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Wool + synthetic = ultimate layering?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

There’s a lot of debate in the cycling world about whether wool or synthetics are better. Personally, like most things in my life, I take a hybrid approach. I recently┬ádeveloped a new layering technique that I thought I’d share: wear a long-sleeved synthetic baselayer with a short-sleeved wool jersey over it (and then a jacket over that). Try it, it’s amazing.

Here’s the back story: I have a couple of long-sleeved wool baselayers, which I use in cool to cold temperatures. I’m a big fan of these, but I started to realize that if I dressed warmly enough to keep my torso warm, my arms would overheat. I started looking around for a midweight sleeveless baselayer. What I discovered is, nearly all of the appropriate sleeveless garments are very thin, and intended to be worn in hot weather, not intended to keep you warm. I guess they figure that if you don’t want sleeves, you’re trying to keep cool. Not quite true in my case.

I also have some short- and long-sleeved synthetic baselayers/jerseys. I tried a few combinations of these with the wool baselayers. I still had the same problem.

Then, I remembered that I had purchased a short-sleeved wool cycling jersey this summer at a deep discount. I had read that wool is cool in the summer, and wanted to find out if that was true. For me, this claim turned out not to be true at all. I was miserable in warm weather in the short-sleeved wool jersey. And it didn’t block wind well enough in cool weather to be used alone. So, I put it on a shelf and didn’t think about it for a few months.

When I remembered I had that jersey, I tried wearing it over a long-sleeved synthetic baselayer. For me, this combination is absolutely perfect! The synthetic baselayer wicks the sweat away from my skin, and keeps my arms warm enough. The wool jersey keeps my core warm. Of course, you can add and remove layers as necessary. I wear all of this under a wind shell. You could try variations using a vest, depending on conditions.

I hope this helps someone out there. This tip seems obvious in hindsight, but it took a lot of trial and error to arrive at this technique. Do you have any layering tips to share?

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.

Climbing Technique

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Ray, of the Bike Noob blog, posted a question about how to improve at climbing. I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic, or even a particularly good climber, but I have done a whole lot of climbing, especially since we moved to Pennsylvania.

I definitely agree with the comments on that post: you need to practice climbing hills to get better at riding them. Furthermore, I find that each hill becomes less daunting as I become more familiar with it and know what to expect. The first time I climb a hill is usually the worst.

Here are some other lessons I’ve learned; your mileage my vary, of course.

  1. Pace yourself. This can be hard to do if you don’t know how long a hill is, but try to save energy in case you need it later in the climb. Maybe you’re just getting started, and it gets steeper toward the top. You never know. I used to worry about trying to take as much momentum as possible into a climb, but I’ve found it’s better to save that energy for later in the climb.
  2. Spin in an easy gear. Keeping a high cadence in a low gear is easier and I’ve found I can climb for miles this way without stopping. Some cyclists act like there’s some shame in using the granny gear, but that’s just ridiculous. That’s what it’s there for!
  3. Be patient. Climbing a long hill takes time. Try to settle into a groove. You might even enjoy it! When necessary, I will sometimes stop during a climb. But rather than walk, I will stop long enough to catch my breath and then continue climbing on the bike. I don’t feel like I’ve “conquered” a hill until I have done it without stopping, but stopping doesn’t mean you have to walk.
  4. Reward yourself. Whether this means enjoying the view from the top, relishing the speedy descent, contemplating what you’ve just accomplished, or just having a snack, it’ll help you feel better and make the climb seem more worthwhile.
  5. Ride lots of hills. The more you do it, the better you become and the more fun you’ll have.

This is what works for me. Some people are great at “power climbing,” mashing up hills in a higher gear. This may be a viable option, depending on the hills, you, and your bike. I’ve learned that trying to climb this way on my Long Haul Trucker is not very effective, so I don’t do it very often, so I really can’t help you there.

What is your climbing technique?

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