Well the cold weather is upon us again (for those of us in North) and it is time to get layered. For those of us who want to persist that is the best way to stay warm on the bike. Where I cycle in Calgary, Canada it gets quite cold in mornings and then can warm up considerably during the day during this time of year. You can have up to 40°F differential; this can present a challenge for staying warm and comfortable.
The key is to find clothing that is breathable yet breaks the cold wind in the morning. For my legs I have tried cheap lined nylon pants with my riding shorts underneath. This didn’t work out to well with my legs being soaked in sweat by the end of my ride. That is not a good thing when it is below freezing, you need to find something that will wick the moisture away. It is worth the money to get something better. I went to the Web to find what I was looking for and I found great deal on some fleece cycle tights. Well that solved the leg issue they were great they cut wind and kept the moisture away. The lower half was doing great now! Two points to remember, one, you should have enough room for your cycling pants underneath the fleece tights. This brings me to the second point it is better to have these over your cycling pants because during the evening when it is warmer you will want to remove these to ensure you don’t get overheated heading home. In temperatures below 20°F (-7°C) you may want to add some nylon shell pants to cut the wind more.
The upper body poses a problem since it catches most of the wind but is not moving much. What you need here is a full-featured wind and water resistant shell with ventilated pit zips and a breathable fabric so you can get the most protection and ventilation. A shell with pit zips is great because it easily give you more ventilation if you start to over heat. This type of jacket is also great for locations that get more rain this time of year opening up the pit zips allows that extra ventilation you needs without getting to wet! With a good shell I found I only needed two more layers what these two layers are depends on how cold your ride is. I find that down to about 25°F (-4°C) that a good turtle neck and the shell are enough as long as wind isn’t blowing too hard, if it is blowing you can add a t-shirt under this if you want. When it starts getting colder than this remove the t-shirt, keep the turtleneck and wear a fleece jacket under this, make sure your protective shell has room for this layering process.
The extremities are a real challenge, starting with the hands. At temperatures down to 25°F (-4°C) a pair of lined leather gloves is sufficient. At temperature below 25°F (-4°C) mitts are the best, there is nothing like the having your fingers together to keep them warm. The challenge is the thumb, I occasionally have to pull my thumb out and join it with the rest of the fingers for while to warm it up. Those mitt/glove combinations where the mitt flips over the open finger end might do the trick also but I do not use these. Be careful not to get a mitt with to much bulk you still need dexterity for shifting and braking. Another good choice would be those three finger mitts they would still keep some fingers together for warmth and offer you some good dexterity.
Next is the head, this is the toughest. The main reason for the difficulty is that you still need to wear you helmet and keep those ears from freezing. Anybody who commutes without a helmet should have his head examined (and may have to some day) particularly when things start freezing, ice can form anywhere, so be safe. What you need for this is a quickly adjustable helmet, one that has a ratchet type adjustment at back to allow for the layer you will need under it when it is cold and can be made smaller for your ride home when it may warmer. You can find a great selection of cycling helmets on the Web. The best system is to have two types of balaclavas. One should be a thinner polypropylene type with an open face style that will still cover you chin. This one is good for temperature down to 25°F (-4°C). When the temperature starts sinking below 25°F (-4°C) a fleece balaclava with coverage for your nose should be used. What is difficult for those of us who where glasses is fogging up when wearing the balaclava. I try keeping my glasses further down my nose to allow for more air circulation, this doesn’t completely eliminate it but it helps.