Winter Riding: Layer Up!

Coming in from a ride this morning I felt the cold. I left my Madison Ave apartment at about 6:45am. By the time I had finished my 6 mile journey my hands were totally immobile. Frozen. Once inside, I held them under running cool water to warm them up. Then it happened. They started to ache, it was terribly painful. Like the bones were rotting. Luckily it was just my hands that were cold. I had made the correct moves to keep the rest of my body warm with layers.

Take this knowledge about layers and stay warm this winter while riding.

Core – Base Layer or Wicking Layer

This goes back to fibers that can wick or that are hydrophilic. Get a base layer that is skin tight (looks good too!) and is made of a material that will wick water off your skin.  You want the article to wick so the sweat will be pulled off your body and skin tight to cover as much surface as possible. The oxford dictionary says that fibers will, “[have] a tendency to mix with, dissolve in , or be wetted by water.”  Anything with wool will wick.

Core – Mid Layer or Insulation Layer

You can spend lots of money on expensive garments, but a wool sweater is a great insulator. Yesterday I biked about five miles to Crossgates Mall. To keep me warm I had a t-shirt, wool sweater, and a relatively thin jacket on. It was about nine AM and cold. By the time I got to the mall I felt like I had just finished a 26 mile marathon through the Congan jungle. I was so hot and sweating all over. People were looking at me cross eyed. I felt happy to be warm. So try it out. Wear a wool mid layer.

Properties of wool according to the American Sheep Industry

Core – Outer Layer or Elemental Shell

Every survivalist needs a shell. Whales have their fat and elephants have thick skin. If you’re going to take on the winter you need a shell. You need something that is water proof. This will also break the wind. Windchill can make it feel much colder than it really is. On a bicycle, winds are inevitable. While riding in twenty degree still air, a ride at 15 mph can drop from twenty to six degrees according to the National Weather Service. Now factor in headwinds and frostbite is more serious.

Final Notes – Layer Smart

Use a wicking layer as a base layer.

Have a thick insulation layer as your mid layer.

An Elemental Shell is your outside layer.

Keep your hands warm with solid pair of gloves. Think the same with your feet.

Your face needs to stay warm too – look to ski wear. They have dealt with many of these problems since day one.

Here are some useful links to quickly pick up some winter cycling gear.

Aero Tech Design – good list of quality products

Primaloft’s products, as I have had very good experiences with their products in harsh conditions. Their different fibers are warm, breathable, mange water well, and some materials are even recycled materials.

Safe Riding. Here’s a link that reviews some of the better winter cycling gloves from

Written by Daniel Patterson


Filed under Article

4 responses to “Winter Riding: Layer Up!

  1. Toni

    Great article!
    Make sure you have water proof boots/shoes. Cold feet or hands will ruin your ride.

  2. Absolutely – water proofing your boots and shoes will do you wonders. Snow is frozen water after all! And funny this is mentioned because just 10 minutes ago a friend and I were chatting about good winter riding shoes. Toe covers are cheap and the way to go in my eyes. We can invest in an expensive pair of shoes like the Specialized Defrosters but as reviews say, we may still be plagued with cold toes. If I was anyone looking to keep my feet warm while riding, I would waterproof my shoes (if possible) and pick up a pair of toe covers. They are cheap and keep the little piggies warm.

    cold toes: not uncommon –
    Review say cold toes are a problem

  3. Thanks for the post! Another viewpoint? Pedal slower. I pedaled to Troy and back today in jeans, a cotton tee, a cotton hoodie and a quilted nylon jacket. I wasn’t dry, but I wan’t wet enough to get cold. Totally owe it to relaxed pace.

  4. Pingback: Windchill Effect While Riding a Bicycle - Fashion Sport

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