Intro: Winter riding is something special with potential surprises and adventures waiting just around the next corner. Snow and ice may hinder the progress forcing you to work harder along otherwise simple sections or even forcing you to walk. The low temps require specific clothing and accessories. Here at Twenty Nine Inches we have decided to share with you a few of our favorite pieces – things that have helped us get more enjoyment out of winter riding – each one after their requirements and needs.

We know comfort is something very subjective and personal and with the multitude of offerings in functional bike wear we ask you not to perceive this little series of articles as a “Best-Of” list, but merely as a personal collection of items we found that worked for us. You may be able to apply some of it to your needs or not, but we hope you find this informative and useful.

Grannygear:  On surviving the long and terrible winters of Southern California.

Last night it got to 30°F and we still rode our bikes anyway.  Alert the governor, we may have a crisis of temperatures going on here.  Yeah, I know…hardly “The Day After Tomorrow” deep freeze, but for my neck of the woods, that is a cold ride.  I live at around 1500′ elevation in what would be called a ‘foothill’ area.  The high desert east of us and the 9,000′ + peaks of the mountains north of us get very cold, easily into the teens.  We commonly have hikers die from exposure when due to navigational errors or injury, a bluebird day in the forest turns into a frigid overnighter as the temp swing can be pretty wide.

But unless you seek it out, we typically are riding in temps from the 60s (F) to the mid 30s.  Not much rain either.  If it is raining, just wait a day and it will not be raining.  The one thing we do get is a lot of wind and cold wind at that, so factor that in to the dress code, add in long climbs and fast descents and we have to be pretty choosy in what we wear.  I have found items that work for me within a layering approach to things so let me talk about how I approach the layering concept and then highlight some key items I have learned to lean on for Fall through early Spring.

I begin with a ‘4 Square’ approach to the upper body.  As we turn to Fall, it can vary wildly in temps.  You may be in the 40s in the early AM but in the 70s by mid day so flexibility is key and that means layering.  My four cornerstone items are a base layer, a jersey, arm warmers, and a vest.  With that I can be decently OK but slightly cool in the first part of the ride but remove layers as I go.  I also would typically bring two pairs of gloves so I can change as the temps rise.  As the season draws on, I would wear a LS base that still works with arm warmers, then go to a LS jersey, heavier in weight (but may not work with arm warmers…although I have stripped the jersey and added arm warmers underneath when I was caught off guard with a temp drop.) and I would add a windbreaker that packs small but gives me that one last layer to retain heat.  At some point I would go to a softshell jacket approach and drop the arm warmers/vest approach.

A softshell jacket is a real nice component for our type of winter riding.  A good one will break the wind but still breath reasonably well.  It will shed some water and maybe even convert to a vest if need be.  So around late November I am grabbing the softshell jacket and dropping to just a LS base at first, then adding a LS jersey along with the base layer.  That is good to the 30s if you are moving and making some body heat.

I am very sensitive to head warmth and I always want my ears covered so I just take the Buff that I always wear and double it into a skull cap that covers the ears with a double layer.  If that is not enough, or if it is a damp day, I will grab the wool Buff and then if that is still not enough or the wind is really up, I will grab a Pearl Izumi head cap.  If I really am in the cold, I will do both although I have no good solution to long term temps in the 30s for head wear.  I would shop for something like the Gore wear head covers or maybe a wool blend that has a windblocking lower section if that was the norm.  Often I will bring an extra Buff and swap to a dry one at the top of the hill.

For the bottoms I would begin in the Fall with something like the Specialized RBX bib shorts as they are semi-heavy fabric and add knee or leg warmers.  Then I would step up to wool bib shorts and leg warmers, then go to a knicker in wool and then add leg warmers if needed, then the combo of wool knickers, leg warmers, over-tights and if it gets really dire, a baggy shell over all that.

I get cold feet and really have found no good solution to that other than keeping my core as warm as possible.  At some point in the Fall I will move to the well worn Defroster shoes that at least offer some wind proof-ness, insulation, and water protection.  Of course, wool socks.  Wool socks are king.

So, some of the key things in my gear bag are:

  • An ancient Boure’ vest that is something like this one linked here.  Still working fine.
  • Swiftwick arm warmers.  I kinda wish they were wool, but they are still quite good.
  • Buff head wrap.  I never ride without a Buff in my bag or on my head.  Really.
  • Specialized Defroster shoes.  Mine are maybe three years old and still holding up, although they look different then the new ones.  Not really all that warm, they are still better than a normal shoe and most of the time they are OK for me.
  • Endura Pakajak.  Tiny little burrito package of a windbreaker.
  • A glove selection:  From mild to wild in that order – Answer Fall Line XC, old Specialized Elements (pretty sure that is what they are), Specialized Deflect BG gloves, Answer Strikes, Answer Sleestaks.
  • Swiftwick Merino Pursuit #4 socks.  Amazingly long lasting and warm without being too thick.  Love them.  Super core item for me.
  • Gore Phantom 2 softshell Windstopper jacket.  Relatively new in my arsenal, it has completely won me over.  Darn good jacket and makes into a vest.  Stops the cold wind, breathes decently, sheds light rain, and retains body heat well.
  • Ibex El Fito 3/4 bibs. Made from lovely sheep from Merino-land, the knickers are a sweet deal when the shadows draw long and dark in winter.  They have a wide range of useful temps and I can wear them into the 60s with no issues.  They have held up well for several seasons now although I have had some issues with the seam at the chamois tearing where it is sewn into the front panel.  You have to be very careful how you pull them on or it will rip there.  Bummer, but still I love them and practically live in them from Nov to March.
swiftwick merino socksanswer products strikeanswer products sleestak
endura pakajakibex el fito 3/4 bibspecialized defroster shoe
specialized deflect glovegore bike wear phantom 2.0 jacketswiftwick arm warmers sleeves

If I was riding in the 30s more often, this would be a marginal set-up overall.  I could always layer up more or add a Merino base or mid layer, but then I would still need thermal tights which I do not have, the shoes would not be keeping me warm, and I would be beyond my head covers effectiveness and pushing the limits of my Gore jacket.  Only the amazing Sleestak gloves would be holding their own.  But I just do not do that.  I do not have to ride in those temps except for brief periods of time so my gear is tuned for a wider range of temps from the low 40s to the upper 60s, often on the same ride!