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Clothing for cold weather commuting

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Article posted: 27/08/2013

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Anyone who rides a bike any distance will know that temperature control is a key issue. In the summer, the big issue is keeping cool and sweat free. However, in the autumn and winter, the balance shifts, and keeping warm becomes crucial to a comfortable bike commute.

Hands

Keeping your hands warm is probably number one on the list - nothing ruins a chilly morning commute like cold, numb, aching hands. Therefore, a pair of proper windproof cycling gloves is a really good investment. Cycling gloves are thin yet well insulated and are designed to allow maximum dexterity and grip, allowing you to operate brakes and gears and keep a firm grip on the bars. They often have a windproof membrane (e.g. Gore Windstopper) which keeps the worst of the windchill off the digits and allows the glove to be acceptably thin for cycling. Only in sub zero temperatures should you really need thicker gloves, when it might be worth sacrificing a little dexterity in return for greater protection against the elements.

Any outdoor expert will tell you that protecting the extremities is key to keeping warm and comfortable during the colder months.

Feet

Any outdoor expert will tell you that protecting the extremities is key to keeping warm and comfortable during the colder months. After your hands, the next items on the list are your feet. If you're riding normal flat pedals, you can wear heavier, more weatherproof shoes and thicker socks to keep the elements at bay. If you're a clipless pedal/cycling shoe fan, then a neoprene overshoe is your best bet. Overshoes will keep your feet warm and dry and will still allow you to clip in and out with any dramas. On rainy day commutes, a full length front mudguard, with a mudflap attached, will keep your feet dry, preventing road spray from reaching your delicate tootsies.

Head

Humans have got big heads and tend to lose a lot of heat through them. However, most cycling helmets are designed with spirited athletic riding in mind and have a multitude of vents to allow the heat from your bonce to be quickly dissipated, which isn't always ideal as the temperatures plummet. However, there are a number of solutions to this. If your helmet allows, you can wear a cycling cap underneath the helmet - either a traditional style cap or a purpose designed skull cap, depending on your sartorial bent.

If your helmet is too tight a fit, you might consider one of the growing number of commuter/urban specific helmets. These generally have less vents and some come with removable vent covers so you can customise the helmet's air conditioning to suit the weather on the day. Many urban riders choose skate or snowboarding style helmets for these very reasons.

Body

Keeping the upper body warm and dry is essential in cooler months. The legs are less of an issue, since they'll generally be generating enough heat of their own through muscle exertion. A wicking merino wool base layer is the best choice if you intend to wear the same clothes on the bike and through the day, as merino handles odour much better than synthetic fabrics. Avoid wearing cotton next to the skin on cool days - damp cotton makes you lose body temperature fast, making your commute cold, clamming and uncomfortable. Wearing a warm wicking baselayer means that you layer pretty much anything over the top, whether that's a cycling/outdoor specific midlayer or a plain old jumper - they key thing is the layer next to the skin. To keep the wind out, look for midlayers which are tightly knit/woven. Cycling/outdoor specific 'soft-shell' tops are great as they stop the windchill, much of the rain and yet crucially allow perspiration to escape.

If you want to go the ‘normal clothes' route, then tightly knit jumpers are also good. Gilets with windproof fronts are also great - they keep your chest and torso warm at the front while allowing heat and perspiration to escape freely at the back. They're available in styles and colours that will blend in nicely with normal clothes and the urban environment. Drop a waterproof and breathable jacket/overtrousers in the bag for the inevitable downpours, and you're set.

So there you have it. Keep your hands, feet, head and upper body warm and dry and you can continue cycling to work comfortably as the temperatures begin to drop.

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