We’re heading into January and, surprise, it’s cold out! As a lot of people have said, there’s no weather you can’t bike in as long as you have the right gear (though, having grown up on the hurricane-prone East Coast I might be able to think of a few exceptions).
And there’s a lot of great technical cycling gear out there (which we either sell or can order for you!) as well as gear that can be adapted from skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor winter sports. But there’s also a lot of great, cheap stuff that’ll help you get through the winter that isn’t dedicated athletic gear or made of high-tech, exotic materials. There’s a lot you can find at your local department store, thrift shop or supermarket.
One thing a lot of us here at Rev could agree on is that, while cotton is a terrible choice for the backcountry and long rides out in the middle of nowhere (seriously, once cotton gets wet it stops insulating, if you can’t get indoors and dry out you can get in real trouble), there’s a lot of stuff that’s good for around town commutes. Jeff loves his flannel, either in the form of button-down flannel shirts or flannel lined blue-jeans, while Mitch goes for his cotton long johns. My favorite commuter layer is a Carhartt hoodie, which acts as an outer layer on milder days and gets layered under a shell jacket when it gets really cold (my sweatshirt-of-choice is their “Rain Defender” line, which has a durable waterproof treatment to keep it from soaking up moisture). There’s also a number of cotton duck and waxed canvas outer layers which will keep you warm and dry in just about any conditions at a reasonable cost (though they will often be significantly heavier than modern synthetic outdoor clothing).
Other items you can get from your local workwear retailer include gum-sole winter boots like those made by Sorel, insulated work gloves and a variety of clear safety goggles which will help protect your eyeballs from freezing (ski goggles really will work better in extreme conditions, but a pair of clear safety glasses works pretty well for cheap, and are worth keeping around even for summer commutes at night, as anyone who’s gotten an eyeball full of gnats on will attest).
Thrift stores and Army Surplus stores can also be great budget sources for cold-weather clothing. You can sometimes find wool pants or sweaters for a really good price at your local second-hand. On the Army surplus side, one of our friends absolutely loves the “Jeep cap,” which is a wool hat with a soft brim and ear flaps and can be found for under $15. Army “Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS)” thermal pants and tops are amazingly warm polypropylene insulating layers and can often be found for under $20 a piece.
Several innovations from motor sports also work well on the bike, including “chopper gloves,” fleece-lined leather mittens designed to block the wind, and electric socks, with built-in heating elements.
And, of course, there are a few great tricks involving random odds and ends you may have lying around. Among our favorites:
Keep a pair of disposable rubber gloves in your tool kit, not only do they keep your hands from getting greasy if you have to fix a flat, they keep your hands from freezing while you do, and you can layer them under your other gloves if you need a little bit of extra warmth (it gets sweaty, but it beats frostbite)
The humble bandanna can be used as a facemask, extra headgear or scarf. You can also stuff it down the front of your pants to add a little extra wind protection.
An old road cyclist’s trick is to cut the corners off a plastic grocery bag and put them over your toes before you put your cycling shoes on, to protect your toes from the wind.
A layer of duct tape over the mesh panels of an old pair of sneakers or cycling shoes helps block the wind and keeps them warmer (though boots really do work better at some point). You can also use duct tape to add a wind-blocking layer to clothing or gloves or your helmet vents in a pinch
A cheap plastic shower cap makes a good, waterprooof saddle cover for when your bike is parked outside in the snow or cold rain.
Newspaper or shopping bags can be stuffed down the front of your jacket or between layers to add extra wind protection.
Petroleum jelly protects the exposed skin of your cheeks and nose from the wind. It keeps you a bit warmer and stops the cold air from drying and chapping your skin.
When it’s cold out, it’s easy to forget sunscreen, but you can get just as much UV damage, if not more, in the winter, as you do in summer. If you’re going to be out for a while, put some sunblock on any exposed skin or gaps in your clothing
Remember your chapstick
A backpack or messenger bag traps some extra heat and is a good place to carry extra layers or put ones you have to remove as you warm up.
Coffee or tea in a thermos can be your best friend when you’re riding around town on a chilly day. Look for an insuated mug or bottle you can open and close without taking your gloves off.