The time has come to talk about winter. Winter cycling is a wonderful experience because I enjoy the outdoors and all of its snowy beauty every day while most people hibernate. I’m really excited about my second winter cycling. Last winter was all about learning the ropes and testing my limits. (See my photo synopsis of winter 2008-09 here.) Now I know what to expect.
Here I share my wisdom on how to dress for winter bike commuting. This advice is based on my personal experience: riding 7 miles in snow with temperatures around 20 degrees to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Your individual climate and commute will dictate how you dress. The main take-away point is that you can wear the clothes you already have, but with more protection for you fingers/toes and less bulk for your torso. If you can walk around in the winter, you can bike in the winter.
In this video I demonstrate how I dress for winter. (You know the sheepish feeling you get when you’re leaving a voice message and the phone cuts you off because you’ve talked too long? That’s what happened with this video and my memory card, but I said everything I needed to say already.)
Let’s break it down one more time:
Hat. You’ll need something to keep your head and ears warm. I wear a Bern winter helmet, complete with neoprene liner and ear flaps. I do not need to wear a hat or earmuffs under the helmet. Charlotte of Chic Cyclist loves earbags with a regular helmet.
Eye protection. These are regular safety glasses to protect my eyes from the freezing wind. Some people need special goggles because regular glasses fog up, but I rarely have that problem. I’ve seen some cyclists without eye protection, which I can’t imagine. Experiment and see what works for you.
Scarf. A wool scarf will keep your neck and face warm. I pull mine over my lower face when needed, but usually keep it around my neck. Some people swear by balaclavas (Mr. Dottie has one) but I would be hot and itchy. Reader Jody recommends this polar scarf.
Leggings. You’ll need extra protection for your legs. I wear wool leggings every day. If I’m wearing a skirt, I wear the leggings over tights. If I’m wearing jeans, I wear the leggings underneath. The only time I don’t need leggings is when I wear my flannel-lined khakis.
Socks. Toes can get extremely cold if not protected properly. I wear two pairs of wool socks. Smartwool is my favorite.
Boots. You’ll probably have to carry regular shoes in your bag and wear boots. I have to wear these heavy duty leather snow boots everyday. My regular fashion boots won’t keep my feet warm enough.
Gloves. Cold hands are my biggest problem. I never found a solution last winter and spent time at red lights blowing on my fingers. This year I’m prepared, I hope. I have silk/wool blend glove liners from Winter Silks and huge gore-tex and goose down mittens. Mittens are better than gloves because your fingers can spread the warmth to each other and there’s more room for pockets of warm air to form. For the coldest days I’ll be trying out the Grabber hand warmers that Elisa gave me.
I wear all of this with my regular clothes, plus depending on the temperature a combination of wool sweaters, a windbreaker and a coat. I said in the video that I only wear my overcoat at 0 degrees, but it’s probably more like 15 degrees. Many days I stop to remove a layer during my ride when I get hot. I never shiver or feel unreasonably cold on my bike – something about pedaling and watching out for traffic takes my mind off the temperature.
Other than my mitts and windbreaker, I don’t wear any technical, synthetic materials. Wool and cashmere are the best fabrics for coziness. Unlike my dad’s old Army blankets, today’s wool is soft and itch-free. My wool collection contains a lot of Ibex, Icebreakers, Smartwool and Patagonia for underclothes, but high-quality wool and cashmere sweaters and scarves can be found for super cheap at thrift stores.
We will post more about winter bike commuting soon, including riding tips. Questions? Leave them in the comments!