As winter is coming to an end (I just tempted fate, probably will get the blizzard of the century next week!), I’m looking back on the bike clothing I wore mostly in the last few months. It’s all new stuff! No, it’s not new, two items are 9 years old and one is maybe 25 years old. Each year new items are designed, manufactured, advertised, and the companies promise that I can wear this new minimal layer in any winter weather and be comfy. I never believe those claims, but many of them could be true. When I feel like Randy from “A Christmas Story”, bundled so tight I can’t put my arms down, I begin to wonder about those claims from the new designs.
Three things can happen from cold: discomfort, hypothermia, and frostbite. The first two could happen even at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). I hate being cold! But I have never been in a cold situation where I didn’t know if I would get a chance to get warm again. Some people find themselves in that exact situation, outside far from the car or home, or the tent, and something goes wrong. Every time I’ve been cold, I’ve tried to remind myself that it’s not permanent (or terminal), shelter was not far!
One key to maintaining your comfort range during winter rides is understanding how long you can be exposed in those conditions. Do you have 30 minute clothes or 2 hour clothes? And those time estimates are based on heat production and perspiration accumulation (This is getting too technical!). You need more insulation to go slower, and should be able to remove layers if you decide to crank for that KOM (King of the Mountain). A buildup of perspiration can eventually pull the heat from your engine, and that never turns out good.
Hypothermia and frostbite can occur when you’ve gone beyond the limits of your insulation, either by length of exposure or clothing failure. Stay dry and stay warm, and these will not happen to you! You can survive hypothermia, but frostbite is a permanent injury. But don’t forget, no matter how uncomfortable you are, you cannot get frostbite unless the ambient temperature is freezing or below. But dang, that discomfort of near freezing is never fun, but it does stick in our memory, especially when getting ready for the next ride!
Many years ago, I realized a balaclava would solve my cold neck when snowboarding. Nothing like a cold breeze around your neck all day to cause you to search for any solution. I found a simple balaclava the solution at REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), black synthetic, for about $15.00. I have used this in so many situations- snowboarding, cycling, mountaineering, and running. Thin, simple, dries quickly, and provides an amazing amount of protection from having a cold neck, ears, jaw, etc. It’s thin enough to wear under a helmet liner when cycling, and that gets me out on the colder days. I’ve even cut a few holes for headphone access.
In early winter 2011, I decided I needed warmer riding gloves and bibs. I had been seeing the lobster claw gloves from Pearl Izumi forever, but I had a “connection” to Specialized. I got a pair of full on winter gloves, and the “Therminal” winter bibs. These bibs and gloves have done many many miles over eight winters. The two-piece design (of the gloves) allows the inners to be worn separately and when the temps really drop, slip into the outers for Thinsulate insulation and wind block. The inner-gloves work for me down to around 38 degrees F, adding the outer-gloves extends my riding down to the teens, depending on exposure time. Although these are cycling gloves, there are no padded sections in the palms or elsewhere, the insulation in both pieces provide some cushion for longer rides.
Working a touch screen device with gloves has become a tech issue. Although I’ve been able to manipulate my GPS screen while wearing the inner gloves, my phone doesn’t always respond. The only issue I’ve had is with the design, not the quality. With the 3-1-1 finger layout, MTB breaking gets a little different for me. I’m a one-finger-breaker usually, and that one finger is usually my index finger. These outer-gloves group my index with the two outer fingers. Not a big deal, the finger grouping provides a better heating environment for the outer three fingers.
When I first saw the bibs, I thought they were made for diving. They have that neoprene appearance, slightly shiny. Never thought I’d need that level of winter protection, until I wore them the first time. The front provides a good amount of wind protection, and the rear of the legs is a more air flow friendly material, but still insulating. I was surprised that I needed the large size for my short body, 5’7” and 145 lbs. The medium was too snug on my highs, and the large was far from baggy. Next question was what do I wear under these? There’s no padding!
I didn’t want to add another set of shoulder straps so I tried a pair of triathlon shorts that I had acquired. These were padded, but minimally, and they worked great. Over the years since, I’ve added other bottom layers to compensate for colder temps, and this did not cause any layer conflicts. There’s a small zipper up front that has worked great and the cuff zippers have performed well also. No issues with these pants eight years.
These bibs have been modified over the years, but should still provide the needed protection. The winter gloves no longer have the inner glove, and that’s one of the best features of this current version I have, I start with the outer-gloves and remove them if possible, and stuff them into a jersey pocket. Depending on how close a full insulation glove fits, you may be able to wear a sufficient liner and gain this same advantage.
What would I change about winter clothing? I’ve wished these gloves and bibs would fall apart so I could justify a new pair. There must be something out there that can do the job of the bibs but thinner, maybe. My simple REI balaclava could come with a wind resistant section in the forehead area. But I did find a solution for that years ago, with some redneck engineering (RE), but that leads to something the helmet manufacturers could do, and this will be my first actual complaint:
You tease us with the most ventilated helmet each year, a new hole design or helmet shape that forces all the air in the universe to pass through our helmet and cool the beautiful locks of our professionally managed bouffants on the hottest summer days. Yet, you have no concern about winter riding. I do build a little heat inside a helmet, but I don’t need a full breeze to keep me dry enough for a longer ride. Please design a flow through prevention system for winter riding. How?
Design an automated system that would open and close all the vents by sensing our scalp moisture. And that would be ridiculous, and heavy. Maybe something much simpler. With each helmet design, produce a specific form fitting cover we can slip on, or remove when warm enough, and slip in our pocket (this could be useful on rainy days too!). How hard can this be? Or design a thin hard plastic shell, form fitting, that will snap in place for winter, put the same graphics on it, put your name all over it.
My “RE” solution years ago was just put tape over the vents on the front 2/3 of the helmet. This blocked the cold air and allowed venting in the rear. Depending on what type tape used, it can look hideous, cool, stupid, or not even be visible without a close inspection. Simple, it works. Removable in spring, but sometimes leaves a residue. Right now I have two helmets, one with more holes than helmet, and one with taped holes. In my parts rotation, when I get a new helmet, I prep the old one for winter. The difficulty is finding matching tape sometimes, or just going with the complete tacky appearance of a hodge podge patch job. Nothing like shiny silver duct tape in the pictures your riding partners delete when ready to post about the cold winter ride. Everybody has that one friend…