Wimpy girl’s guide to staying warm during the winter commute

I hate being cold. It makes me cranky beyond belief. If you’d asked me this summer whether I would be riding my bike two hours to work and back each day come December, I would have just laughed.

Yet, here I am. It’s nearly January and I’m looking out the window in the morning to see the crisp sheen of frost on all the cars, thinking to myself: “Yup, today’s gonna be a nice ride.”

What happened is that I learned how to bundle up correctly for the ride.

I have a dedicated commuting outfit, and I change clothes when I get to work, summer or winter. I know a lot of people ride in the clothes they wear to work and take it mellow, but my commute is 12 miles and I like to look at it as an opportunity to get some exercise in, since at my new job I sit at a computer all day long. And the break room is constantly filled with leftover cupcakes from birthday party photo shoots. I need to break a sweat on my way to work if I’m going to meet my daily cupcake quota (and I am).

The trick for me is wool. Wool, wool, and more wool. Probably the best advice I’ve gotten on winter cycling gear was from an employee in a bike shop I visited on lunch break a few months back. I was browsing the coats, and I told him I was concerned about warmth in the winter. He just pointed to the sweater he was wearing. “That tech stuff is fine,” he said, “but all I wear is wool sweaters. They’re great in the rain, in the cold, whenever. And you can find them at Goodwill for cheap.” Not a great sales tactic, maybe, because the next day I went to Goodwill and bought three sweaters. I haven’t needed anything else.

For those frost-bitten mornings:

Feet:
These last couple of weeks I’ve had to upgrade my thinner wool socks to a pair of thick wool hiking socks. I pair that with a pair of silver Dr. Martens, and I don’t have much to complain about.

Legs:
I have a pair of fleece tights from Patagonia that my husband got me for Christmas last year. He took me on a ride on a chilly January 1 (against my complaining protests), and my legs felt like I was in the tropics. These tights are that amazing. When there’s frost on the ground, I add a pair of silk long johns I got at REI, and I’m set. I also have two plaid wool skirts that I go between. One is a miniskirt that’s more for modesty than warmth, but if it’s super cold I can keep extra warm in a knee-length A-line skirt.

Upper body:
Wool, wool, wool. For a base layer, I have a few merino/synthetic blend cycling jerseys (from Second Ascent in Ballard. If you live in Seattle, definitely check these guys out.). My favorite for cold weather, though, is an awesome thin merino sweater I got at Goodwill. It’s a lovely dark purple, and keeps me super toasty. I layer a wool hoodie (from Goodwill) over that, and then a cozy vest over the top of that. That’ll usually keeps me warm enough once I start riding, but when temperatures drop below freezing I have a third wool sweater with an ugly snowflake pattern to throw over the top of my other two.

Gloves:
My husband got me a pair of winter cycling gloves last month and they are SO COLD. I bought myself a pair of lined leather gloves which are fantastically better, and when it gets super chilly, I steal a pair of his thin wool cycling gloves to put over the top. I’d like find a better solution for that, but so far, so good.

Hat:
I have a thin cycling cap, and I pull up the hood of my wool hoodie to go under my helmet. My ears stay toasty, which makes me quite happy.

I do make some attempt not to look too geeky while still staying warm, and I’m decently pleased with the result. At least, I feel like I’m not any more geeky-looking than I normally am.

For some more stylish tips on winter cycling, however, the experts over at Lets Go Ride a Bike are your best bet.

Stay warm and have fun!

Update for 2012: I just wrote a column for Orbike.com on this same topic: Winter cycling in style. Go check it out!

2 thoughts on “Wimpy girl’s guide to staying warm during the winter commute

    • I’ve thought about getting Bar Mitts–I’ll have to move that up on my to-do list, thanks! At this point it doesn’t matter how ridiculous I look, since I only see maybe 1 or 2 other people on the trail these days anyway. Thanks for the tip!

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