By: Ron Gurth, Bicycle Commuter and CIBA VP
There are 6 words that should not be used in a sentence if you love to ride: "It's the end of the season".
There is no reason to stop riding just because the temperature drops. At one Midwest bike club, I was astounded to see in the cycling club newsletter that most listed rides had the caveat: "Below 40 degrees cancels". By that standard in Ohio or Indiana, you could easily lose half of the year. By contrast, with a little preparation and dedication, you can ride all year. Of course, snow or ice may make the roads unsafe, so always use good judgment.
So what does it take to extend the season? Just a desire to go for a ride, a little knowledge, and clothes you probably have in your closet. I know you want to ride, so let's talk about what you need to know and clothes you need. We'll break this down into several short articles so we can cover as much info as possible regarding insulation the body warm and happy.
Understand the goal is to regulate your body temperature. Too cold or warm, and the body does not function well and isn't comfortable. While this is an obvious statement, it is harder to regulate when low air temperature and your elevated body temperature conflict. The key to regulating is layering, with the right fabrics.
Let's start with your Head: There is an old saying that 'if your feet are cold, put on your hat'. Because the brain is rather important for most folks, the body will sacrifice the extremities, constricting the capillaries near the skin, to force more warm blood to the head. So yes, your hands and feet will get cold before you feel your head cool down. It is vital to keep your head covered.
A lightweight balaclava is a great choice as it can cover the top of the head, the ears, cheeks, nose and neck; any or all. Balaclavas are available in several thicknesses, so you can choose the one that works for you. Wool, polypro, and fleece (like PolarTec) are the common and most useful fabrics to look for. I have a light synthetic one and a heavier wool one, and I can keep cozy from 20 to 50 deg. An earband or '180s', such as skiers use, is enough protection on many milder days, as long as you cover the top of your head with at least a cap. A helmet cover is great for wet conditions and just to block the vents. The vents, after all, are designed to move a lot of air across your head to keep you cool, so block them up! Covers can be made of coated nylon or Gore-Tex, and should have some reflective patches on the rear and sides at least. There are options to spending money: I keep hotel shower caps (light and free with any hotel stay) in all of my bike bags.
When it gets really cold (and I am talking below 25 deg), consider investing in a skier's face mask. This will cover your neck in the front, chin, cheeks, and nose. The advantage over a balaclava is the air holes that allow you to breath. The danger of frostbite on the exposed face is very real when it is very cold and wind chill makes it colder still! Protecting the exposed skin by covering it in these conditions is important. Even a simple woolen scarf will help.
Another useful item to increase protection and warmth is ski goggles. If you wear prescription glasses with metal frames, goggles will prevent the glasses from pulling heat away from your head, a rather surprising pain when you first feel it!. Be sure the goggles fit well over any eyewear you may wear underneath (like sunglasses), and have good ventilation to prevent fogging.
Return here in a day or two and we will discuss hands and feet, and the torso and legs. We will also touch on assuring your bike is protected and maintained in the 'mean season'.