The Proper Way to Dress in the Elements

By tdunn Lifestyle, Products 1 Comment on The Proper Way to Dress in the Elements

Wednesday of last week was beautiful. A few of us enjoyed a 68 mile road ride with some leg twitching climbs iced into some gravel displaying bare knees and elbows. It was glorious. The following day, we were closed due to a weather system that walloped us with thick and back-achingly heavy snows that accumulated rapidly throughout the morning.

After spending some time on the Specialized Fatboy (or Hellga), a few Hb staffers sat down at their laptops to provide us with some useful tips on how to dress for the weather.


Petra Semilova, Office Manager:

Petra's Specialized Hellga

We all love riding our bike in the summer and spring months. It’s warm, the daylight is longer and there are many friends riding with us. It’s easy to go out for a ride. But when the fall comes, the weather changes and riding our bike becomes more difficult. The days are shorter, it’s colder and we have to think more about what we need to wear on our ride. Riding in cold is tricky. We want to be warm but not overdressed. We want to feel light but we don’t want to get hypothermia. Generally, we can choose our clothes based on the temperatures outside.

In the warm months, when it’s above 70°F we will be comfortable with our short-sleeved jersey, shorts, short-finger gloves and socks. Once the temperature goes down we want to add layers to keep us warm.

For temperatures between 60° and 70°F we want to add a base layer under our jersey, which can be a short-sleeved or a long-sleeved shirt. A good option is to combine short-sleeved base layer with arm warmers. The arm warmers will keep us warm and if we become too warm we can easily take them off. We will also want to make a switch to full-finger gloves.

For temperatures between 50° and 60°F we want to wear warmer base layer or use a vest. We should add leg warmers, or wear long pants. We also want to wear warmer wool socks to protect our feet. We will want to stay away from cotton material because it doesn’t wick moisture.

For temperatures between 40° and 50°F we will change our long-finger gloves to warmer ones. We will use warm base layer and long-sleeved jersey or a light jacket. We will also add toe covers.

For temperatures between 30° and 40°F we will choose shoe covers or winter shoes instead of toe covers. We will wear warmer jacket and warmer tights. We can choose lobster gloves or mittens to keep our fingers warm. We will also add a hat under our helmet because about 30% of our body heat escapes through our head.

For temperatures below 30°F we will be adding more layers, such as 2nd base layer, balaclava, knee warmers under the tights, etc. We can also use hand warmers in our gloves/mittens or toe warmers in our shoes.

There are a few additional aspects we should keep in mind before we go out. We want to consider how fast we are going to go, how long we are planning on riding, how hilly the course will be, etc. Dressing for cold weather is not as easy as in warm months but it should not keep us from riding our bike. So now, when you know how to dress for cold, go ride!


Jim Vreeland, Lead Technician:


Jim VreelandSo. You just bought yourself one of those new fangled bicycles with the big tires, what now? Chances are this will be your first dabble in the wonderful world of snow riding. While some of the basics in staying warm and dry may carry over from the road or mountain, fat biking has it’s own unique take on things.11061331_809175269787_1590100069894502559_n

First off, riding in the snow is hard work, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to stay warm. Layers are important. Start with something light as a base. Layer #1 should be a normal pair of bibs and a light LS base. Over that a standard SS Jersey. This SS Jersey will give you an area to stash food and bottles where they won’t freeze.

The next part of the outfit, and the most important IMO, is a good pair of waterproof pants. Snow is wet. Once you get wet too it’s game over. While something like the Specialized 686 pants may seem like they have a steep price tag, they’re worth every single penny. Even well below Zero Degrees, I’ve seldom worn anything but standard bib shorts underneath.12798963_10156533565070392_536520704396548357_n

Continue that theme up top with a waterproof shell. Get it one size too big so you have room to stash bottles in your jersey underneath. This system will get you down to around 20 degrees or so, I’ve run this down to -20ish. If you get cold easy add a thermal LS Jersey under the shell and you should be good to go. Everyone’s sensitivity to cold is different so experiment. Just make sure you don’t start sweating, the second you feel overheated strip a layer off!! A general rule of thumb is if you feel warm at the start of your ride, you’re overdressed.12096463_10208306916092498_2969501184578180760_n

Fat PursuitYour head. I’m out of the loop on this one, I just wear a cap no matter what and seldom cover my face. I guess if you don’t have a beard or wear glasses you can use a Balaclava?

I also prefer using Pogies on the bars instead of wearing gloves. Not only are Pogies a lot warmer and more comfortable, they also give you another warm area to stash snacks where they won’t freeze. YAY!!

Feet. I use 3 different set-ups depending on the temps, all with one pair of wool socks and a vapor layer. Specialized Defrosters above 20, 45NRTH Wolvhammers under 20, and 45NRTH Wolfgars under -20. Albeit at JayP’s I wore the Wolvhammers at -40 and was fine so I’ve never been able to use the Wolfgars. All of the shoes are 1 size too big. When it comes to feet, circulation is your best weapon, tripling up on socks and stuffing your foot in a shoe won’t end well.

That’s it!! Go ride in the snow!!


Sean Sullivan, Assistant Manager:

Overall cycling in the rain can be loads of fun. It is a chance to just get out and enjoy a rainy day rather than sit and pout about how your training is getting delayed. I challenge everyone to get out during rainy days and just have fun. Even if you decide to skip your training plan of doing intervals the whole ride you will still be outside on theBad weather happens, as cyclist we can either let it get the best of it or we can go out and play in the rain. In the beginning of my cycling career I would let the rain ruin my rides and often just stay in watching TV or reading. But I soon realized that I was being too passive about getting outside and enjoying the ride no matter what. Many are afraid to ride outside due to the dangers of slick roads and brake pads but most just don’t ride because they do not know how to properly dress for the weather.

First you must find a rain shell that is fully waterproof as well as breathable. We all know that feeling of wearing a jacket that does not breath and makes us feel like we are wearing a trash bag. It is uncomfortable and often makes you sweat so much that you are as soaked as you would have been without the jacket. I find that a Gore-Tex shell is best for both the waterproofing as well as the breathability that it provides. When choosing a jacket look for good venting and form fitting. Like a jacket that does not breath you do not want to have the jacket waving in the wind like a trash bag, both the noise and drag will ruin a good ride. I find that jackets without hoods are best so that I can both see and hear oncoming traffic. No matter what you choose I tend to tell people to pick something both bright and reflective. Along with riding with lights this will make you far more visible to traffic than if you just go in dull colors. Remember that visibility while driving is greatly diminished when it is raining out.

Once you have found a good jacket that fits the budget and you start to think about the bottoms, do you want to go full rain pants and/or shorts, or do you want to just get wet from the waist down? For me this depends on the temperature. I find that when it is warmer out it is often easier to just get wet. But when the temperature drops below 55 Fahrenheit I do prefer either shorts or full rain pants. Remember that your legs need to be comfortable to perform at their best when on the bike. I generally try to get the most form fitting rain pants possible so that I do not get them stuck in the chainring as well as have them making too much noise on the ride. Again if you can find a good pair that are Gore-Tex they are the best due to the superior waterproofing and breathability, but make sure they have a few vents just incase you start over heating.

Next is what to wear on your feet, again I choose what to wear based on the temperature. If it is nice and warm I wear the shoes with the most breathability so that the water will go in and right back out, (think of your old Converse sneakers). I do warn that after one rain storm my bright yellow shoes never were the same, the road grime can be a serious buzz kill, but more on that later. Waterproof shoe covers can be amazing when it is slightly chilly out and you want to keep the toes nice and fresh but be careful of how thick of socks you are wearing, go too thick and you will sweat way too much, go too light and you may start to freeze. Again this is all based on the temperature and on how it affects you.

Many people debate whether or not to use glasses, clear or ones that illuminate the road (such as the Oakley Prizim Mountain lenses), while on the road but I personally find that with the use of a good cycling cap I do not need it. For me the glasses tend to fog quicker in the rain than they would during a dry day, and wiping the water off them is generally frustrating for me. Again it is very much a personal choice but just make sure that if you do bring your favorite set of glasses that you have a storage place for them if you decide to abandon wearing them halfway through the ride. If you are worried about your head getting soaked you can opt for a waterproof cycling cap or a helmet cover to avoid soaked hair. A cycling cap with a brim is usually prefered so that it will prevent the water from going into your eyes, especially on the descents.

Layer, layer, layer. Layers are key when riding in the rain. No matter how breathable your jacket is or how many vents it has you must remember that it is going to hold in more heat than you are used to. If it is a summer shower I will go with just a jersey and the jacket. If it is a tad chilly out I still might just go with the jersey and jacket instead of the base layer that I would be wearing if I was not wearing the jacket. I find the secret to the layering process in chillier weather is to be slightly shivering when I leave my house. That way when I get going after a few miles I warm up and am just about perfect. If you are going to go with a few layers make sure to plan properly for taking them off and storing them. You may find that after a few miles you want to remove a layer and store it, but keep in mind that later on in the ride the temperature may drop and you might want to put it back on, so do not just stuff it someplace that will get it wet. I find that multiple base layers work better than one heavy jacket or vest. You have the ability to shove one layer into a jersey pocket rather than dealing with a bulky under jacket.

Now that we have covered the basics of what to wear let’s discuss what to do during the ride. During the start of a rain storm the roads will generally be slicker than after an hour of steady rain. This is because the oils and dirt have not been washed away yet. Once the oils and dirt have been washed away the roads become way safer. I usually try to wait til the rain starts to come down hard before I ride, I know that sounds counter intuitive but if you go out while it is misting the roads will be far slicker.  But no matter when you go out remember that unless you have disc brakes your braking power will  not be as powerful.

Disc brakes rule the rainy day rides, so if you happen to have a garage full of bikes and one has disc brakes, choose that one. You will not notice as much of brake fade as the rim brake bikes do. If you do have rim brakes and have a few sets of wheels choose the alloy sets over carbon, making sure to use the proper brake pads of course, the alloy rims will stop far better than their carbon counterparts. That said you still need to remember that you must brake a bit earlier than usually. Even with disc brakes you are relying on the contact of the tire and the road surface. Just ride more cautiously during the rain storms, no one is getting KOM’s on descents during rain storms. Also the painted lines in the road are to be treated like lava during rainy rides, as well as the brick crosswalks of towns such as Westfield. These become exponentially slippier when it rains then when dry. I have gone sideways through a few brick crosswalks during rain rides due to poor planning on my part.  

When riding with a group during a rainy day remember that being safe is far more important than being the fastest. I tend to ride with a clip on fender so that no only will my back not get covered with dirty water but also so that the person behind me does not get all the spray in their face. Not everyone does this but it does help the group as a whole if everyone can see what is in front of them. I tend to leave a tad more room between the rider in front of me than on a dry ride because of the delayed braking. I am not getting paid to ride, like the pros in the Tour de France, so I do not need to risk my body for the optimal drafting spot.

Whether riding in a group or alone remember that a slick road will make the bike handle a tad differently. Shifting your weight on a tight turn will help to make sure your tires are getting the best contact and do not slip. Also on steep climbs standing up and sprinting may result in the back wheel slipping a little so I find I stay seated on climbs in the wet more than when it is dry. This also forces me to spin more which is never a bad thing.

bike getting fresh air, which is what it should really be all about. Have fun and be safe!

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One comment
  • John H.
    Posted on February 14, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    This is very helpful. These are all a lot of really great tips and information! I think one of the best tips is if you are warm at the start of your ride, then you are already over dressed. I find it helpful to stand outside a few minutes before starting the ride and to consider removing or adding layers, switch to a different hat, etc. Thanks!


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