Friday Group Ride #145

With full apologies to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, winter has begun to arrive in my New England home. Like the first guests showing up to a party, winter is milling about in the living room, eating chips and making small talk. We’re not in full force yet. The cops haven’t knocked on the door to tell us to quiet down, but the music is playing and it’s on.
This morning, with the temp at 29F (-2C) and a fair wind blowing, I opted for a sleeveless, synthetic base layer, a long-sleeve wool base over that, a wool jersey and then a super-thin wind breaker. Wind front tights. A pair of RKP wool socks, with a thicker wool sock over top, and then toe warmers, in lieu of booties.

If the wind weren’t blowing, I’d have foregone the windbreaker and maybe chosen a vest. The beauty of multiple wool layers is that they create layers of warmth, but still breathe. They allow me to practice my own personal cold weather riding strategy, which requires spending the first five minutes of the ride legitimately cold, before settling into the perfect range for long-term pedaling.

I like a thin windbreaker or vest, because I can always pocket it once I’m warm, which I can’t do with the myriad thermal jackets out there. I don’t like to be cold, but I really don’t like to be overly warm either.

I find that one or two of the pieces need to cover my neck. If my neck is warm, I can ignore a lot of cold on my arms.

When things get serious, and they will, then I’ll switch over to Gore-Tex shoes and a heavier, waterproof wind jacket. All of this seems to work for me, given the conditions here, and the only piece I’m still trying to figure out is the gloves.

I like to maintain manual dexterity, so I eschew lobster gloves, but I find that no one really makes a bomb proof, warm winter glove. If you’re a glove maker, and you’re reading this, and you think you have a glove that will do the job, send it to me, and I will run the rule over it.

My friend Neil maintains that makers of cycling apparel just don’t understand gloves, and he only wears ski gloves in winter. I have ski gloves that mostly do the trick, but they’re big and bulky and not all that attractive (I am unfortunately vain). Is there an ideal glove out there?

This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What is your basic, cold weather strategy? What items do you incorporate that we might not suspect? What gloves do you like? I know some of you are using chemical hand (and foot) warmers. Tell us your best kept secrets. Tell us what you’ve tried that doesn’t work. Winter is here, now how do we beat it?

Image: © Neil Doshi

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  1. hva

    “Is their an ideal glove out there?” should read: “is THERE an ideal glove out there?”. Sorry, couldn’t help myself 🙂

    Wool liners plus a size up thicker generic gloves works for me, but I live in the Southwest (still warming up to around 55F in the afternoons).

    1. Author

      @hva – Thanks for the catch. Fixed it. I also run with liners under generic full-finger whenever I can. That only works, for me, down to about 40F.

  2. Brian

    I’m not vain, so ski gloves are fine for me (I also like insulated leather work gloves since they are great in MN wind). If it really gets cold on the way to work (below -10F) I opt for full insulated mittens with windproof outer shell – nothing moves fast at those temperatures so I can live with less dexterity.

    My biggest problem is toes. I can feel the heat loss through the ball of my foot right into the cleat and pedal. It’s as though my entire bike is acting as a heat sink to pull any warmth out of my toes. I’ve tried booties, double-layers of socks (just like I use xc-skiing where my feet never get cold), insulated bike shoes, and thicker insoles, but no success even when the temp. is right around freezing. Chemical warmers work for a little while, but clump from damp and wear out after an hour or so. The only thing that seems to work is to ride platform pedals with toeclips and hiking boots.

    Any suggestions out there to insulate the bottom of your foot from the cleat and pedal? (aside from moving to Phoenix!) Most years this isn’t an issue since I just hit the ski trails, but last winter was snowless and this year isn’t starting much better!

  3. Michael

    I’ll take winter over enduring a summer in Phoenix any time! I tend to ride warm, so don’t wear many layers compared to my companions. I find wool gloves (e.g. Pearl Izumi) work great down to around freezing, as does a wool cap with a brim (but no brims if it gets colder). For those conditions, a polypro long-sleeve base with a jersey and a wind vest works. When it is more than a few degrees below freezing, I use wind-proof gloves that are insulated but fairly thin – I get them from mountaineering companies (Patagonia makes a high-priced pair) and have also used them a lot in the Aleutians for field work. They are good to about 15 oF. Wool socks and overbooties are de rigueur below freezing, and wind-proof and insulated tights. A light shell over the polypro+jersey combo is fine to 20 degrees F, assuming I have gloves, cap, and booties. Below that, I need a soft-shell. The cap also needs to be thicker below freezing, with another thickening step at around 15 degrees F, and the cap cannot have a brim (they just funnel the cold air to my brow and give me nasty headaches). Water is also a bit of a problem. I carry one insulated bottle in a cage, and have another tucked in my jersey pocket to keep it from freezing.

  4. Jakula

    I have found cross-country ski gloves offer great protection from the wind and good warmth, even when the temps go into the ‘teens. They even come in different colors, to give you some hope at attractiveness.

  5. Disch

    No real tricks that haven’t been described here…love the wool base layers…but I’ve been in situations in the fall where you show up for a ride, maybe an out of town one, and realize you don’t have enough cold weather gear…perhaps just arm warmers. I’ve resorted in the past to using either a newspaper or paper towel folded over in the front of my jersey to create an impromptu “wind vest” that you can ditch if you get too hot. Works like a charm for keeping the core warm.

  6. Chas

    First of all – I do live in the Southeast – so I will only opine my cold weather woes so much…however in order to keep the wife happy, I still ride early enough in the AM for it to be 35-45 degrees. So from toe to head: Wool socks sometimes with a polypro sock to line it. Fleecy knickers and some hot embro for me legs. Wool or polypro short sleeve base layer, Sportwool jersey, fleece lined arm warmers and wool cap with flaps. But the gloves oh the gloves. Ten minutes my index fingers are in the deep freeze. I did find a super thin polypro glove at a local sport goods big box and wearing in combo with Pearl Izumi Cyclone glove works fairly well.

  7. TominAlbany

    I have the cold foot problem mentioned above by Brian. Seems no matter what I do, numb toes! What I think I’ve learned is, you need a big volume shoe in order to add layers to the feet without restricting blood flow. By big volume, I mean a shoe that is ordinarily too big for you. But, you slide an extra layer (defeet winter insert or something like that..) under your foot as well as more layers for the foot, with booties and and wind blocker and all, and I think that might get it done. However, I don’t have the money for the extra pair of shoes. I think that’s why Brian’s winter boots work so well.

    I wear nice big bulky mittens with a thin, wool layer underneath for my hands. Shifting and braking aren’t as fluid but, these are base miles and I’m not racing anyone or thing so, whatever.

    My base layers: I have one long sleeve poly-pro. Otherwise, I use my summer jerseys as my base layers. I’ll use a ski shell for teens and windy 20s. Otherwise it’s my light wind breaker as a shell.

    I splurged on Castelli Sorpsaso bib tights. These are beautiful and have worked well for me into the non-windy 20s or dry/windy 30s. Otherwise, I’ve got Nashbar insulated overpants with wind-block on front and breathing at crotch/back of legs. I have one fleece lined long pant for 30s but, they’re best for mtn biking since the wind is less of a problem.

    Since I’m bald, an under-the-helmet head layer with wind-blocker is key and has worked well into the 20s. Mine’s not tight enough over the ears so, the lobes get cold. I’ve used a ski-type ‘Gator Skin” to protect my face on cold windy days. Gotta cut a hole at the mouth to get the water in, though. And, the air hanky is a challenge with one of those!

    My secret for really cold: I ride my mtn bike on the road. I don’t go nearly as fast so there’s less wind-chill. I quit riding and go to skiing and snowshoeing etc when it’s too cold or there’s too much snow on the road as the shoulders eventually become unusable and I trust drivers soooo much less in the winter.


  8. Tom

    Merino wool Buff keeps my neck warm and covers my face till my lungs warm up. That has made a huge difference to me. I’m primarily a commuter, so not all my clothing is cycling-specific. Patagonia’s nanopuff is pretty amazing for blocking the wind and keeping me warm. I wear silk glove liners under fingerless gloves, which is good when temps are in the 40s. Below that, I’ll wear gloves from Duluth Trading Co. Tighter fit than ski gloves. Can’t remember if I can fit liners under them, but I do have ski gloves for the coldest days.

  9. Bryan Lewis

    If you really want warm hands in New England winters, you could try Bar Mitts. They do what they promise — allow me to wear light spring gloves in sub-freezing temps. They’re not a fashion accessory though (maybe you could cover the blocky logo with an image of Coppi), and it takes a bit of getting used to having your hands laterally constrained. I mount them only when the temps fall below 20. Still, they definitely work.

  10. Joe

    Recent newbie to cold-weather riding–I just moved to central IN from Atlanta. I’m finding that DeFeet wool gloves under a windproof LL Bean glove with some thinsulate does the trick on my hands down into the low 30s. Not sure I’m going to be riding in temps much below that in my first winter back in the Midwest (been gone 10 years).

  11. armybikerider

    I think I’m sensitive to cold – probaboly due to a little overexposure to South Korean winters.

    Anyway, if it’s below 35 degrees F I generally won’t ride – it’s just too uncomfortable to be fun. But if I do venture out into the cold, I will use wool socks over my shoes then PI neoprene shoe covers to keep my feet warm. I’ve tried the chemical hand/toe warmers and they don’t work too well for me.

    I use the usual layering of wool and synthetics to stay warm. I do have a vintage (from 1993) pair of PI wool blend tights that are really toasty and my go to leg protection if it’s <40.

    I've not solved the glove problem yet. I've been using Seirus gloves that are only so-so at keeping my hands warm after about an hour or so.

    My real problem with winter riding is sinus drainage. I'm forever emptying my nose in the cold.

  12. Aar

    Who is a North Carolinian to comment on cold weather riding given the New England author? For me, dressing for winter riding is all about the head covering. I have a wide variety of skull caps, windproof skull caps and headbands and a windproof helmet cover. I dress for the warmest temperature expected for the ride duration and carry a few different skull caps to meet changing temperatures. When my fingers get cold, I switch to a warmer skull cap. Wind resistant garments are a key part of my winter clothing as I find a Windstopper vest under a wind resistant jacket is less bulky and restrictive for the same warmth. With the right head covering and base, jersey, vest, jacket combo – knickers serve me well down to about 35 degrees. Yet, I handle cold weather well and I’m in North Carolina where it rarely gets truly cold.

    I have a 20+ year old pair of fiberfill PI gloves that come out when temps get below zero. They have the same fill weight as their old lobster gloves and they serve me very well. Otherwise, soft shell Specialized BG gloves and a pair of lightly insulated Castelli gloves meet 99% of my winter glove needs.

  13. bigwagon

    I use regular non-cycling (i.e. cheap) thermal fleece tights and shirt and shoe covers plus a pair of insulated gloves in weather down to the low 30s. After you live in Wisconsin for awhile you come to realize that winter really ain’t no big deal. If it’s above 40, nothing special is really needed other than maybe a pair of arm warmers and thin gloves.

  14. ps810

    Robot, as a NH rider I suggest Black Diamond Soloist Lobster gloves with removable linings for the hands. I wear silk liners under my full finger gloves down to about 40 degrees, then put the BD Soloist shells over my full finger gloves which work for me down to about 25 degrees. I then have the BD Soloist lining to fall back on, which I haven’t needed yet as a rider but they work great for other uses. For feet, it’s still about layering. I use a pair of older, stretched out shoes with multiple pairs of socks, then toe shields plus Defeet Slipstreams plus a neoprene layer, adding a foot warmer when temps are below freezing.

  15. BikoPsycho

    I was still somewhat newbie when I did my first Mulholland Challenge. I was expecting 43F at the beginning, which is what we got. Balmy, for those hardy souls of the east, but for the Caly coast that’s getting down there.

    Part of living in a temperate climate is not knowing how to dress for cold. So for the start of the Mulholland I thought a long sleeve jersey with a thin capeline base layer would suffice till the air warmed up. It didn’t. I was the coldest I’d ever been at that start. It got worse.

    Soon after the start the Mulholland proceeded to a 9-mile descent down Las Virgenes and Malibu Cyn. On the descent I of course wasn’t exerting a lot of effort at the same time incurring pretty good wind chill. In the canyons on the way down the Garmin read 30F. I was shivering so hard I was shaking the handlebars, blueballs cold.

    Eventually I entered the lowest canyon which was under the tempering influence of the Pacific Ocean, and the temperature rose considerably, maybe to 60 or so. It felt like a nice warm heater.

    I ended up not finishing the event on time for a lot of reasons, partly because I missed the turnoff to Old Topanga Cyn Rd and kept riding blythely up Topanga.

    Had a great time despite everything. All’s well that ends well.

  16. Brian

    I’ve been on a winter gloves pilgrimage for a few years, and have a drawer full of the ones that don’t cut it. I’ve been extremely happy with a pair that Gore makes (can’t recall the name, at the moment) that are a semi-lobster, in that your first two fingers are individual glove-parts, but your ring and pinkie fingers go into a traditional lobster-half. I’ve also been rather pleased with a pair of Hestra cycling gloves I bought last winter. They’re not as warm as the Gores, but plenty for sunny days in Utah winters. They really seem to find the balance between warmth and bulk, somehow. They don’t feel all that different from a regular full-fingered mountain bike glove, and breathe well enough that you forget they’re there.

    Aside from that, I’ve found long-sleeve rashguards work rather well as a baselayer when it’s warmer than 35 degrees or so. Much cheaper than cycling or outdoor-specific baselayers, and even cheaper at the end of the surf season (which happens to coincide with cycling’s winter season).

  17. Jon

    I am a fan of neoprene “diving” gloves like you have seen some of the PROS wearing in the spring recently. They insulate and block wind. You’re right about cycling companies making poor gloves. They either block wind but have poor insulation or are completely overstuffed and bulky. Neoprene has been a good solution for me to ride through a MA winter.

  18. Dave L

    This time of year is a challenge for sure, but base layer like Craft windstopper is a god send. Sometimes I will use a Craft light longsleeve base and then put another windstopper over it. From there, if temps are below freezing, I wear a thermal jacket from Castelli. I have Gore windstopper tights(no chamois) bibshorts. You get more mileage out of tights that way between washings. Gore thermal gloves with thin liners for hands. Road shoes have been put aside for a goretex insulated perlizumi winter offroad shoe that are toasty! IF above freezing, I forgoe the thermal jacket and go with longsleeve jersey and a light wind/waterproof jacket. Head is always covered with a dual windstopper head band and light windstopper skullcap. I have used a ton of different gloves for cold weather riding and have yet to find the perfect glove after 30 years of riding in pretty cold weather. Long story short, overdress and peel and stash layers in pockets to regulate.

  19. Ben

    Hey Robot not sure what your beef with cold weather cycling gloves is. I use Pearl Izumi Cyclone when temps are 45+ and PI softshell for 25-45 days and find them comfortable, warm, dextrous, and somewhat breathable so hands don’t sweat if in the proper temp range. Personally don’t ride when colder than 25.

  20. Flogger

    Just got a pair of Seirus Xtreme waterproof/windproof that are hands down the best cold weather riding glove I’ve tried. 20s and windy this morning and my hands were fine. They are not as heavy as ski gloves and I will be able to augment them with liners. I will be wearing them up and down the Kankamagus this weekend weather permitting.

    Keeping feet warm is a problem.

    Pardon the gross, but the biggest cold weather problem I have is the river of snot that pours out of my nose.

  21. John Kopp

    When I commuted to work in Minneapolis in the winter, I usually wore cross country ski gloves, sometimes with a mitten shell over if I needed more warmth. Keeping feet warm was a challenge though. Feet do not do enough work on a pedal to generate heat. The only part doing work is the ankle. Bike shoes don’t have room for sufficient insulation. I used boots with toe clips. On cold days, the best boots were Steger Mukluks with felt inserts. They looked ugly, but were warm.

    Now I use Shimanos with bamboo socks because cold days on the California central coast may be in the 50’s.

  22. Alan

    Ski gloves are my favorite when it gets very cold, but I recently found that Specialized Deflect gloves + wool half finger gloves over them gave me great dexterity, minimal bulk, and good warmth down to 20F.

  23. gparr

    I live in Illinois and have always suffered with the cold because my base layer was always a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt. After many years of being chilled, I discovered a few weeks ago that I’ve been a complete idiot. That was when my son pointed me to UnderArmour Cold Gear. My long-sleeved UA shirt has been a godsend. I’m riding more miles than I ever have and enjoying it. Cold hands have not been a problem for me. When temps get below 30, PI lobster mittens are my choice. I realize that dexterity is sacrificed, but I’d rather have warm fingers and mine are extremely sensitive to cold. Wool socks for my feet with neoprene shoe covers seem to do the trick.

  24. brucew

    I commuter straight through the Upstate NY/Great Lakes winter–seven years now. It took me a few years to get it down, but now, it’s become old habit.

    GLOVES: I double glove. I wear a large, so my inner glove is a large summer-weight long-fingered MTB glove, currently Endura’s Full Monty. I’ve used Specialized before. My outers are extra-large Endura Dexter Windproof gloves. In the past I used Cannondale’s Windfront and Slice gloves. With this combo, I can get to the lower teens before breaking out the lobsters. Dexterity is fine on older Shimano levers, but not the 7900/6700/5700 series, so my commuter runs 5600 and my winter roadie has 7800s.

    SHOES: Lake’s MXZ302s in SPD. Bucks deluxe, worth every last penny and then some. Far too warm for above freezing, I don’t even need extra socks until the middle single-digits. Windproof and waterproof too.

    HEAD: My Giro Ionos came with a winter liner that I put in somewhere around the teens. I use Sweatvac’s Winter Beanie below freezing, switching to a balaclava in the mid-teens. I have a big head and wear glasses. Better, tighter-fitting balaclavas don’t work well for me. My favorite is an old stretched-out Nashbar (!) one.

    SECRET WEAPON: Acclimatization. Starting in October, I dress a wee bit lighter than I should, allowing myself to feel chilly–not cold, just a little chilly. By the time January rolls around I’m like a polar bear.

    As for the rest, it’s been well covered. Two points I’d underscore are feeling cold for the first five minutes and sweat management. If you step out the door and feel comfortable, you’re wearing too much. If you think you need another layer, you’re just about right. Otherwise, after that first five or ten minutes, you’ll begin to sweat, eventually sweating through your layers. That’s the first step towards hypothermia.

  25. Emil

    A very simple glove trick that you might try is a pair of latex gloves under whatever gloves you normally wear. Your hands will get sweaty but stay warm!

  26. Jay

    Gloves- the best is absolutely Glacier Glove.
    Bar Mitts also work great as mentioned. I like you can take your hand out of them easily if get too warm

  27. jimc

    Depending on the temp, I wear layers of wool under a thermal jacket. I agree that if I feel chilly during the first few minutes, I dressed appropriately. When it gets below 35 or so, I wear two thin wool hats, one with a visor to help with the low sun. My hands are happy in Ibex Km gloves. Coldest winter road ride so far for me here in Maine was 10 degrees. Water bottles on the bike froze. Have to say it was hard on the cheeks!

  28. Foon Feldman

    Yoko MF270 are the glove, ATMO. Warm, great dexterity, vainly thin. A wide range of sizes for a great fit. $50 Add a pair of Ibex stretch Merino wool glove liners to get another 15F of range. $35 Year-round Colorado Front Range riding from 10 to 50F, and Nordic skiing from -20F to 25F. As a randonneur and ski patroller, I highly value the wide range.

    From Boulder Nordic Sport: “One of the best cold-weather gloves ever due to its incredible warmth in a thin, light package. Using a layer of Gore windstopper fleece to insulate and protect from the wing, this glove will amaze you with its warmth in extreme cold conditions. We’ve raced marathons with this glove on windy days at -10F (-23C) without issue.”

  29. Chiwode

    I overlap Grabber toe warmers. One pair on the bottom of my toes wrapped around the front meeting the pair that comes down from the top. I’m good for hours that way without shoe covers, which do nothing for me anyway. I learned from the cold weather camping class taught at the ice hotel outside Quebec City that the best way to keep toes and fingers warm is to keep them dry until just before you put your shoes/gloves on. So I kit up and get the bike ready barefoot, and the last thing I do before heading out is put on socks and shoes, and of course the Grabbers. And gotta love the Craft base layers.

  30. slappy

    Swix Nordork gloves are sweet and come in many varieties, although limited color ways. whe riding fat bikes I like some Carhart wool socks and Bogz tall neoprene boots, that way for hiking in snow, you’ve got a tall boot. also got some slightly large specialized winter riding shoes. with a wool sock and good insole with the specialized cant plate underneath, it stays warm. the other thing from the big red s is their bib knickers which go under another pair of tights or the endura single track pant. then there is 45north, a company making cold weather gear for ft biking and so forth, they have a pretty rad balaclava, with a cycling cap brim and a section of fabric you can pull up to completely cover the face. when I need that I also need my smith snowmobile goggles which have a nose guard. then you can go ride fat bikes at ten thousand feet in the dead of night and be quite warm, always lots of wool too…

  31. MattS

    I’m going to admit that though I’ve been riding all winter in Canada (Ottawa and Montreal) for the last 20 years, I am still trying to figure out how to stay warm across the conditions we deal with. Rain just above freezing it very challenging for the hands and feet, but I’ll assume we are more interested in conditions one would chose to ride in, not commuting weather (though, I recommend Bogs for commuter footwear).

    Here are two tips I don’t think have come up yet, coming from a guy who has frozen his hands and feet innumerable times playing hockey outside as a kid:

    Swing your hands as if you are double-poling (no, that’s not a sex thing) on XC skis before you start riding. This forces the blood to your finger tips. I don’t do circles, just a whip at the bottom to really get the centrifugal force working. Try to do the same with your feet. Strangely, pedaling doesn’t work; the circles are too small.

    For those days where its above zero, but still cold, try a wool liner glove, like the DeFeet one, covered with a Windstopper shell like this: These are really handy, and you can wear them over summer full finger gloves too, and peel them off as the ride heats up.

    I am still struggling with my feet, despite Shimano winter boots. It seems many of us want to size our winter shoes/boots small enough so that we’ll want to use them in the fall and spring too, with a medium sock. That seems to be the error. The winter shoe/boot needs to be much at least a full size bigger than you’d wear in the summer, allowing for a lofty sock and easy blood flow. If its really cold (not Alaska cold, I’m talking road ride context, not fatbike), you can use a liner sock, then a vapour barrier (plastic bag), then a medium weight sock over top of that. Once the insulation becomes wet, it no longer insulates (I have never seen a neoprene-lined cycling boot).

    Castelli’s Diluvio neoprene glove is a more luxurious feeling neoprene than the Glacier. I don’t own either, but have the Castellis on my x-mas list. Black Diamond’s Legend gloves also look very promising, for dry-cold days.

  32. Robert Borchert

    I like the idea of trying diving gloves, as neoprene is awesome stuff. For temperatures above the thirties, the Pearl Izumis are decent, but I agree, there are mornings that those digits begin to numb at speed.

    The best I’ve found for the feet is DeFeet’s Woll-E-Ator socks, and a pair of Garneau neoprene shoe covers. My wife bought me a pair of insulated (on the front) winter tights- those are nice and warm.

    I have huge Prince Charles type ears. My wife made me a cool headband from a stretchy fleece fabric. The helmet straps hold if over the ears nicely. A stretch cover over the helmet vents keeps the brain from freezing.

  33. puck monkey

    If its cold and wet nothing compares with 3mm closed cell neoprene ice fishing gloves. Bought for $20 at Dicks sports. For my feet I just wait until my toes go numb.

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