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Survive winter riding with these 30 pearls of wisdom

Posted by on January 2nd, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Sandy Ridge in the snow-6

The weather outside is frightful, but with the right gear and wisdom it can be delightful. This treasure trove of winter weather riding advice was inspired by an email thread from the hardy folks of “Unpaved” — a Google Group and Ride With GPS club that share and ride adventurous routes. It was originally posted in this form by Our Mother The Mountain and has been reprinted here with their permission. (Keep in mind, this advice is mostly tailored toward for big adventure rides, as opposed to commuting a short distance to work.)

Winter riding in the Pacific Northwest can be a uniquely challenging affair. Whether exploring deep National Forest gravel roads, churning out paved base mileage, pounding grimy singletrack, or simply commuting — there are a few universal truths that will hopefully take a bit of the adversity out of the season. Initially compiled by Ryan Francesconi, the following list reflects the cumulative wisdom of the Unpaved community.

Don’t bother with trying to look like a Rapha model in the winter.

1. Buy the top level shit. Don’t bother with any fabric that isn’t elite 3 layer quality. The good stuff is going to outlast the crap thus paying for itself over time.

2. Showers Pass. Local and quality. But only the elite stuff. Except the rogue hoodie. That thing is great.

3. Rain pants. Don’t bother with trying to look like a Rapha model in the winter. Once it really gets wet and cold, it’s all about staving off the semi-inevitable soak-through. I have two pairs of Showers Pass pants – the more loose clubby pants and the skinny jeans style Skyline pants, which are fitted and ideal though for putting over full length bib tights.

4. Rain pants pro tip. Showers pass makes suspenders for a good reason. Those lycra tights are slippery. Hold up those pants, otherwise they tend to slip down. All their pants come with suspender velcro loops. Bonus: you are wearing suspenders!

5. Winter boots*. Shoe covers are pointless. They will keep your feet dry for maximum of two hours and any significant walking will destroy most of them. Dumb idea. I have and love a pair of the Shimano winter boots – great, but water can ingress through the top of the cuff. If wearing rain pants, I’ve had great luck tucking the bottom of the rain pant into the top Velcro strap, so it creates a waterfall effect. Also – wearing tall socks that stick above the cuff allows water to be “wicked” into the boot. Wear short socks to extend the time your feet stay dry.
*45NRTH’s Japanther and the Lake MX145 have been mentioned as worthwhile options.

6. Winter boot gaiters: You have to keep water from running down your shins. That is the death of any winter boot system. Waterproof footwear will keep water IN as well as OUT. The Giro Alpenduro rain gaiters seem like a good option if you’re not using rain pants.

A few of the products recommended by the experts.

A few of the products recommended by the experts.

7. Waterproof socks: A possible cheaper option if you MAKE SURE that water isn’t going to run down your leg. Otherwise, you end up with a water balloon on each foot. An absolute nightmare. Many people swear by the Showers Pass waterproof socks, but they should fit tightly around your calves. On the cheap, Subway bags plus rubber bands can be a make-do solution if you’re touring and need something to work. They don’t breathe, but will keep your feet warm.

8. Thick wool socks: My preference in combo with winter boots/pants/gaiters/etc.

9. Wool base layers: Insulate fantastically when wet, wear for weeks on end. What’s not to love? They don’t have the clammy feeling of synthetics. Wool neck gaiters can also be a lifesaver.

9B. Cold-specific spandex: We assume you already know about thermal winter bibs + winter tights. Rapha and Castelli have several solid options (and both companies have local roots). Common sense stuff. Don’t wear summerweight bib shorts at the top of the Coast Range in January.

10. Rain jackets: Most people know about rain jackets already. Buy the expensive ones. Hoods are nice but helmets often slip around on them.

10B. Shorter bit on rain jackets: Focus on good trims (quality YKK zippers, cinches at the waist, hood/neck and quality closures at the wrist), good venting and good fit. You can have the most expensive GORE Pro fabric ever made, but with a crap center front zipper you’ll hate every day you spend in it.

Longer bit on rain jackets:

    -Gore products are reliable not because they’re superior membranes, but because they have a strict process for approving quality of design and construction for a brand to use their label.

    -New technology is focused on ultralite face fabrics achieved by a minimalist, or non-existent outer face fabric. Don’t go this route unless you clean your jacket religiously and only ride the road. The membrane will clog up with filth, fail to ever breath and break down much faster.

    -I’m a firm believer in focusing on venting over “breathability”. If you reach and pass the threshold of water vapor-to-liquid sweat very quickly, breathability of the membrane basically does nothing to help your comfort. Same goes for when the face fabric wets out (the DWR stops beading water), once the face wets out, it no longer breathes. Venting is the only way to manage the inner climate once you’ve slightly overheated.

    -Larger zippers and zipper pulls might be heavier and less flexible, but they’re also much easier to use with cold hands and gloves.

    -Mesh pocket bags allow you to use an opened pocket to help vent.

    -Avoid elastic or any sort of knit wrist cuff. The elastic will absorb water and be super slow to dry (nothing worse than sliding on a dry jacket only to have cold wet wrists that haven’t dried out yet).

In short, get something that fits, uses reputable fabrics and pay close attention to the details. Most riders don’t need something over-engineered with the tech of the future, they need safety and comfort.

11. Get a cheap puffy vest and stick it in a small dry sack. I bought an REI outlet $38 down vest for emergencies. It’s very small and packs down. Uniqlo also has a lightweight version for $39.

12. Real food. I find a mixture of dates, walnuts, salted almonds and dehydrated banana works well. Also consider pre-baked, buttered, salted whole sweet potatoes, peanut butter sandwiches, hoagies, slices of pumpkin pie, ziplocks of beef jerky and Olympia Provisions Nola chubs. Yes. I said ‘chubs’. You may notice most of these skew savory because the last thing you want to eat at saddle-hour 7 is another sickly sweet chocolatey dried fruit and oat puck.

12B. Keep ride food somewhere easy to access, e.g. a top tube pouch or handlebar bag. Futzing with jersey pockets beneath a rain jacket while you’re wearing winter gloves is an exercise in futility.


13. The Glove Dilemma. Gloves don’t stay dry. If you want to stay warm, you need some kind of mitten system, like a lobster mitt. The best gloves I’ve tried are the Pearl Izumi WxB style and the Gore Xenons. Sealskin are soso. I’ve also had pretty good luck sidestepping the cycling world altogether for lightweight ski/snowboard gloves like the POW Zero, which have been the go-to on colder, drier days.

*Also consider few pair of nitrile gloves which can keep you a little warmer under a fresh dry pair of gloves, and keep your hands clean when that untimely mechanical happens. The ziplock bag with a spare baselayer and gloves is clutch too when you’re just about soaked through. A fresh baselayer before turning for home/the car is the best feeling.

14. The Glove Dilemma part 2: Bring THREE pair of gloves on a long ride or two on a 2-4 hour ride. Swap them out when one is saturated. DeFeet ET merino as one of the layers is a no-brainer. Consider carrying backup pairs in ziploc bags so they don’t get soaked through from sweat or rain before you get a chance to wear them.

15. HI VIS EVERYTHING. Don’t get a black rain jacket!

16. REFLECTIVE EVERYTHING. Once it’s dark your hi-vis is now black. I like to put reflective tape on my commuting bikes on fenders, cranks, and rims. The motion adds a bit of attention. Also – there are multiple models of tires with reflective sidewalls.

17. Always bring lights. ALWAYS. Consider running two lights on both ends of the bike – one set up on steady (so drivers can actually gauge where you are) and one set up on a least-annoying blink mode. The blinking one should be the lower-powered one. (A 1,000 lumen light blinking at 60 Hz provides gives absolutely zero indication of proximity or speed to others around you.)

18. Take care of your rain gear. Wash it often. Wash it with those stupidly expensive NIKI WAX products.

Take care of your rain gear. Wash it often.

19. Fenders: If you aren’t riding single track you should have fenders. FENDERS. Plastic fenders suck. You want a front fender that goes to the ground almost. Most of the reason people get water in their shoes and have wet feet is because their front fender isn’t long enough. Velo Orange fenders are solid. Portland Design Works fenders are also solid. Again, local and quality. You need to have 20mm of clearance between your tire and fender. If you don’t – you will clog up the minute things get fun.

19B. Why aren’t you riding single track?

20. Have means to carry all this stuff. There are plenty of bikepacking bag options now. Bring dry sacks for things you don’t want to get wet.

21. Med kit + e-blanket. Water filter, backcountry preparedness things if you’re going there…spare derailleur hanger, tire boot, floss/thread + needle, chain tool, multi-tool, lighter, hand/foot warmers. Everyone’s got a different idea of what is essential…these are merely some suggested ideas. Oh…and this pro-tip: Backcountry fire starter: small airtight container of cottonballs dipped in petroleum jelly. Expense: 20 cents. Weight: nothing.

22. Cycling cap (I like the waterproof showers pass one). This keeps the rain spray out of your eyes. Skull cap to cover ears for emergency. Possibly consider running two helmets, summer and winter. The summer one can handle a cycling cap underneath it, or can be worn with no cap at all. The winter one is sized a bit larger, but can be run with either a standard cycling cap, a wool skull cap….or both for maximum coverage and warmth.

23. Tires: as big as possible given your bike and fenders.

24. Getting a new bike? Design it around what tires you want to run.

25. 650B? YES.

26. A winter setup is heavy. It make you strong like bull.

27. POST Ride gear: Don’t forget a dry change of clothes, towel, warm socks and that wool lumberjack beanie. Being wet and muddy, driving back home in the dark for an hour sucks. I wear insulated rubber Tretorn ankle boots for driving, pre and post ride. Are there less expensive options? Yes. But I’m fancy and like luxurious things. Consider a pack of wet wipes in your dop kit for post-ride facial mud removal.

28. Put the bike back on/in the car while you’re still covered in wet, muddy gear. Don’t be that guy that gets changed, then gets the dry, clean clothes covered in mud.

29. POST ride eats! Possibly a thermos full of something warm, maybe whiskey and egg nog, soup will do in a pinch, but anything that fills you up and makes you happy. Tailgate camp coffee can be a nice touch…but whiskey is better.

30. PEET shoe dryers are amazing. Cost pennies/year, silent, etc. Newspapers and box fans work to a degree, but these are much simpler and more effective.

Total Cost: A LOT.

Additionally, one of the biggest factors that can affect feasibility of riding this time of year is smart decision making. Expectations need to be adjusted. The reality is the days are shorter, light is limited, conditions are subject to change. Sure you can try to grind out 90 miles over a 4000 foot pass on road slicks in January, but should you? Is it worth it to push for five miles in road cleats through knee deep snow near hypothermia? Knowing when and where not to ride and recognizing the difference between smart, seasonally-appropriate route choices and abject misery is key here. Know when to pull the plug. Be smart, be safe and don’t get in over your head.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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77 thoughts on “Survive winter riding with these 30 pearls of wisdom”

  1. Avatar Matheas Michaels says:

    Wow. I usually just bring an extra sweater on days I think I’ll get wet.

  2. Avatar Toadslick says:

    I strongly disagree with the “buy top-level shit,” especially for commuting and everyday riding.

    • My favorite winter bike gear is a baggy pair of windbreaker pants and a windbreaker jacket that I bought at Goodwill. They’re easy to slip over whatever i’m already wearing, thin enough to easily stash once I get to my destination, and keep me very warm. If they do get wet, they air dry very quickly.

    • For rain, I love my Carradice waxed canvas poncho. It provides better rain protection than Showers Pass gear at a fraction of the price, and will probably last a lifetime. The only thing it doesn’t protect is my feet, for which I wear a Goodwill-bought pair of leather boots. Since the poncho has much better ventilation than a rain jacket, I don’t have to worry about getting sweaty on warmer rainy days. Also, the poncho doesn’t become useless after a half-hour of downpour the way that a Showers Pass jacket does. Finally, it also protects whatever backpack I’m wearing, so it’s as useful for walking and hiking as it is on a bike.

    This has been my setup for years of commuting and multiple bike tours with awful weather.

    TL;DR: Unless you’re going on an ultralight bikepacking adventure, save your money and get a Carradice rain poncho.

    1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

      This is my solution too, though I spent a little more money.

      I added some pogies like these:
      (I swear I’m not a paid shill for them, I just really like them!)

      Also, I splurged on some awesome, durable neoprene (the super-waterproof rubbery kind of neoprene, not the wetsuit kind) Xtratuf boots (an insulated pair and a non-insulated pair). I’m kind of a whiny prince about keeping my feet dry and my fenders are not the world’s best.

      Other than that… the normal clothes I would wear for going on a walk.

    2. Avatar Paul Cole says:

      The Carradice waxed canvas poncho costs $165 at Clever Cycles:

      That’s a pretty big fraction of the Shower’s Pass cost.

      1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

        True… but A) a rain cape feasibly substitutes for a rain jacket + rain pants under most conditions and B) Waxed cotton is much more durable than any technical waterproof/breathable fabric (thicker, tougher, can be re-waxed) and C) Clever Cycles is a very nice shop with a very comfy in-store environment and excellent customer service and prices that include the cost of providing those amenities. I’ve seen the Duxback capes for significantly cheaper elsewhere in the past, though I have not looked recently.

  3. Avatar Mike Quigley says:

    For waterproof outerwear, Gill offshore sailing gear. This stuff is designed for heavy weather. Expensive, but keeps you dry under constant drenching rain with minimal condensation. The fashionista stuff in bike stores, like Showers Pass, seem to get soaked quickly and stay soaked.

    1. Avatar David Hampsten says:

      For those of us who are circumferentially-challenged (fat),, from a fire-fighting supplier, available in huge sizes. Cheap too, under $120. Quite breathable.

      #8 Wool socks with spandex and ultrex in the fibers, by Wigwam.

  4. Avatar B. Carfree says:

    Not one but two items on the list encouraged driving to ride. Add in the double dose of encouraging drinking whiskey while dehydrated and fatigued but before driving and I think I would take anything offered here with a large grain of salt.

    I do a lot of winter riding as well as night riding. I seriously laughed at many of the must-have, must-do things on the list. Not all, mind you, but some of them were seemingly some sort of sales pitch and several missed key information.

  5. Adam H. Adam H. says:

    This list is overkill. I ride everyday with a synthetic rain jacket or waxed cotton coat, wool midlayer and socks, wool cap, wool or waterproof gloves, synthetic quick-drying pants that look good off the bike, and good boots. No hi vis anything. There’s no need to buy all 30 of these items at first unless you are a serious cycle tourer. You’re not made of sugar, and a little rain won’t cause you to melt. 🙂

    1. Avatar Paul Cole says:

      Some people like researching, buying, and enjoying nice things. *shrug*

  6. Avatar BrianC says:

    Apples and Oranges comparison. I’ve ridden in the winter in the Oregon Coast Range. In conditions where there was a possibility of spending 1 or more nights on my own had things not worked out. From that standpoint it helps to have the right gear and know how to use it.

    Having said that, the list is certianly overkill for commuting or bopping around the Portland metro area.

    Ride safe and stay warm!

    PS: Booze is the *last* thing I have ever wanted after some mondo outdoor winter adventure… (24 hours bottle to throttle is my general rule.)

  7. Avatar Cyclekrieg says:

    A few things.

    1. A lot of this stuff is made with synthetic fibers. Man made materials are a bitchslap to Mother Nature. We can have the debate about animal husbandry and farming, but really leather, wool, hemp, silk, etc. tend to work as well as synthetics and won’t be poisoning sea life for the 2 hundred years. Also, a cow or sheep or a silk worm is a renewable resource. Left to their own devices, they make more of themselves. A barrel of oil does not.

    2. Spending money is one thing, spending money on stuff that will last is another. Look at other sports/places than cycling specific for a lot of this stuff. Hunting clothing, especially the 100% wool stuff (American made), is great. It’s made to be busting through brush and tends be well built. Silk and wool base layers or wool pants and bibs can be cheaper if you get it for hunting vs cycling. If you get wool hunting pants, get the ones with boot cuff tabs, they slim down bottom of the pant. Johnson Mills, Woolrich (choose American only), Sarma ( non-American option) and Weather Wool are all great places to start. Cabelas is another.

    3. Performance Bike brand rain gear. Cheaper than snot and pretty dang good. The rain gear is one place synthetics are OK.

    4. As someone who bike in temperatures lower than most of you do, you don’t need an uberjacket, you need layers than be mixed and matched. For 20d day, a silk under layer (top and bottom), medium weight wool shirt/pants and aforementioned rain gear is all you need. All those parts will be usable in some other mix for another temperature.

    5. If you don’t need to clip in, the footwear options, become cheaper, better and more stylish. Sorel Ankeny/Paxson or Vasque Arrowheads (discontinued, but still available) are excellent.

    6. Ninja up your head and neck. If its not covered, it’s cold. Silk balaclava with wool skull cap is hard to beat.

    1. Avatar soren says:

      wool and leather are associated with far more greenhouse gas emissions than most synthetics. and from an animal sadism perspective there is no contest.

      1. Adam H. Adam H. says:

        Not to mention the vast amount of crops and water that are used to raise animals for human consumption.

      2. Avatar Cyclekrieg says:

        Yes they are. However…

        1. These numbers are based on a factory farm model. There are more sustainable models of farming. If you want to reduce the CO2 numbers of both wool and leather (and associated products, like meat; though for wool, the sheep get nothing more than a bad day at the barber), look for sustainable or free range variety. Example:

        2. C02 is just one pollutant. You shouldn’t ignore it but you need to put in context. Synthetics, the oil used to produce them, the refining, etc. are huge impact. Its just not a creation of the product though, its post use. Does a (factory farmed) wool sweater make more CO2 than a polyester sweater? Yeah, sure. What happens after you are done wearing that sweater though? The wool one left to its one devices will be gone in no time, rotting away, picked apart by animals, made into birds nest, etc. That synthetic one is killing everything.

    2. Avatar David Hampsten says:

      Most synthetics these days are made from recycled plastics these days.

  8. Avatar Jon says:

    Thanks for the list. There is a lot of good info.

    “19B. Why aren’t you riding single track?”

    For me it is because for the most part the trails are too wet and might be damaged. In the summer and fall I ride single track as much as possible. This time of of year I keep mostly to the gravel or paved roads. There are tons of great gravel roads to explore. There are a few parts of the Wilson River Trail that do ok in the wet and it does drain pretty well but I like to see a few days of dry before I do any coast range trails. Syncline can be a good alternative if there is no frost/mud issues if you don’t mind driving an hour from Portland.

    I would also make sure to have glasses with an anti-fog coating. Bolle has some good inexpensive safety glasses with a good anti-fog coating that I have found works very good.

    Personally I don’t have time for a lot of natural fibers. I toss bike clothes in the washer, machine dry them on low then put them in a drawer. If clothes do not take that or need any special care I have no interest.

    1. Vented glasses significantly reduce fogging issues.

  9. Avatar Lester Burnham says:

    All this stuff is great for privileged folks with credit cards, but considering the numbers of poor folks on bikes some low cost ways to stay warm would be nice.

    1. Avatar Beth H says:

      Here’s what works for me:

      1. Rain gear is anything that keeps you dry. Bike-cut is nice, but not absolutely necessary as long as nothing flaps into the spokes or drive train.

      1a. Used raingear is even nicer, and can be found everywhere. Check craigslist and eBay for used Burley. My Ultra-Rider jacket still works after 25 years and several Nikwax treatments in the washer.

      2. Plastic bread bags inside shoes are more than adequate for most commutes. air them out while you’re working.

      3. Ragg wool gloves with grippy dots can be found at most department and hardware stores. Buy 2 or 3 pairs — they’re cheap — and take an extra pair in your bag to ride home with. When holes appear, you can darn them with some wool yard and a yarn needle. When wool gets wet it still keeps you warm.

      3a. Learn to repair your own clothing. Microcosm has a great how-to book on this subject.

      4. Make your own shoe covers from an old vinyl briefcase:

      4a. Make your own fenders from coroplast lawn signs:

      4b. Make wool mittens here:

      5. Worried about the environmental impact of your clothing? Buy it used. Wool sweaters, base layers and rain gear can all be found at thrift shops.
      OR: If you’re REALLY broke, carry a few spare plastic bags wiith you and, when you spot wet gloves or a hat in the road, pull over, pick it up, toss it in the bag and wash it at home (best to wash separately or with dark clothes). I have found several hats, gloves, scarves and even a sweater this way. I still have and wear them all.

      Staying warm and dry does not have to cost a fortune, unless you work in a bike shop and your job is to model the fancy stuff the shop sells (a la Nordstrom).

      Happy riding!

      1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

        Sweet! I kind of thought I was the only one who picked up forlorn accessories on the streets and wore them for years. Now I can tell my husband I’m not the only one. Thanks Beth!!

  10. Avatar Spiffy says:

    this list is dismal…

    wear animal products? no thanks… I’m not concerned that my synthetic clothes take as long to biodegrade as the bike itself…

    wear rain pants over lycra? why? lycra can get wet all it wants… just to funnel water off my shoes? they’ll get wet anyways, just wear material that stays warm when wet…

    the theme seems to be that you’ll eventually get soaked through… that’s not encouraging…

    entire article tldr; wear clothes that stay warm when wet, and bring an extra set of dry clothes because you’ll get wet…

    1. Avatar soren says:

      nylon-lycra bike clothing is incredibly durable and comfortable. in the 70s and 80s i would wear through natural fiber pants in 2-4 years of cycling (butt patches look silly). lycra, on the other hand, typically takes 12-15 years to wear through i have. my oldest tights still in use are 17 years old and have seen many tens of thousands of miles (getting a little transparent in places).

  11. Avatar rf says:

    This list of overpriced gear is not for commuters. This list is for people riding 5+ hours on fast sloppy rides in difficult conditions. These are the things we’ve found that work for that.

    I don’t think it’s possible to be comfortable on winter training rides without spending a lot of money. Unfortunately, I think this is true.

    1. Avatar dan says:

      Yeah, I had that thought while reading through the list – total overkill for my commute. As far as long road rides in the winter, conditions on my trainer are pretty darn good all winter long, and the movie selection can’t be beat!

      1. Avatar Pete says:

        Whew, I thought I was the lone outcast!

        For me, it’s simply a lack of opportunity; when I do get the time to ride outside, a Castelli rain jersey with an Under Armour base layer, wool socks under Performance toe covers, and full-fingered gloves do the trick here in Cali. (Otherwise I only get to squeeze in short-but-hard garage sessions – “tweeners” – between extensive meetings while working from home).

    2. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

      Yeah, I get that, and find the whining a bit annoying. (Just cuz, there’s so many critical comments on this site, mostly about things that are justified, it’s nice to be non-critical if you can manage it – in this case, this is a fine list taken for what it is – a winter comfort guide for upper-middle-class people for whom riding fast for long periods in the winter is fun and fits in their life, or for people of middling means for whom riding fast for long periods in the winter is a high priority and are willing to spend a significant portion of their income on it). The headline and first few sentences of the article, though, contribute to the misinterpretation.

      1. Avatar SE Rider says:

        “(Keep in mind, this advice is mostly tailored toward for big adventure rides, as opposed to commuting a short distance to work.)”

        You have to get to the fourth sentence. 🙂

        1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

          Ha, good point, I did skim that part and miss that. Thanks for pointing that out!

          I would submit, though, that putting that paragraph in italics below a photo made it seem like a caption and like the “real article” started in the second paragraph – making it more likely for people to sort of skip that paragraph. And the second paragraph makes it sound like the tips are “universal truths” that also apply to commuting… which is not true for most commuters.

          1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

            Not that JM really has a good option here… he needed some sort of stylistic way of denoting what he wrote vs. what Our Mother, The Mountain wrote. Maybe bold would work better? It would be a lot of bold though.

  12. Avatar J_R says:

    No mention of helmet covers?!

    The skull cap is a fine idea, but why let the rain soak that when you can keep the water further from your head?

  13. Avatar OMTM.CC says:

    I feel the need to reiterate here that there *was* a disclaimer pointing out that this list is *not* geared for casual commuting. This is geared toward backcountry adventure riding under the worst possible circumstances. *Can* you survive in a fully vegan, goodwill cycling ensemble on a bike cobbled together from the free pile having riden 67 miles each way to and from the trailhead alongside highway traffic?

    Your call.

    1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

      I agree that the level of complaining rather than engaging with the content of the article is a bit offputting – but OMTM did play a part in that by writing that these were “universal truths” applying to a list of riding types including “commuting.”

      I appreciate that JM noted that these tips don’t apply so much to relatively short commutes… but let’s be real, the vast majority of people who commute by bike in the Portland area go under 10 miles each way, so “commuting” mostly means “short-ish commuting” unless otherwise specified.

  14. Avatar RH says:

    Ummm, I wear a $30 wool sweater, $10 rain cape (if necessary), a 7 year old showers pass jacket, $5 wool socks, and some old ski gloves and a scarf.

    1. Avatar pengo says:

      Usually I’ll just put on a trash bag and scream “22 cents!” at whoever’s unfortunate enough to make eye contact with me.

  15. Avatar dwk says:

    The whining on this site is so predictable.
    This is simply an informative article about winter riding.
    I have a long (13 mile each way) winter commute and I use a bunch of stuff on the list.
    If you want to get cycling clothes at thrift shops, go for it…..

    1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

      Well, it’s an informative article about winter riding for long time periods wherein going fast is a high priority. It’s not really a commuting/utilitarian article although some people who only do that kind of riding may (or may not) find a useful tip or two. The lack of any mention of rain capes really gives away the fast/non-utilitarian focus.

    2. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

      Agreed that the whining is annoying… but also recognize that the framing of the article contributed to it. If this had been framed like the fairly frequent “here’s some nice, high-priced bike/bike gear, who knows if that’s your thing or not!” articles on BikePortland, there would have been a little whining but I don’t think it would have dominated the discussion like it did in most of the comments here.

  16. Avatar dan says:

    Let’s get to the important questions: hood over helmet, or hood inside helmet?

    1. Avatar BradWagon says:

      Uh neither… Helmet Cover.

    2. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

      Neither, earmuffs

  17. Avatar Jay says:

    I second the Peet shoe dryer. Ours is put into service once the rains start and has a constant rotation of cycling shoes, boots, caught-in-the-rain-wearing-tennis-shoes, gloves, etc. until May. Will extent the life of your footwear and keep any rain-induced stink at bay.

  18. Avatar TJ says:

    Not spending several hundred+ (thousands even) dollars to perfectly accommodate the 10 worst of the worst days saves resources for maybe more enjoyed riding during the best of the worst to best of the best days. Storage can be an issue too.

    I sometimes welcome the potential for type 2 fun (with a safe contingency or abort plan). Experience or just keeping things lively over coffee and beers.

    The last paragraph exactly.

  19. Avatar tswaddell says:

    I think it’s a question of distance & time. Close in commuters with < 30/45 minutes each way can go with less technical, less expensive gear.

    Commuters who are looking at 45 minutes or more in the cold and wet, multiple days a week can benefit from high cost, high quality technical gear.

  20. Avatar tswaddell says:

    I’d love to find a *THIN* polypropylene glove liner to wear on sub 40 days. Anybody got any suggestions?

    1. Avatar Pete says:

      The Pearl Izumi Ultra-lite liners are the thinnest I’ve found, but since it’s thickness that gives you warmth, YMMV in terms of how cold you can go. IIRC they were $12 when I got them on closeout at the Woodburn outlet several years back.

  21. Avatar Dick Button says:

    It’s funny that my go to all winter Tretorn ankle high boots are marked as an item for the ride back in the car. Despite being lined with fuzz, these are not uggs, and are amazingly waterproof. These with a thick pair of wool socks and normal rain pants keeps me dry

  22. Avatar PdxMark says:

    Many of these comments are missing the note in the photo caption at the beginning of the article: “(Keep in mind, this advice is mostly tailored toward for big adventure rides, as opposed to commuting a short distance to work.)”

    Long distance/long duration rides of 3-24 hours in cold/wet conditions are different from bike commutes.

    1. Avatar J_R says:

      But if you read that note, it severely limits the opportunities to whine.

    2. Avatar mran1984 says:

      Uh, “they” all missed that. Feeling fortunate for so many reasons…like reading. Oh, hell yes to a flask on a true adventure.

  23. What you need really depends on where and how you ride. I agree with other posters that this list is for a certain type of riding, and would rarely be appropriate for commuting.

    IMO, most people WAY overdress for winter riding which nonintuitively causes them to freeze. I never have worn a skull cap or felt a need for one even when riding for hours in temps hovering around 0°F — a balaclava under my regular helmet has always been more than adequate.

    If you try to go waterproof breathable, once you get wet (either from the outside or via sweat), you lose enormous amounts of heat via conductive transfer. One potential strategy for dealing with this is figuring out how to be warm and wet (neoprene is very viable in 33°F rain and subfreezing temps), but you’ll burn up if you’re out long and have to deal with big temp changes.

    I would strongly recommend AGAINST thick wool socks unless you have separate winter shoes that are bigger than your summer ones. If you wear thick socks in shoes sized for thin socks, you’ll cut off the circulation in your feet which will make them freeze. Thin wool socks are adequate and if you’re wearing booties, that’s all you need since even if you’re out for many hours and your feet are wet or it’s dry and temps are in the 20’s, they won’t get that cold.

    Truly cold temps are very rare here but as it gets bitter cold and windy, simple repairs become a big deal (and potentially dangerous if you’re far from civilization) because you can’t feel your hands well enough to operate tools. Note that things like plastic tire levers get really brittle when temps get really low and you can get weird problems like the grease in your freehub getting too thick. Keep in mind that if something happens to your bike and you can’t keep riding, you need to carry layers that provide adequate protection for you when stopped.

    1. Avatar PdxMark says:

      A $1-$2 mylar emergency blanket in the bag is good to have… whether on a long remote ride or a commute… for you or someone else.

    2. Avatar SE Rider says:

      ” I never have worn a skull cap or felt a need for one even when riding for hours in temps hovering around 0°F — a balaclava under my regular helmet has always been more than adequate.”

      Doesn’t a balaclava include a skull cap? I agree that many overdress (I’ve seen people in balaclavas in the 50s), but we all run different temperatures. I know my hands get super cold when riding, even if it’s only in the 40s.

      1. It depends on what you call a skull cap since a balaclava covers your head. I was referring to a layer thick enough to require a helmet adjustment.

        Of course we all have different needs. I have Reynaud’s so I have to wear ridiculous mitts in temps where I might not even wear a jacket. Some people run hotter/colder than others and many factors play into what is best for an individual.

        The main reason I made my comment is that many people don’t realize overdressing can cause chilling (or even hypothermia) and that they’d be much warmer if they dressed lighter.

    3. Avatar GlowBoy says:

      I would agree with Kyle’s caution about repairs in cold weather. Even at 20 degrees you can quickly get frostbitten fingers while changing a tire if things don’t go perfectly. When I’m riding in cold weather I *ALWAYS* carry a U-lock (and my transit pass), even if I have no intention of stopping anywhere I’d normally need to lock up. That way I’ve always got the option of locking up and coming back to fix/get the bike later if I’m looking at a repair that might put my fingertips at risk.

      1. Avatar GlowBoy says:

        … and by the way, I did do this once, a couple years ago and shortly after moving to Minneapolis. I got a flat tire about 5 miles from home in single digit temperatures, and my frame pump that was starting to get flaky in warmer weather just wouldn’t pump in more than a few pounds of air. By the time I figured this out my fingertips were beyond numb and I knew I would be putting myself in danger if I kept trying.

        1. Sounds like the seals on the pump were failing. Depending on the pump, you can replace those cheaply when they start acting up.

          Having pumps flake out is no fun which is one of the specific reasons I carry CO2 backup. Weirdest cold weather problem I ever had was having my freehub freeze in single digit temps 9 miles from any town — this made it so pedaling turned the cogs but not the wheel.

          To solve that particular problem, I cannibalized a spiral notebook in my panniers and wired the cogs to the spokes so I could ride fixed in the rest of the way. Ever since then, I’ve carried zip ties in my handlebars — every once in a long while, they come in handy.

          I also carry chemical warmers. They mitigate my Reynaud’s but they can be critical in repair situations.

  24. Avatar Todd Hudson says:

    If you can ride with a change of shoes in your bag, neoprene kayaking booties work great. But they can get stinky. Neoprene kayaking gloves are good for cold/rain, and are like $15. Both available at Next Adventure Paddle Sports.

    Next Adventure sells good mountaineering rain pants that make good riding pants (like Marmot, what I use) . Showers Pass seems to think everyone has a 36″ inseam and Novara stuff fits funny.

    And if you can’t spend privileged sums of money on gear, buy polypropylene glove liners….they are in every Goodwill store, usually near the checkout. You can put them under green riding gloves, mittens, or by themselves. Also, Goodwill has plenty of fleece vests which can go under a shell or riding jacket.

    Every Showers Pass item I bought fell apart or leaked horribly. Will never recommend ever.

    1. Avatar Treborn says:

      Just curious, but what do you mean by “green riding gloves?”

      1. Avatar Todd Hudson says:

        Those $40 Pearl Izumi gloves!

        1. Avatar Trebor says:

          Thank for replying!

  25. Avatar Zaphod says:

    spare dry socks and gloves save the day.
    Hardware stores sell unbelievably rockin’ warm wool gloves at civilized prices.

  26. Avatar Matt says:

    When my toes were starting to go numb in the middle of a ride (forgot to wear my shoe covers), I found that the Mutt Mitt (dog poop bags), available for free in many parks, fit perfectly over my socks to block the wind.

  27. Avatar GlowBoy says:

    It seems the article is mostly oriented around typical Portland wet winter weather, while the accompanying picture shows ice and snow. My gear changes dramatically depending on whether it’s above or below 32F (at least if it’s precipitating). I do appreciate quality gear, but it doesn’t need to be expensive, and good stuff can last for many years (or decades, in my case).

    If it’s raining:
    – Nothing like a decent mostly-waterproof, more-or-less breathable shell on top. I find that anything rain-specific with taped seams generally works fine. Currently alternating between a Marmot PreCip jacket (goes on sale for $70 at REI at least once a year) and a Nike ultra-ultra-high-visibility jacket that’s a little less waterproof and more breathable, depending on conditions. No shell will keep you totally dry, but a good one is vastly better than either (a) a shell that leaks cold water inside or (b) an old-style rain slicker that doesn’t breathe at all.
    – Skullcap if it’s cold and rainy.
    – Anti-fog glasses. With hard contacts I can’t be getting grit in my eyes, so gotta have some eye protection.
    – Inexpensive Thinsulate high-visibility work gloves from the hardware store. They get wet, but insulate reasonably well and are usually good for 1-2 hour rides.
    – I don’t use cycling-specific footwear anymore, even in winter. For above-freezing cold conditions I use moderately insulated hiking boots.

    If it’s below freezing:
    – I have an old down jacket that I’ve abused for years, patched holes with tape, etc. and is still holding up. Generally good down into the teens with a single layer underneath, or I’ll add more for seriously cold (MN) conditions.
    – Balaclava. I have a lightweight one that’s good for any temperature I’ll ever encounter in Portland, and a medium-weight one ($10 at Costco!) that’s good for almost anything I encounter in Minneapolis. Tested it a couple weeks ago in -8F, and it did just fine.
    – Ski goggles. Seriously, once it drops below 25-30 out you’re going to be tearing up a lot as the wind whips past your eyes. Nearly all of them have decent anti-fog abilities these days, and a good pair can be had for $20-30. Worth every penny, even in Portland. I have a tinted pair for daytime riding and a clear pair for night riding.
    – Ski gloves. I have a pair I bought at a ski area 25 years ago when I’d forgotten to bring some along. Starting to develop a hole and a couple of thin spots, but still seem to work fine in MN cold.
    – The abovementioned moderately insulated hiking boots (my Merrells were $70 at REI) are good down into the teens. Below that I use Sorel Caribous ($90 at Costco) and my tootsies aren’t even close to chilly in any MinneSoCold I’ve encountered so far.

    Underlayers? Wool is awesome, but requires some care: make sure to air-dry any wool that isn’t a sock, and make sure to wash it within 2-3 days of use or moths will nest in it. I wear wool socks every day of the year, but sometimes use synthetic tops, bottoms and underwear for daily riding, saving the expensive woolies for big rides or just before I expect to do a load of laundry.

    1. Avatar GlowBoy says:

      I should add that for many, many years my preferred anti-fog eyewear has been $12 Uvex Genesis safety glasses. Sanderson often has them in stock, otherwise it may be necessary to resort to Amazon.

      1. Avatar X says:

        You can also get tinted safety glasses w/ little magnifier inserts, “readers”, so you can read the display on the stuff clamped to your handlebars. Also $12. The construction supply place at SE 3rd / Salmon has them. I’m all for LBS, but when was the last time a bike shop randomly gave you a stranger-discount?

    2. Avatar GlowBoy says:

      FWIW, yesterday I went for an hourlong ride using the abovementioned below-freezing gear. In an air temperature of -6F and a windchill of -29F. For the most part, everything worked great. Toes got a little chilly, but the Sorels have massive toeboxes with room for thicker socks, chemical warmers or heated socks, so there’s potential to fix that. Other than that I was not cold AT ALL.

      Except for the heavy boots and additional underlayers this is the same gear I used to wear when riding in the 20s/upper teens in Portland: balaclava, ski goggles, ancient down jacket and ski gloves, even more ancient ski pants.

      Actually, a couple minutes into the ride my fingers got a bit numb and I was concerned I might have to bail on my ride. But by a few minutes in, that problem was gone and the fingers were toasty for the rest of the ride. The moral? If you want your extremities warm, KEEP YOUR CORE WARM. If you don’t, your body cuts down circulation to the extremities. This matters just as much in +25F Portland cold as it is in -25F Minneapolis cold.

      You can modulate your temperature by opening/closing zips in your outer layer, and also by adjusting how hard you pedal. As I think others have said, if you’re dressed properly you’ll be a little chilly for the first 5-10 minutes but not thereafter. I find it works best to aim for a mild to moderate sweat: not enough to soak my clothes, but enough to maintain generous circulation.

  28. Avatar SE says:

    Helmet covers of any sort (even shower caps) keep the cold and rain out.

    My eyes water (run ? ) badly in cold weather. Snowboarding goggles fixed that , but of course they don’t mate well (different shapes) with bike helmets.
    I use them with a Giro G9 snowboarding helmet . Closable vents ? YES ear flaps ? YES waterproof ? YES low back to cover neck ? YES

    Not minding a Dorky look, as long as I stay dry & warm 🙂

    Don’t forget .. plastic quart shopping bags between feet and shoes.

  29. Avatar Joe says:

    proper layers have always saved me, keeping core body temp locked in.
    *** this cold weather is something else *** its like drinking a slurpee lol

    1. Adam H. Adam H. says:

      Today wasn’t too bad. Try riding along Lake Michigan in single digits and 40 mph wind gusts. Uphill both ways, natch.

      1. Avatar David Hampsten says:

        I lived in North Dakota long enough to appreciate the tropical climate of Portland Oregon and Greensboro North Carolina, where it does occasionally drop below freezing, snow a few inches, then melts by the following week.

  30. Avatar Tobin Owens says:

    Pro tip: No matter how cold, never wear knee warmers. They just slow you down.

    Pro tip 2: only ride sweet Gunnar bikes unless you want to be a newb.

  31. Avatar OMTM.CC says:

    Pro tip 3: Fill your shoes with water BEFORE riding, then lock it in by rubberbanding plastic bags around your feet. The water will insulate from the elements and keep you warm. Also known as the ‘goldfish technique’

  32. Avatar dwk says:

    Todays ride with no wind was pretty pleasant…..
    I had to stop and unzip my jacket 5 miles in.

  33. Avatar Eric Leifsdad says:

    The kids are fine with mittens and scarves but the electric heated grips on the xtracycle’s stoker bar are keeping them occupied. I had to rewire them in series to keep the current below 1A for the small 12V 15Wh pack we’re using. They seem to work better with a loose fit to the bar so you heat your hands instead of the bar. Maybe preheat the bar with 24V power in the garage. DC is about the worst way to make heat though. Anybody tried reusable heat packs in their pogies?

  34. Avatar Jason VH says:

    This list is solid. Many of the comments seem to be concerned with commuting and cost of the recommended goods, although the lede image obviously shows a non-urban location.

    There’s nothing wrong with having a budget or being limited to one, but having actually used many of the recommended products, they’re the real thing. Quality gear can be expensive but it really does improve the riding experience exponentially. Having upgraded to a top level jacket and waterproof shoes, I’m amazed at the difference. “Pretty good” isn’t enough, and as I value my personal riding experience as a priority, I’ll be building out my collection as the budget allows.

    That said, sounds like a follow up list with a DIY budget focus would be a popular one.

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