Warm Winters

Way back in my first winter in Massachusetts I commuted by car. It sorta went like this:

Warm Winters

It was easy to never be dressed for weather. And easy to misplace things like gloves.

Once I moved into the city that changed. Even before I started biking I found myself walking an average of 4 miles a day to get to public transit and everywhere in in between. It was horribly cold. Then I realized the weather wasn’t bad. My clothing was. All my disposable fashion was just that, disposable.

However, it’s not always easy to find good winter wear these days:

Warm Winters

I suspect many fashion designers are drivers. And live in Los Angeles. They’re not designing for my lifestyle.

I need functional fashion. And it doesn’t have to look like this:

Warm Winters

There are some warmer winter options out there if you really look. I still make sure to pay attention to the details:

Warm Winters

Because there is a difference between looking warm and being warm.

So after several winters in the city I have finally built up a quality winter wardrobe of quality winter items and approach that works for me:

Warm Winters

Winter is much warmer now. And I no longer lose my gloves.

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45 Responses to “Warm Winters”

  • Tim

    You’re missing something from your otherwise really cool list of women’s cold weather cycling fashion. Maybe you could have included a wool skirt or shorts?

  • Steve

    Thank you for winter wear tips… You awesomeness just gets better…

    Men want you… Women want to be you. :-)

  • Josh

    You like wool better than synthetics. I get it. There are a lot of benefits to wool. There are also a lot of benefits to synthetics. Some of which wool doesn’t have. I also get that the cartoon about the base layer tags is a joke, but I think it is also a disservice. My synthetic polypro has held up for years and years and years. It is easier to wash than wool. It doesn’t have special washing instructions, and it certainly doesn’t come with any of those warnings. And when you move past base layers, synthetics will provide more warmth ounce for ounce than wool. And finally, synthetics will dry much faster than wool.

    Wool’s cool too, but you seem to be implying that there are heath hazards and fussy washing instructions for synthetics, and I just don’t think that is true. If anything, it is wool that has the fussy washing instructions. If you look at it wrong, it will shrink to an unusable size.

    • Marianna

      I took the part about synthetics to be in reference to women’s “winter” fashion, not performance synthetics (like underarmor, capilene, etc.). Because when you go to a women’s clothing store, and you go to the “sweater” rack, all the sweaters are acrylic with maybe some cotton. NOT good warmstuffs

    • todd

      Josh, what you say about wool is historically true, but does not apply to modern superwash-process wool, such as is sold by the likes of Smartwool, Ibex, and Icebreaker among others. I confess to being a hardened lanophile, with more than 90% of my wardrobe being 100% wool, all layers, and most of the remainder being mostly wool with a bit of strategic elastic or nylon here or there. I bike every day year round, summer too in sheer wools.

      I machine wash and dry all of it. It dries very fast indeed, especially after a high-speed spin cycle. Right now I am wearing one of 4 pair of merino long underwear bottoms I have owned since 2004, that I wear every day from October to May. 2 of them have small holes, otherwise like new. Most of the rest of my clothes are newer, but I have similar longevity expectations.

      My experience of synthetics is that body odors build up very rapidly in them, and can be very tenacious even with aggressive detergents. I have itchy rash reactions to many sorts of it (as I know some people do even with the softest wool), which made me chuckle in response to BF’s panel about labels. Meanwhile wool is famously resistant (though not immune) to body odor. This means that I can wear it a few times before washing is necessary. This means I spend less time and energy (my own and the power company’s) caring for it than other fabrics.

      Synthetics are warmer ounce for ounce? I didn’t know that, but one of the things I like about wool is its heft: its own weight gives it a nice drape so wrinkles hang out with a body’s subtle perspiration. That extra weight means thermal inertia too; it holds warmth well in and out of heated spaces, in drafts etc, feeling cozier. Depends on the structure of the fabric I suppose, but I suspect strongly that wool is a lot warmer than most synthetics by volume/bulk, if not by weight. Who wants bulk?

      Finally one of the things I disliked about synthetics is their amazing static electricity generative powers. Had me all jumpy waiting for the CRACK around metal objects.

      What good superwash merino and similar wool garments have are high price tags. I admit that. But given their performance, longevity, colorfastness, versatility, and low-resource care, I consider them a bargain in the end.

  • I nearly expected her to be chic….on the bike. :) After several days of spring-like cycling, about 6 cm of snow dumped on us.

    We get winters plunging down to -25 degrees to -30 degrees C. or colder here in southern Alberta. I’ve given up buying fashionable clothing from regular women’s stores. Sporting goods or quality fitness wear for me ..to get to work.

  • It’s a nice post, Bikey (I hope you don’t mind my using your first name). I moved in August from London to New York City and have been bracing myself (as I related here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/11/whatever-weather-cyclings-proved-post.html) for a tough winter’s cycling. After three successive harsh winters in London in recent years, I have a pretty comprehensive kit of light waterproof jacket, full-finger gloves, waterproof trousers and so on for when the weather’s really harsh. They all go in my right-hand pannier bag (the left-hand one is for my jacket, a jumper, work notebooks, lights and so on).

    The problem at the moment is I actually don’t need any of it. This morning, I’ve just done my nine miles from Brooklyn to mid-town Manhattan wearing my work shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a high-visibility vest and half-finger gloves. I’m more worried about arriving sweaty than getting cold. I’m almost disappointed.

    All the best,


  • Gary

    I agree with Steve.

  • Marge Evans

    you labels had my laughing my head off! so true! I remember years ago looking at swimsuits in Nordstrom’s and there was one, with a label that said “dry clean only” wth! keep up the good work!

  • Love the post! You know what’s crazy? I sweat more during extreme cold weather commutes (like last week) than moderate (this week). People are always surprised by when I arrive sweat-free, but last week with the down coat and layers, I had major pit action going on. Ironic.

  • Justin Winokur

    Whatever you do in the winter (or summer for that matter), stay away from cotton. Cotton is nice if you never get it wet (sweat) and is fine for a sweatshirt INDOORS. But once there is a chance that the fabric can get wet, all bets are off. You will freeze! Wool is really great but expensive. Otherwise, you are stuck with man-made fibers

    • Josef Taylor

      Cotton is awesome in summer! I ride year round in LA (OK, that’s not very impressive), and cotton keeps me cool and non-sweaty in the summer fantastically, and even works great under my wool in the non-heinous winters.

  • Ray

    Great Info!

    While our winters here in the eastern part of North Cackolackie aren’t anything like yours, we still can get “cold”. Okay, don’t laugh, but when the thermometer drops below about 20F, that’s getting chilly. I love the way you dress, but I look more like the stick-up thug. Yea, I’ve got “street clothes” for winter, including a nice wool coat, but I’m not going to wear that stuff on the bike for my commute. Since I’m gonna sweat, I would rather do it in clothes that are easy to wash. So I end up with a bunch of thin layers, topped by a windbreaker. Legs are taken care of by REI’s “Mistral” pants (these are not “bike clothes”) from 55F down to about 30F. Any colder and I’ll wear thermal underwear under the Mistral’s. It doesn’t get too cold in my part of the world to stop the bike commute.

  • First off, Orange county is *not* Los Angeles. Two different counties, bikeyface. Secondly, I happen to commute in Orange county via public transport and bicycle and I can tell you that while it does not snow here, the temperature in January fluctuates between 35 – 60 degrees depending on what time of day and whether the sun is shining or not. 35 is cold regardless of whether you’re in Minnesota or Orange county, CA so be very careful about your misperceptions of weather elsewhere. Unless you have personally been there to experience it on a bike/bus, you really shouldn’t be making smarmy comments.

    • Nathan

      35 is not cold (just kidding)

      ….except when humidity gets involved. What has caught me the most off guard biking in the winter is adjusting for the days with high humidity mixed with low temps. I’d rather have temps in the teens with dry air than temps in the 30’s and high humidity.

      By the way, if you can catch them on the cheap, get some merino lined leather gloves. They’re bulletproof.

    • Jennyg

      Nope. 35 is actually shorts weather in Minnesota.

    • Except that Bikeyface didn’t equate Orange County with Los Angeles. We have a picture of a model who is saying “it’s cold here in Orange County”, and a text speculation below it that most fashion designers live in LA. That’s actually completely plausible.

    • Tim

      Actually, OC and LA are the same. Invisible county borders don’t mean anything in a mess like that.

  • Sam

    Bamboo / merino leggings.
    I wear them over tights (under dresses / skirts) or under jeans to keep my knees and thighs warm. It’s the only time I ever wear leggings, and it makes the world of difference when the wind kicks up.
    Earmuffs too – for when it’s cold / breezy enough to get earache, but too mild for full snuggly-headedness – and they keep my hair out of my face. *bonus*

  • First of all YEAH! a new post. Awesome and funny as always. Second when it comes to staying warm it comes down to two words for me -Merino Wool.

  • Hooray! My first Bikeyface fix for the year!

    I have one potentially useful and gender-neutral comment. However you feel about synthetics, the thin synthetic caps which look like one is wearing half of a popped balloon are nonetheless at least somewhat warm and compatible with a helmet.

    Now, gender biased as it is, I must still comment that most of your items won’t work for me! Same concept though – layers: t shirt, turtleneck, baggy, ugly, but still warm fleece or sweatshirt appropriate for a stodgy balding middle-aged heterosexual caucasian male engineer, my beloved bright yellow Endura jacket decorated with sufficient bicycle grease to be appropriate for same. Underarmor if cold, heavy khakis, and bright yellow baggy Tyvek overpants with sufficient bicycle grease to match the Endura if rain, snow, or salt slush so dictates. And, critically, breathable waterproof lightweight hiking boots and smart wool socks to keep my feet dry through all of that miserable salt slush.

    Thanks, as always, for your blog! Happy New Bicycling Year!

  • Sam

    I went to Orange Country and LA last year and it seemed to be one giant integrated city.

    I just got some of these pants in October for my birthday for biking in cold weather: http://www.groundeffect.co.nz/product-detail-RAN-LON.htm they are excellent as they just look like normal pants.

    I always wear merino thermals, and they just go in the normal wash no problems. I like them as they don’t get smelly and don’t go all pilly like synthetic thermals. Wool is more natural and better for environment too. Plus it is fire retardant as well for additional safety if you are doing welding or something.

  • Christy

    Love your post!! I see a lot of people commenting on what they think is perfect winter cycling clothing, but each person to his/her own. I wear whatever I think will be appropriate for my riding style, distance, work agenda, and personal lack of or production of sweat. If my clothing is not exactly right for the particular ride, then I get a little cold or sweaty; doesn’t kill me. What you described in your post was a good place for anyone to start.

  • I know that wool is supposed to be the best fiber to wear but I can’t wear it! It drives me nuts, even cashmere and all that supposedly non-itchy SmartWool. Any ideas what a good alternative might be? (if any…)

    • dr2chase

      Stretch polarfleece (foxwear.net, makes tights, socks, hats, balaclavas). Silk undershirt.

      Also, there’s some really nice high-end merino floating around; I bought a mixed merino/synthetic T-shirt at the Patagonia outlet in Freeport a few months ago, and it’s been very nice.

    • Alison

      Try silk!

    • Alpaca is warmer than wool, and does not contain the lanolin present in wool which irritates some people. Pricey, though. Compensation: it feels great.

  • Louie

    I agree with Gary and Steve.

  • Granted, Portland winters are often more rainy and cool than cold and snowy, but this is what I generally do for the few days of really cold weather (in the 20’s F) we get: http://portlandize.com/2010/11/anatomy-of-cold-weather-clothing/

  • Kat

    How does your face not FREEZE OFF? I am a Floridian and have no idea what real cold is, but when it gets “cold” here, my ears and nose get so frigid that a balaclava seems appealing. I can’t imagine riding without one in real cold.

    • dr2chase

      I started biking in Florida about 45 years ago, I have distinct memories of riding a 10-mile time trial in just-freezing weather and thinking it was incredibly cold. Now I live near Boston, same neck of the woods as BikeyFace.

      After a few weeks of cold, especially if you stay out in it instead of dashing from warm to warm, you adapt somewhat. So, I eventually get to the point where I’m too lazy to put on shoes before going outside for a quick errand, and just slip on some clogs, and try to avoid stepping in deep snow. But if it’s below 20F and I’m riding a bike, and I’m otherwise barefaced, I find I need a balaclava. The last few years I’ve grown a beard in the winter instead and it’s a huge help.

      And you may not believe it, but for any ride that’s long enough to care about the cold, I generate enough heat that I have to worry about the sweat instead. For a long ride, down to about 20F, if I wear base+middle+outer layers, I get very sweaty.

      On the other hand, people up here, they think it gets “hot” and “humid” in the summer. They have no idea.

    • Kat

      Chase, that’s a good point about adapting. Since it never gets cold and stays that way here, there’s no real getting used to it.

      We’ve had highs in the mid- to upper 80s here the past few days, and it’s been humid as all get out. This is normally the time of year when it’s *nice* out! I really hope this doesn’t portend an unusually warm summer.

      And no, I totally believe you about the sweat thing. Core warmth and extremity warmth are two very different things.

    • I’m with Dr2Chase, you somewhat get acclimated. For those who aren’t blessed with the ability to grow beards, I find that a good layer of face cream helps, and then a scarf that is big enough to wrap around your face if needed. When I ski, I often use a neck gaiter that can be pulled up over your nose when you’re cold and still, but pushed back down when you’re moving and breathing harder.

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