Choosing what to wear is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about most of the year. That’s because I’m usually wearing a bib shorts and a short sleeve cycling jersey. I’ve got some light weight socks that keep my feet from getting too hot. However, now we’re getting to the tricky part of the year because it’s not uncommon to see 30 or even 40 degree temperature swings in a day and 20-30 degree temperatures during a longer ride. For example, it was about 35 degrees at the beginning of the Wurst Ride and 70 by the time I finished. So, how do you dress for that?
The answer is carefully selected layers. I’ll also under dress a bit so I’m not overheating or carrying too much clothing with me later on in the ride. The first thing I start with is a base layer underneath my cycling jersey. This is equivalent to some of the higher end thermal undershirts you could also use for skiing, snowboarding or any other winter sport. It’s important to find an undershirt that wicks moisture, so I’ll generally go with a synthetic blend or silk. Whatever you do, don’t use that old-school cotton. As long as the temperature is above 52 degrees, I’ll go with this as a base layer, my bib shorts and a short sleeve cycling jersey. I’ll also switch to some warmer socks.
If the temperature drops below that, I’ll add a wind jacket. There’s a couple of things you want to look for in a jacket that will add to its versatility. The first feature that’s important are sleeves that are removable. This allows you to remove them once it warms up, yet keep out the wind when it’s cold. The other feature that’s pretty important are vents under the arms and across the shoulder area of your back. This will allow the heat and moisture you generate to dissipate. I got a transformer jacket from Performance Bike that I’m extremely happy with. The sleeves are removable and when removed, there’s mesh opening across my upper back that allows heat and moisture to escape. It’s also got a nifty back pocket with a strap on the inside that allows you to reverse it so that the entire jacket will fit in that pocket. You can then strap it around your waste. I give this jacket an ‘A’ for versatility. It’s wind proof and moisture resistant so if you’re caught out in the rain it will keep most of the rain out as well. Adding the jacket allows me to ride in temperatures down to about 40 degrees for long periods of time.
If I’m donning the jacket, I’m also going to switch from my regular cycling gloves to my wind gloves. These are light weight full finger gloves that protect my hands and fingers from the wind. I’m partial to my Zonda’s from Performance Bike. If it’s below 40, I’ll consider switching to my Pearl Izumi winter gloves. I’ve had these for years and they’re very warm. I’ll also be donning some shoe covers. Like the name implies, they go over the outside of your regular cycling shoes and are designed to retain heat so your toes stay warm and toasty. There’s a variety of options out there, but if you look for neoprene, you’ll be pretty safe with whatever brand you get. At this point I’ll also consider a skullcap to keep my head and ears warm. You lose a lot of heat through your head area, so this is a good way to retain heat and avoid the chills.
Once the temperature drops below freezing, I’ll add another layer underneath my jacket. This layer is a jacket, but it’s more like wearing a sweater. I’ll also add some cycling tights to go over my bib shorts. It’s important not to let your legs get too cold, so I’ll usually add the tights once the temperature drops below 40 and will be staying there. I’ll also consider a wearing a bandana over my face or some sort of face mask to keep my face from getting hypothermia.
If all those clothes don’t keep warm enough, then it’s too cold to ride. In general, I will try to wear as little as possible if I know the temperature will be rising later in the ride. That way I don’t have to carry all the clothes I peel off during the ride. Cold weather doesn’t bother me too much, so your temperature thresholds will probably be different from mine. It’s important to have a strategy and to keep track of your thresholds so you’re well prepared. I often bring more clothes than I need to the start of a ride and then make it a ride time decision. My friends have occasionally benefited from my over-prepared attire selections. What’s your strategy?