It has only taken me 8 years to figure out how to not over-dress during the winter. I’m kind of slow at some things apparently. I’m not fond of cold weather: especially of damp, windy, and gloomy bike rides. I’m also incredibly stubborn in my loathing of any sort of trainer work-out. So: I ride outside anyway and naturally, I want to bundle up like the kid in the ‘Christmas Story’.
Inevitably, I’d be soaked in sweat in under 15 minutes and regretting the 3 base-layers + jacket idea that seemed so reasonable when I started out. Actually: I won’t really regret it until after the mid-ride stop and THEN I am a miserable, shivering, swearing mess. I don’t mind being sweaty – I do mind being frozen!
After many years of mid-ride regret: I have developed a clothing routine on a cold ride day.
- Plan cycling clothing for the ride as usual.
- Do not put on the helmet, gloves, or cycling shoes yet.
- Step outside and test – make sure I feel the wind if there is any.
- If I’m not somewhat to fairly uncomfortable: I’m over-dressed.
- Begin to take things off.
Here’s the deal: I’m accomplished at perspiration. In other words: I sweat like a sinner in the first pew on Sunday. Got me? This is fine during the summer – it’s fantastic! However, in the winter it’s a problem. Here’s a few cold-weather clothing tips for the ladies:
- If you can get away with it – don’t wear a athletic bra.
- Yes: I know, it’s “shocking”, but the thing turns into an ice brick around my chest no matter what I do. I might put an eye out, but I’m not shivering!
- If it’s above 50°F, no real wind, and it’s sunny – I don’t bother with a wind-proof jacket. If the opposite is true, use the wind-proof jacket (and your judgement).
- Long sleeve fleeced jerseys are awesome. If you don’t have one: a base layer + arm warmers will do.
- Stay warmer on the legs than the top.
- Your legs are doing most of the work, and yes, they sweat. But, keeping them warmer allows the blood vessels to expand and bring valuable oxygen to your muscles. This is very important!
- A wind-blocking vest that has a full ventilation panel in the back. You’d be amazed at how much just keeping the cold off of your chest and letting everything else breathe makes a difference in sweat accumulation and your general happiness.
- Gloves that have wind-blocking panels and ventilated bits between the fingers. I have a very old pair from REI that I bought years ago and their brilliant! No insulation at all but keep my fingers perfectly warm in weather over 40°F degrees. Too much ‘stuffing’ in gloves makes them hard to use on the bike plus they hold moisture, which is bad.
- Shoe covers. My feet are ice blocks no matter what I do, but at least the wind-blocking toe covers help somewhat. Plastic bags inside your shoes work in a pinch – but there isn’t really any insulation there.
- Good quality wool socks. Oh my. These are a definite. I can almost feel my toes when I wear nice thick wood socks. Now: some cycling shoes are a bit tight, so a thick sock can be a problem if you have a tight-fitting shoe.
- Ear Covers. I almost forgot the ears! This I learned the hard way on my first cold ride and now it’s second nature. A fleeced or wind-proof athletic head band will do fine.
My best investment ever has been a pair of wind-proof, water-proof Roubaix tights from overseas. I don’t think they even sell these in the US. Sound like over-kill for a southern winter bike ride? Maybe. But when the wind is howling out of the north at 15+ mph and there’s no sun in sight… I’m glad for them.
Remember: invest wisely in the right gear!! The rule of thumb for solid southern winter cycling is: block the wind, keep the extremities warm, warmer on the bottom than the top, cover your ears, and breathable layers.
O.SODS it and cycle on!