Year-Round Biking: The Cold

Biking in the cold is all about having just the right layers on—too few and
you’ll be hating life for the entire ride, too many and you’ll be a sweaty
mess by the time you get to whereever you’re going.

My basic apparel on the coldest days:

  • A Turtle Fur Fleece balaclava that pulls up over my face and fits under
    my helmet.
  • Patagonia pullover fleece
  • Columbia shell (with zippers under the arm for ventilation)
  • Gloves
  • Nylon warm-up pants to break the wind

I vowed at one point that I would never resort to ski goggles on the coldest
days (even bike geeks need to have some limits). However, if the rest of my
body is covered, I’ve found that the balaclava creates a narrow slit for heat
to escape, and this is enough to keep my eyes warm—once I get warmed up. Usually
by the time I’ve biked for three or four minutes, I uncover my face to keep
from getting too warm.

On the coldest day I bike this year—5 degrees with a stiff headwind—I made
the mistake of wearing a wool sweater in addition to the fleece. By the time
I got to BC a pool of sweat had gather just above my belt, creating a dark
spot on my shirt—not very professional-looking, even for a grad student. The
next time I biked in 4-degree weather I ditched the wool and my core stayed
plenty warm.

My feet, however, were a different story. By the time I reached the Boston
College T stop on the back-side of Heartbreak H ill, they were beginning to
lose feeling. Or more precisely, I was feeling the pain just before they began
to lose feeling. Since my shoes aren’t insulated, they’ve been my weak spots
all winter, so even when my core is toasty warm my feet are left out to fend
for themselves. Yesterday I finally found some affordable booties to go over
my shoes for cold and rainy days when my feet are first cause of misery.

The last few days have been in the 40s for the first time in a while, and
I’m beginning to remember the pleasure of biking a sunny morning while wearing
just one layer. However, the cold hasn’t diminished my joy in biking, probably
because it’s my one chance to be outdoors during the day and to experience
places beyond the vicinity of my computer screen.