Your ideal winter kit
Written by: Greg Kopecky
Added: Thu Feb 13 2014
In fact, we’re having one of the worst winters I can remember in all of my days. The past few months have been a blur of cold, snow, cold/snow/cold, and oh yeah – a little bit of white winter precipitation. In Michigan where I live, January 2014 has been the snowiest January on record. I can count the number of days on one hand that have seen temperatures above freezing in the past six weeks, and it reads like a big fat O.
To kick this off, you’re going to need to wear some clothes – lots of clothes. You always hear that layering is important, because it is. My personal limit for cold road riding is zero degrees Fahrenheit wind chill (-17.78 Celcius). I am open to mountain biking in temperatures below that, provided it is sunny and on shielded trails.
At temperatures that cold, I typically need four or five layers that look something like this:
-Long sleeve base layer
-Long sleeve jersey
-Long sleeve fleece pullover
-Winter riding jacket
-Wind vest or wind jacket
If I don’t put the wind vest on before I start, I always bring it with me just in case. I also always wear a hydration pack on my back in very cold temperatures. Even without any water in it, having something cover your back helps retain heat quite well.
In terms of specifics on the garments listed above, I have found a few pieces over time that stand out as favorites. My top winter jacket honors go to the Mavic Vision. It is as warm as any other winter cycling jacket I have tried, but comes in a hyper-bright orange color. It’s easy to find bright colored short sleeve jerseys or thin vests, but not full-on winter jackets.
The other favorite I have is my Patagonia base layer. Base layers might seem to be a dime-a-dozen, but there are real differences among them. I bought a single Patagonia Capilene midweight quarter-zip about eight years ago, and I reserve it for the coldest days. I paid a princely sum for it, but do not regret the purchase one bit – it’s incredibly warm.
Gloves are perhaps the most important piece of clothing for winter riding. I’ve been able to find a lot of mid-temperature gloves, but very little that takes care of business for seriously cold temperatures.
If I am going to wear a single layer of gloves, there are a lot of choices. My current favorites are the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell glove, and the Bontrager RXL Waterproof Softshell glove. The Bontragers, in particular, are very long:
The main outer glove can be seen here:
For riding in subzero temperatures, the best route is a pair of Pogies. These are effectively large mittens that mount to your handlebars and act as a shield against air. They are available in both road and mountain versions from companies such as Bar Mitts.
For head gear, I need a thick hat for anything below about 40 degrees, and a face covering for anything below 15 or 20. Back when I started cycling, I’d use a balaclava, but always had the problem with the top of my head losing heat. Adding a hat on top of the balaclava was always too thick for using with a helmet.
I have two solutions that I have implemented this winter. First, the Giro Air Attack helmet. With much less venting than a traditional helmet, it helps to keep me warm. It is also available in a super bright neon yellow color, for improved visibility.
The second trick I have is a proper neck gaiter. My favorite comes from Bontrager and costs about sixteen bucks:
Finally, you need to consider your eyewear. If it’s not too cold, I can ride with or without glasses. The problem is that when it gets really cold, I can’t ride with glasses and a face cover at the same time, because my breath fogs up the lenses. That causes its own problem – my face freezes. Indeed, in the name of product testing (specifically, the WxB gloves), I ventured out on a day with -20 Fahrenheit wind chill. My hands were reasonably comfortable, but my eyes and the bridge of my nose were painfully cold. After seven minutes, the ride was over.
I recently contacted the folks at Optic Nerve, and they were kind enough to send along a pair of their Boreas Inversion goggles to try out. They feature double lenses to resist fogging, and are available in a variety of tints. Optic Nerve representatives tell me that while they were originally intended for skiing or snowboarding, many of their customers use them successfully – with helmets – for cycling in the winter.
Shoes and socks
In my opinion, one of the best investments you can make for winter cycling is a proper winter shoe. Most feature aggressive lugs on the bottom, zero venting, and a high cuff. I bought a pair of Specialized winter shoes about six or seven years ago; this is their latest version called the Defroster:
You should buy your winter shoes at least a half size larger than normal. My Specialized shoes are a full size bigger for me. The reason you want extra room is twofold – 1) You can wear very thick socks, and 2) You can fit a heated toe warmer inside the shoe, similar to what you use in your gloves. I have yet to have my feet get cold for any length of time this winter. Like the glove procedure, I recommend opening the packaging of the toe warmers about 20 or 30 minutes before riding, and placing them inside of your shoes to pre-heat them.
For socks, my current favorites are from Smartwool.
Ski and snowboard socks can also work well, because they’re extra tall and give you double protection from the wind on your shins. The only thing to keep in mind is that you need to have tights with some measure of stretch to them in order to fit the socks underneath.
In the second segment of this article, we’ll cover some specifics that relate to your actual machine – brake pads, tires, fenders, and other essentials.
This is part two of our series on winter riding. As we transition in to Spring, how should your equipment change? We discuss the particulars of bike choice, tire choice, and other details. 2.21.14
We delve in to the particulars of a relatively new segment of bicycles – fat bikes. Featuring super-size tires and exceptional traction, they could be your perfect tool for winter training. 1.05.13
We review two 2014 helmets from Giro, the Aeon and Air Attack Shield. Both are available in super bright Highlight Yellow for increased visibility. 12.14.13
With winter coming, we compare four popular 28mm tires for your training and racing pleasure – Challenge, Michelin, Serfas, and Specialized. Who has the fastest one? 11.26.13