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How to Stay Warm in the Cold

By WhyBike.com

Cold is a relative term for all. This has become clear in the forums I read where a person from Wisconsin and a person from Florida will have an unbelievably different view of what is “really” cold. So when I talk about the cold, I am talking about “really” cold; and only you know what that “really” means.

You also have to judge how long you will be riding. My regular commute in the winter is 20-30 minutes in temperatures down to freezing, but because I am not out in the cold that long and I have a nice warm office to thaw out at the end I can afford to dress lighter.

It is important to dress in layers. Each layer has a specific function and understanding how these layers work can extend your riding season and your comfort.

Wicking Layer
Sometimes called a base layer, these garments wick moisture away from the body so it can evaporate where it won’t rob your body of warmth. Made of silk, polyester or other synthetic materials, the fit should be snug and hug your body. Cotton undershirts do not dry as quickly and do not qualify as a wicking layer.

Insulating Layer
The purpose of the insulating layer is to keep warm air close to your body and the cold air away. Low-tech wool and high-tech synthetic fleece are the best materials for this layer and if you have room don’t be afraid to double up; wear a fleece over a sweater to keep you even warmer.

Weatherproof Layer
This layer is purely responsible for keeping the weather out. It is essential that these garments be windproof. It is a good precaution to have a waterproof outer layer, but not necessary if you only ride in dry weather. Gore-Tex or competing technologies are beneficial so that any sweat or moisture is expunged and allowed to evaporate far away from your body while keeping you dry in the rain.

Use the layers principle for your gloves. A silk or synthetic liner will wick, and many gloves come with an insulated inner layer. Make sure you can cinch your sleaves and/or have gauntlet style gloves to keep the wind out.

Again wicking socks will keep your feet warmer. Boots are preferable to shoes because wind will get under your pants and chill your ankles. Pants that will cinch around your ankles will keep the weather out.

Heated Garments
Heated garments can supplement our body’s natural heat production when our body can’t keep up with outside temperatures. Heated vests, jackets, pants, gloves and boots all help to keep us warm. They can either be run off of batteries, the bike’s electrical system or chemicals.

Brain Freeze
When riding in “really” cold temperatures at speeds above 45mph the wind across your face can cause a persistent headache pain like when you suck down a Slurpee or eat ice cream too fast. It is difficult to concentrate with that kind of pain, which at 65mph in traffic is dangerous. A full-faced helmet helps and I have found that a neck gator or balaclava mask really keeps the wind out.

Once you start shivering, try to find a place to stop and thaw out. Shivering is proof that you are not dressed warm enough and your core temperature has fallen below 97 degrees F. Riding any further will continue to rob your body of heat. If your core temperature gets any colder your concentration will diminish, your reactions will slow and your motor skills will become clumsy and imprecise. Many who would never ride after drinking, think nothing of riding while shivering, even though they are similar in reducing your ability to react to other drivers.

Riding in the cold can be a great experience as long as you are prepared for it and know your limits. Be careful of black ice in shadows and salt or sand left over from snow removal efforts. But the hardest part of riding in the cold is figuring out a response to people who ask you “Why are you riding in this temperature?”


I come from a relatively warm continent with varing coditions from extreme heat to the cold of the mountains, I liked your artical & agree with the layers of clothing, the only issue in Austrailia is that the temperature spectrume is very changable depending where you ride so my constant issue is storage of the clothing layers in transit, I have found that my venture rack system is great for this but leaves little other storage room for anything else, also several years ago a friend & I decided to ride up through the mountains through a place called Katooba which snakes though the ranges west of Sydney, when thinking back on this ride we often have a good laugh at how stupid we were, we left our home town of Wollongong late in the afternoon on a wime & ill prepared for the trip, all we were wearing were T -shirts & jackets & jeans which we though was sufficient at the time as the temp when we left was a balmy 28degree C, by the time we were snaking our way through th e the mountin range late in the evening we had realised how stupid & unprepared we were & by night fall we had to stop riding as the temperature had dropped dramaticly down to about 2degrees C as a large cold from had travelled up from the south, needless to say at 10pm there were no shops open to purchase any more clothing to keep us warm & all hotels were booked out with no vacante rooms available, in the end our only options were to keep rideing on or turn back & attempt to find another place to stay & by this time the chill factor had really set in & we were both way past the shivering stage, desperation started to set in at this point & we had to come to some sort of decision, we then decided to scavenge around the deserted townships & scrounged up some old news papers, & yes we used these old news papers which we found in several garbage bin as our extra layers under our jackets & stuffed down our jeans to keep us warm enough, we then continued on still cold but bearab le until we found a roadside hotel that had a vacancy, when we loobed up to the reception counter the guy just looked at us with a funny look in his eye and a shake of the head he said welcome to the blue mountains with this we just looked at each other & burst out laughing, this trip highlight for us that cold weather riding was a great buzz only if you are prepared for the cold.
- Norm

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