What I hoped would be the last bike commute of 2012 ended up just kind of slipping away in wet, slushy snow. I saw absolutely no point in messing with it and drove to work instead.
Well, crap! That’s not how I intended to spend lunch. My standing date was otherwise occupied, so I intended to ride. Oh well…better to find it then than at 5:00.
Three years ago, I wrote my original Unpeeling the Onion post. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about cold weather riding, and the most important thing to learn is how to match the gear to the conditions. The key to that process is layers! If you get those right, you can probably ride relatively comfortably in even the coldest conditions.
Now, the thing to remember before I begin is that I’m a weanie when it comes to the cold. I don’t have a bunch of extra body weight to provide insulation, and my hands and feet are always the most vulnerable to cold temperatures. I’ve found, however, that if you can keep your core fairly warm and your head covered, it does somewhat help keep your hands and feet warm. With that in mind, I usually end up over-dressing to the point that I work up a good sweat on my commute. That’s OK as long as I keep moving, but if I were to stop and stand around a while it would end up making me cold.
As a reference, it was seventeen degrees with about a 25 mph wind the day I took the pictures for this post. I was quite comfortable the entire way into work.
It’s humorous that my pictures this year aren’t much better than the originals, but that’s what happens when you use a smartphone for a camera indoors!
Always, always, always use a good wicking material next to your body. I have a lot of lightweight base layer shirts both in long and short sleeves that I wear on nearly a daily basis. When it’s above 25 degrees I usually skip this layer on top. I pair them with cycling shorts these days. I used to just wear a pair of Under Armour compression shorts, but figured out that the chamois in the cycling shorts provides a strategically placed wind-stop.
I’ve fallen in love with my long sleeve winter weight base layer compression shirts. You can end up spending quite a bit on stuff like this, but I’ve got several from Academy Sports at $20 each. I add a pair of either Pearl Izumi or Garneau cycling tights. My Pearls are a little bit heavier weight, but either works for me. The key to this second layer is that it needs to be form fitting because another layer is going over the top of it.
I always wear a cycling jersey for the pockets. Otherwise, I’m always fumbling in my bag for keys, door pass, wallet, camera and phone. On the bottom, I wear a pair of REI Novera Headwind pants. These things are awesome! With wind-stop material in the front, articulated knees, and a loose fit, they are great by themselves for temperatures between about 30 and 50 degrees. Below 30, the loose fit makes getting them on and off over the other tights a snap.
Over all this, I add my Pearl Izumi winter jacket and my Pearl vest. The vest is added only for visibility…I don’t like the idea of dressing completely like a ninja for early morning and evening rides in the dark even though my bike is lit.
Head, Feet and Hands
When the weather’s below about 55 degrees, I always wear my Under Armour stocking cap. As I mentioned, my goal is to not lose body heat through my head and while it is overkill at warmer temperatures, I really like it because it’s long enough to completely cover my ears. Every cycling specific skullcap I’ve tried has always left the bottoms of my ears exposed, and you’ve got to remember that I’m a cold weather weanie. When I need my balaclava, I wear it over the stocking cap. It’s pretty generic, but I like it because it is specifically made to wear under a ski helmet, so the top half is considerably thinner and doesn’t add extra bulk under my cycling helmet.
I’ve been wearing smartwool hiking or ski socks this week, but my Lake boots are generally warm enough that I can get away with regular cycling socks down to about 25 degrees or wool running socks to about 15.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m still learning how to gauge my gloves and bar mitts to the temperature. After a couple of days use, it appears I can get away with a pair of gloves that I previously considered to be usable down to only the mid/upper 30′s well into the teens when paired with the mitts.
What’s interesting to me is that in the three years since I wrote that original post, not a lot has changed. Yeah, I’ve replaced some non-wicking items with wicking material and upgraded a couple of things, but the basic secret to success is still layering. If you do that right, you should be good to go.
Now get out there!
Somebody read my Christmas wish list!
The Surly is decked out today in a new set of Bar Mitts. And, they’re even red to match the pannier!
Today wasn’t the best day to ride with new gear for the first time. At 17 degrees and a 25 mph wind, I was nervous about how light a glove I could get away with and ended up with too much. The funny part is that I had even heavier gloves in my pannier in case I needed them! It’ll take a few days to get my glove selection dialed in, but I sure wish I had a chance to do it before jumping off into the deep freeze we’ve got going right now.
Based on the sizing information from the website, I requested “small”. They fit my hands and forearms OK, but the right one seems to be a little tight as it stretches over the larger Tiagra brifter on that side with it’s built-in gear indicator.
Oh…and you wanna know the worst part about this morning’s commute? It was having to take my gloves off to lock the bike up at work! I was fine until that point!
When it comes to bragging rights about bicycle rides, it seems like one of the big measures is how much climbing you do. I consider myself a decent climber for someone who doesn’t live in the mountains, but just how good I am and how much I climb on the bike is something I have trouble gauging.
As you can see from the picture above, I have a Garmin Edge 305. When I got it several years ago, it was pretty much leading edge technology. It’s served me well, and as far as I can tell is showing no signs of giving up the ghost.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how accurately it measures elevation changes. When I got it, it was supposed to be far and above superior to the Edge 205 that had been out for a couple of years, and I had no choice but to trust it.
These days, however, there are so many ways to map a bike ride and display the data that come up with results so different that I don’t know what to trust.
For example, let’s look at the ride I took over the weekend. It was a 50 miler that I considered to be pretty hilly.
When I uploaded the file to the Garmin Training Center Software, it told me I had climbed 3,097 feet.
When I uploaded that same file to the Garmin Connect website it reported that I had climbed 3,755 feet.
And, that same file uploaded to Strava credits me with 4094 feet of climbing.
When Chad uploaded the ride he recorded with the Iphone Strava app, he only got credit for 1,951 feet!
So…which number should I trust? What a dilemma! It keeps me up at night.