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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 09-25-07, 05:49 PM   #1
thedon
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Bare Minimum Cold Weather Gear

I bike a 5 mile commute to campus 2-3 days/week and would like to continue this the entire year except for the coldest days (days with a high less than 20). I want the exercise and convenience of biking to continue all year, but have a very limited budget for cold weather gear.

I just got Pearl Izumi Zephrr wind shells and glove liners which should be great for the hands, but I worry most about my legs, feet, and head getting cold. I plan to keep biking and see what parts of my body get cold as temps drop but what advice do you have on items such as full-head warmers, leg warmers, and shoe covers? What are the bare essentials?

I am riding a Trek Portland with disc brakes, half fenders, and 700x35 tires. As of now I don't plan on riding whenever there's snow on the road, but I might test it. BTW, are MUPs usually snowed over during winter?
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Old 09-25-07, 06:14 PM   #2
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Presumably you currently have some form of winter clothing and don't go around all year in shorts and a t-shirt? Try wearing that.
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Old 09-25-07, 06:44 PM   #3
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Presumably you currently have some form of winter clothing and don't go around all year in shorts and a t-shirt? Try wearing that.
Ding!

For a 5 mile commute you certainly don't need cycling specific clothing. Last year I used my ski gloves on 30-40 mile rides. The only specific I can think of might be a thin warm hat or balaclava. Something that will fit under your helmet.

Otherwise just experiment with what you have.

-D
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Old 09-25-07, 06:50 PM   #4
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The bare minimum in terms of cycling-specific stuff is: no cycling-specific clothing at all. If you ride fairly hard, it's usually easy to avoid getting cold in the torso and legs. (It takes more skill to find the right amount of clothing that will keep you from sweating heavily inside your coat.) I have never found it worthwhile to wear anything more than regular pants to ride in weather between 0 F and -30 F (low wind) but jeans are worse insulators than other pants such as cotton slacks.

For the coldest weather, mittens are a good idea and it's nice to have some thick fleece socks (and shoes that don't pinch the blood out of your feet while you wear those socks) because toes can get really cold. Doubling up on regular cotton socks (tripling maybe) can also work provided you keep them dry. Doubled-up regular socks are a bit more likely to put pressure that slows your circulation.

I would guess that your MUPs are completely unbikeable for several months of the winter... as is the case in Anchorage, Alaska and in Montreal in my experience.
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Old 09-25-07, 08:10 PM   #5
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Anything with Windstopper. Expensive, but worth it (to me, at least).
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Old 09-25-07, 08:18 PM   #6
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For my head, I used a thin REI skull-cap under my helmet. If it dropped into the twenties I would sometimes pull on a very thin Craft balaclava.

For my hands, I typically wore a pair of Specialized winter gloves. I got carried away and tried to wear some big snowboard mittens one day and thought my hands were going to melt away.

Legs: tights with or without windblocker (depending on the temp)

feet: Performance cheap "neoprene" shoe covers

I have two things which I call jackets, but Cannondale considers a jersey. I never needed to wear more than a mid-weight wool top (smartwool/icebreaker/etc) underneath.

Granted, you're seeing more cold weather than I did, but I rode this into the teens with no problem. Five miles really isn't enough distance for your hands and feet to start getting too chilled. Check out the winter cycling forum... there's more opinions there than you'll know what to do with.
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Old 09-25-07, 09:21 PM   #7
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i ride year around, even when the temp is below zero.
don't use any special clothing- use what ever you have.
layers are important and make sure everything is covered,
especially no bare skin when it is below 10 F. It is suprisingly
easy to get too warm, sweat then get chilled. I usually wear
cotton jersey pants and hooded sweat shirt, with a layer
of long johns (if really cold out) underneat. You could wear
the jersey layer over regular "street clothes" and take the
jersey layer off when you got to your destination. One reason
the for the jersey layer, you probably will get messed up
from road slop- they are easy to throw in the wash. A couple
sets is not a big expense.
the only thing i really get for winter commuting is studded
tires (W106), you will hit icy spots in the morning before
sun has melted them - they have saved me from plenty
of spills.
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Old 09-25-07, 09:42 PM   #8
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I am a fan of the Champion base layer products sold at Target. Cheap and sold in various 'weights' - they layer well. For the winter, I might wear one of these midweight base layers and a pair of running tights on the legs, along with a base layer for my top and a soft shell jacket. Skull cap and/or ear band to keep the head warm, warm gloves (I am going to try ski gloves this season) and I switch over to platform pedals with toe clips for the winter so I can wear warm Merrell multisport shoes, rather than dealing with booties/winter cycling shoes, etc.
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Old 09-25-07, 10:29 PM   #9
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I am a fan of the Champion base layer products sold at Target.
I've been picking up some of these myself. Also the Starter ones at Walmart. I live about four and a half miles from campus this year, but already I'm glad I'm not wearing all cotton. I get bored unless I'm pushing myself, so I'm always sweating when I arrive. With a wicking base layer I'm dry in five minutes.

I also got a biking shell, waterproof and windproof, as an outer layer. Last winter I used my normal jackets, but they either let a draft down my chest, or billow out like a parachute behind me, or don't flex well to a riding position.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:35 AM   #10
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You may find platform pedals allow you to wear warm shoes/boots. Cheaper and warmer than winter bike shoes, more robust than booties.

I think if you think about it, you actually do have some kind of a budget. Recognize that, then decide on what stuff is really worth going for.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:45 AM   #11
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specific to your query about MUPs -- my experience is that most towns aren't willing to spend tax dollars to keep paths shoveled during the winter. Also, ones that see a lot of foot traffic tend to become icy fields of treachery. I prefer to stick to the road during the winter.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:59 AM   #12
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A wool hat and/or a balaclava will keep your head and neck warm, which will go a long way towards keeping the rest of your body warm. If you wear a helmet, look around for a thin wool hat & balaclava to fit under the helmet. Pearl Izumi makes a nice lycra skull cap and balaclava that go nicely under a helmet if you can't find thin enough wool. A rain cover for your helmet will also block the wind and keep your head warmer.

You don't need expensive, high-tech shell fabrics for 4-5 mile winter cycling trips, just something windproof & water-repellent that won't be ruined by road grit and slush. Try not to wear cotton next to your skin, though, it's a very poor insulator.

It gets dark earlier in winter, so lights and reflectors are good to have. Cateye EL-530 headlight, TL-1100 taillight, and a Planet Bike Superflash clipped to your helmet will let the most out-to-lunch motorist know that you're around. This is a good source for reflector tape. If you can't afford high-end lights, get a good taillight and duct-tape a flashlight to your handlebars until you can afford a better set-up.

If you're going to ride in slush, some kind of fenders are awfully nice to have.
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Old 09-26-07, 10:07 AM   #13
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I LOVE Surplus store stuff. I found a great balaclava there, and then wool BDUs. They're not the most streamlined, but I can wear them and nothing underneath except my chamois and be warm, even in da UP!

If you go to Costco check out their winter gear. I found a pair of soft-shell pants by Black Diamond of VT for under $30. Right now I ride with those pants, with long johns underneat if really cold, and a fleece jacket or wool sweater up top. I have some fleece liner gloves that were cheap and I wear wool mittens over them if REALLY cold. If the balaclave is too much I'll wear a windstopper hat or even just a skullcap I have from kayaking.

I do have a gore-tex jacket that I'll wear if it's raining or snowing wet snow. I do clipless with neoprene bootie covers for all but the coldest days when I'll slap on my platforms and wear my Keen hikers with wool socks.

Pretty much what everyone else said...use your regular winter gear. If you live in Madison you no doubt have that stuff.

Know what else is good? Wool or fleece lined work pants. Can be found at Menards, Wal-Mart, etc...

Just remember to use an ankle band to contain the pant leg!
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Old 09-26-07, 10:29 AM   #14
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You dont need any cycle-specific stuff, indeed tops with rear pockets become uncomfortable when you stack them up and the inner pockets are un-usable.
Use a thin jacket with very good windproofing, no ultralight summer-weight stuff. Mine is heavy duty polycotton. It needs to have a high collar and good sealing at the cuffs. If it doesnt have a dropped tail it needs good sealing at the waist.
A polyester fleece neck tube provides extra sealing and is a light, cheap way of controlling neck venting.
You dont need clipless for a 5 mile commute, lightweight boots and woolen socks will keep your feet warm and dry.
Keep a set of windproof (possibly waterproof) overpants handy or extra protection.

I find that woolly jumpers are perfectly good for midlayer insulation, light, comfortable and dont smell. I prefer med weight turtle neck style with a sleeveless mid-weight for fine-tuning.
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Old 09-26-07, 01:40 PM   #15
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What they said - the only problem areas are your face, hands, and feet. Whatever cold weather clothes you have is fine for everything else.
In my experience, most so-called cold weather biking gloves are really only going to be good down to the 30's or 40's at best - you're just going to have to layer up. Don't layer up your feet so much that you can't move them though, you need that circulation! Some people just buy a second, bigger pair of shoes for cold layering.
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Old 09-26-07, 02:11 PM   #16
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Your normal winter gear is probably too warm for commuting, with the exception of the gloves, which are critical. I'd get a good pair of downhill ski gloves. I wear an LL Bean hooded "Stowaway" Gortex overcoat and overpants. The hood goes under your helmet. I can throw these on in about 30 seconds and bolt out the door. I use Totes overshoes. Under these, I wear my normal office suit and tie. The three basic errors I see around here are:

1: Overdressing. You don't have to look as if you are doing a remote for the Weather Channel. The clothing that is comfortable for winter riding is a lot lighter than you would wear for a walk outside. Dress too warmly and you sweat, lose insulation, and chill.

2: Not enough hand protection. Ski gloves with liners are ideal. I use Grandoes, which I consider free because I'm a skiier.

3: Adjustability. You want to dress in layers and be able to open up that top layer to vent heat. You want stuff with big zippers, and you want to be able to easily carry it on the rack during a warm spell.

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Old 09-26-07, 02:48 PM   #17
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I wouldn't worry too much about a ton of sheddable layers if your commute is only 5 miles. In general, if you're a little chilly when you go outside before warming up, you're perfect.

Other than that, the tough parts are feet, hands, and face.

Feet: If you have platform pedals feet should be easy with warm shoes - tougher if you have cleated bike shoes. If that's the case, possibly try neoprene covers, possibly a larger size with loose layers of socks underneath.

Hands: My only gripe personally is that I like to be able to feel the brake handle and shifters, so I have a couple pair of gloves - a thinner one for cool days, and a thicker one when I don't have a choice for cold days. I like to use the thinnest glove that will work.

Head: Depends how fast you're going. If you end up cruising downhill with some good speed, you'll freeze yer face off if you don't get a balaclava.
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Old 09-26-07, 03:09 PM   #18
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For five miles I would wear normal clothing. Heck it takes me 4 or more to warm up. You could just ride slower and not worry about overheating.
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Old 09-26-07, 03:12 PM   #19
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when my commute was five miles, I wore the same thing that I would use for walking to the bus stop.

In general, for me, any ride that is less than five miles in one direction is a silly reason to put on cycling-specific clothing.
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