Posted by: emilybybike | January 6, 2011

It’s All About Layers

“I just don’t know how you do it…” my co-worker said to me the other morning as I ran into her on the elevator, still decked out in my riding gear from the commute in. I simply smiled and shrugged and told her “It’s not that bad, I just layer up.” And that’s the truth. Save for those first painful 5-10 minutes when you’re just starting out in the morning, riding in the cold, isn’t that bad. Once you start pedaling, and kick your system into exercising-mode, your core heats up quick. The trick, is keeping it in, and while it’s taken me a few tries, I think I’ve about managed to get my “stoopid cold” riding attire dialed. And yes, it’s all about the layers.

Curious how I manage to stay warm in sub-freezing temperatures? Here’s how we do it!

To start with my core, I put on about 3 layers. The first is a thermal base layer – I’ve found Under Armor’s Heat Gear to be amazing for this – it’s pretty much a light-weight fleece lined spandex turtle neck and keeps you super warm. Next I’ll put on a very light weight mid-layer, which right now, I’m using my new Bike Lane Jersey (Thanks Mom and Dad!). This provides another layer of warmth without being bulky. Finally I top it off with a soft-shell winter riding jacket. My favorite is the Giordana Women’s Forma – it’s fleece lined and wind-stop, light-weight, but super warm. It also has reflective stripes on it (not tacky ones either) which are great since at this time of year, you’ll inevitably either be riding at dawn or at dusk. So – thermal turtle neck; jersey; winter wind-stop jacket, and core = check!

Next we’ll go to the bottoms, and I think most people tend to skimp on the bottoms since you don’t notice the cold there as much as you do on your core or perhaps your fingers. I think the bottoms are pretty important though, for if you keep them warm, then it actually helps keep your toes warm too! (circulation … legs lead to feet!) I start with a light weight liner short (liner short = shorts with a chamois you wouldn’t dare wear alone, they typically come attached to mountain biking ‘baggies’), and then put on light-weight spandex tights followed by lightly lined wind-stopper tights.

The legs can be tricky, because while you want to keep them warm, if you put on too many layers, it restricts movement. We all remember the feeling of being a kid in a snowsuit – you’re good to go for hours of playing out in the snow, however the best you can do to get around is an awkward waddle and your arms stick out a little funny from your side. Warm, but not conducive to riding a bike.

Now – your feet! Toes are one of those things that even in the 50s can get cold if not properly covered. And again, if you wear too many layers on your toes, they get cramped in the shoe, you can’t move them and then they still get cold. I’ve discovered that a pair of thick hiking-type socks work best under the shoe, while I found a great pair of shoe-covers, fleece-lined, with a water-proof outside to keep my feet toasty.

Hands follow – and fingers are one of those areas where it’s hard to keep warm, but once they start to go numb, again, your ride is as good as done. It’s hard to layer your hands and keep them mobile enough to shift. Here’s where you almost have to invest in a heavy-duty cycling-specific piece of gear. I have a pair of Garneau “Typhoon” lobster-style gloves that are amazing. In temperatures much over 45, my hands start to sweat. They keep my hands warm, and are mobile enough to allow me to shift and in really cold weather, wear a pair of liner gloves underneath.


Finally – my head. A lot of heat can escape through your head, and ears can get cold fast, so covering your head and/or ears is essential. This can be tricky, however, as it has to fit under your helmet (safety first!).

Ummm … yeah …. So depending on the weather, I’ll opt for a balaclava (aka “Ninja Mask”), cap with ear covers or simply a headband that covers my ears. They’re all pretty cycling-specific and fit nicely under your helmet. I always wear riding glasses, and while I haven’t opted for my ski goggles yet, the idea has crossed my mind…we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

So there you have it – layering up with warm and wind-resistant gear keeps you mobile and warm on a cold ride – it may take a try or two to get the combination right, but once you do, you are good to roll! And one final note – if you still get a little chilled on your ride, I’ve become a big fan of post-ride hot chocolate this winter 🙂


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