How to Dress for Cold-Weather Cycling
Expert advice for the four-season bike commuter
If you’re reading this, we probably don’t have to convince you of the benefits of riding your bicycle to work—at least when it’s warm out.
Come fall, though, you may need a little encouragement. It’s easy to start bemoaning the lack of sunshine, the cold weather and soon-to-be slush-covered roads. But don't get discouraged.
For advice on commuting in the cold months, we reached out to Massachusetts-based Belmont Wheelworks, recently voted one of the best bike shops in the country by our readers. We spoke to Wheelworks co-founder and part-owner Peter Mooney, who also builds custom bicycle frames under the label Peter Mooney Cycles.
“I’ve been riding my bike back and forth to work for a long time, since the late ‘60s,” said Mooney by phone.
He understands the wariness that many cyclists feel about winter riding: “Riding in the city, riding in traffic is intimidating enough without adding on all these additional layers.”
Staying warm is key for making it through the cold months, he said, and for that you need the right clothes. Mooney offered the following tips:
Layering: “As for any outdoor activity in winter,” he said, “you want to think in terms of layering—base layer against your skin, an appropriate insulation layer, and an appropriate windproof layer or shell jacket. What’s going to change according to the weather is your insulation layer.” You shell jacket should be a bright color and/or have reflective trim.
Gloves: “People always come back complaining about feet and hands,” Mooney said of first-time winter bike commuters. A comfortable, insulating pair of gloves is a must. “Dayglo colors are a wonderful thing,” he added. “Think about giving hand signals: you want something that’s visible.”
Shoes: “People in the city traveling short distances might not want to bother with clip-in pedals,” Mooney said. “When the weather’s really nasty I’m just going to wear my hiking boots.” If wearing a muddy pair of boots to work isn’t an option, he said, there are also shoe covers and insulated riding shoes available.
Hat and Helmet Cover: “It’s important to keep your head warm,” said Mooney, because that's where you lose much of your body heat. “I have a fleece-lined lycra skullcap that I wear under my helmet.” He also recommends a windproof helmet cover, also preferably in dayglo.
Face Protection: “On real cold days I do use a balaclava,” he said. “I'm not big on masks as the eye holes are sometimes too small and obstruct your vision when looking over your shoulder. Same is true for hoods. You only see the inside of your hood when looking over your shoulder. Face masks also make sunglasses tough as you can't hook the loops on your ears”
Glasses: “I do like to cover my eyes, especially in the cold,” he said. “This makes clear lens[es] your friend in the dark.”
Closures: “Make sure closures are good around your wrist and your neck.” A shell layer with cinch straps will do the trick for your wrists. As for your neck: “A scarf is a bicycle rider’s friend. It makes a nice closure about your neck.”
Gaiters: “One thing I really swear by are gaiters,” he said. “A gaiter wraps around your shin from below your knee over the top of the shoe. There’s no way you’re going to get wet, gooey crap down your shoes.” He added: ”You can find them at any hiking store.” Gaiters are also a good way to protect your pant legs in less than ideal conditions: “When it’s wet it’s not just water. It’s sand and salt and mud. You wear it.”