Winter Cycling Gear

Snow has landed in Madison and it looks like it’s here to stay. We wanted to take a couple minutes and chat about what type of gear you should be using for winter commuting or winter cycling in general. Most of these products we’ve featured on the site before, but they are just to give a good base of what types of items you should be investing in to ride safely and comfortably in the cold, snowy weather.

We of course encourage wearing a much wool as you can afford. Investing in a high quality wool mid or base layer can make a huge difference. Wool works well for regulating body temperature meaning it will help keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It wicks away moisture and keeps you from being stinky. A lot of the poly materials out there will often times stay wet or smell awful after a day of riding in the cold.

Wool socks and hats are quite nice as they keep the toes much warmer than cotton and they won’t stink after working up a sweat. I can’t tell how many hats I’ve had to eventually retire because of the dreaded sweaty hair smell. No amount of washing seemed help after awhile. Wool hats/balaclavas haven’t fallen into that trap. Ibex is our brand of choice as they their products are made in the USA, but Smartwool and other companies have great options available as well.

Helmets. Honestly you can pretty much ride in whatever helmet you like in the winter since you’ll most likely be wearing a hat, but Bern is unique in that they have special insulated liners that can be snapped in the helmet. We don’t have much experience with Bern yet, but we’ve had many friends express that they really love their helmets and all the accessories they can use with their helmets (Bern also makes audio accessories).

Goggles aren’t the first thing that comes to mind with cycling, but they sure do help when the temperature is so low that your eyeballs about freeze shut! Gusty winds and heavy snow can also make for a really difficult ride. We’ve been known to wear clear safety glasses in a pinch on rides home where the snow was coming down hard. Goggles are better as they are designed to keep good airflow and have anti-fog properties. We use Spy branded goggles as they are easy to find and fairly prices. Kids sized goggles work well for ladies with extra small faces.

Down is another material we really like. Pairing down and wool together will almost always ensure that you’ll stay warm. Brands like Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Mountain Hardwear all make fantastic down hoodies and zip ups. They don’t call them jackets, but that’s what they essentially are. The hoodies are very lightweight, packable, and fairly breathable. The loft from the down is what keeps you warm as it traps in warm air. The downsides to down are that if it gets wet, you’ll end up cold. The other is that some folks are highly allergic to down.

Look for a down jacket that has a DWR finish that has built in water resistance or plan on wearing a very light shell or top layer to help protect against heavy, wet snowfall. We use our Bontrager vests as a top layer as they keep things dry enough that we don’t worry about soggy rides.

Finding a good insulated boot or shoe is important for keeping your toes warm. Frostbite in the extremities is not a laughing matter. It can come on quick and can be quite painful. Look for shoe or boot that has some sort of water protection. If you don’t opt. for a full boot, you may want to consider using waterproof gaiters. Outdoor Research, 45NRTH, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardwear, and many other companies make great products for wet and cold conditions.

Gloves. Gloves can really make or break a winter bike ride. Too thin and you’ll have painfully cold fingers, too bulky and you’ll have a hard time shifting, poor padding and you’ll get pinching/discomfort. You really need to do some experimenting if you plan on wearing gloves vs. using Pogies or Bar Mitts. Pogies and Bar Mitts are items you install on the handlebars of your bike and protect your hands against the cold.

We tend wear gloves as we have short commutes and like still having some sort of protection on should we need to walk our bikes or do some sort of maintenance. Craft’s lobster gloves are a favorite of ours for really cold weather. For a little more mild weather we also enjoy Pearl Izumi’s thermal long finger gloves or Answer’s long finger gloves. All of them are very comfortable on and off the bike.

Last but not least, we’ll talk a little bit about keeping your legs warm. Legs are more likely to get cold versus your upper body or core. Your legs are way less protected on the bike and take the brunt of wind force. Thermal or lined tights are always a fantastic option. On a warmer day they can be worn alone. They can be paired with bib shorts or bike shorts. They can also be used as an under layer under jeans or waterproof rain pants. Craft, Moving Comfort, Pearl Izumi, and even Target aka Champion makes some kick ass thermal tight options.
Another option would be to get some good merino base layer thermal underwear or even a union suit. Merino is expensive though, so it may be work looking into the thermal tights since they are designed to be used standalone as well as with an over layer. Thermal underwear aren’t really designed to be used by themselves.

A couple of additional notes is making sure you have reliable gear with you on the bike. Good rechargeable lights that won’t fail in extremely cold weather is important since it gets dark early. Light & Motion has stood the test of time for us. An easy to use road pump (remember you are bundled and wearing gloves) is also important. Lezyne’s Micro Floor Pump is super easy to use as it mimics how a full size floor pump works. Studded tires! Duh, pretty common sense when riding in ice and snow. 45NRTH, Schwalbe, Vittoria, Continental, and other brands all make great winter tires. Keeping your lips and exposed face protected is also very important. Riding in the dry, cold weather will take a toll on your skin. Carmex, Bag Balm, Aquaphor, and Badger Balm all do a great job of protecting skin. Fender. They cover your @ss! We like PDW’s Soda Pop & Origami fenders best as they are easy to install and remove.

We hope some of our tips were helpful for you. Riding in the ice and snow can be intimidating at first, but you’ll find with a little experience and experimentation that it can be just as or even more enjoyable than riding in warm weather!

If you have any tips or tricks to share or want more info on how to safely ride in the winter, please drop us a line on our contact page!

 

What’s In Your Seat Bag Pt. 2

seatbagpt2

It’s about time we rolled out another What’s In Your Seat Bag?

Most of these items wouldn’t fit in a standard under saddle bag, but they would be stellar additions to a pannier, rack top bag, or a saddle trunk. These items come with us on any ride outside of comfortable walking distance or if we’re going to be out in the boonies.

Starting from the upper left hand side and going across we start with the Go Girl. For ladies, this little gadget will improve your life exponentially! The Go Girl allows you to stand up and use the bathroom. No squatting necessary and not oops moments that require clean up. We especially love the Go Girl while wearing bibs. Not many bib short makers allow for you to drop trou easily. The Go Girl is made out of a soft silicone material and comes in a handy carrying case. Usually all you need is a little squirt of water to rinse it off before rolling it up and you’re good to go!
Bonus: Take this gadget camping, to festivals, travel trips, and anywhere where the bathroom situation may be sketchy.

Next is the Bontrager windshell vest. We LOVE our hi-vis vests as they add a light-weight, breathable layer that lets us stick out safely in traffic. This particular vest packs down very small and can be placed in a jersey pocket easily. Our vests have been worn in all temperature ranges and have never let us down. The vest isn’t water proof, but is very water resistant and dries quickly. They also come in handy for fall riding through the woods or on rail trails. Staying bright is important if you live in a state where hunting is a popular sport!

Hoo Ha! The name is silly, but we wouldn’t recommend anything else. Our big bottles of Hoo Ha come with us on all our long group rides. Men and women enjoy this chamois cream as it uses all natural ingredients, has a really nice aroma, and has a nice cooling sensation. Reflect Sports, the makers of Hoo Ha are a woman owned company and they make all their products in the USA! Check them out at our link to the right on our page. They sell large bottles of the chamois cream or handy mini packs for tossing into a seat pack or jersey pocket.

While out on the open road or trail, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you have a good pump. Getting a flat on a ride is never fun, but Lezyne’s Micro Floor Drive is the next best thing to having your full size pump with you. The Micro Floor Drive allows you to inflate both presta and shrader valves, boasts a pressure guage, and is fully rebuild-able. Your forearms will thank you the next time you get a flat with this pump!

T9 Boeshield has found many uses in our house, but it’s also a fantastic chain lube. You know that person on your ride who always seems to have the squeaky bike? Do them a favor and bring a little of this or some Phil’s Lube with you next time. T9 has been used this in a pinch on creaky pedals, bottom brackets, and other moving parts.

First Aid Kits. They come in so handy and they are so worth their weight! We’ve used everything from the shown Johnson & Johnson basic kit to Adventure Medical’s more comprehensive kits. Even the D.I.Y bandages with wet wipes have helped clean some scrapes. Crashes happen a lot more than we’d like to admit. A first aid kit really helped us out last weekend when Cassandra wrecked her arm and needed to clean out the dirt & debris. Bandages and alcohol pads are great, but throw in some travel size ibuprofen, antihistamine, and anti-diarrhea meds to cover all your bases.

All of these items are fantastic to have in your arsenal whether you’re a casual rider, roadie, or hardcore commuter. We’ll continue this post series where we integrate some lifestyle products and even some bike camping S240 (sub 24 hour trip) gear. It’s easy to escape city life with just a few essential items!

First Below Freezing Commute of the Winter

Winter has been seemingly non-existent over the last year or so, but mostly due to the lack of snow. The cold is still there though and boy did I feel it today! Commuting in the winter sounds a lot more extreme than it seems. With the right clothing and layering techniques you can ride through event negative temps.

I’ve become extremely dedicated to checking the weather either the night before or the morning of a commute. Smartphones now all come with some type of weather app that gives you a good idea of what to prepare for. I consider winter commuting to pretty much be anything 50 degrees or cooler. 50 is a warm for these parts, but for some folks that’s what their winter is.

What I wear at 40-50 degrees is long unlined running tights, a technical long-sleeve shirt, technical fabric bike jersey over the long shirt, mtb shoes, a cycling cap, and a helmet. Depending on if it’s a windy day I may bring a wool hat, gloves, and a hi-vis vest with me. A good rule of thumb is to start your commute cold as you will warm up once you get going. I’ve made the mistake several times of layering up and being warm from the start. That usually ends up in a hot, sweaty mess or having to stop and take time to peel layers off.

30-40 degrees I will wear something similar, but with fleece lined tights, a wool jersey, definitely a hi-vis vest, gloves, wool beanie, sunglasses, wool socks, commuter spd shoes, and I’ll bring a light jacket like the Patagonia R1 with me if I find I get too chilly. The R1 is nice because it adds a layer, but is breathable so you don’t over heat.

The next level is a little tricky. Today is was 28 degrees and I decided to go with thermal or fleece lined tights, a technical long sleeved shirt, wool jersey, Shower’s Pass Portland jacket (basically a soft shell with lots of reflective bits), gloves, a wool beanie, wool socks, commuter spd shoes, sunglasses, and of course a helmet (I always wear one when I ride). I did pretty well with this, but my legs and toes got cold when I was nearing mile 4 of my 5 mile commute to work. I had wished I grabbed a balaclava, no not the delicious Greek dessert, but a partial face mask/hat combo you wear to protect your face while in windy conditions. Goggles may also become an addition on days that get any colder than 28.

I’m guessing adding a balaclava, Seal Skin socks (a brand, not made out of actual seals), and a pair of woolie thermals under my tights would probably keep me warm at 15-28 degrees. Anything below or hovering at 15 I will probably have to pull out the big guns adding rain pants over the tights as a vapor barrier (look up how vapor barriers work, it’s pretty neat), wear my down jacket with a shell over it or pair a wool hooded sweatshirt to keep nice and toasty.

I will sometimes use my wool Chrome Pasha hoodie that I’ve had for a few years to add a nice layer of toasty to the mix. Wool is expensive, yes, but as long as you treat it well it will last a LONG time. Benefits are that wool doesn’t harbor bacteria like tech fabrics do, so you don’t stink as much and the clothes will stay fairly fresh after a few uses. I used to wear beanies made from all sorts of fabric blends, but they’d always end up smelling like dirty hair even after I washed them. With wool beanies I never have that problem. I’ll freshen them up every so often with a wash, but it’s never a necessity out of smelliness.

Becoming a bike commuter will turn you into a wool lover. Actually if you do any activity outdoors and start experimenting with adding wool to your collection, you’ll probably enjoy it. I have two wool undershirts, two wool beanies, loads of wool socks, and a wool hoodie. I plan to keep adding to my collection as I can afford it. Working in the industry has its benefits, but it’s still pricey even if you have access to purchase items at a discount.

My next wool purchase will probably be a Buff (neck gaiter if you will) or some woolie tights or a long sleeved shirt. What can I say? I drink that kool-aid!

For any of you who are curious I’d like to give a general overview of some of my favorite cool/cold weather commuting items by brand. I’m not getting paid by these folks. These are all items I’ve purchased on my own and have used for a few seasons so I know they are worth the money.

-REI brand Wool Socks
They make an awesome gift. REI’s socks are warm, durable, comfy, and downright awesome. They are often on sale in store as they have bins and bins of them.
-Smartwool Beanies
I have two of these as I thought I lost mine one day when I was out visiting dealers. Turns out it was in my laundry pile and I now have two highly functional beanies. One is reversible and the two can be combined to make a super warm and comfy hat for extra chilly days.
-Pearl Izumi Thermal Gloves
In all honesty I don’t know what series of gloves I have, but I like them and they keep my fingers pretty toasty on the bike. I don’t think there is a current version of what my gloves have feature wise. Mine have zips on the side and built in reflective material on the top of the glove. There’s fleece on the thumb and the side palm of the gloves so you have plenty of places to wipe your nose (kind of gross I know) or you glasses.
-Shower’s Pass Portland Jacket
I’ve had this jacket for a few years and I always end up forgetting that I have it when cold weather shows up. Then when I open my closet and discover it’s still around I get excited to wear it again. The jacket is basically a nice soft shell that repels rain, has nice reflective piping and other details on it that make for a great commuting jacket. Pit zips, adjustable sleeve openings and side openings are a nice touch. My only beef with the jacket is that I wish it were a half inch longer. When I layer under the jacket it can have the tendency to ride up a little.
-Chrome Pasha Hoodie
I can’t even start to describe how much I love this piece of clothing. The Pasha was a definite splurge that ended up being one of my best clothing decisions to date. The hoodie is made out of merino wool, has a nice length, has thumb holes, good side, and rear pockets. I wear this on and off the bike as it makes for the perfect match under my down jacket. I would definitely buy this hoodie again.
-Patagonia R1 Jacket
I believe this is technically a men’s jacket, but I got a branded one from work that seems to fit me just right. It’s not great for super cold days, but for days in that 37-50 zone it works so well. It’s breathable, but warm enough to keep you going. My jacket is black so when I wear it I put a hi-vis vest over it.
-Bontrager hi-vis packable riding vest
I’m not sure the exact model of vest I have, but I’m sure if you walk into any Trek dealer you’d be able to find one. I used a $50 gift card I had to purchase the vest. It’s super lightweight, packable, breathable, and has nice reflective points. There’s a few different companies who make similar products so I’m not here to push Bontrager more than anything else, but it’s the brand that I have.
-Running Tights
I love using running tights or workout tights for my commutes. They stretch like regular bike shorts/knickers would but cost a lot less and work well for my 5 mile (one way) commute. Currently I have a pair from Moving Comfort that aren’t lined and a pair from Target that I found and thought I would give a try. It’s nice to try an purchase all name brand stuff from shops, but when you need to take your wallet into consideration there are some good alternatives. I’ll probably look into purchasing an actual cycling full length tight with chamois in the next month or so and see how those work. They’re pretty expensive, so I’m not quite ready to take that plunge. Again, even working in the industry doesn’t always mean things are always cheap!

That’s pretty much it for the clothes chat. I’ll most likely do a follow up with lighting and other items that make winter commuting more pleasant and of course safe for everyone! For more info on winter commuting and winter events visit www.bikewinter.org or learn about the winter Fat Bike culture over at Fat-Bike.com

-Cassandra