Winter Gear Review (Part 2)

Amidst the Super Bowl, I think about past games I’ve seen and wonder if Gore Bike Wear should start branching into the NFL.  It’s the same reason I will depend on it heavily in freezing rain, snow, ice, and super cold temperatures. High aerobic activity like that requires the right clothes to really hit the trails comfortably in these “I snow one day and bring out spring flowers the next” type of weather here in the Greater Metropolitan Area of D.C.  So, here we go.

People definitely know the sure-fire ways of keeping warm and comfortable in normal circumstances — put on as many layers as possible while still being able to walk upright with partial mobility.  However, cycling is all about aerobics and you are going to sweat and work hard fighting the cold air entering your lungs and the increased friction from your tires dealing with the elements on the trail.  The good news is that you probably already have half of the stuff you need at home and the other half is budget in proportion to how much you want to ride.  This makes a big difference as to whether you hit the trail on the best day of the week or all of your week.  I hope to define the categories by the varied conditions I ride in so you can pick for yourself.

A commute in today’s conditions was highly contrasted in separate ways from the last few days. These suggestions will work for a decent percent of riders, but you may have to adapt for your own preferences.  This article is meant to reason with the ability to know what will work in harsh riding conditions.  My experience with it is that it depends more on the materials of the layers rather than the shape or features.  Last week, I barely felt like stepping outside at all when I saw that the 8:30 a.m. temperature was 17 degrees, but felt like 9 degrees.  This type of riding is possible.  What would I pull out of the closet?  A Gore-Tex layer for the outside.  If it is raining, sleeting, snowing, or just plain cold, Gore-Tex will give you the necessary insulating heat that some far less breathable like plastic can provide.  Repulsion of water and wind can equate simply to keeping the body heat you generate close to your skin rather than trying to equalize with the outside temperature.  A certain amount of true focus is required when hitting elements that can dissuade the most regular of riders.

The layer beneath the Gore-Tex would have to be wool.  The majority of people today understand the benefits of wool and how it can act like a kind of organic insulation to cold temperatures without that “suffocating” feeling.  My choice is thin spun wools like natural merino or blends like Smartwool.  Two jerseys and a couple pairs of wool socks can and will become favorites that continue to perform over time and pair in really cold temperatures with winter wool sweaters you have in the closet.

Sometimes if it is raining, but not really cold, a good option is something sleeker.  Sweaters are a little heavy here and the less rain that hits you, the more efficiently you can pedal and get to the end of your ride.  A “base layer” might be the most popular thing in all sports.  Whatever one you have will work great.  Long-sleeve for colder — short-sleeve for warmer.  On top of this, I wear a slightly loose button-up “seer-sucker” shirt.  I pick up different ones over time from department stores to hand-me-downs.  While it sounds like a possible compromise, I assure you that the materials do their job and you save money to devote towards better pedals or whatever your next upgrade is.  Linen shirts like this really don’t take up extra room if they are compressed from an outer water-proof shell.  They can be unbuttoned during mid-ride if the sun comes out and the collar acts like an extra barrier for cold wind hitting your neck.  The remainder of the wardrobe would consist of Gore-Tex pants (a very worthwhile investment), heavy or water-proof gloves (including lobster style gloves from Pearl Izumi and a more adjustable style with Craft), and the last item — Gore-Tex socks.  Wool socks under this shell will definitely keep your feet dry where sooner or later, shoe covers and even waterproof shoes will overflow and hit your feet, which can kill your energy in pedaling.

Some of the most challenging setups for cycling is in windy conditions.  Here is where I want to present two scenarios.  The first is for people cycling to commute or to do an errands, etc.  The second is for when you want to just go out and hit some miles for fun.

Wind is, will be, and has been the enemy of the cycling. From strong crosswinds to head winds, it can seemingly sap your strength and make your efforts paltry. This is where Windstopper comes in. More breathable than Gore-Tex, Windstopper literally and effectively blocks the wind and prevents it from hitting your skin. It is a go-to jacket that you can pair with either the wool or linen mentioned before. People are usually quite surprised when we use an air compressor on a normal jacket and then with a jacket equipped with Windstopper material. Rather than a separate pair of pants, use the Gore-Tex ones in windy weather commuting because it will perform about the same for this purpose, and you’ll save a little not having one pair for each condition. I have definitely even thrown on jeans beneath these pants as well as leg warmers. While the wind may beat you to pieces, at least you won’t feel it doing so and can save your attention for operating the bike instead of trying to get warm.

When you go out for that winter group ride, most don’t need to take extra clothes or lunch, etc. With less bulk to carry, you can “streamline” your gear. Tighter fitting Windstopper gear (or other similar technology) like cycling bib tights and arm/leg warmers will pair great with the waterproof socks mentioned earlier and lobster gloves that allow more movement of fingers and adjustable liners for varied temperatures.

While a little different than some reviews, holding on to these key situation described and adjusting them to your own personal liking will give you a far greater advantage over the elements than the classic thinking talked about in the beginning. I also tried to limit the amount of marketing with this article to focus on the principles behind cold weather riding. Feel free to email or post any questions!

-SNC

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