cold weather clothing
This post will be a short one, it will cover what I like to use on my lower body for cold weather riding and racing. First off lets start with covering the important stuff, Literally. I use smartwool wool boxers that have a windblocker panel sewn across the front. Windproof Boxers like this are an essential item for helping to not freeze your Important parts off (The Ladies could benefit from windblocker wool undies also I’m guessing). While sitting on the bike, this position leaves the area between your legs very vulnerable to the winds cold blast. Next layer added is a thin wool 260 weight Icebreaker or similar wool long john/base layer tights. If the temps are in the extreme low range or my pace is going to be more of a chill cruising I tend to add a thicker wool tight like the 370 weight Ibex energy free winter tights on top of the 260 weight or some combination of those pieces depending on temperature.I cover all my base layers with a soft shell water resistant highly breathable soft shell pant/tight like my favorite pants which is the Ibex Climawool tight.That is all I use on my lower body for layering.I do bring along a pair of Arc’teryx Beta SL Gortex shell pants on longer adventures and races just in case I need a great fitting lower body wind and waterproof shelter.Here’s a picture of my son Ryan at 9 yrs old ripping up some of our local trails.My next post will be on the most talked about, asked about, all important topic of winter footwear!
CORE For all my winter riding I will start with a very thin base layer next to skin like a 250 weight wool tank top. What goes on top of that depends on the temperature. But keep in mind that you may start to overheat very quickly while fat biking, riding in fresh powder breaking trail requires more effort than just going for a hike in the woods, think about how hot and sweaty you get will shoveling heavy snow, chopping firewood or cross-county skiing . Just because it is -10*C or colder doesn’t mean that you won’t sweat. Sweating is VERY bad as you will get cold and possible hypothermia minutes after you stop moving at that high aerobic pace. Eventually you will have to slow down or stop. If you are cold when you leave your warm house or car to head out for a ride then you may be dressed correctly, remember to bring along a warmer layer/s to have readily available for when you stop to take pictures, have a lunch/snack break or any mechanical emergencies that could happen while out on the trail, it can only take seconds to get really cold. OK back to the next layer, on top of that I wear a softshell wool jacket, it sheds water and snow but is highly breathable.(Any similar soft shell jacket such as one made of polartec will work, I just really happen to like wool). Gortex does not work for an upper body layer while doing any highly aerobic activity’s like winter cycling. What happens is the Gortex “pores” can not keep up with the high humidity/moisture produced by your bodies core and it will clog up and then start to get wet and clammy inside the jacket, next the moisture will turn to ice crystals (sounds cold, doesn’t it?) . If the weather is getting in the -20* to -40* range or if I am going for more of a casual pace type ride I wear a long sleeve wool shirt between my tanktop and softshell jacket. While doing longer races I bring along a spare base layer and mid layer to change into if my current one starts to get too sweaty. When I head out for a winter ride I like to bring a very lightweight/small synthetic “puffy” coat in my frame bag. But when heading out on a extended race or trip I pack along my expedition/belay down parka to wear once I stop moving and generating that high level of heat. For really windy cold riding I have been experimenting with a vapour barrier vest, it is great piece for blocking the bitter cold wind from hitting the front of your chest and stomach. That’s about it for upper body, now lets chat about keeping your hands warm. HANDS I am a big fan of pogies, I can race in like -5*C in just a tanktop for my upper body if my hands are tucked in some toasty warm pogies. For riding in 3 or 4*C to about -8* I just wear my summer riding gloves with my regular insulated pogies. For riding in slightly colder temps I switch to a pair of wool liner gloves, that is all I wear on my hands all the way down to the really cold -40*C and below temps, I just add the fleece liner to my expedition pogies at around -15*C and below. On occasion I will bring chemical hand warmers with me, I like to use them by just throwing them loose in the pogies, they are also useful for pre warming your cold pogies so you don’t stick your hands in cold pogies. For longer cold races I pack along a pair of expedition gloves for when I stop and my hands are going to be out of the warm pogies for any length of time. As you can tell I really don’t like big bulky “winter riding” gloves as they just seem to get in the way, make it extremely hard to eat food while riding and don’t give you the cockpit control and feeling that thin gloves do. My next post will be on below the waist layering followed by a separate article on footwear.
I’ll start with above the shoulders body layering and move down to other body parts in future posts. Again these items listed are layering systems that work for me. You are unique, try it out, have some fun experimenting on your bike this winter. Lets start with the most extreme conditions and warm up from there. I have found that a balaclava like the “Outdoor Research ninja-clava” with wind blocker works really well for covering all exposed skin when the temperatures plummet and the wind is trying to find that skin patch to damage. This style balaclava has a mesh breathing panel at the mouth and a flap covering your nose but still allows you to breathe. For longer races that will require feeding while on the bike I prefer to use a full coverage, fleece balaclava with wind blocker panels. I cut in a few custom holes, two at the nostrils and one slit at the mouth large enough to eat and drink quickly without having to remove any layers. A different system I use is a regular balaclava and a wool head band that I cut out of an old hat, that I use to cover my nose and cheeks, which allows full access to my mouth for eating and drinking while on the bike. An important thing to keep in mind no matter what system you choose to go with is that any exposed skin should be covered with some type of skin barrier cream. A few products that can be used as a skin barrier cream are Vaseline or Dermatone. I personally prefer a more natural product from a company based out of Barrie, Ontario called Frost Bite that is great for the lips, nose and cheeks. In the winter I use the same helmet I use year round, a POC trabec race with MIPS, however any helmet will work for you, and is always better than no helmet for safety. Helmets have come a long way since I started biking back in the 90’s. They are now so lightweight and comfortable, there is really no excuse not to wear one. There are some people that like the extra warmth of a snowboard/ski helmet and there is also a winter specific biking helmet that came out recently, I haven’t tried either one yet as I really like my current setup. Eye wear is a must for extreme cold and wind, your eyes will start to water and the tears can freeze your eye lashes together and it’s important not to have any exposed skin susceptible to old man winters bite. I have tried a few different brands/styles of goggles, but finally settled on a pair of double lens fog proof snowboard goggles with two sets of lenses for varying light conditions. Remember to take your helmet of choice to the store when shopping to check the fit/compatibility of the helmet and goggles. It is a bit of a learning curve to get the goggles from fogging up, a couple tips that I have found is to remember to remove them the instant you stop moving as they constantly require a small amount of air flow to stay fog free. Going in and out of warmed checkpoints during a race or other warmed building will also affect your goggles ability to stay fog free. If not kept clear the fog and sweat will eventually turn to frost and freeze on the inside of your goggles lens surface.