Experimental music, photography, and adventures

The secret to winter bicycle commuting

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I have discovered the coveted secret of winter bicycle commuting. I have discovered two pieces of gear, which, used properly, keep me comfortable from about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, all the way down to 0 degrees. I almost didn’t even write about this, considering the uber secret nature of this information. But no one is talking about these incredible pieces of technology, so I have decided to share my discovery with my readers. You won’t find this information anywhere else.

So, what are these two items, which together form the holy grail of comfortable winter bicycle commuting? Brace yourself, and I’ll tell you: a windbreaker and a sweater. Yes, really.

For some time, I experimented with different layering schemes. Eventually I found this windbreaker + sweater combination, but I didn’t realize exactly what I’d stumbled on. I wore this combination for some commutes in the 20s. Then it got colder, in the teens. I thought “surely, I need to add another sweater.” I wore an extra one, and I was too hot. Once temperatures reached down into the single-digits, I again thought I needed two sweaters. Still too hot!

Today, I once again strayed from the formula. It was 30 degrees during my commute this morning, and I thought “surely, if a sweater is enough in single-digit temperatures, it will be too warm now.” I didn’t wear the sweater. As you might have guessed by now … I was cold.

Now that I think things through more carefully, I realize that the same gear could extend to a higher temperature range, as well. Just the jacket, without a sweater, should be good from about 35 to 55. A sweater alone should get me up into the 60s. Above that, there’s no need for either a windbreaker OR a sweater.

Therefore, I conclude that I can go from 0-60 in a sweater and a windbreaker.

10 Responses to “The secret to winter bicycle commuting”

  1. Doug Says:

    I use the same principle. Rather than a sweater I use one or two Patagonia synthetic thermal tops and a Marmot Dri-Clime Jacket (windbreaker). I’ve taken this simple combination down to -28 and up to 50.

  2. Scott Loveless Says:

    That is pretty much my method, as well. I start with a base, which is a cotton or wool t-shirt. Then a sweater or sweat shirt or maybe a fleece pull-over. Finally, I top it off with the bottom-feeder special – an O2 Rainshield jacket. These things cost $25 and will last 2 years if you don’t take them into the woods. South-central PA has yet to throw anything at me that those layers can’t handle.

  3. Steve A Says:

    I use a sweatshirt and my cycling jacket. I use the same principle for my legs. I have not found a reliable finger and toe solution. Toes are worse than fingers for me and toe warmers don’t help much.

  4. Redbike Says:

    I’m wondering if perhaps somethings been lost in translation here. I think of a sweater as a thick, often woolley, jumper. A great item for a walk in cold weather but I wouldn’t have thought it was ideal for an activity that will get you all hot and sweaty.

    Saying that, my favourite item of clothing is a Merino (wool) base layer. Warm even when wet (aka sweaty). http://www.jejamescycles.co.uk/orca-merino-base-item153578.html

    Over this I wear a thin short sleeved cycling jersey (for the layers/warmth) and a windproof coat to keep the wind-chill at bay.

  5. Chris Says:

    Now just hold on a minute there, Skippy. You say a sweater and a windbreaker, but I reckon you don’t mean that you literally slide a sweater over bare skin. Are you saying that there is no variation below the sweater layer? Also, I guessing that formula, as wonderful as it is, doesn’t really solve the extremity dilemma.

    What else have you learned?

  6. doc Says:

    Me too!!! My outer shell is usually a very lightweight Illuminite jacket, and the temperature determines which Merino wool shirt/sweater I wear underneath. You can wear the merino against the skin without any itching – in fact, trying a cotton T beneath wool is worse because it pools any sweat instead of wicking it. It’s better than Underarmor or any other high tech plastic stuff I’ve tried, and since it’s for biking, Ebay is a great source for good quality, slightly used, merino wool sweaters. I don’t think people know what they are selling.

    As for gloves, I’ve had remarkably good luck with a $12 pair of cotton/wool “rag” gloves with leather palms. With a single pair of wool socks, I can get down to around 25F. I haven’t experimented lower than that, but I suspect the “bread bag method” would get me down lower. Tim Fricker advocates wool socks and sandals, because they don’t constrict the blood flow to your feet, and they wick away any moisture.

  7. Scott Loveless Says:

    Feet. I wear one pair of either wool or synthetic socks. The woolies are super thick and came from Sears with the Craftsman name on them. The synthetics are a bit thinner and came from Target (pronounced tar-jay). These go between my feet and some old Dunham lightweight hikers. These boots, while not super-duper-insulated, have a windproof rubber toe cap which makes all the difference.

    Hands. Spenco makes the Cold Snap gloves. These are comfy down to about freezing, and functional down into the mid-20s. When it gets colder I switch to some cheap ski gloves. If it’s too cold for the ski gloves, I stay home and look at bike porn.

  8. Bill Lambert Says:

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve been wearing a polyester running shirt, with a nylon-type long sleeved jersey, with a neoprene cycling jacket over that. Anything above 5 F and I sweat like crazy, but I can’t go without the neoprene jacket if it is less than 40 F. I do have a plastic rain jacket I got from Nashbar – I’ll try that. The major downside I have with the polyester running shirt is that once I begin to sweat, it begins to really stink. Not so good once I get to work (no shower there).

  9. Steve A Says:

    Wool socks and sandals at 25F. I’d not have thought of such a combination!

  10. Steve B Says:

    I’ve also recently discovered that secret too. I pulled out an old wool sweater from school that is too hot for me to wear indoors anymore. I wear a medium weight jersey with wind resistant panel over the wool sweater. Under the sweater, I put a poly thermal shirt and silk Tneck. However, I just discovered Nike’s thermal wear which has replaced the poly shirt and silt Tneck, except….big except, the unnatural Nike shirt will stink, but its really warm against the skin. I guess I’ll deal with the stink…..it’ll keep the people away from me.

    For feet, its poly liners under wool socks to about 27 degrees. I haven’t tried toe warmer yet. I’m still working on the hand warmth. I have good neoprene lined gloves with silk liners underneath, but my hands still freeze for the first 1/2 hour at less than 32 degrees.

    Sounds like you’re happy to be back in Indiana…..we just got 23″ of snow in PA. Congrats on the house!

Ear to the Breeze is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).