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Cycling Below Freezing

Cycling Below Freezing

Alright I have a confession… all my LOL (Little Old Lady) Cycle Chic fashion sense goes out the window when the temps dip below freezing.  When frostbite becomes a serious possibility I am only concerned about one thing: STAYING WARM.  So does this mean that I park my bike until it gets warmer?  NO WAY!  I simply eschew the cute little jackets and skirts in favor of more heavy duty cold weather cycling gear and I continue to ride in comfort.  Let me be clear: SAFETY always comes first.  It is certainly more important than style.  (You ladies and gents out there who refuse to wear helmets, are you listening???)

So yesterday was my first ride this winter in low 20° temps.  I biked my normal 9 mile trek to my nephew’s school to buy scrip and then to my bank and back.  And I was warm and comfortable the entire time.  Here’s a list of the gear I use to stay comfy when it gets that cold.


Base Layers

I love the Pearl Izumi thermal fleece fabric base layer tops. They are comfortable against my skin, wick away sweat and really work. I pretty much live in these things all winter long, even when I’m not biking.

heatersocks

These are the warmest socks I’ve ever worn!

I just discovered the warmest socks ever made! You’ll never guess where I found them. At WALGREENS!!! They are called “Heat Lockers” and claim to be “the revolutionary thermal sock” with “heat lockers [that] lock in the heat keeping you warm and protected.” You may be wondering how in the world they do this? Well it’s a “3 stage warmth process” that “keeps feet up to 7x warmer.” It’s all explained on the back of the package with diagrams of the three stages and a “heat locker rating” of seven (SEVEN!!!). Of course, I am not often gullible enough to believe such marketing hype. But these babies called to me from their end-cap feature shelf and I just had to give them a try. Not all Walgreens impulse buys have such happy endings but these socks are incredibly TOASTY!!!

To keep the tush and gams warm, I wear Bellwether thermal cycling tights. The fleeced interior tights keep me snug as a bug in a rug through the coldest temperatures. And they’re comfortable too.

In the Middle

The warmest, cutest little top EVER!

The warmest, cutest little top EVER!

I added another surprise item to my cold weather clothing gear this winter.  Last Christmas, my wonderful niece, Samantha, gave me this super cute zip up long sleeve top.  It is blue with lime green inside the collar, my favorite colors!  The fabric is unique, a densely woven terry cloth that is luxuriously soft and exceptionally thermal.  First I tried to wear it around the house like a sweatshirt but it was too hot.  Then I started just wearing it like a jacket and got the idea of using it as a middle layer for cold weather biking.  It works fabulously.  I think she bought it from Target but they don’t appear to be selling them anymore.  The brand name is “Dakini” but I can’t find them online anywhere so if you see one snatch it up fast!  Or call me because I want to get it if you don’t!!

Outer Layers


When it gets really cold, I reluctantly put away my cute little patterned rain jackets and reach for my trusty, toasty, highly visible Showers Pass jacket. It’s actually intended to be used as a rain jacket but it is the warmest outer layer I’ve ever come across. Nothing cuts the cold wind better than the heavy waterproof ARTEX fabric. These jackets are tough and durable. Armpit zips let you cool down if you get too sweaty. If it were cuter, I would wear it all the time!

Hands and Toes

Hands and feet seem to get cold faster than any other body part during winter riding. I’ve experimented with all sorts of glove arrangements and have been sorely disappointed in the performance of expensive, thick cycling gloves. Gloves just don’t work for me, period. My fingers are social creatures, I’ve found. They just don’t like being isolated from each other and they protest painfully every time I try to wear gloves. Even the thickest, priciest gloves leave my hands frozen and hurting. Lobster gloves don’t even work for me.  It’s also difficult to manage my gears wearing the thick gloves so it’s a lose-lose situation all the way around.

My fingers have been happily reunited with these wonderful fleece mittens from Cabelas.

My fingers have been happily reunited with each other in these wonderful fleece mittens from Cabelas.

After many tries I’ve finally found the perfect solution and they aren’t even made for cycling. I bought a pair of thick fleece mittens at Cabelas one year and they work wonderfully for winter cycling. They have a fingerless glove base with thick fleece flaps that fit over my fingers and thumbs. I love the flaps because if I need to use my fingers to check my iPhone or snap a photo, I can just pull the flaps down without completely removing them. My fingers have stayed happy and warm together ever since I discovered these.

xhilarationbootsFor keeping my piggies warm, I’ve found my Xhilaration Ugg-knockoff boots from Target to be the best option. They are lined with a soft faux fur and have textured rubber soles for gripping my pedals. Pair those with my Heat Lockers socks and I’ve got some happy feet!

Up On Top


I’m loving my new neoprene ski mask from World Pride. My biggest trouble with face coverings is that my glasses get all fogged up. This mask has a ventilation system and nose hole that greatly reduce the fogging problem. The soft thermal fleece cover fits over my ears, around my neck (with a velcro attachment in back) and over my chest. It is comfortable and exceedingly warm, so warm in fact that I usually have to pull it down off my face occasionally. But that’s no problem as it is easy to pull down or pop back up over my nose when needed. It is crazy cheap too at less than $2 each. And best of all, you look like one scary bad ass ninja when you wear it!


I top it all off with my new winter lined Bern helmet. This sleek versatile helmet features removable liners that snap into place. I’ve got a visor liner for summer biking and the thick fleece knit winter liner for cold weather. The winter liner is warm, soft and comfortable. It’s my most comfortable helmet!  And that means a lot coming from someone with a bicycle helmet addiction like me…

Here's the entire ensemble.  No longer cute, but definitely warm!!

Here’s the entire ensemble. No longer cute, but definitely warm!!

Finally don’t forget to give your eyes a little love.  The cold wind stings your eyes and you’ll have trouble seeing through all your tears without some sort of eye protection.  I have a pair of prescription sport goggle glasses that I wear during the winter.  If you don’t wear glasses, consider getting some good goggles.  If you do wear glasses but don’t want to buy another pair for winter riding, try getting some larger goggles that fit over your regular glasses.

And that’s all there is to it!  If you layer up wisely, it is possible to continue cycling all winter long and never get cold.  So get out on your bike and try it out!

Note!  Do NOT forget to remove your ski mask when entering your bank!!

Note! Do NOT forget to remove your ski mask when entering your bank!!

3 Comments

  1. Hello Blue,

    Thanks for writing a comprehensive blog on this subject.
    I agree with you that it’s possible to bike year-round with the right equipment. I did so myself for over 11 years in the 1980s to McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. In the early ’80s particularly, we had some bitterly cold winters which were a challenge.
    It also may be that better materials exist now than back then for base layers, although it’s really hard to beat natural wool (except for its reputation for being scratchy) and I also have some really light pairs of silk long sleeved shirt and long johns.
    I’ve been disappointed with base layers made of synthetic materials: I’ve not found them to wick sweat away satisfactorily.
    I have two pairs of Duofold undergarments made of two-ply cotton, the inner layer having rows of small holes designed to wick moisture and I still wear them in cold weather. If you aren’t familiar with that brand they’re worth considering.
    I notice your helmet has vent holes, even though many fewer than the well-ventilated common microshell helmets that work well in warmer weather.
    I’ve found that even with a less-ventilated helmet a hood is really essential for winter riding and it needs to be large enough to completely cover the helmet. That makes a huge difference to head comfort. I’ve bought two different yellow rainproof jackets with that in mind.
    One is a lighter-weight Performance bicycling jacket with a single rear pocket made of Goretex fabric. The other, made by Lands End, is heavier and loaded with pockets in which I can store a ton of stuff, e.g. camera, wallet, phone, notepad and pen, etc. (The only problem is remembering which pocket has what!) It’s made of nylon (shell and taffeta lining) and polyester (mesh lining).
    Best of luck with your winter riding!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Martin! I agree with you about wool. I do have wool base layers as well and I use those when we’re touring or for longer rides in the cold. They are great for touring because you can wear them a long time without them getting smelly if you aren’t able to wash them. Merino wool is not itchy at all but silky smooth and comfortable although it is usually expensive.

    You would be surprised how warm my helmet is with the winter liner snapped in. The liner is a thick, fleece knit that covers the entire top of my head and goes down over my ears. I don’t think a hood would work for me because I’m afraid it would hinder my line of sight and make it difficult to turn my head. But I’ve never tried it.

    I haven’t heard of Duofold base layers but I will check it out. Thanks!!

  3. Yes, those socks are something else! I can’t find them anywhere else and there is only one pair left at my Walgreens so you better stock up! Thanks for the tip about the mask… I’ve tried about a dozen different things to keep my vision clear. ugh.

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