How to Dress for Winter Cycling
Stay warm, ride happy. Part III.
In Wyoming we are lucky that we don’t have much humidity. The main enemy on my winter rides is sweat. My go-to ride starts with a steep climb of 2,000 feet, which makes for a bone-chilling descent back to the trailhead.
With that in mind, here is how I dress for winter cycling/fat biking:
1. Boobs. I have a merino wool Icebreaker bra. I’ve tried a few different brands of wool undergarments but Icebreaker is the only one that doesn’t give me the heebie jeebies on my sensitive skin.
To avoid getting chilled on the downhill back to the trailhead, I very quickly take off my bra and stow it in my frame bag. With so many layers – who needs a bra? There’s days I don’t even bother.
Really I should dial back my exertion before the top of my ride to avoid being damp but that’s not always possible. Sometimes I use the ever-present Wyoming ‘breeze’ to my advantage to dry out before I get chilled, which is an art not a science.
2. Wool base layer top. Wool is your BFF because even when it’s damp it insulates – unlike polypro. Make sure whatever base layer you have is long enough in the back so that it doesn’t ride up.
I really like the Women’s Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer 1/2 Zip Hoodie because it is a good weight for most conditions.
The reason I have a hoodie base layer is because at the top of my ride I take off my damp wool beanie and replace it with the attached hood. This helps for several reasons: 1) it provides a dry layer for the downhill; 2) the back of the hood keeps my neck warmer than a buff, especially with damp hair; and 3) I don’t have to dig in my bag for my extra cap.
In the shoulder season I wear short-sleeved merino wool jersey and wool arm warmers that I scrunch down when I get too toasty.
3. Windbreaker. On top of my wool base layer, I wear either my lightweight (Patagonia) windbreaker or my cycling windbreaker that converts to a vest.
4. Wool cycling jersey. My standard instant-warm layer is my wool cycling jersey. I put this on over my wool base layer and in a pinch I’ll put it right over both my base layer and my windbreaker (not troubling to put in under my windbreaker.)
My partner bought it for me on eBay.
5. Thermal cycling bibs. I wear thermal 3/4 length bibs under wind-front pants. Wearing bibs keeps cold drafts from creeping up your backside. I like the Giro Chrono Thermal Halter Bib Knicker for pit stops. You just pull the halter portion over your head and don’t have to take any of your top layers off to do your bizness.
They don’t have an excessive amount of padding in the chamois, which works for me because too much padding makes the downtown area uncomfortable. They are so comfy that I bought the summer short version.
At the top of my ride when I take off my bra I also drop the halter part of the bibs and leave it down (if it’s damp) to cut down on the chill factor.
I prefer 3/4 length bibs instead of full-length bibs because I wear tall wool socks and don’t like a bunch of extra material on my shin/calf area.
6. Wind-front pants. These can be anything that you use for winter sports – I wore my Swix cross-country ski pants for many years.
This year I upgraded to the Bontrager Old Man Winter (OMW) Soft Shell Fat Bike Pants and although they were a little pricey, they have been worth every penny. I’ve tried a few other brands of fat bike pants but the OMW pants have the following advantages: 1) they come in women’s sizes; 2) have higher coverage in the back; 2) built-in belt; 3) zippered cuff at ankles to fit over winter boots; 4) removable internal gaiter; and 5) zippered front-thigh pockets where I put chemical hand warmers when my thighs get cold. I always have a problem of cold thighs so I really like this feature!
Check out my complete list of Winter Cycling Pants.
7. Wool beanie. There’s tons of wool beanies out there but my favorite is 45NRTH’s Winter Wool Cycling Cap with Bill. It’s lightweight and provides full ear coverage. Because it’s wool it will keep you warm even when damp with sweat. It fits well under my helmet and it’s easy to care for – I throw it in the washer and dryer.
7. Wool socks and oversized boots. I wear men’s Keen winter boots (400g thinsulate) that are a size too big. I wear medium-weight wool socks and duct-tape chemical hand warmers to the toes. You need to have plenty of air flow around your toes in order to preserve circulation and heat (Keens have a wide toe box). I ride with flat pedals and found that these boots have the perfect stiffness.
Note that I have the men’s not the women’s version because the women’s didn’t come in 400g insulation.
Also see Winter Cycling Boots for Fat Biking and Tips for Keeping Your Feet Warm. This is a great guide for everything from cycling boot reviews to moisture management – written by women ultra-endurance athletes.
8. Bar mitts. In addition to regular cycling gloves and Gerbing Heated Gloves I have several pairs of bar mitts. Bar mitts/pogies are oversized mittens that slide over your handlebars and velcro in place.
I have the 45NRTH Cobra Fist Pogies for severe cold (20’s and below) and a pair from Atmosphere Mountainworks for ‘regular’ cold. I really like the Atmosphere Mountainworks pogies because of their reasonable cost ($32- $37) and their simple design. When you get too hot you can simply push them out of the way.
Other items I typically carry on a winter ride: down winter puffy (800g) with helmet compatible hood (Patagonia Fitz Roy), hot tea, extra wool base layer in case the other gets damp, wool balaclava, extra wool beanie, extra chemical hand warmers, goggles (if there’s wind and stinging snow pellets), handkerchief stashed in my pogies, lighter for fires, snickers bars, flask of whisky, a wool buff, lobster claw gloves, Gortex pants and jacket on wet days or if I’m going overnight (although I rarely ride in a snowstorm) and peanut M & M’s.
Out of everything on this list the thing that warms me the most is my down puffy with the hood pulled over my bike helmet.
All of these items get stashed in my bike bags, not in a backpack. It’s too hard to take layers on and off quickly with a backpack on. Also, a backpack contributes to sweat. I carry my hot tea and/or water in my Revelate Mountain Feed Bags in thermoses and sometimes on my fork.
I’ve been riding fat bikes since 2012 and it took me awhile but I feel like I have my winter cycling kit dialed in.
I wear the same kit on every ride and keep it in the same place (a laundry basket dedicated to bike clothes). This makes it easy to gear up, which is especially helpful when I’m not super motivated! I also carry the same items on every ride. Staying consistent ensures that you won’t forget the essentials.
I’d also like to hear your tips so please comment below! Happy Trails!