Mother Nature’s given us a few reprieves this winter – a 65-degree weekend, a warm and sunny Thanksgiving – but there’s no doubt, winter has hit Chicagoland. We can hope for another warm one but we still need to prepare for the cold. So, how does one dress for cycling in cold weather?
One answer, of course, is to wear your usual cycling attire and head to the CompuTrainer Studio to train indoors all winter! But there are some who wish to ride outdoors at least until temps drop below freezing. And even some who will continue to ride outdoors when temps are below freezing.
Cycling presents unique challenges when gearing up for colder temps. First of all, the “windchill” factor is increased by the speed at which you’re riding. You are, in effect, creating your own wind – above and beyond any existing wind conditions.
Then there’s the sweat factor. When you’re putting a decent effort into cycling, your body is going to sweat. That sweat, if not properly wicked away, serves to cool you down, not something you want in the winter temps.
Add to this the accessibility factor – you want cold weather gear to keep you warm but you still need to be able to move. You need your fingers to brake and shift. You need clothing that moves with you and works for you.
Last year, Bicycling Magazine published a great article by Neil Bezdek about Cycling in Cold Weather, citing five principles of heat conservation along with some insights into what they mean for cyclists. What follows is an excerpt from that article. In response, our Higher Gear staff offers their recommendations for dressing for heat conservation.
Convection occurs when air that contacts the skin is heated and blown away, which is replaced by new air that warms itself at the expense of body heat. Convection threatens to rob a wind-battered cyclist of more warmth than any other type of heat transfer.
Everyone knows that wearing additional clothes is the best way to stay warm, and that layering provides options for dressing and undressing as conditions change. But layering is also effective because it traps pockets of immobile air next to your body. In other words, layered clothing is greater than the sum of its parts.
Heat loss through convection warrants covering as much of your skin as possible. This is especially true for extremities because they have a large ratio of surface area to volume, as well as areas with high blood-flow such as your head and neck because they transmit lots of energy to the air they contact (like a radiator in a car).
Higher Gear Suggests:
Sugoi RS Zero Jacket offers high performance thermal regulation with innovative detailing and pro-level function. The construction is a combination of Sugoi’s signature water resistant and windproof Firewall fabric and their stretchy and cosy MidZero fabric. BikeRadar found this jacket to be versatile across a range of conditions. With all the details – a zipped pocket for keys and cash, ﬂeece lined collar and zip ﬂap, zip garage and reﬂective detail – “this is well featured, versatile across different weather and feels more expensive than it is.”
Specialized Therminal EX Deflect Pant/Bib Tight and Therminal Bib Tight are made primarily with a unique Therminal fabric, brushed for loft and insulation. The Therminal EX fabric, designed for cold weather riding, adds weight and brushing for extra insulation. This Deflect version also includes Wind-proof laminate panels provide protection in key wind chill areas. The Therminal Bib Tight is a cycling-specific piece with supportive bib construction and pressure-relieving Body Geometry Comp pad. Its medium-weight Therminal fabric extends to the core for additional warmth, providing comfort in a wide range of temperatures.
Heat transfers through substances that directly contact your body. This is called conduction.
Metal handlebars, brake levers, and pedals—and even sunglasses and headphones—all threaten to sap heat from vulnerable body parts. Double-wrapping your handlebars, wearing heavy gloves, and using thicker insoles all provide a layer of insulation that can mitigate heat loss through conduction.
Higher Gear Suggests:
Sugoi Firewall Z Gloves are Canadian company’s Sugoi’s warmest glove. (The Canadians seem to know a thing or two about keeping warm.) This glove offers windproof thermal protection and split mitt shape to deliver the most warmth with cycling hand mobility. It uses a split-finger design, meaning there are openings for your thumb, your index finger and your three remaining digits. This design allows you to better grasp the handlebar, shift and brake. The Z also has a padded palm and neoprene Velcro strap closure at the wrist to keep cold air out. Bicycling Magazine rated them as one of the high performing gloves for cold-weather rides.
Evaporative cooling occurs when water changes state from liquid to gas.
Being wet makes you cold for two reasons: Water is 240 times more conductive than air, and you lose heat when water evaporates. Avoid getting sweaty by anticipating changes in temperature—shed a layer at the base of climbs before overheating, and remember to bundle up before descending cools you down.
Higher Gear Suggests:
SockGuy EliteTech Base Layers offer a super soft, next-to-skin fit with ultra-wicking performance. SockGuy developed fabrics specifically to be a lightweight moisture transfer system, keeping the next-to-skin surface driest and dramatically increasing evaporation rates. Combined with their Cool Comfort Construction techniques, the fit of EliteTech Base Layers optimizes moisture transfer without constricting movement or adding bulk. The Fusion long sleeve and short sleeve options offer the perfect blend of Classic and ProLite mesh fabrics, combining a classic mesh for core thermal protection with smooth fitting underarm insets to release heat.
Shunting Blood Flow
The human body reacts to cold by shunting, where it restricts blood flow in extremities to protect vital organs at its core.
If you want to keep your hands and feet warm, wear a jacket. Keeping your core toasty promotes blood flow to extremities. And don’t limit circulation to your feet by over-tightening shoes or squeezing on additional pairs of socks. Shoe covers are better option.
Higher Gear Suggests:
Bar Mitts are designed to keep hands warm and comfortable in the cold, rain, snow and wind. The windproof neoprene “mitts” stay secure on your handlebars, providing a protective layer for your hands while riding, braking and shifting. Bar Mitts offer so much protection from the wind and cold, we recommend combining with only a light winter or liner glove. You can easily slide your hands in and out for shifting and breaking, while the mitts stay secured on the handlebars. Bar Mitts are ideal for those who suffer from Raynaud’s Disease.
Specialized Neoprene Shoe Cover are designed for ultimate protection in a wide variety of winter conditions. Neoprene keeps the warmth in and the elements out. The fully opening, locking zipper located on the arch side of the foot allows for easy on and off.
SockGuy Wooligan is the best winter sock you will ever wear. These socks will keep your feet dry and warm in all weather conditions. Features include a 4″ Easy-Fit cuff, arch support, moisture wicking channels and a padded foot bottom for extra warmth and comfort. These socks are made with 75% TURBOwool, a superior blend of 50% Merino wool and 50% polypropylene – the combination of which provides five times the strength and durability of Merino wool alone. These wool socks are shrink-resistant and itch-free.
Thermal Regulation – Keep Your Hat On
The head and neck are your heat sensors. In addition to gauging temperature signals from the nerve endings all over your body, your brain monitors its thermostat based on the warmth of the blood that flows to it.
Keeping your head and neck protected is about more than just heat loss; insulating your melon and its stem will make you feel warm.
Higher Gear Suggests:
Pace Sportswear Reversible Merino Wool Cap is designed to keep your head warm under your cycling helmet. 100% New Zealand Merino Wool offers thermal, moisture and odor management and is machine washable. One-size-fits-all design is made with Contoured Neck Panel Covers Ears, protecting the bits where heat loss is greatest.
Have other bits that get cold or that need coverage? Higher Gear can help. Our expert staff is eager to listen to your needs and direct you to cold weather gear that will work for you and your style of riding. Stop in to either location.