Monday, January 14, 2013

Weather Schmeather!

So, it’s January, and you really want to ride your bike! But it’s JANUARY and it’s 26 degrees outside. Surely that’s too cold to venture out, right? Well, no. 

You’ve probably heard the one about how “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad apparel choices”, right? While we might not agree entirely (after all, who wants to ride a bike during a hurricane, for example ), we do generally agree that if the roads are not icy there really isn’t any temperature at which it’s too cold to ride a bike.

So, how DOES one keep warm when the temperatures plummet? The keys to success are proper layering, minimal breaks, and hot beverages (we’re fans of thermoses that fit in our bottles cages).

Proper layering. We've all heard this term, but what does it really mean? There are 3 parts to effective layering:
  1. A moisture management inner or base layer – having wet or sweat-damp clothing against the skin is the surest way to feel chilly in cold weather. The ideal base layer is one that grabs the moisture and transfers it AWAY from your skin and TO the outer face of the base layer, where it can move into the mid (insulating) layer of your apparel. While the base layer may not be dry on the outer face, the inner face of the fabric should feel dry to the touch, thus keeping you warmer. It is important that you pick a base layer size that provides you with a FORM FIT. The fabric must touch your body to work properly.
  2. An insulating mid layer – This is the layer that retains the heat being generated by your body. Synthetic insulating layers generally do this by trapping heat between the fibers of the peached/brushed/lofted materials they are constructed from. Wool insulating layers do this as a natural function of the wool fiber itself, trapping the heat inside the fibers.
  3. A wind/water outer layer, also known as a shell – This is the layer that protects you from what Mother Nature throws AT you.

    Chose a thermal wind blocking soft shell for cold but dry conditions. 
    Garments of this type generally have a windproof outer face, often covering the entire garment, but sometimes with strategically placed panels of thermal material only to aid in venting excess heat. The outer face will also typically have a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment that will help mist or light rain bead up and roll off the jacket rather than being absorbed. This feature will generally be overwhelmed with moisture if the wet weather is persistent, so do not rely on soft shell to stay dry if the weather is expected to be persistently rainy.  The inner face will generally be an insulating layer. Choose a weight depending upon your personal “thermometer”.

    For wet weather, choose a waterproof hard shell
    Waterproof shells use a waterproof membrane (such as GoreTex or eVent) which is generally laminated between a face fabric and an inner material for durability. The face fabrics are also typically treated with a DWR application to aid in moisture beading off the garment. While waterproof shells are also great wind layers, they do not move moisture vapor as fast as a typical wind shell, so some people are prone to overheating in waterproof shells. Waterproof shells are best reserved for wet conditions, when possible.
This general layering system can be applied to the bottom half of your body as well. When it’s very cold, choose a cycling knicker or tight, add some wool socks, and cover it all with a pair of wind-blocking, non-chamois tights such as the Pearl Izumi Amfib Tight.

Face, fingers and toes all need to be protected as well. Choose a cycling cap like the Hincapie Arenberg which covers the ears, or a thermal balaclava when temps fall below freezing. Choose windproof and/or waterproof insulated gloves to keep fingers warm. 

Remember that after taking a break, the first thing to feel chilled when you start riding again will be the extremities like your fingers and toes! Ride a little harder after a break and those digits should warm back up again in 10-20 minutes. Don’t hesitate to get some help from modern science. Chemical toe and hand warmers can be a digit-saver in really cold conditions. They don’t work when wet, however, so try to keep your hands and feet dry in the rain, by using waterproof accessories.

One final note about layering on your legs and feet – when overlapping layers, think like a roofer putting shingles on a roof and don't give the water a path in towards your skin. Tights or rain pants should go outside and on top of your booties.   If you tuck your pants in, you'll end up channeling runoff directly into your shoes!

Want some suggestions? Here are some of Susan’s personal favorites:
  1. Moisture management base layer: “I’m a huge fan of having a synthetic moisture transfer baselayer against my skin. My personal favorites are Pearl Izumi’s base layers made with Minerale as well as Craft’s Active Extreme base layers, particularly the configuration with the Moving Wing feature. Both of them move moisture like a champ.”
  2. Insulating mid layer: “The ability to retain warmth when wet gives wool the upper hand as an insulating layer. Modern wool is super soft, never scratchy, retains its shape, is machine washable, and is warm even when wet. I love the cycle-specific jerseys from Ibex, such as the Giro Jersey and from Icebreaker, such as the Viva Jersey.
  3. Wind/water outer shell layer: “Here in the rainy Pacific NorthWet, most of my winter rides find me in a GoreTex Ultralight Oxygen Jacket. On the rare occasions when it’s dry enough (which generally means it’s very cold!) to go without a fully waterproof layer, I am partial to a windproof soft shell, like the GORE Windstopper Jackets that we carry.

This past Sunday (January 13th), Susan rode 71 miles during which the temperature averaged 28 degrees. How did she stay warm? Here’s what she wore, head to toe.