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Winter Cycling Don't let snow and ice discourage you this winter. The key element to year-round cycling is proper attire! Check out this winter cycling forum to chat with other ice bike fanatics.

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Old 12-02-11, 10:32 AM   #1
Sharp4a9
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Bang for my Buck Winter Apparel Ensemble

Hey all. I've been lurking here for a while, trying to prepare myself for my first season of winter riding. While the search feature on this forum has been good to me, it's also led to a strong case of paralysis-by-analysis; there's so much information, I just don't know what to do about my top two layers.
I know that I want the top layer to be a completely waterproof hardshell and the next-to-top layer to be a softshell fleece. I'll also need a waterproof overpant. But here is where the paralysis comes in: All this gear is expensive. I'm a student without a lot of money. So where will I get the most bang for my buck?

Here's what I've been looking at:

Perfect hardshell: Showers Pass Elite 2.0. ($240) I haven't been able to try it on yet, but I've heard way too many good things about it. Since I wear a backpack a lot (if I bike more than two miles, the backpack goes on the rear rack, but I'm a student and I walk around too) I'm definitely concerned about the durability of eVent, but this is definitely the standard. I also really like the fit of the Novara Stratus 2.0 ($160). I tried on a Showers Pass Touring and hated the fit. I mean, I really hated it.

Perfect Softshell: Marmot Sharp Point. ($150-$250) I tried on a bunch of softshells and this is the best combination of warmth, mobility, and style that I've found.

Perfect Rain Pants: Foxwear Neoshell ($120). This is the only rainpant I can find that I have a reasonable expectation that it can breath. And even then, I'm feeling pretty dodgy about it.

Respectable Hardshell: J&G Breathable Rain Jacket ($100) It just looks like a completely generic, solid performer.

Respectable Softshell: Marmot Gravity ($100-$150) or Mountain Hardwear Alchemy ($100). I'd lose a little mobility and warmth, but I don't lose any style.

Respectable Rain Pants: I actually don't know what would fit in this category.

Bad Hardshell: Performance Ripstop Rain Jacket ($60). Cheap, somewhat sauna-like.

Bad Softshell: Any softshell for less than $60.

Bad Rain Pants: Performance Ripstop Rain Pants ($40)

For the least amount of money (definitely under $400), what combination of the above should I get to maximize my comfort? Obviously, if you have strong feelings that the best in an above category isn't listed, I'd love to hear that, too. Is there any reason I should buy something really nice now, then wait until I have more money to buy something else really nice?

Random information: I'm 6'2", 200 pounds with a narrow waist (32"). My commute is 11 miles each way, seven miles on trail (plowed), three on city streets, one on suburb streets. I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. Also, style counts. I want to be able to wear any of this off of the bike.

Thanks for reading!
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Old 12-02-11, 11:01 AM   #2
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I have gone the last 4 winters with an Illuminite rain jacket (comparable to the J&G waterproof NON-breathable jacket) with pit zips and a back vent. Under it I wear some C9 base-layers that are cheap at Target. When it is really cold here, I wear a base-layer, then a cheapie fleece jacket, then the rain jacket. I am wearing fleece-lined pants from Ex-Officio this year, and like them better than the rain-pants that match my Illuminite jacket. I will wear tights or long undies with them when it is below 15 degrees or so.

I just ordered a hooded soft-shell from Dickies on closeout for 45 bucks to try out as well, which will allow me to look a lot less like I am biking when off the bike. I may sew in pit-zips even though it is breathable, only time will tell.

My commute is from Minnetonka to Minneapolis, about 10 miles each way.

You don't need expensive gear to bike in the winter, although I have spent a lot on gloves/pogies for my hands.
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Old 12-03-11, 07:16 PM   #3
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On the one hand, it's heartening to hear that money need not be spent. On the other hand, I just biked 3 miles in my old Eddie Bauer, non-breathable waterproof shell (the only thing I own at the moment that's windproof) and finished the trip super-cold due to sweat on my back.

Maybe I can simplify the question: if I can only choose one, should I have the best available waterproof top, thermal (and windproof) top, or waterproof overpant?
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Old 12-03-11, 09:18 PM   #4
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You definitely DO NOT need to spend a lot of bucks to get through the winter rides. I found most of my winter outfit in Goodwill stores for the first years. Slowly I acquired other pricier garments as I deemed them worth buying.

Under/wicking layers- check Sierra Trading or discount hunting supply retailers for merino and polypro stuff on sale. (as long as it fits and wicks it doesn't matter what it looks like).
Middle/insulation layers- again, cheep fleece OR even cheaper- buy a wool cardigan from goodwill. doesn't matter if it's got holes. it'll keep you warm even when wet.
Outer/wind block layer- Minnesota is cold and fairly dry in winter (true?) Don't buy the spendy waterproof stuff until you've decided it's exactly what you need. Find a nice looking windbreaker that fits you well. If you ride hard you will be out sweating even the best waterproof jackets causing you to freeze in your own sweat.
Hand- polypro or wool liners. big puffy mittens
Feet- Neoprene covers from an online cheap bike retailer. or insulated boots and platform pedals.
Head- Balaclava, and ski goggles if nec.

You can get all this for the price of one Showers pass jacket. (which are great jackets BTW)
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Old 12-03-11, 09:31 PM   #5
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^^^^ This. Your list of clothing costs more than the bike! Stores like Marshalls, TJMaxx, etc will have an "Active Wear" rack. I picked up UA and Nike base layers which are really warm. There's lots of threads and a Sticky on clothing. Don't waste your money on bike specific clothing.
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Old 12-03-11, 09:59 PM   #6
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I agree. If you are a poor student you shouldn't be spending anywhere near that much, even if its just for one of those items. Any waterproof outer layer wont breathe very well (especially if wet). I have one goretex jacket and it doesn't breathe any better than cheap nylon shells found in thrift stores (as far as I can tell). I can't believe how much they sell that stuff for. Isn't goretex just glorified nylon? Find a waterproof nylon shell at the thrift store that has vents all around it. My commute this week was about 20 miles round trip and temps were between 30 and 40 F. With two dryfit type tshirts as a base and a cheap nylon jacket I bought at Goodwill for $5 as my outer layer, I stayed just warm enough and sweat very little.
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Old 12-03-11, 10:47 PM   #7
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In cold weather (well below freezing) I think wind-blocking is much more important than waterproof. I also think you are overdressing. I'm generally good to about 0F with a soft shell microfleece and a wicking baselayer.

In the cold the hard part is keeping your feet and hands warm. The torso is easy to keep warm.

If you are not in a rush, sign up for Sierra Trading Post's deal flyer. If you wait for the right coupon you can often find something suitable at a fraction of retail price. Performance and Nashbar often have stuff on clearance as well.

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Old 12-03-11, 10:55 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharp4a9 View Post
Hey all. I've been lurking here for a while, trying to prepare myself for my first season of winter riding. While the search feature on this forum has been good to me, it's also led to a strong case of paralysis-by-analysis; there's so much information, I just don't know what to do about my top two layers.
I know that I want the top layer to be a completely waterproof hardshell and the next-to-top layer to be a softshell fleece. I'll also need a waterproof overpant. But here is where the paralysis comes in: All this gear is expensive. I'm a student without a lot of money. So where will I get the most bang for my buck?

Here's what I've been looking at:

Perfect hardshell: Showers Pass Elite 2.0. ($240) I haven't been able to try it on yet, but I've heard way too many good things about it. Since I wear a backpack a lot (if I bike more than two miles, the backpack goes on the rear rack, but I'm a student and I walk around too) I'm definitely concerned about the durability of eVent, but this is definitely the standard. I also really like the fit of the Novara Stratus 2.0 ($160). I tried on a Showers Pass Touring and hated the fit. I mean, I really hated it.

Perfect Softshell: Marmot Sharp Point. ($150-$250) I tried on a bunch of softshells and this is the best combination of warmth, mobility, and style that I've found.

Perfect Rain Pants: Foxwear Neoshell ($120). This is the only rainpant I can find that I have a reasonable expectation that it can breath. And even then, I'm feeling pretty dodgy about it.

Respectable Hardshell: J&G Breathable Rain Jacket ($100) It just looks like a completely generic, solid performer.

Dang, you should've asked this a couple of weeks ago. Helly Hansen was blowing out last year's Seven J jackets for $40! They're still a nice shell at the regular price of $80. There are a couple of online places that have the $40 Seven J in various colors/sizes but they're running out.

Another nice price shell to consider is the Marmot Precip. Not too comfy with short sleeve shirts underneath because the sleeves aren't lined but fine with longsleeves.

I haven't worn a soft shell as an outer layer since I lived in northern Arizona. Here in WA chances of rain are really good from October-May, so hardshell all the way for me. It has to be a REALLY cold day for me to want anything more than a longsleeve tee under my shell when cycling. I imagine you'll see more of those cold days than I do however. Often I'll wear fleece on the way in to work and stuff it in my backpack for the way home.

Last edited by LesterOfPuppets; 12-03-11 at 11:00 PM.
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Old 12-04-11, 01:32 AM   #9
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The best money is spent on wool base layers. It's what you wear under the mandatory but not necessarily expensive windproof layer that makes the difference.
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Old 12-04-11, 09:01 AM   #10
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Most of my gear is used from thrift stores and ebay, and base layers from Target. The exception of the Foxwear Neoshell pants. Lou was so great to work with and the pants are extremely nice, I dont second guess the cost at all.
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Old 12-04-11, 09:20 AM   #11
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The best money is spent on wool base layers. It's what you wear under the mandatory but not necessarily expensive windproof layer that makes the difference.
Yep, finally got smart and bought my first merino baselayer shirt, what a difference over underarmour!
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Old 12-04-11, 11:27 AM   #12
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Maybe I can simplify the question: if I can only choose one, should I have the best available waterproof top, thermal (and windproof) top, or waterproof overpant?
Any cheap vented windproof shell is good enough for the outside in Minnesota during the winter. It doesn't even need to be waterproof. Windproof and breathable would be preferable to waterproof if it is vented. My Performance Bike Illiminite jacket has the pit zips and a vent in the back. I still get my base-layers wet biking 10 miles to work, but not too bad. Keeping your core good in the winter is probably the easiest thing to do.

As for pants, I used to wear the matching Illuminite bottoms with a baselayer/long underwear under them. I have since switched to some clearance Ex-Officio fleece-lined pants. They are good down to 15 degrees or so alone, and with long undies or winter tights underneath, are good to -30 or so. Any baggy-fitting fleece lined jeans (check out Kaplan Brothers on Lake St) that are big enough to allow long undies as well would keep you good down to cold enough that you don't want to ride.

I personally spent the big-bucks on studded-tires, a snowboard helmet (I love the vents) from Steep and Cheap, and good goggles. I also really like my Serius facemask from REI. It lets me breathe without fogging the goggles. The pogies for my hands that I am going to try this year cost more than my jacket and 3 C9 baselayers from Target.

Again, waterproof isn't super important during true winter. Breathable and windproof is.

Edit: I also use platform pedals for commuting. Cheap waterproof thinsulite boots from Wal-mart have kept the feet warm with smartwool socks very well. Much better than expensive Lake winter boots did.

Last edited by goalieMN; 12-04-11 at 11:31 AM.
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Old 12-04-11, 11:35 AM   #13
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I've not had good luck with regular gloves. They bend my thumb back when shifting or braking. Because of this, I broke down and bought some expensive ones designed for cycling.
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Old 12-04-11, 11:45 AM   #14
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I've not had good luck with regular gloves. They bend my thumb back when shifting or braking. Because of this, I broke down and bought some expensive ones designed for cycling.
I don't know what the weather is like in Omaha, but when it gets to -10 or less here, there isn't a damn thing on the market the marked (besides pogies) that is cycling specific and warm enough for me. I spent too much money figuring that out.
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Old 12-04-11, 11:51 AM   #15
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Oh, one other thing about the original post: lose the backpack. A single pannier (or pair) in the winter is going to be MUCH more comfy. I found using a messenger bag or backpack in the winter to be about a zillion times worse than using the same in the summer. Super sweaty back, as it stops my jacket's back vent from working at all. It makes it easy to get chilled every time you stop at a light etc....

YMMV, but, after the last 3 winters with a pannier, I cannot believe I ever used a backpack or messenger bag in the winter.
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Old 12-04-11, 12:10 PM   #16
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Weird. I rarely have sweat problems in the winter. Of course I only wear one thin layer under my shell down to about 28. Then add one layer fleece or silk thermals below that.

However, one bad thing about backpacks over shells I've noticed is that they wear out your jacket's waterproofing more quickly.
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Old 12-04-11, 10:25 PM   #17
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Thanks for all the responses! I think my problem was that, in all the reading I was doing, I was reading what people had written about their best or favorite winter clothes, and not their most practical. Thus, I became overly concerned with the nicest, best options and became less concerned with immediate need and practicality. You all have helped right my ship.

I'm no longer concerned about the rain jacket at all (at least until spring), I'll ask for a windproof shell for Christmas, and I'll happily wear the old snowpants (bought 10 years ago...makes me feel old) for when my jeans aren't enough anymore.

Tomorrow should be my last day wearing the backpack; I have a rack with a thrift-store basket on it that can get the backpack bungee-corded into it but I haven't attached it yet (too much to do this weekend...what a shame).
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