In the midst of a polar vortex, I always like to put out a reminder on biking in brutally cold temperatures. This morning on my 45 minute commute to work, the temperature was hovering around -6F with the wind chill at -25F. However, I was completely comfortable riding in the proper attire.
Hands and feet have always been the biggest challenge for me so I will start there. I’ve taken the easy way and gotten myself a pair of 45NRTH Wolvhammer boots. These have been amazing for me. I ordered a size up and paired them with a mid-weight merino wool sock. I have yet to ride in a temperature cold enough to bother my feet. The only other set-up that has come close in the past is a pair of winter boots, wool socks, and flat pedals. I love my clipless pedals so I went with the 45NRTH boots.
Keeping my hands comfortable has been a research project in trial and error for me. What I’ve ultimately settled on is a pair of mid-weight fleece gloves underneath a fleece-lined and windproof Outdoor Research mitten. They have high cuffs to keep out the elements and my hands stay toasty warm.
As any veteran winter bike commuter will tell you, layers are the key to staying warm. Layers allow you to add more when you’re cold and remove a bit when you’re too warm. A good rule of thumb to keep your core warm is to start with a wicking baselayer, add an insulation layer on top of that, and finish with a windproof shell. On the bottom I start with my standard biking bib shorts and an insulated/windproof shell pant. If it’s really cold I’ll add an additional layer in between.
I even use layers above the neck. My go-to items are a merino wool balaclava, merino wool gaiter, windproof and thinly insulated hat, a helmet with only a few vent holes and glasses or goggles. I typically wear the cap over the balaclava with the gaiter over it all. Then my helmet on top keeps everything in place. Once it drops below -5 degrees, I try not to have any exposed skin.
But even being a seasoned winter commuter I am always experimenting and fine tuning. On today’s ride I tried out a couple of new combinations. I added insulated knee warmers under my pants with gaiters over my boots. That was a winning combo down low.
On top I used a single wicking short sleeve baselayer with built in windstopper front and insulated arm warmers. All this was under my insulated and windproof jacket. I was definitely warm enough, too warm in fact. I think I would have been good if it wasn’t for the backpack trapping heat in.
I’m always an advocate for using what works whether it is made for biking or not. There’s no catch all combination that will work for everyone. Keep riding and keep experimenting with what works. When you come up with a great discover, we’d love to hear from you so please share!