fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

There's no bad cycling weather if you know how to dress for it

Whether it's drizzling rain in the Willamette Valley, freezing clear days in Bend or foggy and damp in Medford, some folks still ride their bikes during the winter months. To quote one of my friends: "there is no bad weather for bicycling, just inadequate clothing."

To stay comfortably warm and dry on winter rides, think "www," as in wicking, windproof, waterproof fabrics. Layering is the best system for maintaining body heat and regulating perspiration. Layers allow you to build a microclimate surrounding your body and adjust it as you ride to various moisture, wind, temperature and exertion levels.

The inner-most layer of clothing is critical because it's in direct contact with your skin. Base layers (also known as underwear) should transport moisture away from the skin and disperse it to the outer layers where it can evaporate. Because water is a good heat conductor, damp garments, like cotton, draw precious heat away from your body. Even in conditions above freezing, rapid heat loss can cause a dangerous drop in your body's core temperature.

The best base layer materials are wool, silk and synthetics (polypropylene or polyester). The synthetics contain light and strong micro-hydrophilic fibers and absorb very little water. Wool and silk are natural fibers that are water resistant. Both retain warmth and are quick to dry. Base layers are available in light, medium and heavy weights. Light weight is normally adequate in Portland or Eugene, but you may need a medium or heavyweight base layer if you live in the colder climates of central and eastern Oregon.

The mid-layer provides insulation and transports moisture away from the inner layer. To slow heat loss, this layer must be capable of retaining the warmth generated by your body. Wool and synthetic long-sleeved jerseys are well suited to this because the structure of the fibers creates small air spaces that trap molecules of warm air. Features such as full-length front zippers allow venting.

The thermometer may read cold, but when you start moving forward on the bike the wind-chill factor takes affect immediately and temperatures are reduced significantly. The outer layer protects you from the cold and wet elements but should allow air to circulate and excess moisture to escape. Garments with pit zippers allow additional ventilation.

For dry conditions, a breathable (uncoated) wind shell or a smooth-surfaced soft shell made of the new wind-blocking fabrics is all you need for an outer garment.

If you expect to ride in the rain, a waterproof rain jacket should be considered. A shell made of a light, breathable and waterproof fabric will protect you from wind and rain, and allow water vapor to escape. Your outer layer of clothing should be bright and have some reflective surfaces. Many of the newer jackets are constructed with wind stopper material in the front with lighter more breathable material in the back.

Other clothing components are important for comfortable winter rides. Accessories for your legs, feet, hands and head are essential in both cold and wet conditions.

Comfortable winter cycling requires the added protection of bibbed, long-legged tights to negate the effects of cold temperatures on the legs. Winter tights are thicker and may be lined with fleeced fabric. Some brands feature materials on the front, side and seat that allows vapor to escape while simultaneously blocking rain and wind.

Neoprene booties or waterproof-wind stopper shoe covers are designed to fit over your cycling shoes and will keep your feet dry and warm. There are a few brands of cycling shoes designed for extra warmth for winter use. These are expensive but may be worth it if you are one whose feet are hard to keep warm. Many cyclists purchase a pair of mountain bike shoes that are a half to full-size larger than their road shoes. This allows thicker socks and better blood circulation for warmer feet. Thermal insoles can also be purchased which will reflect heat back into the shoe.

Long-fingered cycling gloves made of wind-stopping, breathable, waterproof fabric are an essential item. Depending on your preference, fingered, mittens or lobster gloves are available. A pair of glove liners will add extra insulation for the colder winter rides. Make sure that you can still shift and squeeze the brake levers with the gloves you purchase.

Keep your head and ears warm with a wool or thermal fleece head band that covers your ears, a skull cap (helmet liner), or a balaclava of lightweight wool or synthetic breathable material to cover your face and protect your nose and cheeks.

There's no reason to quit riding during the winter months. Dress properly and enjoy the fresh air. Dress in layers and peel them off as you warm up. Any day outside beats the torturous and boring ride of the wind trainer indoors.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.