The newsletter of the Active Transportation Alliance

Volume 3, Issue 1 - January 2010

 

You don’t have to be crazy to bike year-round, just prepared

We’ve had it all this winter — all the weather that makes a Chicago winter noteworthy: howling wind, heavy snow, driving rain, stinging sleet, and bone chilling temperatures.

That goes double for anyone who bikes year-round.

People fully exposed to the whims of winter weather know that the old idea about layering still holds true. Trapping layers of air between garments is a great way to preserve your heat. It also allows you to easily adjust your temperature by peeling off articles of clothing and then putting them on as needed.

Our friends at Bike Winter are the experts when it comes to layering. You should start here if words like balaclavas and lobster gloves mystify you.

A good rule of thumb is this: If you’re warm when you step out your front door you’ve over-dressed. If you’re a little chilly, you‘ve probably found the right amount of layering!

Here is a listing of apparel suggestions for winter biking from our resident expert, Jason Jenkins, who serves as Active Trans’ Education Specialist. Find out what it takes in cool, cold, coldest and frigid temperatures. Keep in mind these are only suggestions. If you find that you are too cold or warm, don’t hesitate to make adjustments.

“Keep at it and you’ll find your comfort level,” said Jenkins. “Sometimes the smallest change such as removing a balaclava or zipping up a vent can make a huge difference.”


Cool (low 50s-low 40s)
Head

  • Regular vented helmet
  • Light cap or thin skull cap

Torso

  • Light wicking base layer tee
  • Light- to mid-weight wool sweater or cycling jersey
  • Light wind/rain shell if rain or wind is expected; soft or hard shell for moderate to heavy rain

Hands (hands and feet are often the toughest to keep warm. Particularly with hands and feet, everyone is different so go with what works for you.)

  • Nothing, thin liner gloves, cycling gloves, or cold weather neoprene work gloves

Legs

  • What you normally would wear: jeans, slacks, corduroys, skirt and tights
  • Soft shell pants with waterproof treatment for light rain
  • Hard shell rain pants for moderate to heavy rain

Feet

  • Light- to mid-weight wool socks, depending on comfort (You might need larger shoes in the winter to accommodate thicker socks; overly snug footwear reduces blood circulation and warmth.)
  • Water resistant neoprene booties for light to moderate rain
  • Change of socks if heavy rain is expected

Cold (low 40s-low 30s)
Head

  • Regular vented helmet; a helmet cover if conditions are windy
  • Light cap or thin skull cap; medium-weight skull cap if windy
  • Balaclava or neck gaiter to protect face, if necessary

Torso

  • Light-weight long sleeve insulating base layer top
  • Light- to mid-weight wool sweater or cycling jersey
  • Light wind/rain shell if wind or light precipitation is expected
  • Soft or hard shell if moderate to heavy precipitation is expected

Hands

  • Thin liner gloves, cycling gloves, or cold weather neoprene work gloves
  • Lobster claw gloves or mittens over liner gloves, if necessary

Legs

  • Light-weight insulating base layer bottoms like tights or long underwear
  • What you would normally wear if no rain is expected
  • Soft shell pants with waterproof treatment for light precipitation or hard shell rain pants for moderate to heavy precipitation

Feet

  • Thin liner sock
  • Mid to heavy wool socks
  • Water-resistant neoprene booties if light to moderate precipitation is expected
  • Heavier winter-specific shoes or boots, if necessary

Coldest (low 30s-mid teens)
Head

  • Helmet cover to block wind
  • Thin- to medium-weight skull cap
  • Ear coverings
  • Balaclava or neck gaiter to protect face, if necessary
  • Goggles if cold temperatures or snow interfere with vision or make your eyes water
  • Consider a winter-specific helmet with less venting and incorporated flaps for ears

Torso

  • Light- to mid-weight long sleeve insulating base layer top
  • Mid-weight wool sweater or fleece
  • Vented soft shell

Hands

  • Cold weather gloves, lobster claw gloves or mittens over light- to mid-weight liner gloves
  • Chemical hand warmers inside lobster claw gloves, if necessary

Legs

  • Light- to mid-weight insulating base layer bottoms, cycling specific if you choose
  • Soft shell pants with waterproof treatment for light precipitation
  • Hard shell rain or snow pants for moderate to heavy precipitation

Feet

  • Thin liner sock
  • Mid- to heavy-weight wool socks
  • Water-resistant neoprene booties or heavier winter-specific shoes or boots, if necessary

Frigid (mid-teens to whatever temperature the grease in your hubs freezes)
Head

  • Thin- to medium-weight skull cap
  • Ear coverings
  • Balaclava or neck gaiter to protect face, if necessary
  • Goggles if cold temperatures or snow interfere with vision or create watering
  • Helmet cover to block wind or winter-specific helmet with less venting and incorporated flaps for ears

Torso

  • Mid-weight long sleeve insulating base layer top
  • Mid-weight wool sweater or fleece
  • Vented soft shell

Hands

  • Lobster claw gloves or mittens over light- to mid-weight liner gloves
  • Chemical hand warmers inside lobster claw gloves, if necessary

Legs

  • Light-weight insulating base layer bottoms
  • Mid- to heavy-weight insulating base layer bottoms, cycling specific if you choose
  • Soft shell pants with waterproof treatment
  • Hard shell rain or snow pants for moderate to heavy precipitation

Feet

  • Thin liner sock
  • Heavy-weight wool socks
  • Heavier winter-specific shoes or boots, if necessary
  • Chemical foot warmers, if necessary

Once you gather some experience, this list will become second nature. Through experience you’ll get an intuitive sense of how your body reacts to different temperatures and you’ll work out your routines for dressing, undressing and ensuring that your clothes are dry and ready for tomorrow.

If the weather is changing or if you’re feeling unsure about your choices of apparel, be sure to bring an extra layer as a backup. Having a thicker pair of gloves or a neck gaiter in your bag will keep you from getting uncomfortable if the temperature drops or the wind picks up.

Finally, don’t despair when the weather does something unexpected and you fail to perfectly match your apparel with the weather conditions. That’s when you whip out the CTA pass that you never leave home without and put the bike on the bus. 

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