Amy Cutler: Winter Layering
Words by Amy Cutler, Photography by Tayler Rae Dubé
What to wear? One of the most challenging aspects of winter riding, aside from braving the cold, is deciding what to wear. Many a pre-ride breakfast is spent agonizing over this very commitment. You may opt to text ride companions seeking solace in their feedback. Eventually it comes time to depart. Let's hope we got this right!
Building an arsenal of winter apparel can take years, unless there is a pile of $$$ lying around! We'll start by covering my winter favs then delve into temperature based wardrobe combos. Please bear in mind that article combos are merely intended to be helpful guidelines. Everyone's cold tolerance is different and I am probably one of the biggest winter wimps around. Let's just say I latch on to wool socks like a security blanket come December.
Bar Mitts- This nifty handlebar mitten is the brain child of Ward Graham. Prior to the glory of Bar Mitts I relied on heavy lobster-style gloves, a sort of tri-finger mitten. While the gloves optimized warmth, shifting and food consumption was compromised. With BarMitts I am able to enjoy the best of both worlds, easily achieving high levels of warmth and dexterity. A state of sweet satisfaction I like to call #happyhands.
Neck Gaiter – A highly versatile and easy to stash article that has become a staple on my sub 30*F rides. Intended to be worn under the helmet, neck gaiters rest just above the chin strap ready to be pulled into action up and over the nose as roads pitch downward. Combined with a skull cap, neck gaiters serve much of the same purpose as balaclavas yet provide greater flexibility. For example, should temps tick upward while the need for ear coverage remains, simply remove the neck gaiter and place it in your back pocket.
Shoe covers – Freezing toes is one of the most challenging winter nuisances. Aside from wool socks and loosely fitting shoes, heavyweight neoprene shoe covers are an excellent layer. The neoprene material offers a vapor barrier that entraps moisture and prevents evaporative heat loss. For extra warmth, consider wearing a pair of toe warmers beneath shoe covers.
Ergonomic arm and leg warmers – Ergonomic apparel minimizes unnecessary material around the most acute angles of knee and elbow junctions. Intelligent designs intended to reduce uncomfortable bulk that would otherwise result in sweat inducing hot spots. Due to knee sensitivity, I choose to where leg warmers and double bib shorts at temperatures most would opt to wear winter tights.
Sleeveless base layer – The quintessential foundation of any winter ride, offering warmth to the core while allowing for underarm heat regulation. I'll take a sleeveless base layer and arm warmer combo over a long sleeve base layer any day.
Fleece lined skinsuit – Admittedly a rare find, prior to the days of BarMitts a fleece lined skinsuit was hands down my favorite sub 30*F layer. This seamless one piece reduces uncomfortable midsection intersection of top and bottom layers, while simultaneous minimizing heat loss.
When temps dip below 55*F, every five degree difference seems to call for a different layering strategy. As a matter of habit I always look at the hourly forecast for a given ride duration and pack everything needed for the corresponding range of temps in jersey pockets. Often times including a spare pair of gloves to switch into at a halfway point. Thus making jerseys with three pockets awesome!
Below is a matrix of my typical layering combos based upon five degree increments between 20 and 55*F. Regardless of layering combo, maintaining a keen awareness of perspiration rate is vital to proper thermoregulation. Without vigilant layer management, chances are you may overheat and sweat profusely. As evaporative heat loss takes place, you may also experience discomfort while the body returns to a cooler temperature. Easy to remove layers are key to thermoregulation, hydration, and overall comfort on winter rides, effectively allowing you to ride harder for longer with a smile.