Staying warm while riding long distances in the winter

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Staying warm with layers

Riding in the winter is the Pacific Northwest is really fun. It’s nice to get outside as our winters are very dark and often wet. But when it is cold and you plan to be outside for a few hours in the wind, it pays to put on enough clothes that you can be warm, and comfortable.

This morning it was 37 F (3 C) and foggy here in Seattle, and still dark at 7:45 AM. Hardly a polar vortex, but it was just above freezing, with damp wet air. Bone chilling!  How did I stay warm? For me making sure I have enough core warmth helps make sure that my hands and feet will stay warm. So I layered up.

In the picture above, clockwise from top left Pair of lightly insulated, shell gloves. Just below that are thin wool gloves.

Next a wool cap and/or a balaclava. I wear the balaclava when I start out because I can cover my ears. To the right of that, thick wool ski socks. The thickest that will fit with my cycling shoes. Next, thin rain shoe covers to go over my shoes. This adds a little more warmth and if it rains, you are ready.

Below that, 3 winter weight wool jerseys – all the warm jerseys I own. I opted not to wear a coat since it didn’t look likely to rain. You can shed a layer or two and wear a coat, but I inevitably find that half way through the ride, it’s wet and warm under the coat and you are looking for a place to stop and shed the coat. Multiple sweaters work pretty well. Whatever feels comfortable.

Thick wool cycling knickers are next. If it is really cold, I might add a pair of cycling tights over the knickers. Above the knickers are arm warmers, which I wore under it all with a base layer jersey.

That’s it – and it works well. For multiple hours out riding in the cold, I basically dress as if I were cross country skiing. Enough layers to stay warm once you start working up a sweat, and enough breathability to make sure you aren’t in a self enclosed sauna. I don’t find it pays to barely wear enough to stay warm. That is when my hands and feet get the coldest, and that can be very uncomfortable.

So layer up and get out and ride.

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