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!


Winter Gear Review

Hey folks.  In this time of year, the cold has swept many of us indoors to polish up our bikes or put them into trainers.  However, even as we mutter to ourselves small encouragement that the warmth will return, we can definitely ride in super cold temps and conditions and feel quite epic as the miles get logged.  It’s a completely different ballgame than warm weather riding and requires both adjustments to wardrobe and bike tuning.  In this first part, I am going to go over some tips and technique for “winterizing your bike.”  It will keep the trusty steed happy and healthy.

One area that I covered before in a prior post was the bottom bracket.  One good trick is to wrap Teflon tape around the BB cups.  This provides added protection when the rain, snow, and muck come calling.  It’s like having a nice new seal that not only keeps the BB quieter from creaks and clicks, but also is added protection for the BB itself and the inside of your frame.  While aluminum and carbon won’t rust like steel, I have plenty or horror stories of disintegrated BB cups and literal cups of water hanging out inside the frame.  Below is a photo of a roll of Teflon tape and a photo of what the BB looks like when left unchecked.

Secondly, under the BB area of the bike is usually a cable guide that attaches to the frame with a small screw or plug.  If your cables are routed this way, it’s a great idea to install small plastic tubes through the guide for your cable to run through.  These plastic tubes are easily attainable at your LBS and most of the time, they’ll just give you them for free.  As an added protector, I add grease inside these tubes as it will not melt away or dry like oil or Tri-Flow will eventually.  It keeps the cable running smoothly, which keeps your gear running smoothly.  Replacing a broken or frayed cable in sub-freezing temperature is a nightmare, even for a mechanic.  Another great shield for cables is to buy an actual cable kit rather than stock cables.  Many of these kits are only marginally more expensive and provide tubing for each point on the frame where the cable is exposed.  It will stop grime and dirt from sneaking into the cable housing as quickly.  The ultimate in these systems is the Gore RideOn cable sets that are completely sealed in Teflon tubing from end to end.  Unfortunately, due to some untold reason, they are discontinuing the product.  It is head over heels more expensive (about $140-160 for the whole brake and derailleur set), but I’ve seen daily commuters ride these without flaw for years at a time through some of the worst conditions this area sees.  Below is a photo of the cable tubing and a photo of a bottom bracket cable guide.

Another tip that you can do at home very easily is wipe down your tires after every couple rides.  Some Windex or Simple Green works great and you’ll have many more miles of riding on each set.  Also, take a “pokey tool” (something pointy and sharp) and carefully pop little pieces of glass and rock that get imbedded in the surface rubber of the tire.  Once the tires are wiped down, these are easy to spot and will prevent them from working deeper and causing a flat tube.  You’ll also be much more aware of any defects or larger cuts before discovering them by a flat tube on the trail.  My all-time favorite winter riding tire is the Specialized All-Condition Armadillo Elite 700×25.  With a Kevlar lining built into the tire, I can ride over hill and dale with confidence that sticks and glass and potholes won’t be able to puncture.  They can last several thousand miles and the folding version of the tire has a great feel on the trail.

A synthetic or leather bar tape (for road bikes) will also be an advantage to your cold weather trips as it doesn’t tear or wear nearly as fast as basic cork and gel tapes.  Fizik makes a great “suede” tape that will last and last through winter riding and also keeps my hands a bit warmer.

For the cyclists with enough time on their hands, I highly recommend waxing your frame once or twice a year.  Just like the beautiful shine looks on your car, your bike will both look great and water and dirt will have far less chance to stay stuck on the frame.  You can also wax the components.  The crank, in particular shines up well and I’ve noticed mine stays clean for far longer with less maintenance than without it.  Considering some bicycle cranks range in price from $100-1000, I like to keep that investment as long as possible.  However, I do not recommend using wax-based lubricants during the winter.  Teflon lubricants will work just as well (if not better) and come in a variety of “thicknesses.”  Rock and Roll Gold has been a stalwart protector of my chain for years and it keeps it both lubricated and clean.  With wax-based lubricants, the chain stays lubricated for longer, but has a better chance of spreading the wax all over the bike (which is difficult to clean and can corrode some anodized parts) and trapping dirt. This is a highly debated topic, as some cyclists will claim the opposite.  Out of all the bikes I have worked on (many many many), the bikes with wax-based lubes require much more time to clean and maintain while regular application of Teflon lube on bikes is quick, easy, and very clean.

A little more labor intensive care that will reap large benefits is taking fine steel wool to the metal braking surface of your wheels every two weeks of riding.  In addition to removing grime and brake dust buildup, it gives the pads a better “bite” on the rim, stopping you more effectively and without squealing.  Wiping brake pads as well will aid this and a small piece of fine sandpaper can revamp the surface of the pad and remove small bits of rock and metal that get imbedded in the pad just like I mentioned with tires.  Those little metal pieces wear away at the rim and cause poor braking, squealing, and fine grooves in the rim metal.  If you ride often during the winter season, salmon colored pads are made to aid in these conditions and are a specialized compound.  KoolStop makes a great pair of thin line pads that will allow mud and dirt to shed more effectively and feature the salmon colored compound.

Last but not least, if you’re planning on hauling your bike on a car rack in poor weather, I highly recommend a product called a Chain Johnny. It’s a great invention that covers and protects the drive-train of your bike.  Even though it’s from a company that makes wax-based lubes, I think it’s one of the smartest investments to keep your parts from corroding with all of the salt VDOT piles on the roads before and after snowstorms.

If you know of any other useful “winterizing” bike tips, feel free to contact me or post a comment and I will try to include it in the article or expand upon it.  Thanks for reading.  Next stop, “winterizing” yourself for riding.