Dressing for the long haul when its cold outside is not an easy thing sometimes.
I’ve mentioned before that wool is nearly essential for long-distance rides in winter. This holds true. To be perfectly clear, I’m not a wool snob, or a retro rider; I sport the wool because it simply works – at ANY price, it’s simply the best investment you can make for a winter rando wardrobe if temperatures in your area are going to be below 50 degrees for the duration of the ride. Some of us can’t $$$$ put wool everywhere, so if you have to choose between tops and bottoms, choose tops – keep your core happy, and the rest will follow. While there are excellent deals from Woolistic, Jones Wear, Portland Cyclewear and more, for those that prefer to hit the LBS there are now many offerings from major players like Pearl Izumi and Specialized. Check it out. It’s no longer a fashion statement for the retro-crowd.
One thing, however, I have to stress that is often forgotten: remember to shed layers when you warm up. FAST. I made this mistake on my most recent 200K, by keeping the outer windbreaker on too long. It’s hard to judge, and it’s all personal based on your comfort level and acclimation level – but the common factor reads “dress so you are a little chilly before you begin, and you’ll be fine once the ride enters mile ten.” I made the mistake of being rather comfortable at the ride start, simply because I didn’t want to be cold. With the headwind, it was more of a challenge: I simply didn’t want to unzip my outer layer, and the continued cold air blasting against us definitely made it difficult to determine if my efforts against it were generating any heat at all. The result, my core was nice and warm – but WET by the time we turned north and west, slightly out of the wind. That’s right when the hills began, which was a good time to unzip – but still, I didn’t. The wetness was making me feel colder than I really was, and the results can be actually quite dangerous. While NOT sweating is never an option on a long bike ride, one should remember that relative dryness is paramount. I should have unzipped, suffered through a little bit of chills while still under effort – the airflow under that outer layer would eventually dry my core layers out, and return me to more comfort than before. Another good option would have been to start the ride with a wind VEST, instead of a full wind jacket. The arms can act as heat exchangers – assuming they are protected from the air itself with wool sleeves, or fleece. This can assist with keeping the core from overheating, keeping sweat at bay. The reason I felt so stiff and had mild shivers at the halfway was because of the cushion of sweat I’d built up under my jacket. If I had been wearing ANYTHING OTHER than wool, I would have been hypothermic, miserable.
So, when in doubt, use your zippers for temperature and moisture control, though at times it may seem counterproductive to your immediate comfort level. Do as the pros do: during a hard climb, unzip – let the excess heat escape. When the summit comes, even if it’s a short roller, zip back up – keep the heat you have generated, but keep the cold blast of the descent from robbing your core of too much. Repeat. The result should be even comfort for the whole of your 200K or more, even in the coldest temperatures. Enjoy!