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Winter cycling means wearing layers

Submitted by on December 7, 2011 – 6:29 pm8 Comments

Whether you’re a dedicated commuter or just ride for health and recreation, when the thermometer drops to near and sub-freezing temperatures cycling loses a bit of it’s luster.  This is especially true when the sun goes down.

A couple of years ago when I rode in my first Christmas light ride and as soon as darkness settled I thought I might start crying like a baby.  It was damn cold. I wore the wrong shoes, socks, gloves, and didn’t even bother to bring a hat.  Talk about poor planning. At least I didn’t cry.  Well not in front of anyone that is.

I complained about the cold, until I saw this guy. credit - Greg Agnew/The Canadian Press via

So I learned the hard way that when you’re cycling or doing anything in near arctic temperatures the savvy cyclist has a game plan: one that includes layers,   ideally three.

1) Your base layer, the one that touches your skin, should encourage wicking, which draws the perspiration away from your skin and helps keep you dry.

2) The second or mid-layer, is the insulating layer.  You want the mid-layer to be loose fitting so the air between the two layers further insulates you.

3) The shell layer is what protects you from the environment, so this is where you want water resistant and wind-proof materials. Ideally you want something that will allow you to breath, meaning air can escape but won’t creep in.  Personally I don’t need something water proof because I don’t plan on riding in really cold weather when it’s raining, so I only need protection from the cold wind.  For the every day commuter something water resistant is a sensible choice.

Keep in mind when wearing layers at some point you’ll arrive at your destination and you’ll want to remove one or two of those so you don’t burn up. So give some thought in to what you’ll be removing, and left with.

Speaking of gloves…I bought some super warm gloves once that did a very nice job keeping me insulated from the cold until I started wearing them when I was riding a bike.  They didn’t really have a shell so the cold wind went straight to my bones.  Bad.  Later my wife bought me some winter cycling gloves that look super weird, but damn they keep my hands warm.  So put the Isotoner gloves away and pick up those made especially for winter cycling.  They should have multiple inner layers (or stuffing) and also sport a wind/water resistant shell.

Hot Spiced Rum. photo credit

Wool socks are your friend and they typically do a good job of wicking.  A wool scarf and a hat (or helmet liner) that covers your ears are also required items to stay toasty.

And no matter what you wear, or how cold it gets, Hot Spiced Rum in the winter will make anyone’s day a bit brighter.  Here’s the recipe I’m currently mixing:

Cinnamon Toast Cocktail
12 ounces Apple Cider, warmed
3 ounces Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cinnamon stick, to garnish

Combine the cinnamon and sugar on a plate that the rim of your glass will fit on.  Wet the rim of your glass with the cider or rum.  Spin the rim of your glass in the cinnamon sugar.  Combine the cider and rum in your glass, garnish with cinnamon stick.

So, the moral to the story is don’t let the cold weather get you down or keep you out of the saddle. Dress smart and you’ll pedal a lot further and enjoy it much more.

Got winter riding tips you want to share?


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Chris started riding a bike again when he noticed the Preston Ridge Trail being constructed across the street from his house. Since then he co-founded Biking in Dallas, has gone through countless Craigslist bike projects (some better than others) and can be found pedaling around town on a Electra Ticino with a camera in tow.

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