Tips on how to dress for cold weather while cycling

  • Dressed for the weather, Sheri Rosenbaum rides the snowy trails on her fat tire bike.

    Dressed for the weather, Sheri Rosenbaum rides the snowy trails on her fat tire bike. Courtesy of Sheri Rosenbaum

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along for the Ride
Updated 12/4/2020 2:09 PM

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." That's the mantra of Scandinavian parents raising healthy, resilient youngsters unafraid of the outdoors. Same refrain for cold weather bikers, too.

As cold becomes the norm, I thought I'd offer relevant biking wardrobe advice. Too late -- Sheri Rosenbaum beat me to it, presenting a mid-November webinar for Ride Illinois, the statewide, nonprofit bike advocacy organization.

 

Her "Cold Weather Cycling Tips" is available on the Ride Illinois YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F0R2s-w0t4. Highly recommended -- she really knows bike clothing. I can only hint at her expertise here.

Rosenbaum is a cycling advocate and contributing writer/product reviewer for RoadBikeRider.com. A longtime cyclist, she served on boards of the Wheeling Wheelmen (17 years) and Chicago's Dare2Tri Paratriathlon Club. She is a Trek Women's Advocate and has worked as a brand ambassador for Strava and several bike clothing companies. Riding 5,000 miles annually, she's comfortably clothed in all weather.

On clothing tips, little daylight exists between us, head to toe. Much body heat escapes from your head, so keep your coconut warm. Based on dropping temps, helmet strap adjustments will be needed depending on extra layer(s): Headband, bandanna, knit cap, helmet liner or, when it's really cold, a balaclava. Earmuffs work for me when it's not balaclava freezing.

Face masks?

"I either ride solo or with friends who follow CDC guidelines," Rosenbaum said. "A neck gaiter is easy to pull up if I'm passing someone not in my group, at a stoplight where 6-feet distance is impossible, or taking a break. It's a personal choice. If someone is in the high-risk category, I'd highly suggest it."

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That includes me, so I always mask -- annoyingly warm in summer, invitingly warm now.

Rosenbaum recommends a wool bra for women, which helps wick moisture away. I'm going to take her word for it.

Quick braking reflexes are critical to safety, so avoid numb/frozen fingers. She recommends gloves not be too tight. A light pair under over-gloves may be helpful. As temps drop, "lobster gloves" -- mitten hybrids with extra lobes -- keep two-three fingers snugly together, allowing braking and gearing flexibility.

Bar mitts, specific to handlebar types, make light gloves or none at all an option. A friendly motorcyclist tipped me to rubber/nitrile gloves inside winter gloves. Your hands sweat but stay warmer.

Layering is key to comfort. After your "engine" gets running, physical exertion keeps you toasty.

"Always start rides a little cold," Rosenbaum recommends. "Once you start pedaling, you'll heat up quickly. You don't want to overheat."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wool works best for warmth, insulating even when wet. It can be scratchy, so a base liner underneath helps. Many synthetics wick away moisture, insulate and block the wind. Two thin layers beat one thick layer for insulation, and are easier to add/remove, too.

For a base layer, Rosenbaum prefers fabric channels that capture warm air and a mesh backside to release heat. Consider a progression of layers. A light wicking base layer plus short-sleeve jersey wards off a chill. As temps fall, switch to long-sleeve jerseys, then a colder base layer, augmented by a sleeveless vest, and, finally, a full-sleeve outer shell. Zippered underarm vents add relief.

Leg-wise, I follow a similar sequence as the cold intensifies, switching from shorts to ankle-length cycling pants. Legwarmers live up to their name. Inexpensive sweatpants over cycling shorts also work.

Finally, wool socks keep toes warm, though thinner alpaca socks are better than wool, per Rosenbaum. Toe warmers hug your shoe tips. For even colder weather, waterproof over-the-ankle booties encase the entire shoe. Less expensive option -- slip plastic newspaper (bread) bags over your feet before donning shoes.

Sharing the Road:

"I stole the idea from our motorcycle brethren," truck driver Berton Travis admitted. "We need love, too."

One of the more than 150 "Start Seeing Bicycles" lawn signs across Illinois.
One of the more than 150 "Start Seeing Bicycles" lawn signs across Illinois. - Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

That's how Travis, a multi-thousand mile cyclist who drives a semi for a living, explained the origins of his "Start Seeing Bicycles" project.

With at least 28 Illinois towns displaying more than 150 of his bright yellow lawn signs, his mission is to make roads safer for cyclists.

Travis started in 2017, designing the signs and coaxing family and friends in Alsip, Burr Ridge and Crestwood to post them for motorists to see. In August 2020, the Ride Illinois website, the statewide, nonprofit bike advocacy organization, began selling them.

Per Dave Simmons, Ride Illinois executive director, Travis provided biking advice and insight in another major way. Skilled with two wheels and 18, Travis consulted on development of the truck driver bike safety quiz, one of four safety quizzes on the Ride Illinois website.

• Join the ride. Reach Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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