Winter Riding Clothing- Part 1 Layering For your Head

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.
Regular riding glasses only work if you don’t have anything covering your warm exhaled breath as face coverings will direct that warmed air up your face and the instant that it hits the cold lens of the glasses they will completely fog over, making the glasses completely useless to see out of. The next item I really like is a wool buff, it works well as a neck scarf to make sure that the transition from head to upper body clothing is seamless with no exposed skin and it is warm and soft against the skin.  A buff is a very versatile item for varying temperatures to have available. For milder conditions I use an Icebreaker open face style wool balaclava.  They are lightweight/thin and not as hot as the full coverage fleece balaclavas.  It is a great option to use with regular riding glasses/sunglasses since the mouth and nose are not covered so you don’t have to worry about fogging up the lenses.

One thought on “Winter Riding Clothing- Part 1 Layering For your Head

  • I live and bike in Cambridge Bay Nunavut and would also make the following suggestions for biking in extreme cold. If you are going to wear a helmet buy a mountaineering shell which will have a hood designed to accommodate a helmet. Add a good quality fur trim (wolverine works best because of the coarse guard hair that won’t ice up). I don’t like close fitting face masks when the temperatures get below -40 C (wind chill) and prefer to use a face mask with a slightly porous rebreathing bag which protects the lungs and face (lung protection is extremely important when breathing hard at these temperatures).


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