The “Wear” of Cycling

“The cold never bothered me anyway.” — Elsa, Frozen

In the summer, the choice of cycling kit is exceptionally easy to pick out.  A short-sleeve cycling jersey, a pair of padded cycling shorts, along with my cycling sandals, gloves, helmet, and sunglasses are all that are needed–everyday.

The cold-weather months create needs for different clothing strategies.  Living in Texas, we do experience cold weather, but don’t have to contend with snow or ice very often.  We can pretty much ride year-round, but the choice of what to wear changes often–almost daily during the Fall and Winter months.  It is common for temperatures to vary 20-30 degrees from the mornings to the late afternoons–so riding in the morning and riding in the afternoon can require very different riding togs.

In the summer of 2014, I took my university students to Vienna to participate in the Vienna International Model United Nations Conference at the UN Headquarters.  It was our second time to participate and my fourth time in Vienna.  The conference is for university students leaving faculty advisers without much to do during the sessions.  On one morning, I decided to let the students go to the conference while I went shopping in some of my familiar and favorite places from previous trips before meeting them at the UN in the afternoon.

Among the stops on my shopping expedition was Sports Direct on Mariahilferstrasse.  As I rode the escalator up to the fourth floor of the shopping center to reach Sports Direct, I could see a sales clerk pushing a freshly stocked rack of clothing to the entrance of the store.  It was cycling gear…and it was marked “90% off” regular prices!  And it wasn’t one rack that had been rolled out, there were 3-4 racks.  The store was obviously wanting to rid itself of the previous year’s cold weather gear in order to make room for a new inventory that would soon be arriving.  I was ready to help them clear their stock rooms.

Unfortunately for most people, but fortunately for me, the clothes appeared to be mostly in very small and very large sizes.  For cyclists, very large clothing is still reasonably sized compared to the body sizes of the American (non-cycling) population.  At nearly 6’3″ tall and slightly more than 200 lbs., the largest sizes on the racks fit me perfectly.  I came home with long-sleeve jerseys, two middle-weight fleece jackets, a pair of bib cycling tights, and a jacket for super-cold weather–made of an almost wet-suit type of fabric that keeps in body heat.  It was quite the score.  Combined with other purchases in Vienna, at home, and online, I now have a fairly complete collection of Texas-rated, winter cycling clothes–including a head band to cover the ears, a balaclava, padded and unpadded tights, gloves (heavy, middle, fleece, and fingerless), and a variety of long- and short-sleeved jerseys and dry-fit shirts for wearing over and under the jerseys.

Choosing proper clothing to wear when cycling is dependent on the temperature, wind, whether the sky is cloudy or sunny, and the predicted changes over the time that you’ll be out riding.  Layers are important when riding, but work best when you have a place to put the peeled-off layers as you warm up.  When you are on the road and away from a “home base” you have to carry everything with you on the bike.  It is best to guess wisely on your clothing needs when setting out on a ride.

From my experiences, I’ve developed a basic guide to clothing based on the temperatures and weather conditions.  I always wear a cycling jersey (short- or long-sleeve) or cycling jacket when out riding.  I depend on the pockets in the back to carry my phone, keys, and whatever else might be needed that day.

Mid-70s and up – summer cycling wear – shorts, single jersey, fingerless gloves.

60s and low 70s – shorts, two layers on the torso (dry-fit t-shirt under a long-sleeve jersey OR long-sleeve dry-fit shirt over a short-sleeve jersey), fingerless gloves.

50s – cycling tights, long sleeves (fleece jacket or thermal long-sleeve jersey and dry-fit undershirt OR sweatshirt and short-sleeve jersey), fleece gloves and maybe a headband to cover the ears.

40s – cycling tights, long sleeves (fleece jacket with long sleeve jersey or dry-fit undershirt OR sweatshirt and long-sleeve jersey), fleece gloves or middle-weight gloves, headband or balaclava.

30s and below – cycling tights, warmest cycling jacket (with short- or long-sleeve underlayers), heavy- or middle-weight gloves, balaclava.

I’ve also noticed that as cold weather settles in, my body becomes more accustomed to the lower temperatures.  At the beginning of the cold season, I find myself dressed in warmer clothes than what I’ll wear several weeks and months into the season.  Where tights were once needed when venturing out, I later become comfortable going back to shorts.  And where a jacket was needed earlier in the season, a long-sleeve jersey becomes fine.  The same holds true for the headband.

I think that the worst part of cold-weather cycling is knowing that your body will warm up 2-3 miles into your ride.  You can choose to start off slightly cold and then warm up or start off comfortable and then shed once you get going.  Like skiing, or other outdoor activities in cold weather, the trick to stating comfortable is to dress properly for all occasions.

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