Dressing For Success


By Dave McElwaine


Most every Saturday morning when my alarm goes off I check the temperature.  Dressing appropriately for the weather can make the difference between a great ride and a disaster.  Dressing in cold weather is somewhat of an art, highly individualistic, and no two people are likely to agree on the specifics.  But, if you are new to riding in cold, there needs to be a starting point.  I am hoping to offer that here.  You can refine this guide to suit your own needs as you gain experience.  Some basic rules I live by:


1. Avoid booties at all costs.

2. Avoid synthetic jackets if possible.

3. Avoid cotton like the plague.

4. Keep your head and hands warm.

5. Stay Dry.


The bootie thing is very personal.  I feel like I am wearing part of a scuba diving outfit when I wear them.  My riding slows so much I feel like I am riding with an anchor thrown overboard, even though I know it is all in my head! You may as well sit naked on a icy steel I-beam as wear cotton when you are sweating in cold weather.  They both suck the heat out of you.  Synthetic jackets, while they block the wind, eventually make me feel like I am in a sauna.  The moisture trap feels terrible to me.  And, nothing ruins a ride for me like having cold hands.  The worst ride is one where you are riding in 33 rain.   Once you are wet, you freeze.


Most new winter riders tend to overdress.  If you are warm in the parking lot, you are likely to be overheated once you start riding. You can eliminate ski jackets from your list of riding apparel.  They are virtually never needed.  If you are not sure you have dressed properly, just stuff a nylon jacket, vest, or skull hat in a pocket to be safe. You will often hear that you should adjust your clothing to avoid sweating.  I contend that if you are riding with intensity, sweating is impossible to avoid.  So, you need to be able to move the moisture away from your skin instead.


When you look at this guide, you may say, “I can’t go out and buy all that stuff!"  Collect it gradually, moving from the warmer temperature outfits to the colder, increasing your riding range.  In all, I now use three pair of gloves, one pair of mittens, three weights of tights, three different base layers, three types of jerseys, three types of socks, and two types of shoes.


So here is the guide:


65 degrees and above Riding like it should be!

Shorts, short sleeve shirts, finger-less gloves, vented shoes, light Coolmax socks.


60-65 degrees Beautiful Autumn and Spring Days

Same as above but add a long sleeved jersey.  I prefer Pearl Izumi Kodiak Lite jerseys.


55-60 degrees The cold begins to get  your attention

Shorts or knickers, long sleeved Kodiak Lite jersey with sleeveless mesh base layer, vented shoes, medium weight socks, finger-less gloves.  Bring along a vest just in case.


50-55 degrees- No more bare legs!

Shorts under thin tights, knickers, or shorts with knee warmers. Long sleeve Kodiak Lite Jersey, vest,  medium weight long fingered gloves, medium weight Coolmax socks.


45-50 degrees -Get out the duct tape!!

Same as above but add a long sleeved mesh base layer, medium weight socks, put duct tape over vents in shoes or switch to a non-vented shoe, medium weight full-fingered gloves, add a headband to cover ears.


40-45 degrees-  Jacket Time !

Wind Block breathable jacket, non-vented shoes, fleece socks, medium weight tights, long sleeved mesh base layer, Kodiak Lite long sleeved jersey, medium weight gloves, headband for ears.


35-40 degrees  -Winter Shoes !

Same as above but add a skull cap and Pearl Amfib gloves, winter riding shoes, chemical toe heaters.


30-35 degrees- Avoid Nippy Toes !

Wind Block jacket, non-vented winter shoes, medium weight tights, long sleeve mesh base layer, Kodiak Lite long sleeved base layer, helmet cover, light balaclava, fleece socks, and Pearl Amfib gloves.


20-30 degrees  -Lobster Anyone?

Get out the lobster gloves.  Switch to Nike Dri Fit base layer under a Kodiak Lite jersey, Wind Block jacket, balaclava, helmet cover, tights with wind-blocking front, fleece socks, chemical toe heaters.


10-20 degrees Hearty souls only!

Add the dreaded booties. If the lobster gloves are not working for you, add Wind Block mittens.


0-10 degrees Question your sanity!

Same as above but add ski goggles, chemical hand heaters, or glove liners inside Wind Block mittens.




In cold weather, consider carrying a cell phone with you in case of breakdowns.  Repair stops can be agony if you have to take your gloves off.  Keep them on as long as possible.  Also, consider carrying a Space Blanket in your bike pack.  They weigh almost nothing, take up very little space, but have saved many lives.  Try not to ride alone, and if you are in a group, stop with any rider who has a mechanical.  Remember wind chill can speed up frost bite so cover bare skin in extreme conditions.  Bring along a lightweight Tyvek rain jacket any time there is a chance of rain.



Some people use sandwich bags over their socks to create and extra wind-block.  But, if your socks get wet they trap the moisture. Gortex socks seem to work for some people but I have not had good luck with them due to leakage.  Make good use of the zippers and vents in your clothing to keep from overheating.  Learn to operate these zippers while riding.   Sweating too much will always come back and bite you towards the end of your ride.


If you are riding in the rain, dress about two categories warmer. Also add a waterproof jacket, preferably with a flap in the back to keep your butt dry.  If you are mountain biking, you can usually dress 20 degrees warmer because of the lack of wind chill factor.


Having to go through all these clothing gyrations is the price we have to pay for living in New England while pursuing a sport that fits better in warmer climates.  For many of us, there is no “off-season” anymore.  But, if you dress for success, you can still have a great time!


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