Winter Riding Tip: Layers

For many people, biking is only a seasonal hobby, but for me and many others, bikes are our number one way to get around, regardless of the weather.  I commute to Philly Electric Wheels from my house in South Philly, a trip of about ten miles each way that takes me between 45 minutes to an hour. Because I ride this routinely, I’m keenly aware that winter riding isn’t as pleasureable as, say, riding on a May afternoon, but if you prepare and dress appropriately, winter riding can be anything from tolerable to actually enjoyable.

One essential skill for riding (or doing anything active) during the winter is learning how to layer your clothing.  The three basic layers for cold weather are wicking, insulation, and protection. 

Wicking garments are worn closest to the skin, and their purpose is to draw perspiration away from the skin. This is important because in cold weather, sweat quickly cools and conducts heat away from the body, making you colder. Materials like polypropeline, silk and wool are good at wicking. Cotton is definitely to be avoided because it easily becomes saturated with moisture.

Insulation is the next layer from the skin and its purpose is somewhat self-explanitory. Insulation serves to retain body heat while allowing moisture from the body to permeate through it. Things like synthetic fleece, down and good old wool all perform well. Again, cotton is discouraged for the same reason stated above.

A protective or shell layer is the outermost layer, and the one with the tough job of keeping the elements out while letting excess moisture from your body pass through it. For all-weather protection, coated materials with a waterproof/breathable membrane like Gore-Tex allow small molecules of water vapor (your sweat) pass through while preventing larger molecules of liquid water from penetrating. This stuff works well, but is pretty pricy. Unless you’re expecting to get rained on, good old uncoated nylon works to block wind while allowing water vapor to pass through. Avoid impermeable materials like PVC, which does not let sweat evaporate and creates a miniature greenhouse effect under it.

Well, I hope that was informative,  and with any luck that crosses one more excuse off the ‘reasons not to ride in winter’ list. Leave a comment if you’ve got anything to add or if you have a question.