The first hint of green is spreading over the landscape, signaling that spring has finally arrived and summer is soon to follow. The hills are draped in a patchwork quilt of rusts, golds, reds and browns, shouting loudly that autumn will soon be ushering in winter. Either situation tempts us to pull out our bicycles and enjoy the delights nature has to offer. Both situations can also stretch our ability to dress for the weather.
Weather, especially in the spring and fall, can be very changeable. You might start out in the morning with brisk, cold air and have it warm up significantly by mid-afternoon. The morning might dawn clear blue and turn to a windy rain storm later in the day. If youíre going to be out on your bike on these kinds of days, you need to be prepared for anything.
The key to dressing for any activity in cool or cold weather is layering. The second key is ensuring you stay dry. Managing the first correctly can be critical to the second.
The most obvious source of moisture is rain or snow, conditions which necessitate good rain gear. Even if thereís not a cloud in the sky when you leave the house, itís always wise to take rain gear with you.
Once you have your rain gear ready to go, you need to know what to wear under it. Before we start dressing you (Iím going to start at your toes and work my way up), letís talk for a minute about fabrics. Itís always more comfortable to wear clothes that can wick moisture (sweat) away from your body, but when the weather turns cold it becomes critically important. If youíre active enough to start sweating, your clothes will get wet. If you canít get rid of that moisture, you run the risk of becoming very, very cold once you stop moving and the moisture starts to evaporate and carry away your body heat. This may not be a problem if youíre at home and ready to take a warm shower, but if youíre out on the road fixing a flat tire you could be in real trouble. The last thing you need is to end a pleasant dayís riding with hypothermia.
Cotton fabrics are the worst for getting wet, staying wet, and losing their insulating capabilities. Wools will stay wet, but they still are able to insulate well. Your best bet is usually synthetic fabrics. Most cycling clothes are made of polyester or Lycra, both fabrics which help wick moisture away from your body and dry quickly.
Of course, in cold weather youíre better off not getting wet in the first place. By dressing in layers, you can start out nice and warm, but are able to take off clothing as you warm up. Doing so will help keep you from becoming overheated and sweating through your clothes. You may be smarter to ride slightly cool than to become too hot and sweaty.
Now, letís start by keeping your toes warm. Layers work here, too. Start with thin cycling socks and top them with a heavier pair. I personally like ďwoolies,Ē nice warm socks made of a wool blend that donít make my feet sweat. If itís really cold or wet, choose more weatherproof shoes and/or shoe covers to keep the wind from chilling your feet and to keep them dry. There are many brands of shoe covers made with openings to accommodate clip-in pedals.
Moving up, your legs are next. You have several options depending on how cold it is. You may need to forgo your shorts, but just need to cover your knees with below-the-knee tights. Full length tights would be the next level of coverage. Another option would be shorts or short tights with leg warmers that can be easily removed if the temperature starts to rise. As it gets colder, pulling a pair of windproof pants over your shorts or tights might be necessary. These choices all come with the option of padding to protect your private parts.
For your torso and arms, you have several choices. Jerseys come in sleeveless, short-sleeved and long-sleeved versions, and are often available in different weights of fabric to suit different temperature ranges. For changeable weather, you might opt for a short-sleeved jersey with arm warmers. As it cools off more, consider a jacket, especially a windproof one. Just remember, itís better to layer a couple of shirts and a lightweight jacket than to wear a light shirt and a heavy coat. You want to have layers you can remove as you warm up. Remember ladies, even your bra should be something other than cotton. You need to keep this layer closest to your skin as dry as possible.
Consider layering to keep your fingers warm, too. A lightweight liner glove under regular riding gloves might be appropriate for cool weather. Colder weather may call for even heavier gloves. If it looks like the temperature could vary drastically during the day, consider carrying a couple of pair in different weights.
Did your mom ever tell you to put on a hat when your toes were cold? If so, there was a good reason. We have so much blood pumping to our heads to keep our brains functioning that we end up losing most of our body heat through our heads. Our helmets tend to be well ventilated for keeping us cool in the summer, but this is the opposite of what we need as it turns cold outside. A beanie hat or helmet cover can help insulate your head. If appropriate, wear ear muffs or a headband to protect your ears. Whatever you choose to wear on your head, make sure it includes your helmet. A hat wonít protect you in a fall!
Exactly what you choose to wear for riding in cool or cold weather is very dependent on you. How fast you ride, how much you sweat and how your body regulates its temperature all affect the layers you need to wear. Remember, though, wear layers, protect yourself from the wind (even the wind you generate), and be prepared for rain. Dress well and enjoy riding until the snow flies, or even longer!