Gear Report: Winter Biking Apparel

Wednesday I finally got to test out my new biking apparel with some actual winter weather (not the 69 degree temperatures last week that had me back to shorts and t-shirt). It was 7 degrees with a stiff headwind when I rode to BC and I wanted to find the right balance of clothing so that I would be warm without getting sweaty. Last time I biked in this weather, my core would get too warm with a nylon shell over fleece or wool while my extremities, especially my feet would get painfully cold.

The major improvement I’ve made this time around is buying an REI Neo soft-shell jacket made of stretch-woven nylon that blocks the wind but also breathes enough to avoid trapping moisture from the inside. For most weather between 30 and 50 degrees, I can wear this over a single REI polypropylene base layer and tweak my temperature with different head coverings (thin balaclava and fleece neck gator). On my lower half, I wear a pair of stretch-woven nylon pants over biking shorts, with Smartwool snow-boarding socks and Shimano biking shoes on my feet.

When the temperature dropped into the nippier range on Wednesday, I just added an thermal underwear top and bottom underneath my normal outfit. With both head coverings thin balaclava and fleece neck gator and my warm mittens, I was able to stay comfortable most of the ride after I got warmed up enough that my body heat began escaping through the only uncovered area of my body-my eyes (I’m not ready to wear ski goggles yet-that would take things to a new level of biking dorkiness). I was impressed at how warm my feet stayed thanks to the Smartwool and the Shimanos (with are thicker than my old Nikes). On the whole, this combination felt just right–not to cold, not too sweaty.

So that’s the gear report for any of you who bike in the winter. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has other all-weather biking gear that they recommend.


3 responses to “Gear Report: Winter Biking Apparel”

  1. Tim–I've been looking at those Neo soft-jackets. They seem really good at blocking the wind. We don't have anything like your temps but it HAS been cold, here, in Northern California, and when it's cold there's usually a cold headwind for us in the morning.When I biked in Boston in the winter I used a neoprene skiing face mask, a thin neck gator over my head and ears, and a fleece neck gator over that. Normal footwear, but I wasn't going your distance, either, which meant I had fewer issues about arriving too hot and sweaty. This is now over ten years ago and the gear has improved significantly since then. BSAG over at But She's a Girl has a new take on how to do the bike commute without roiling yourself up: ride at a more stately pace (she's ordered one of those beautiful old Dutch bikes). See

  2. Thanks for the recommendations, Pica. This weekend I'm going to look into some other ski masks/neck gator combos to see if I can find anything that works better for extremely cold weather like today (2 degrees and windy). I think BSAG's suggestions about riding at a more stately pace makes sense if you're hoping to biking to work in your work cloths without too disheveled. Now that I'm taking my clothes to work and showing there, I usually try to keep the pace up to get a better workout. And on a day like today, I need as much body heat as I can muster to keep comfortable, so the stately pace will have to wait until summer.