What to expect when you’re expecting…to ride your bike in the cold.
A condensed gear guide to what you’ll need.
I commute to work at the shop almost every day on the bike. I need to have equipment that performs as well as feels comfortable. There are a few basic necessities for winter clothing that you will need as well as some extras to make your ride as awesome as it can be. As a bike shop employee, mechanic and a cyclist for the majority of my life I have a wealth of knowledge going back to the mid 90’s about what works and what doesn’t work through various trials and tribulations. Here is what works best for riding in winter conditions.
Make the investment in good clothing. I cannot stress this enough. As someone who got rid of their car completely and relies almost entirely on their bike I have the advantage of putting that extra car payment into some pretty choice equipment from Assos. I understand that we all have budgets but If you plan to ride through the entire year including the winter there are 4 Key items you’ll need to make those commutes comfortable.
First is dedicated winter shoes.I recommend the Specialized defroster trail shoes. In my experience these do more than just keep your feet warm and dry but they help with one of the key components of going for a wintery ride. SPEED! We don’t often think about it but shoe covers or booties work well for that once or twice a week ride but if you’re riding every day that extra 5 minutes layering up quickly adds up and makes it harder and harder each morning to want to ride your bike. The dedicated winter shoe saves you time and simplifies the entire process. It also adds an extra layer of comfort that is welcomed on those super cold nights riding home. If you are riding on the weekend the winter bootie would be a good option for you. I recommend using something that has a good amount of loft to it like the Specialized Element Shoe cover. Don’t spend a lot on shoe covers. They tend to get beaten up over the season and only last one to two seasons at most.
The second item you’ll need is a good pair of bib tights. These are essential to keep your main power source warm and relaxed. There are a lot of products out there that claim to work well but in my experience the key is moisture management. If you feel warm at the start of the ride and start sweating underneath your clothing, that will quickly cause you to freeze. Find a good pair of bib tights that will wick moisture but offer the best loft for warmth. The two products that come to mind at different price points are the Specialized Therminal bib tights at $140 and the Assos Habu Tights $299. Having used both of these products for an extensive period of time I can say that they both work extremely well. They both have great moisture wicking properties as well as wind blocking features. With the Assos you may be asking yourself “what am I getting for almost double the price?” The answer is simply flexibility. Both products work well at wicking moisture and blocking the wind but the Assos product takes it a step further in providing stretch to their material so that it feels as if you aren’t wearing an additional layer. This little detail makes it worth the additional cost for comfort for every day riding.
The third item you’ll need is a layering system that works for you. The layering system that works for me as well as a number of my commuting friends is base layer, loft or thermal layer and finally a windproof waterproof or shell layer. The base layer is the most important part of the system as it will move any sweat and moisture away from the skin keeping you dry. The dryer you are the more comfortable you’ll be at higher speeds. The two brands that I have used are Assos and Specialized. They offer a range of products that work well in a variety of temperature ranges. Make the investment in different thickness base layers as they will help with the heat management throughout your ride. Cold days need thicker the same as warm days need thinner. The second layer is your loft layer. I have used the Assos Tiburu Jacket for as long as I can remember. In my opinion there is no long sleeve jersey that can match the versatility of this piece. I use it during the fall, winter and through the spring as my main piece for riding. This has been the flag ship piece for Assos for a number of years so you can imagine that it packs a lot of punch for the price of $199.
The fourth and final item you’ll need are the little accessories that make it awesome for you. Gloves, hat, neck warmer, socks, headphones, Garmin, etc. This is the fun stuff that works best for you. Take your time to try stuff out and ask other commuters what they use. I have used a lot of products from Assos, Specialized, Giant, Trek, you name it! Some times bike brands don’t really hit the nail on the head. I was riding with a friend the other day and he showed me a great set of ski gloves that had a built in pocket on the outside for a hand warmer for those insanely cold days. What a great idea! One product I cant live without is my neck warmer from Eastern Mountain Sports. I have searched high and low to find something in the bike industry that matches what this product has but simply it works the best. It is soft, washable and wind proof. All of the things I want to keep my head and neck warm. The one bike industry item that I can’t live without is my Assos Fuguhelm. This hat covers my ears and keeps me warm but has heat and moisture wicking elements that keep me dry and feel like I’m not inside an oven even on super cold days.
Both Specialized and Assos seem to have the deepest line on the market in terms of “plug and play” clothing in my opinion. I feel equally at home in both of these brands. They key is to find something that fits what you need for your daily ride and looks good and feels good at the same time while also meeting your budget. Winter cycling clothing can add up but in my personal experience its far less than ski clothing and a bit more versatile. If your passion is cycling make the investment in that passion so that you can continue to ride year round. Below are some links to current products that I discussed above. Feel free to reach out to me at our Madison location if you have any questions or are seeking guidance on how to move forward.
Specialized Defroster Shoes
Specialized Element Shoe Covers
Specialized Therminal Bib Tights
Specialized Base Layers
Assos Habu Tights
Assos Tiburu Jacket
Assos Base Layers