When I started commuting to work by bicycle a few years ago I began checking the weather reports every day. At first, it was to plan whether I would be riding to work the next day at all, as I only wanted to ride when it was nice out. As I commuted more and more and realized how much more enjoyable it was than driving to work, and my daily weather checks changed from, “will I ride to work tomorrow?” to, “how will I dress when I ride tomorrow?”
Most cyclists are fair weather riders, which is completely reasonable as people generally enjoy being outside when the weather is best, and there’s nothing wrong if you only want to ride when it’s nice out. However, some will want to ride most days except when it’s raining or snowing, and others may want to ride in anything. Today’s article is about the first group, and next week I will cover riding in rain and snow.
Riding in high temperatures will likely be unavoidable in the summer. On one hand, it’s easy to dress for, because you simply wear as little as possible, but on the other hand when the temperatures get really high you’ll end up sweating regardless of how little you wear. Riding at an easier pace than usual, as well as being sure to have at least one bottle of ice-cold water that you sip regularly as you ride, will help mitigate the sweating a little.
What to wear? If you’re wearing cycling clothes, wear the lightest weight jerseys you have along with cycling shorts. If you normally wear regular clothes when riding, you may want to try some athletic clothing from the likes of Under Armor, Starter, Champion, or a number of other brands that now offer affordable athletic gear – a polyester blend shirt with gym shorts look perfectly “normal” on the bike if you don’t want to buy cycling clothes or you feel self-conscious in lycra/spandex. You should avoid wearing cotton at all costs, however, as it will simply soak up sweat and doesn’t take long to start smelling bad.
Cooler mornings start to creep in at the end of summer, and dressing for the various levels of “chilly” can be a little tricky at times. If you wear too little, you may feel freezing despite mild temperatures, but if you wear too much, you’ll end up drenched in sweat. What’s the best way to tackle the chilly temps? Layers!
Layers are important for regulating your temperature because wind speed, your bike speed, and your effort (and as a result, body temperature) may vary over the course of the ride. Wearing a lightweight jacket over a shirt or jersey is preferable over just a sweatshirt or heavyweight jersey because if you get warm you can open or remove your jacket, whereas the sweatshirt or heavy jersey must stay on. The reverse is also true if you start to feel cold, because you can put that jacket back on or zip it up to hold more body heat.
What to wear? Convertible jackets like the Sugoi Zap Jacket can be one of the best investments you can make – they are essentially jackets with sleeves that zip off so you can convert it into a wind vest. I bought one shortly after I began commuting a few years ago and have used it as a vest in temperatures up to the low 60s on windy days and with sleeves on as a jacket all the way down to just below freezing. In chilly temperatures, versatility and being able to adapt is important! Amazon has the Zap Jacket here.
Other ways to manage temperatures are arm warmers and knee or leg warmers, which are usually geared towards being worn with cycling gear but can be worn with regular clothes too. If you end up feeling too warm you can roll them up or take them off completely, and they fold up small and are thus easy to toss in your bag or in a pocket. Lightweight gloves can also help you feel warm as the temperatures drop, and like arm and leg warmers are easily removed and stowed away if you get too warm
Of all the temperatures you can ride in, extremely cold temperatures are usually the most intimidating, and they also typically trigger the most ridiculous (and hilarious) responses from coworkers who find out you rode your bike to work in below-freezing temperatures! As intimidating as it may be, you can be happy that most of the strategies you’ve learned for chilly temperatures also apply to the harsh winter cold!
Once again, layers are the name of the game. A general tip for riding in the bitter cold is that you want to start out your ride feeling slightly chilly, as your body will warm up when you start pedaling, and that heat will remain in your jacket and pants that are insulating you. You want to avoid sweating not only for the sake of simply not sweating, but sweating in the cold can actually make you more cold as it chills your skin.
Typically, when I’m riding in colder temps – basically anything below the 40s Fahrenheit – I’ll wear whatever my base layer is, be it a jersey or a normal shirt, and then a heavier jacket that zips. When temps are extremely cold, such as well below the freezing point, I may even add an additional layer under the jacket. To go along with the jacket I’ll wear gloves – lighter gloves for the upper end of the temperature range and heavier lobster-finger gloves for the coldest days I face. Lobster gloves like these ones are wonderful because you keep most of the dexterity of regular gloves but your fingers stay significantly warmer because they essentially share warmth with each other. (Check out prices for lobster gloves over at Amazon)
For the legs, I will once again dress in at least two layers. Since I prefer to commute in cycling clothes I’ll wear some tights over my cycling shorts, and in temps that drop well below freezing I may even add a second set of tights over that. If you’re wearing regular clothes then you may find that some winter tights underneath your pants can help keep you warmer for your commute. Wool socks will also prove to be an excellent investment for the cold; you can pick up lightweight ones at bike shops and stores like REI, and heavier weight ones at stores like Cabella’s or Bass Pro Shops. Wool socks are much more expensive than cotton socks that most people wear daily, but for the cold weather, they are well worth the money.
Are you facing colder temps where all I’ve mentioned so far isn’t enough? Well don’t forget a knit hat to wear under your helmet – anything will do! I’m still wearing a hat that I bought for walking around my college campus years ago and it fits under my helmet nicely. On the coldest of days you may also want to protect your face with a balaclava or scarf as well to block the wind from your skin.
Shoes are the final item I will touch upon because they are often the most overlooked. It’s a common sight to see cyclists in the winter cover their shoes in duct tape or wrap them in tight shoe covers to block the wind and cold, but there’s a better way! If you’re used to pedaling in sneakers you can get by with winter boots, but if you’re sticking with cycling shoes and pedals then you’ll be happy to know that most major brands offer winter cycling shoes (or boots) that insulate your feet incredibly well compared to normal, or dare I say “summer,” cycling shoes. They don’t come cheap, but if you spend a lot of time in extreme cold your feet will thank you!
Coming up next week: It’s Raining! Worried about getting caught in a surprise shower on the way to work, or are you expecting a storm and want to ride headfirst into it? I’ll cover the basics of how to best prepare for the rain and light snow so you can continue to ride to work no matter the weather!
Rob is a New England native who has been living in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2012. Upon learning how to ride at the age of five he quickly found that everything is better on a bicycle, and hasn’t stopped riding since.