Ranulph Fiennes once said, "There is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing." Lest you think, "Well, Ranulph never experienced New England in the cold, and what kind of a name is Ranulph anyway?", you should know that he's the first (and still the only) person to ever cross Antarctica purely on foot, and knows about as much as one can know about surviving in the most inhospitable climate on Earth. And if he has a lesson for those of us who don't like the cold, it's that with the right gear, you can go anywhere.
Massachusetts' fall and winter weather can get cold and messy, but it's not the South Pole. With the proper clothes and preparation, any rider can ride as long, hard, comfortably, and safely in colder eastern Massachusetts weather as they would in the spring or summer. In this article, we examine some examples of gear you're going to need to make it through the colder months. Personal preferences and your physical build will play a major role in what you can and should wear, so if you're interested in the clothes below, stop in to try them on.
Hands, Feet, & Head
Cold & Rain
The parts of your body furthest from your core are going to get cold the quickest, so make sure they stay covered. The Pearl Izumi Pro AmFib Super Glove ($120.00) is the most weather-proof glove out there, featuring Primaloft windproof material, Pearl Izumi's patented WxB fabric for waterproofing, and a buckle and strap paired with a bungee drawstring to keep warm air in and all precipitation out. For your feet, the Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Shoe Cover ($70.00) is absolutely necessary if you're on the bike below 30 degrees; the wool Multisport Socks ($20.00) are very warm, but they're not windproof, and wind chill can present a serious problem in typical cycling shoes. The Pearl Izumi Barrier Balaclava ($35.00) is inexpensive, fits under all helmets, and can be pulled over your nose and mouth or left open to keep your face from overheating.
When rain, snow, and ice aren't a problem, you still need to be protected from wind chill. The Pearl Izumi Pro Softshell Lobster Glove ($80.00) is windproof, waterproof, and flexible enough to maintain control of any bike. It doesn't come with the drawstring or buckle and strap, but in dry conditions, you're unlikely to need those. The Elite Softshell Shoe Cover ($70.00) is thinner than the Barrier cover for greater breathability, but still windproof. The Barrier Skull Cap ($30.00) provides the minimum amount of coverage for your head and ears, and features a space in the back for ponytails or other long hairstyles.
Relatively warm, rainy conditions might seem more comfortable than cold, dry conditions, but soaked body parts can quickly become cold, numb, or even frostbitten. The Pearl Izumi Pro Barrier WxB Gloves ($80.00) are so waterproof you could wear them in the shower and keep your hands dry, while the Pro Barrier WxB Shoe Covers ($50.00) will provide similar coverage for your shoes, in high-visibility and reflective colors.
Cold & Rain
For high-performance cyclists, the Castelli Gabba 2 Long Sleeve jacket ($200.00) is one of the best designed top layers available. The jacket's cut to be highly aerodynamic, a must for riders who need to save energy in the denser, cooler fall air, and features Castelli's Nano Flex waterproof breathable fabric in the underarm sections for sweat wicking and splash protection, Windstopper fabric on the chest, zippered ventilation pockets on the front for when the temperature unexpectedly rises, and grippers around the waist to keep the entire jacket in place on longer rides.
The Giordana Trade Corsa jacket ($229.99) was custom-made first for the Arlington Bicycle Club, but lots of other riders have enjoyed this jacket over the last year. Triple-layered, with a WindTex front for wind chill protection, and a relatively relaxed fit, the Trade Corsa has been a popular choice for cyclists looking for coverage when the weather gets below freezing.
The "WxB" in Pearl Izumi's Select Barrier WxB Jacket ($135.00) stands for "Waterproof & Breathable," and this jacket does a great job of living up to that promise. The fabric is waterproof to 10 meters underwater, and the main zipper, as well as all of the jacket's seams, are internally waterproofed and taped. Further, if you want rain coverage for your head, the Select Barrier WxB is compatible with optional rain hoods for your head or helmet.
Cold & Rain
The Pearl Izumi Elite AmFib tight ($120.00) is the best line of defense against wind chill and precipitation for your lower half, even below freezing. Its waterproof, windproof fabric around your legs will keep your legs warm and dry through the worst that New England weather has to offer us. You'll need your shorts underneath if you'd normally wear shorts when riding.
Giordana's Super Roubaix Bib Knickers ($150.00) are not tights. For starters, they fit much better; like a bib short, the Super Roubaix comes with suspender-style shoulder straps, which reduces uncomfortable movement in the waist while making the overall fit more relaxed. For another thing, the Super Roubaix knickers don't cover the ankles or shins; they come up a little higher for flexibility as a cool or mild-weather garment. Like the Trade Corsa jacket, this was made for the Arlington Bicycle Club; try it out to stay warm and show off some hometown pride!
If you can't get out of that extremely wet, dirty, unpleasant ride, or if that's what you like (no judgement!), Pearl Izumi's Select Barrier WxB Pants ($130.00) are what you need. We find that while waterproof tights are often surprisingly breathable due to modern wicking materials being used next to the skin, waterproof pants don't work well for light to moderate rain, since they're not skintight, and thus not designed to pull the moisture of sweat off of the wearer's legs. In those cases, you'll need a base layer underneath the pants (see below). But if it's coming down in buckets, and you have to stay dry at all costs, your prayers have been answered. Note that the pants don't have padding; you'll need your shorts if you'd normally ride with them.
Upper Body & Lower Body
In any weather conditions, base layers are a great way to increase your comfort during the fall. Winter-weight base layers, typically made of a blend of wool and synthetic fabrics, will wick sweat away from your skin, which can help prevent unwanted cooling and frostbite; they'll provide potentially needed insulation on sub-freezing rides; and they can even keep you cooler when the weather is unexpectedly warm (or if you're riding in rain pants). We carry Hasyun wool upper and lower base layers ($50.00, shirt; $50.00, tights) for all those reasons.
For those who want to feel warmer and/or keep their muscles loose, Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Embrocation ($20.00, Mild & Medium; $21.00, Madness) is a capsaicin-based salve capable of heating you up in practically any riding conditions. It's available in three different strengths, Mellow, Medium, and Madness (with options like Russian Tea and Gentleman's Blend for more pleasant, less chemical aromas and milder heating), but Mad Alchemy recommends not using Madness until you've tried the weaker ones; it gets very hot, and is rated to keep one's muscles feeling warm when partially covered at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, you read that correctly. Exposure's still not good for you, so keep covered with the clothes above for your safety, especially if you stop riding.
If you want to ride in the fall or winter, but don't want to go it alone, well, neither do we. Fortunately, our group rides go throughout the colder months, weather-permitting, leaving every Saturday morning from the shop at 10 AM. For more information on how to ride safely in the cold, click here. We're happy to help you ride throughout the year!