Links to Other Strategy Pages
Pam Blalock' Winter Tips'97
Joe's ICEBIKE Gear Article.
Depending on the duration of the ride, there are several different strategies of dress
that can be used.
Layering is a outdoor clothing strategy that is probably already familiar to you, using
layers of clothing that can be added and subtracted as the temperature and your activity
You might start out with a warm wicking garment close to the skin, a warmth pile above
that and a wind proof outer layer. As you start out on a winter ride, the temperature may
be cold, and you will feel fine. As you heat up, or the day warms up you may want to
remove a layer to keep from over heating.
You might want to add layers too, so carrying compact extra layer garments is wise.
This may come in handy when you stop to eat or rest, and find that you are chilling. It is
important to add clothing or subtract it before you get too cold or too hot.
You will find that you can control heat loss quite well by removing or adding headgear
as your head is a very good radiator of heat.
The problem with Layering in Winter Cycling is that it just doesn't work very well.
Many cyclists on the ICEBIKE mailing list report that
they just don't use the layering method at all. Here are some reasons:
- Cyclists are loath to stop and change layers because it is often the under layers that
must be changed, seldom the top layer. If you are getting too warm, you will still want
your wind proof layer (the top layer), so what you have to do is remove that, then remove
one of the under layers, find some place to stash it, then get back on the bike and get
moving before you get too cold.
This is easy for a hiker, or cross country skier, they can usually just add or subtract
the outer layer, but a cyclist moving at 15 to 20mph can't spare the wind shell.
Then there is the problem of storing the removed layer. Unless you have a backpack or
panniers this is a hassle. Of course, we aren't even mentioning the problems involved in
undressing and redressing in public or in a howling wind.
- Cyclists generate a lot of sweat. By the time you realize you are too hot, you are
already wet. (A wicking underlayer helps a lot. See below). If you don't remove the wet
garment, you will chill yourself more than you think as upper layers are removed.
- Cyclists can regulate temperature by level of effort. Too cold? Work harder! Over
heating? Drop 2mph for the next mile and it makes a big difference, almost immediately.
- Winter commuters learn to dress for the temperature. They will start out slightly
underdressed, and therefore feeling a little cold. In a couple miles they are
warmed up and cranking along.
- Once underway, most winter commuters will regulate temperature by work level rather than
stop and change. Long range commuters (an hour or more enroute) report more frequent use
of layering. Rain gear is the exception. Most ICEBIKERS will stop and don raingear if it
starts to rain enroute.
- Recreational riders tend to be out longer, and have stops planned, to eat, chat or
whatever. In these cases, where major changes of activity are planned, the layering
principal comes on strong. Unlike commuters, trail riders can not plan on ducking into a
store to warm up and must be prepared for breakdowns and changes in the weather.
I'm not about to suggest you enroll in a meteorology class, but there is a great deal
to be said for just paying attention to what works for you. If one ride is too cold, learn
to think of what you wore as something that need the assistance of another layer. This
almost implies that you will make a few mistakes along the way, and over dress or under
dress a few times till you get it all figured out.
|Get in the habit of noticing if you are comfortable. Often I
find myself riding along in some wicked cold weather saying to myself (yes, I do talk to
myself and the bike too) "This is alright - This feels great". I make a note of
the temperature and what combinations of clothing I am wearing and store it away.
so I can just read the thermometer and know instinctively what to wear. I don't often get
surprised by poor decisions any more. If you are new to winter cycling, it might take a
year to figure out the right combinations of layers and fabrics.
Don't be too stubborn to back track a mile or
two to get an extra layer. It means the difference between an enjoyable outing and a
I'd would like to
recommend something as simple as a thermometer. These things are the greatest - you get up
in the morning and look at the temperature and think "-12degC - ok, that means I only
need my polypro undershirt and my polarfleece jacket, but I need the balaclava and the
polypro layer on the bottom too". The nice thing about cycling is that you don't have
to adjust for varying wind-chill - once you're cycling the wind chill is there even on a
calm day. All you really need to know is the precipitation situation and the temperature -
one glance out my window and I know it all. The radio stations, TV, Internet etc. give
temperatures that vary by +-2degC (about +-4degF) over my thermometer - the effect of
different locations within and around the city and/or lags in reporting temperature
changes. So my own thermometer is much better.
John E. Abraham
One of the great boons to winter cycling, especially below freezing temperature, is the
advent of wicking fabric. Sold under various trade names (Capilene, Thermax, etc) these
are usually a blend of polyester and perhaps up to 10 percent lycra thrown in for fit.
Check the Fabrics Page.
With these fabrics it is not unusual to go out for a fast ride on a very cold day and
have your outer layer be wet (not from rain) but the layer next to your skin be quite dry.
The polyester fabric wicks the moisture to outer layers where it condenses. The important
thing is that you are warm and dry.
The North Face, Patagnia, DuoFold are all manufactures of "poly" fabrics.
- The general advice is to avoid cotton next to the
skin. Some folks get downright adamant about this. Others just avoid it on
The problem is that cotton soaks up perspiration and just hangs on to it, keeping it right
on your skin. The minutes you slow down or stop working you get very cold very quickly.
- Avoid over dressing. Start out a little cold.
If you are worried about freezing take along another garment, but don't go out over
- Avoid the idea that if it wasn't made for cycling it isn't any good. In fact, you will find relatively few "made for cycling"
products that work well in winter.
There are just now beginning to come available cycling tights that are warm enough, or
gloves that keep your hands warm when they are in the same position for hours. Often ski
equipment works well.
- Clipless pedals and shoes generally don't cut it
in really cold winters. Even if they did not get packed with snow and work poorly, the
cleats are generally bolted to a steel plate directly under your foot. This sucks the heat
right out through the cleat and freezes the sole of your foot in no time. Clips and straps
work better. A lightweight winter boot or hiking boot keeps you warmer. If they aren't
"bikey" enough for you, feel free to cover them with garish spray paint.
Ok, so you're ready to go. But you need to be aware of when you are ready to
Unfortunately this is not always easy to know. Biology conspires against you.
One of the really insidious things about cold weather is Hypothermia.
It's not that it sneaks up on you. You will know you are getting cold. You will
be shivering. The next thing you know you have your hat off, your jacket unzipped
and you think you are too warm. You don't seem to care about the cold anymore.
The bad part is by that time you may be too far gone to recognise the problem.
You need to pay attention to the EARLY warning signs, those in the first two rows
below. And watch your riding partners too.
Eat and drink. It takes energy to fight the cold. Don't go on long treks
alone unless you are well prepared.
|Degree of Hypothermia
||Signs and Symptoms
||Level of Consciousness
||Loss of Coordination