    18. Fritz says:

      $4.88 for casual wool pants WOW what a find! Thanks CJ. The link is here for those who haven’t clicked it yet.

      I’d also suggest Goodwill. Many dress pants are wool or a wool/poly blend, and they’re favored by many winter cyclists.

    19. Spencer (Portland, Left Coast) says:

      Everyone else stole my thunder on wool, wool, wool, so here are three other great tricks I learned.

      1. For about $25 you can buy a wireless thermometer. You put the sensor out side which also usually has a read out on it also, and the receiver in your bed room where you get dressed. No more getting outside and going “too cold” or “too hot”. It also helps you to really dial in what clothes you need to wear when.

      2. For about $12 you can buy a water proof zippered bag about the size of a small loaf of bread. http://www.usoutdoorstore.com/outlet/outdoor-research-zip-sack-2.html These things will fit a set of rain pants, long fingered gloves, shoe covers, helmet cover and even a jacket in a nice small condenced pack that fits perfectly in the bottom of a painier. This way you are always ready for rain and you don’t have to guess what to take for later in the day. For those weight wenies, my bag is like 2-3 pounds.

      3. Learn how your body works. Of ten you can address being cold by riding faster or eating more before you leave. Be attentive for sweating which can get you really cold and your extremeties. Of ten you can warm up alot more with better gloves or hat that weigh nothing vs. a heavier jersey or jacket.

    20. dwainedibbly says:

      I know it’s a bit obsessive, but for my morning rides I keep a spreadsheet with fields for date, temp, humidity, wind speed & direction, what I wore in a number of categories (lower body, upper body, jacket/vest, gloves, helmet cover, arm & leg warmers, etc) comments, how hard I rode, and my weight that morning. (I’m hoping to lose weight by commuting & realize that less “internal insulation” will make a difference. I did this all last winter and now I’ll get the payoff when I know exactly what to wear as the cooler weather starts to hit. It’s also a nice log so that I can look back & see how much I’ve been commuting.

      Afternoons don’t matter because I’m hammering on my way home and it usually warms up into the 60s here.

    21. Mark in Green Bay says:

      Great info. I have the Cannondale Morphis Shell that converts to a vest, quite warm and water resistant.

      I read this somewhere else, but keeping your “pulse points” (ankles and wrists) well covered will also help to keep you warm.

      My feet are the limiting factor as to how cold I can go… in cycling shoes, with neoprene booties, wool socks will get me down to 10 to 15 degrees F. I’m thinking about getting some Power Grips and use my Columbia boots below that, (at least for riding on frozen lakes and rivers with studded tires).

      Keep the head covered, a balaclava, and muff, or neck tube works wonders towards keeping the rest of your body warm.

    22. Quinn says:

      Mark-

      Thanks for reminding me of a clothing/temp regulating tip, Probably 8 yrs ago in Mountain Biking, One of the best ways to cool off is to expose your forearms.

    23. Stan.V says:

      Quinn, Mark-
      Also, a couple of disposable warm-up packs sold everywhere around here (Toronto, Canada) for $2 can save your commute in unexpected colds if placed on inside of your wrist/ankle just under glove elastic band or socks. I even found some reusable hot packs sold in scuba store for $8, that are activated by clicking a little metal plate inside the bag. They are amazing to see, and are re-cycled by boiling.

    24. bergjm says:

      Stan.V – I use the disposable warm-up packs under my toes alot during the winter months. I ride year round and they help.

      The other item I found that works really well, but is pricey, are the Lake MXZ300 (MXZ302 this year) winter cycling shoes. I have had mine for a few years now, and they really help. I have ridden below 10F, for over an hour, with these and the chemical toe warmers. This year it looks like Lakes is finally offering a wide size. I have a wide foot, so I ordered one size bigger (MXZ300), and I should have probably gone 2 sizes bigger. I wear thinner wool socks or if it is really cold I wear a pair of Seirus Stormsocks with the shoes. It has to be below 20F to use the Seirus Stormsocks socks, otherwise my feet sweat and that is counter-productive. A couple of years ago Lake started offering a road version of this shoe, CXZ300 (301 last year), but I have no experience with them. I would think the MXZ302 would be better for commuting since they have some tread on the bottom. If you look around, you can find these shoes for $160 to $250. Bikeman.com has some of the earlier models at a decent price. They are expensive, but for winter riding, they are worth it in my book.

    25. [...] blogs and websites dedicated to every possible aspect of bicycle commuting, from choosing a bike, clothing and equipment, to doing your own repairs and even instructions on the best way to fold a tire to [...]

    26. steven danaher says:

      I keep a couple of pairs of pocket chemical handwarmers in my repair kit for emergencies. If I breakdown (flat tire, busted chain, brake problems, etc) I will be sweaty and dressed way too light to be safely standing around for very long.

      As soon as you know you have to stop for a while, open a handwarmer and place it inside your baselayer in the center of your chest. (there is tape is your repair kit right?)

      This works because:

      Natural body thermoregulation gives priority to warming vital core areas (heart and brain) by slowing blood flow to extremities.

      Handwarmer gives the extra boost of heat to keep this vital area warm

      Your hands and feet will be warm since there is more blood flow to those areas.

      Jumping jacks help too!

      I also used this trick when working construction in college to stay warm outside down to ~10 deg F, wind ~15 mph without having to dress like the little brother in “A Christmas Story” :)

    27. CaptCanuck says:

      DeFeet Woolie Bullie Socks – awesome!
      Rocky Goretex oversocks
      Work boot insulated foot beds (foil on bottom, felt on top side – perfect for SPD shoes)
      Insulated bib tights (bibs rock!!!)
      Good wool or synthetic base layer is key
      Jackets with venting pitzips
      Snowboarder fleece necktub/lycra skull cap designed for under helmets
      Snowboarding gloves with the tear resistant rubberized material in the palm and fingers, Overmittens if its really cold (lobster claw style)

    28. RainCityCyclist says:

      I have 2 Pearl Izumi Zepphyr jackets. I’ve had each for about 6+ years and they continue to do everything I need. Having 2 wasn’t intentional, but as the result of a sale and gift, I’ve got two. I rotate and it allows them to get dried out and/or washed when needed without any interruption with my daily gear. I do lust after some of the hot new jackets, but here with the Seattle weather, these work fine. For winter commuting I wear a longsleeved jersey (either PI, brushed poly or fleec-lined poly if colder) along with full bib tights, partly fleece-lined, and a skull cap under my helmut. I often get pretty soaked but it generally works well.

    29. Dave says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Many people ask me “Aren’t you cold?” and are of the opinion I should wear more clothing. The British seem to be obssesed with bundling up, just because there’s a few clouds, a slight breeze or the mercury dares approach 50 from above. Thankfully, I’m old enough to make my own clothing decisions.

    30. Its amazing.Good wool or synthetic base layer is key
      Jackets with venting pit zips.
      For my morning rides I keep a spreadsheet with fields for date, temp, humidity, wind speed & direction.
      Really watch it and enjoy the bike wearing.
      thanks

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