Getting Ready For Bad Weather: Your Clothes

Not that you'd notice it over the past week in Columbus, but Fall is here. And it looks like the coming week is going to be pretty indicative of what Fall is supposed to be. Well, maybe it'll be a tad warmer. But it signals the beginning of the cool-to-cold weather riding season.

And that means it's time to get your bike and your self ready for the snow, ice, etc. that winter will bring.

Last winter was my first winter of commuting by bike. I started commuting in mid-November and until recently (with my baby-induced bike fast) I hadn't been forced to change a thing. I experimented with a few different ways to keep myself warm and dry, and here's what I came up with. Keep in mind that Columbus gets very cold at times (well, not Alaska-cold, but a few below 0 Fahrenheit days) but doesn't get a lot of snow.

Before we start, though, keep in mind the following: though you're probably worried about being too cold during your ride, you're actually probably going to be too warm and sweaty during it after you get going. You should be a little bit chilly when you're first starting out on your ride. That's good, it means that once you get going and your body temperature heats up you'll be fine. Don't overdo it with the warm clothes or you could end up TOO warm, especially on a really long commute.

1. Head: get a balaclava of some kind. I have one from Pearl Izumi that works nicely.

The one thing I may add for the head this winter is a helmet cover. This isn't so much to keep my head dry, as that wasn't really ever an issue, but more to keep the freezing wind from going through my helmet and cooling it down a bit too much. On the really cold days, my head got pretty cold at times.

2. Hands: good gloves are key. I had a pair of Cannondale winter riding gloves that did pretty well throughout the winter, until it got SUPER cold out. Then I was probably flirting with frostbite, which is obviously bad.

So this winter I'm going to look for some good mittens. For those of you who don't do a lot of outdoor sports, mittens do a better job than gloves of keeping your hands warm because it allows the fingers to insulate and heat each other. With your fingers separated in gloves you don't get that benefit.

I'm thinking about something like these for the coming winter. They're commonly referred to as "Lobster Claw" mittens, as they are sort of a combination of gloves and mittens. Two fingers go into each section of the mitten (and one for the thumb) so you get the warming benefit of mittens and the dexterity of gloves.

Another option for people in REALLY cold climates is the use of Pogies. Pogies are basically cycling mittens that attach right to your handlebars and they are super warm. My only question with them is how easy or hard they'd be to attach/remove - as I wouldn't necessarily want to keep them on my bike when I'm not with it.

Hence my intention of using mittens instead.

3. Feet: Hiking Boots. I don't use clipless pedals so I was able to use nice thick wool socks and a pair of hiking boots.

4. Legs: I experimented more with my legs than anything else last winter. Sometimes I just wore my khakis (and during the winter I usually wear L.L. Bean flannel-lined khakis to work anyway) with rain pants over them, and sometimes I used a pair of Cannondale winter bike tights. Wearing the khakis and rain pants was nice, as I wasn't exactly working up too much of a sweat on my short commute and didn't have to worry about soaking my pants on the way to work. I'll probably do that again this year, but perhaps with a different pair of pants. On the really cold days, I wore silk long underwear bottoms with it all.

I am looking, however, at a new pair of rain/wind pants as the old cheapo Columbia rain suit is dying a slow and hideous death. suggests these pants and I'm going to try them out this year: Foxwear Rain Pants.

5. Torso: I found that just wearing my work shirt (either a polo shirt and undershirt or sweater and undershirt, usually) and a fleece pullover under a rain coat did just fine. The rain coat acted as a nice windbreaker and the fleece kept me warm. If I wore a sweater, the fleece generally stayed in my backpack, just in case I needed more layers. On really cold days, I wore a silk long underwear shirt underneath it all. I never had a problem with my torso being cold.

This year, I'm looking at one of those lime-green rain jackets that Pearl Izumi puts out for my top layer, for visibility's sake.

6. Eyes: Make sure you get some glasses of some kind. I have a pair that I wear year-round. They're Tifosi Slip T-V130 glasses, which I'm not sure they make any more but you can find some that are similar. Mine are polarized lenses - allowing for the best visibility and light-sensitive shading possible. They were a bit expensive but I found that, especially during the winter, my eyes tended to tear up when riding a LOT. The glasses cut that down to nearly nothing.

I've also heard of people who wear ski goggles to ride. That would certainly work, and actually might even keep your face warmer, too. Hmmm... I have ski goggles...

So, does anyone else have anything they can't live without for winter riding? I'd love to hear it! Please comment if you do.

People, not speed.


  1. I've been eyeing up the lobster claws since last year, but have a decent pair of windproof mittens that fold back to expose fleece fingers. <3
    I love the Marmot Precip for raingear.
    Duofold by Dupont is where it's at. Lighter for the fall, mountaineering weight for the winter. Usually you can luck out and find the heavier weight at Marshall's on Bethel (it's a lovely green targeted at hunters) It's great b/c it's wool on the outside but synthetic against your skin. I hate wool against my skin, esp. in the winter when I tend to sweat when riding, then go in somewhere warm then out again on the bike.
    Beanie with a brim and sunglasses for daytime commutes.

    I'm a big fan of Primal Wear Arm warmers. They're light, but acutally really warm. Something easy to throw in your tool bag for the days when the temp drops a bit more, or you're out a little later than expected. I cut holes about 1.5" up in them for my thumbs so they slide under my gloves

  2. Sounds pretty good. My only issue with the products you mentioned is the Marmot Precip. I've heard good things about its rain-shedding capabilities myself, but the colors it's available in don't lend themselves well to visibility. I constantly wear at least a reflective vest when I ride on the road and I've never had an issue with anyone not seeing me while riding. I don't see any reason to mess with something that's kept me safe thus far... hence my like of the Pearl Izumi jackets.

    Still, great input! Do you have a brand name for those mittens?

  3. +1 on the hiking boots and wool socks; That's what I wore when I lived in the snowbelt, though I also had Power Grips on my pedals.

    Uninsulated ski pants kept my legs dry, with whatever underneath depending on temperature. Usually fleece on top, and something waterproof if necessary.

    Fleece cap under my helmet kept my head plenty warm. For very cold (single digits F and below) or very windy, my Seirus balaclava with neoprene face mask was the most perfect balaclava I ever tried.

    I don't think I ever needed mittens on my hands, but YMMV.

  4. I only needed the mittens a few times, but it could just have been because of the gloves I have. My parents got them for me for Christmas, and I just wore what I had. They worked fine unless it just got into the really low below freezing temps.

    I want to try PowerGrips, too, but my pedals aren't really set up for them right now. They'd require new pedals altogether. Not that I'm against that, but with a new baby in the house I'm trying to avoid spending too much.

    I have ski pants, but they're black - not the best for visibility. But with a proper jacket it might be okay. Thanks for the idea!

  5. Sierra Trading Post has good stuff at cheaper prices. Check out Outerwear. Some of their Ski gloves look to be just as good as the 'name-brand' Biking gloves only cheaper. I just recieved a pair of Sporthill XC pants that normally retail at $99, at STP I got them for $46. Long underwear is cheap too.

  6. I have good quality of winter clothes which I bought from Wilsons Leather store at reasonable price...


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