Cool Weather — What To Wear?

Our Florida-based guest poster Jeff Hemmel is going to tell us how to dress for chilly weather.

The mercury finally dipped in Florida this past week, leaving me to once again ponder the question of what to wear when it gets cold. Sure, that term is relative — the cold I’m talking about is weather in the low 50s during the early morning hours. But often coupled with high winds coming off the water, it can feel downright chilly. Definitely not shorts and short-sleeve jersey weather.

But after years of riding through varying Florida winters, I’m still not quite sure what the appropriate outfit is. This past Sunday, with temps around 56 and winds gusting as high as 30 mph, I rode in a wicking base layer shirt, long-sleeve jersey, lightweight jacket and tights, and half-finger gloves…and was cold almost the entire way. Those high winds felt brutal, and got only worse as my entry-level name-brand jacket, not exactly the most breathable garment, just seemed to trap in the sweat and chill me to the core.

My legs never really seem to be the problem. It’s my core. In really cold conditions a thermal base layer, long-sleeve jersey and that very same jacket seem to do the trick. But in these middle temperatures I’m lost. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days looking through the mail-order catalogs and perusing the clothing company websites.

Part of me thinks a good thermal jersey is what I need, eliminating the nylon jacket altogether, as it’s usually dry and sunny. Another part of me wonders if I just need a better, more breathable jacket, one that wouldn’t build up the moisture within, but instead vent it out. And then there are those that would say, in such temperatures, I should be able to get by with just arm warmers and a wind vest.

Or maybe it’s my hands and feet. Maybe I need full-finger gloves and wool socks to warm my extremities. After all, didn’t our moms all say that if we were cold to put on a hat? (Speaking of the head, I often wear a headband in the cold to protect my ears, which seem particularly vulnerable on cool, windy days.)

So I’m tossing it out for discussion. What have other riders found to be the best combination of clothing for such weather conditions? Obviously I don’t care to be cold, but I also don’t want to overdress and get chilled from the sweat.

Have you found a good combination of clothing that works for you?

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16 thoughts on “Cool Weather — What To Wear?

  1. Just the other day the temperature when I left for work, at 05:30, was 23f. I had on a set of long underwear pants, sweat pants, long sleeve t shirt, heavy Carharrt sweat shirt, stocking hat, thinsulate gloves, thermal socks and, insulated steel toe athletic shoes. I was nice and toasty.

    I’ll quit riding for the season once the snow flies but in the mean time I expect to stay nice and warm down to perhaps 10f.

  2. Boy is this a timely blurb! Our temps here in Tennessee have been below freezing several mornings this week already. Last Friday, I had to dodge snow showers when a cold front moved through. I have discovered that when the temp gets below the upper 40′s that in my regular half-finger gloves that my fingers begin to feel as if someone is sticking them with hot needles, stinging from the cold. Even with full fingered gloves, I have felt some discomfort.

    I am trying to figure out what to wear as it starts to get colder. It seems to be a pretty fine balance between getting the layers right and over heating as far as the core goes. I am not too worried about legs. I have knee warmers, several grades of capilene long johns left over from a winter trip to South Dakota a few years ago. From what I am reading, a base layer underneath a long or short sleeved jersey and a breathable shell look like good starting points.

    I am wondering about head cover under the helmet. A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of Windfoil ear covers that do a pretty good job of protecting my ears. But over on Icebiker, I have seen quite a few opinions and options for covering the head, ears, face and neck.

    I am still trying to psych myself up for commuting to and from work. Working 12 hour shifts means leaving the house at 5:30 and not leaving work until 6:30 PM at the earliest. Some times we catch late flights and don’t get back to the base before 8:30. Besides having the drive to get up and do this, the logistics are a little shakey right now too. But it would be the only riding I get to do when flying on day shifts this fall and winter.

    I am thinking of trying silk liners under the full fingered gloves…But I will be watching this thread with great interest to see what the rest of you are doing.

    Also, what are you planning to do when the weather is beyond what you want to ride in? Trainers? Rollers? Other forms of exercise?

  3. I live in Indiana. Given the conditions you describe, I would have felt quite warm.

    Part of the equation is acclimating to the cooler temperatures. This simply takes time. In FL, you may never get enough cold weather to have a chance to get used to it.

    I do think a breathable, yet wind/water-resistant jacket is essential. Mine has ventilation in several areas. Combined with a sweater, I’m good down to about 10 degrees, but that’s for commuting. Road riding is more intense and at a higher speed so you might need some adjustments. Breathability is more important, as you’ll sweat more. Wind is more of a factor. And you’re likely to be out on the bike for longer periods of time. I use a Descente Element jacket that I got at a steep discount a few years ago. But, that jacket has since been redesigned, and I don’t know if the newer ones are as good. They appear to be a little warmer, which for me would be a downside, but I’m not sure.

    Also, make sure that whatever you get has a full zipper, and that you can push up your sleeves if you get warm. It’s surprising what a difference these minor changes can make for temperature regulation.

    Full-fingered gloves could help a lot. I like Specialized full-fingered gloves.

    If your feet are still cold in shoes and wool socks, consider some shoe covers.

    A wool baselayer or jersey can also be a really good way to go. I like a wool layer or two under my breathable shell. That’s a killer combination.

    If it gets really cold, make sure to cover your eyes. I’ve had my eyelashes freeze together at 0 degrees.

    I ride year-round, including in snow and ice. It can be done. Unfortunately, for me it’s been trial and error figuring out what works.

    Hope this helps!

  4. In these cold winter days I just purchased a new jacket from 2xu, it feels a bit like a wetsuit but thinner. Is completely waterproof and ‘fluffy’ on the inside. If just a base layer is worn underneath it’s toasty warm and vents well. If mega cold, an additional jersey does the trick. Is windproof too – a good buy (mid range price, about £100 uk). A ‘buff’ is always covering my ears. Legs don’t tend too suffer so just tights, and thick wooly socks a must.

  5. I’m still getting used to what to wear in cold weather (and how cold is too cold for me to ride outdoors). I’m not crazy about winter, so I don’t usually do much outdoor riding once winter sets in.
    Recently, I went out when it was in the low 40s. I tend to get cold easily, so if anything I probably overdress, but I was very comfortable for the entire ride. I wore a long sleeve base layer under my jersey, then a lightweight winter Cannondale Slice Plus II jacket, fingered gloves, a lightweight (but very warm) skullcap which covered my ears, shorts with tights over them and wool socks. The only thing that was cold were my feet. I have shoe covers, but didn’t wear them that day. Overall it was a very comfortable ride. Once it gets much colder though, I’ll probably train indoors on my rollers.
    In case you want more info, I recently talked about cold-weather cycling (http://cyclingproject365.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/day-306-cold-weather-cycling/) and also a What to Wear guide from Bicycling Magazine (http://cyclingproject365.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/day-162-bicycling-magazines-what-to-wear-guide/).
    Once snow comes though, I’m warm and toasty in the house!

  6. In my backpacking days, I had a lot of polypropilene liner garments — and still have some glove liners and sock liners. The thin glove liners are great under full-fingered biking gloves. They keep my hands warm and dry throughout the ride. I’ll wear the sock liners with wool socks over them, or sometimes just light summer weight socks with the wool socks over.

  7. In 40 to 50 degree temps, you have to be careful not to wear to much, especially the outer shell. The outer shell needs to breath very well or you will overheat and cause more moisture inside that chills your core. A good outer shell will be like a windbreaker in the front, and more vented in the back so the moisture escapes out the back keeping you dry. You really need cycling specific clothing as it is designed for conditions like this. Cycling specific clothing will keep you comfortable in almost any riding condition. Here is a good example of a vented jacket. http://www.bikepartsexpress.com/C233/CL5375.html

  8. I think I finally found the key to core warmth last year. I wear a breathable Nike armor-like shirt against my skin. Then, wear a long sleeve, full zipper fall/winter jersey on top. The jersey has a layer on the front to protect against the wind and is light weight on the back for breathability. The wind protection is key to avoid wind chill, but the full zip is also important in case you warm up. If it goes below 30 degrees, I add a wool sweater mid layer. Still working on the fingers and toes….they freeze for the first 20 minutes.

  9. Started out this morning with coolish temps and a nice fog layer. Decided to put on the arms warmers. Felt good until the sun finally burned through near the end of my ride.

    One of the challenges here in central Texas. Wide shifts of temperatures in what we laughingly call “winter.”

  10. I don’t do road rides in the winter. All of my riding is commuting, market runs and putzing around town.

    After so many years, dressing for riding becomes natural. Go online, check the weather, pick stuff out of the draws and closet, mount up and go.

    There have been times that I turned back for more clothing. Most often it was trading in a ball cap for a stocking cap.

  11. Was in the low 30s here in North Texas when I left out of the house Saturday AM. I was dressed warm enough for town but I rode north to get out on the country roads and the temps dipped as I headed out of town. But, I got 50+ in!
    I use the usual gear but also use glove/sock liners. Last year I bought a cheap pair of PI shoes on clearance($29) from Performance that are a size too big so I can ride with my Wigwam wool hiking socks…love them! I usually dress for what I think I need….then take a layer off so I won’t get overheated. NO cotton!

  12. Stopped in at my LBS this afternoon, and they emphasized the importance of a base layer, jersey, arm warmers, and most important, a lighter jacket or vest that has good ventilation, as opposed to something even warmer. My current jacket is kind of like one of those old yellow rain coats – it doesn’t breathe, and once you get wet you get cold. Fast!

  13. I second the purchase of a cycling specific jacket. I just picked one up that is windproof and water resistant, but also breathable. It was not cheap, but I am extremely pleased as it seems the manufacturers have thought of everything. Cuffs that you slide your thumb through to eliminate drafts up the sleeve, microfleece collar and large rear pocket with huge zipper pulls making it easy to get into without taking off your gloves. I used it last weekend for the first time. Temps were in the high 40′s, but the wind was strong. I had no drafts and was nice and warm. I also use merino wool socks, toe covers and microfleece, windproof tights. I am in the Mid Atlantic region.

  14. I was surprised to learn just how cold your feet can get. Wool socks or shoe warmers are essential, in my view. I’ve also experienced the “sweat lodge effect” of a windbreaker that doesn’t breath!

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