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!