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Cycling in extreme cold

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Cycling in extreme cold

Old 08-13-15, 04:33 AM
  #1  
Shiloh253
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Cycling in extreme cold

I'm moving to Laramie, WY in two days, starting on my 4-year degree at the end of august. Long story short: Driving is out of the realm of possibility for me due to vision problems. Public transportation is available in Laramie, but it's limited at best. During the winter it easily drops to -30F, with some wicked wind.

So, how would I go about cycling in that kind of weather? I'm applying to a few jobs that are close to my apartment, and school is less than a mile away. Here's what I'm thinking so far:

-Get a cheap, used MTB to beat up during the winter.
-Thick but flexible gloves
-Some form of parka/light snow jacket just to keep me from freezing to death
-Balaclava or shemagh for the face.

What should I be looking for exactly? I've ridden in the winter before, but never really had a chance to get used to it (had a friend who'd gladly drive me around this past winter when I needed it).

Thanks!
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Old 08-13-15, 05:54 AM
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I use a
1.wick / base lalyer
2.Warm layer
3.Water resistance layer if required
4.High visibility clothes
u get the point !
i would pick multiple layers over 1 thick layer !
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Old 08-13-15, 08:24 AM
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Need studded tires? Keep that option open. Racks/fenders/bags needed? For me here in MA, I work on my hands, feet and head to try to stay warmest. Go with some insulated winter boots and flat pedals, start there. And layers too.
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Old 08-13-15, 08:33 AM
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When talking distances of less than a mile, your winter riding clothing choices change dramatically.

I generally dress so that I'm cold the first couple miles. That way once I get warmed up from the ride I don't sweat too much. Overdressing can be just as bad as underdressing because of sweat.

But if you're traveling less than a mile then you're not going to get warmed up enough for sweat to be a factor. Therefore I'm going to go against the grain and say wear the exact same thing you would wear if you were walking that mile. Dress warm and minimize exposed skin. You're probably talking about less than five minutes for a commute of that distance.

If you land a job that's much farther away, then nripin hit the nail on the head: layers are the key for longer distances. I don't use any fancy clothing, just cheap stuff. But I layer up. Below 0 F and my layers look like this:
  • Spandex shorts/bike shorts
  • Thermal underwear.
  • Sweat pants and t-shirt.
  • Windbreaker jacket.
  • Gloves, boots, balaclava and glasses.


Above 10 degrees and I remove the thermal underwear layer. Note that this is much less clothing than what a person new to winter riding would expect. When I roll out the door in the morning I am shivering, but by the time I make it to work (8 miles) I'm not cold at all, except for my fingers and toes (which I've yet to find a decent solution for, so I just live with it.)

Also, not to be a jerk but if your vision is too bad to drive should you be cycling? Generally I rely heavily on being able to see traffic, and I wouldn't want that impaired.
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Old 08-16-15, 09:15 PM
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Same as above ^

Just dress as if you'd planned on walking the mile as you're not going to get too uncomfortable on that short duration ride. Just focus on protecting your face (with a thin balaclava) and hands - they can become uncomfortable quickly, particularly if you're pedaling at speed.

Be wary where you ride and how you ride, if it's a new experience for you. Most winter commuters use studded tires to help minimize the risk of washouts on ice patches and fresh snow. You can survive without studs but you'll need to be really careful. Having poor vision won't help you spot ice, or rutted snow or any partially obscured objects such as pavements or pot-holes.

Be careful!
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Old 08-19-15, 11:25 AM
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Sorry for not replying folks, was without internet for a few days.

I've ridden in snow before, and after a few hairy experiences I think I've got the hang of it. There's a lot of dirt-cheap bikes around here too. Hardly cream of the crop (yayyy huffy and mongoose!) but they'll work as a beater bike during the winter. And after talking to a guy at our local LBS he said that studded tires were almost a must, so I'll probably take that route.
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Old 08-19-15, 11:33 AM
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I've seen people do it, here. I don't/won't. Too many risks.
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Old 08-20-15, 01:42 PM
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Layers, and make sure that you have a way to cover skin that is susceptible to frostbite. My dad froze the tip of his nose at -20F last winter because it wasn't covered and he descended a hill (effectively creating his own windchill). Also, always carry an extra layer when riding in those temps. I run warm, so I dress cool, but I always carry a down jacket and extra windproof stocking cap.
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Old 08-21-15, 05:20 AM
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Do you need a waterproof in -30F. A windproof insulated jacket should be OK. An outer, removable insulating layer is good for heat regulation and if you need to stop. Sleeveless body-warmers/gillets work well.
For 1 mile riding, you will spend more time getting prepped, dressed up and down at each end, than riding. Check if it is worth the effort compared to walking for 20 mins.
In flat areas, singlespeeds keep things simple and reliable, but you need horizontal dropouts or similar, not spring-loaded chain tensioner.
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Old 08-21-15, 06:24 AM
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Originally Posted by MichaelW View Post
Do you need a waterproof in -30F. A windproof insulated jacket should be OK. An outer, removable insulating layer is good for heat regulation and if you need to stop. Sleeveless body-warmers/gillets work well.
For 1 mile riding, you will spend more time getting prepped, dressed up and down at each end, than riding. Check if it is worth the effort compared to walking for 20 mins.
In flat areas, singlespeeds keep things simple and reliable, but you need horizontal dropouts or similar, not spring-loaded chain tensioner.
Waterproof in such conditions isn't needed, but a breathable windproof shell is. Even the "breathable" aspect is iffy as I've arrived at my location and frost has built up on the inside of the wind jacket and pants.

I'd agree that it's worth considering just walking if it's under a mile. Logistics get to be a big time-sink and headache--clothing, securing and retrieving a bike and its accessories (lights, computer, whatever else could get stolen) in the cold, etc.

But if you do decide to walk, I'd still get the studded tires and get the bike out for longer rides just for the fun of it. :-)
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Old 08-21-15, 06:55 AM
  #11  
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Extreme cold for me is 5F so I won't opine on clothes for colder than that. But I will say something about the bike.

Based on my one ride during a serious cold storm, riding through ice and snow where it was wet enough that ice built up on the bike and goggles and other parts, I have no inclination to do that again with a geared road bike. When you're stopped in less than two miles, chipping ice to get the chain moving, it's kind of late to be thinking about better choices.

Next time it will be a single speed with big tires, preferably studded, or else I'm staying home.
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Old 08-21-15, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Shiloh253 View Post
I'm moving to Laramie, WY in two days, starting on my 4-year degree at the end of august. Long story short: Driving is out of the realm of possibility for me due to vision problems. Public transportation is available in Laramie, but it's limited at best. During the winter it easily drops to -30F, with some wicked wind.

So, how would I go about cycling in that kind of weather? I'm applying to a few jobs that are close to my apartment, and school is less than a mile away. Here's what I'm thinking so far:

-Get a cheap, used MTB to beat up during the winter.
-Thick but flexible gloves
-Some form of parka/light snow jacket just to keep me from freezing to death
-Balaclava or shemagh for the face.

What should I be looking for exactly? I've ridden in the winter before, but never really had a chance to get used to it (had a friend who'd gladly drive me around this past winter when I needed it).

Thanks!
I have a lot of experience are riding sub-zero temps, I bike-commute year-round in Minneapolis. Coldest ride is -20F for 11 miles, all smiles. Here are some pointers:

Old MTB is good, disc brakes are a plus, and SS conversion is also good.
Flush and regrease the free hub, otherwise it can freeze at sub-zero temps... then you're walking (been there, done that).
Studded tires are a big help in the winter! I run Nokian Mount and Ground on the front and Continental Top Contact (non-studded) on the rear. The front tire is the most important for traction, steering, braking. The non-studded rear tire gives lower rolling resistance, making the ride 'faster'.
A good snowboard/ski jacket shell, it doesn't need to be heavily insulated, you create a lot of heat. Be sure it has vents, you'll want to open them to get steamy/hot air out of the jacket.
Pogies are GREAT! (Gupgum is a friend's business) & the bottle rack coozie works wonderfully.
Many people like snowboard/ski goggles, I can't wear them, they fog and freeze. I typically go with nothing over my face (see below), but I'm a freakish.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to ask any follow up questions, I'm a huge fan of winter riding and would like to help other enjoy it too.

Here is my winter bike - 2005 Marin Nail Trail (I replace the fork this spring with a rigid fork, no value in suspended forks in the snow/ice):


Here are my layers for commuting 11 miles at -13F - many layers and lots of wool:



This is a selfie on a -15F day, I stopped to open vents to cool off. I get very hot riding in the winter.


Last edited by Hypno Toad; 08-21-15 at 07:56 AM.
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Old 08-21-15, 07:51 AM
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I commute year round in Sault Ste. Marie, ON and I am good to -30 celcius (-22 for all you non-conformists) and there is a lot of good advice here - moisture wicking base layers, wool and vents are all good.

For feet I use flat pedals and running shoes with rubber overshoes over that. I find this to be plenty warm enough down to -30 and I have indoor shoes to wear when I get where I am going.

I like mittens rather than gloves when it gets cold - much warmer - and I am using inexpensive ski mitts - nothing too fancy.

Head - I ride with a helmet and I uses a moisture wicking beanie under the helmet, then a breathable rain cover over the helmet to block wind and slow the escape of warm air, and I found a stretchy fleece hat at a charity shop that goes right over the whole shebang. Very warm.

I also grow a full beard for winter (something I don't think hypno toad does ) which helps to create some warm dead air around the face under the scarf or balaclava.

I LOVE my studded tire! I amused some people last winter by riding laps on a local skating rink last year. That said - I would really like to try a fat-bike some winter - but I get more snow here than Laramie WY - and I do know the climate there fairly well - that's where my wife is from. Great city! Enjoy it.
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Old 08-21-15, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by auldgeunquers View Post
I also grow a full beard for winter (something I don't think hypno toad does ) which helps to create some warm dead air around the face under the scarf or balaclava.
My wife vetos the beard anytime I get one started, she's not a fan.... But many of my MPLS friends do put on a beard for the winter riding. Not the women though, the women around here just can't grow a good beard. Well most can't - Bearded Lady Motorcycle Show
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Old 08-21-15, 08:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Hypno Toad View Post
My wife vetos the beard anytime I get one started, she's not a fan.... But many of my MPLS friends do put on a beard for the winter riding. Not the women though, the women around here just can't grow a good beard. Well most can't - Bearded Lady Motorcycle Show
Ah yes, Bearded Lady. Been there once a couple of years back. Interesting bikes show up for that. And INTERESTING peoples too ...
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Old 08-27-15, 10:52 PM
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Bar Mitts
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Old 08-27-15, 11:35 PM
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I've ridden in -20 F weather here in Chicago out of necessity, fortunately not too often. I had a hard time keeping my hands warm. If I were doing it again I would definitely go for bar mitts. The other problem I had was that my eyes were watering like crazy and the tears freezing instantly on my eyelashes. You could try ski goggles but they might fog up and then freeze which pretty much makes them useless and it's virtually impossible to do anything about in those temps. I think I would probably wear a pair of safety glasses or wraparounds because they would keep most of the wind out of my eyes but aren't fully enclosed. I'd use heavy socks and well insulated boots. I didn't like wearing a lot of layers because I'd just sweat with the exertion. Thermals and pants, and thermals, a military field jacket liner, and a jacket were enough. I could feel the cold but the warmth of exertion kept me OK. Frostbite is no joke and can happen really fast so keep your ears and nose covered.
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Old 08-28-15, 01:28 AM
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Originally Posted by GravelMN View Post
Bar Mitts
This! Alternatively bike pogies. I have very bad circulation in my hands so these are a must for me. I often wear medium thick gloves AND use the bike pogies and my hands are OK, not great, but OK. The main thing the pogies do is keep the wind off of your hands.

Also, you may want to think about ski goggles. Eyelashes tend to freeze together at those temperatures. I've had my eyes freeze shut multiple times. That's not fun to deal with.

I've ridden in -40. It's not fun. Disk brakes aren't required when things get that cold/snowy. You won't be going fast enough to need them. (Going fast hurts cause of the wind.) Get an old mountain bike, get studded tires, I recommend nokian. (You can get $45 ones from REI, which will last you many, many seasons.) Don't bother trying to make your own, they don't work nearly as well. Commercially made tires give you at least 90% of the grip on glare (black) ice that you'd have with normal tires on dry asphalt. Get TWO, not one, TWO!!!! You may think "oh I can get away with one." NO, NO YOU CAN'T. I thought the same thing when I first started winter riding. Then I WATCHED my girlfriend wipe out hard, then I wiped out hard. (And I'm a freaking good rider.) Do yourself a favor and prevent an injury. Spend another 45 bucks and buy TWO tires.

If possible, when getting your old mountain bike, try to find one that can support WIDE tires. This isn't a necessity, my bike can only fit 1.95s. But, the wider the tire the better for going over small amounts of snow. (Alternatively, go skinny. Skinny tires cut straight through the snow and find the ice underneath.) Go to one extreme or the other, don't sit in the middle.

If you plan on riding on the road, then ride ON the road. Ride in the right tire track. Don't bother trying to ride in the gutter. It's even more dangerous. (Voice of experience.)

Think about LIGHTs. Days are very short in the winter and you'll often be riding in the dark. I recommend at least a 350 lumen front light (more is better) and a pretty decent rear light. One that you get behind and say "Damn, that's bright" and you have to avoid looking at it. The brighter the better. Also, buy a backup rear light. You don't want to lose a rear light due to you forgetting to charge it.

Is your bike being stored inside? It'd better be or plan to come out to a frozen bike every morning. Even if it's covered, it's likely that the derailleur will freeze in place and the cogs will become filled with snow/ice. Since you have vision problems, I'd think that they university would make an exception for allowing you to store your bike somewhere inside. Ask!

I enjoy riding in the winter. It certainly wakes you up. (And people give you crazy looks. AND you get the entire bike rack to yourself.) But you definitely need to be prepared. I actually ride longer than I have to in the winter. If I ride straight to work I never warm up and arrive freezing. If I take the longer way I'm nice and toasty by the time I get there.

Last edited by corrado33; 08-28-15 at 01:38 AM.
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Old 08-31-15, 07:31 PM
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Keep reading this forum, all the old threads and you'll get an idea.

My best tips:

Latex gloves as the base layer on the hands. Add to it to make it work (for me in -20degg = latex + wool gloves + mechanics gloves).
Bread bags as the base layer on the feet. Add to it to make it work (for me in -20deg = bread bag over toes and balls of feet + long wool socks + long johns over socks to balls of feet + long wool socks over the long johns + bread bag over the entire foot).
Ski goggles over balaclava, under helmet, under popped jacket collar. The only thing with one layer is your mouth and nose which due to breathing will be OK.
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Old 09-13-15, 06:35 PM
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Cable lock became very stiff in extremely cold weather--my experience last winter.
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Old 09-14-15, 02:29 PM
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Drop by your thrift store and army surplus and look for wool clothing including socks and gloves. It's possible to wear all three layers in various types of wool. Don't forget winter hiking boots. I didn't have any luck with rubber shoe covers. They let moisture in from the bottom of the sole when you step off the pedal at a traffic light.

Careful not to overdress. Bring along a large volume bag so carry alone or put away your excess clothing. I don't think you'll want to put all that stuff in a knap-sack (unless you already do that and don't mind a lot more stuff in it). More convenient and better for your body ventilation if you carry your stuff in a rack.

De-icer for your lock(s).

Last edited by Daniel4; 09-14-15 at 02:33 PM.
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Old 09-14-15, 10:11 PM
  #22  
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Calgary, Canada reporting here. It's a very different winter compared to most places, especially other places in Canada, because it is elevated and dry. On average it tends to be warmer, but we still get the -30C / -22F days like the rest, mixed with the warm chinook winds. As a result we get a lot of freeze/thaw cycles, which means the snow is a different texture each day and pools of misshapen ice form.

You will have to experiment with whether you run hot or cold. I would recommend erring on the side of caution: dress more warmly, then reduce as you figure it out. If you start sweating too much while riding you will wind up getting very cold if you stop moving, so best to just slow down and put in a walking pace effort to avoid sweating then wear less next time. But, I would actually recommend riding easily regardless, since it is safer in the winter. Getting greedy with speed is how you wipe out. Turning is different in winter. Would recommend even lowering your seat for a more stable riding position. I say ride slow because if you tap your brakes while slipping or on ice your brakes won't stop you, they will skid you. Slush is your worst nightmare, it is a pain to ride through and causes squirrelly handling. Keep a firm grip to remain in control but don't get too tight or you'll reduce your reaction time.

I also highly suggest a hydraulic disc brake bike for winter. Rims freeze and become less responsive. Disc brakes will howl like the devil and may require pumping after 30m or so (activating and releasing while riding to heat them back up) during the coldest days, but they will very rarely fail on you. Personally would not ride through the winter without hydraulic brakes. The Kona Dew Plus is a good "beater" bike that may fit your needs, and also has a cheap hydraulic disc.

A store in Calgary named BikeBike had a winter bike booth last year, taking pictures of cyclists on their commutes. You can get an idea of what they wore, and likely how far they were going, by viewing the album:
https://plus.google.com/photos/10957...681?banner=pwa
A lot of the bikes do not have studded or wide tires, but this is because Calgary doesn't have a lot of precipitation. The city is also very good about clearing off the bike paths. There is usually snow in the way for a short time only. If you will be fighting snow and slush, definitely consider a front studded tire if not both studded. You will want to get it put on before there is snow, so you can ride the tire on asphalt to let the studs "settle." Not doing this can rip the studs out prematurely. Others also recommended fenders. I do too, but make sure there is lots of room between the fender and the wheel. My fender was tight with my 34mm tires, and on a particularly slushy day my tire froze solid to the fender. Slush collected in the fender, covered my wheel and refroze. Took me 15 minutes to get it spinning again.

My biggest complaint in winter was always my hands and my feet. I run cold. Would highly recommend bar mitts. You will see a few in the album above. They seem to work better than the average pogie. Bar Mitts - Ride in Comfort This combined with a good winter glove is a good start. My best glove is a cheap ski glove from Hot Paws.
Never solved the feet problem, but my 'winter boots' were only graded down to -15C. Tried to counter this with two layers of merino wool socks, one a longer ski sock. I recommend getting a better quality boot. Rather than double layering socks, get one good, thick quality wool sock and if that's not enough try a sock liner. Chemical adhesive toe heaters and boot covers are good options too.
Sock liners: RedHead ThermoLite Liner Socks for Men | Bass Pro Shops
Good wool socks: DeFeet Woolie Boolie Sock (Unisex) - Mountain Equipment Co-op. Free Shipping Available
Also other good wool socks from basspro shop that many winter workers like to use. Most good quality ski socks will work. If the boot doesn't block wind or lets it through the tongue you will want a windproof shoe cover.

Get a good set of lights. My first set died from the cold weather. This will vary based on what's available in your area. Lithium batteries do better in the cold. Consider reflective strip stickers for the bike if you will mainly be on the road. The cygo-lite hotspot is supposedly a good rear, and I just picked up a MEC zinger the other day for my front headlamp. I will probably be using a PDW Danger Zone rear this winter.

Your face will be personal preference but don't leave skin exposed. Like I said I run cold. I use a full merino wool tubular with no skin exposed. If it's particularly cold I pull it up higher and fold it over twice for a double layer. This is something you can't do with a traditional baklava, but the baklavas do tend to block wind better. This is tucked under my ski goggles, which I wear with my ski helmet. Most peoples ski goggles fog up in winter because they have very cheap ski goggles with a bike helmet. Ski helmets are designed to let the ski goggles vent better, preventing fogging. But the clear eye glass wraps are popular too and work with regular bike helmets. My ski helmet is a giro nine.10 - I forget the exact model of my goggles, but to give an idea of price point they were a $30 sale from a regular $60. I much prefer the ski helmet and goggle rather than toque/bike helmet.

As far as clothes, I got away with mostly using a pair of lined jeans from marks work wearhouse. If it was too cold for them, I would add an arcteryx midweight tight underneath. Also had an extra thermal tight layer to add if necessary. I have heard good things about the Sugoi SubZero tights from commuters in Edmonton. This is heavier than their MidZero. I wussed out past -30C / -22F and wore snowboard pants, but I was very comfortable once I put those on (baggy pants require tying away from the drive train). Jackets depended. Usually a regular summer jersey, a fleece Canadian olympic jacket, and a windproof cycling craft jacket. Also occasionally used my ski jacket, but it was usually overkill and a bit bulky.

Think I covered everything I meant to say. Never had to use a de-icer or a lighter, but I may have been lucky.

Last edited by Crowek; 09-14-15 at 10:16 PM.
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Old 09-15-15, 04:40 PM
  #23  
atrp2biz
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Another Calgarian weighing in:

Lower body - Costco merino Paradox pants with these thermal pants on top

Upper body - Costco merino Paradox base layer, fleece sweater, neon wind breaker

Feet - DeFeet merino wool socks, Northwave Arctic Winter cycling boots lined with thermal insulating soles

Face/head - Pearl Izumi skull cap, Seirus fleece combo scarf, ski goggles under bike helmet

Hands - 45NRTH Sturmfist 4

Tires - Schwalbe Marathon Winter

Visibility - Serfas 250 lumens front light, Planet Bike Superflash rear light and a bunch of these stickers all over my bike.

Last edited by atrp2biz; 09-15-15 at 05:02 PM.
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Old 09-15-15, 11:54 PM
  #24  
Crowek
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Went back into my history and found some posts about winter cycling I read before I tried it. Extra reading if you're inclined:

https://tuckamoredew.wordpress.com/w...obert-clinton/
How to Continue Commuting with your bike during the winter months | RedBike
How To Ride Your Bike All Winter ? And Love it
The Ultimate Bike Commuter?s Guide to Winter Cycling - Frugalwoods
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Old 09-25-15, 12:35 PM
  #25  
UberIM
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Hypno Toad,
I am looking into a mtb with disc brakes for the winter (I use rim brakes now).
Hydraulic or Mechanical-I commute to -30- -40C in the winter here in northern New England.
Thanks
UberIM
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