Your Extremities

After Saturday’s ride, I tweeted that just the addition of toe warmers really made a difference in on-bike comfort.  But there may have been more to it than that.

Our ride started at a temperature of about  40ºF (4ºC), which in the past has been the coldest temperature I will ride in.  I made sure to bring all the usual items you’d expect to bring for a chilly day: full-length leg warmers, a long-sleeved, brushed jersey, etc., but in addition to the toe covers, I also brought my full-fingered cycling gloves and liners.

Way back when I used to backpack, I used polypropylene glove liners under ragg wool gloves.  The combination kept my hands toasty warm.  I’ve discovered that the liners work just as well under my full-fingered gloves, which aren’t cycling gloves at all — they’re a pair of winter golf gloves.  And they’re not all that different from the cool weather cycling gloves you’ll find on the rack at a place like Performance.  I never worry about cold hands anymore.

I had more than just toe warmers on my feet — I used the polypro socks beneath my wool cycling socks.  It’s another great combination, until the temperature gets below about 45 — then I need something more.  That’s where the toe warmers come in.

I also took along a cool weather headband.  This one is also slightly brushed on the inside, and is shaped to completely cover the ears.  One thing about my ears — they’re hard to miss.  I do have to make sure they’re covered, or they’ll get cold quickly.

The headband doesn’t solve the entire problem though.  Forty percent of your body’s heat loss is through the head, so it’s important to keep your head covered.  A helmet doesn’t count.  My helmet has huge vents, and the head can get chilly if I don’t take measures.  I forgot on this ride, and could really feel the cool breeze across my noggin once we headed out.  Luckily, on this day the temperature rose quickly, so it wasn’t an issue.  Normally, I would wear a polyester doo-rag under the helmet.  Another item that works is a lightweight cycling cap.  Or, one could just tape over the vents on the helmet, like the late Sheldon Brown used to do.  One thing I’ve found is that if I keep my ears warm, a head covering isn’t that important, or if I keep my head covered, I can get by without anything on my ears.

Although the ride started in much cooler temperatures than I prefer to ride in, I was comfortable throughout.  The next day, under much the same conditions, I was cozy all over again.  Do yourself a favor when riding in the cold winter temps this year. Take care of your extremities, and the rest of you will be happy for it.



  1. Mel Hughes says

    OK, I have questions. When you wear the wool cycling socks with polypro liners, do you have to loosen up your cycling shoes. I might have to go to a thinner insole in the shoe to wear thicker socks. Not sure yet…

    I have a pair of Windfoil ear covers that snap onto my helmet harness that both keep my ears warm as well as muffle wind noise. I have a good deal of hearing loss after flying turbine engined airplanes and helicopters for 40 years. Blocking the normal wind noise that interferes with the hearing I still have gives pretty amazing results. I can hold conversations while riding and actually hear what my companions are saying. The down side is that these things come in a bright blue or purple, leaving the wear looking a little like a cartoon character, especially if wearing wrap around sunglasses! But they work very well. Have you ever tried something like the The Endura Thermolite Skullcap or a polypro balaclava? Any decent results?

    I am still trying to balance clothing in colder temps. I found out that 50 degree F weather requires a lighter summer jersey and a warmer, long sleeved jersey for me to not feel chilled. Knee warmers would have helped too!

  2. says

    Mel, my wool cycling socks are quite thin — just a tiny bit heftier than my summer socks. The liner socks are thin, too. So in my case, no, I don’t loosen up my cycling shoes. However, my cycling shoes are two metric sizes larger than my street shoes. I bought them large to accommodate the swelling that comes with exercise, especially in warm weather.
    Because Central Texas is usually pretty mild — or downright hot — I haven’t had to experiment with things like balaclavas, although I have seen people around here wear them.

  3. Jeff says

    I’m still struggling with my winter gear. For my Sunday group ride it was about 55 and windy, so I tried a sleeveless base layer shirt, regular jersey, and arm warmers, topping it off with a wind vest that I thought would make everything just right. Instead, the wind vest flapped and caught wind like a parachute. I ditched it halfway through, then just rode a little on the cool side. I’m thinking a thermal jersey might be the best idea for me, and skip the vest or jacket all together unless temps really drop.

    I did have fingerless gloves and light socks on, though. Think I need to pay attention to the extremities a little bit more…

    • Don says

      Jeff, You may want to look into a base layer shirt with windstopper front such as a Pearl Izumi Barrier or a Craft Windstopper. That will serve the same purpose as a wind vest without the flapping and parachute effect.

      • says

        The guy who leads our Sunday group rides swears by a thin layer of bubble wrap between his base layer and his jersey. He says a plastic bag will work well, too. Also cheaper than the PI or Craft stuff.

  4. Chris says

    As a year round commuter from Madison Wisconsin I find these post hilarious. 40 cold? 40 means long paints and a long sleeve shirt. I don’t break out winter gear till it drops well below freezing.

      • Chris says

        I grew up in the south (Baton Rouge LA) so on the rare occasion that it does get hot up here I am still on the road. But I must admit, I can’t take the heat as well as I use too. Love you blog BTW!

  5. says

    Chris is braver than me 😉 I am currently a little fearful of the ice out on the roads round lancashire. We have had a really early in the year freeze which is probably nothing compared to what you all experience, but in the UK a couple of inches seems to make everything grind to a halt. that said, this year my friends just a few miles away are experiencing 5 foot snow drifts! that doesn’t usually happen until february, a white Christmas could be on the way. I wonder, does anyone struggle with feeling cold, wrapping up warm, then getting sweaty and therefore freezing again in the windchill? I am planning on buying a core layer, which I will then review, but I am not sure it will solve the problem.

    • Chris says

      I just put on my studded winter tires. That helps with the ice.

      It’s hard to balance between staying warm and not sweating. If you are warm at the beginning of the ride you will sweat like a pig and are wearing too much. IMHO wind proofing is the key. I wear a lite wind proof jacket, wind proof paints, and a balaclava. The colder it gets the more layer I wear.

      Stay warm.

  6. says

    I have 2 pairs of cycling shoes, one for summer and one slightly larger pair for winter

    When I wear wool cycling socks or liners I slip on the larger pair and its a nice comfortable and crucially a very warm / snug fit.

    Ive never cycled in less than 3 degree temp though – the eyes and nose cant take it!

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