By Dave Colburn, The Pathfinder manager and all-weather cyclist for many years!
Are you still bicycling this winter? Yes, even in the cold of winter, riding is possible, and for many is a great way to get out of the house if you’ve got cabin fever. Cool and cold weather riding can be quite enjoyable, if you are dressed correctly. We get a lot of questions about how to dress for cold/cool weather riding. We are, of course, happy to talk with you about the clothing you already have, the temperatures in which you want to ride, and what pieces you could use to augment your riding wardrobe.
One of the most frequently asked questions is “Should I get tights with pads built in, or wear tights over my shorts?” We recommend unpadded tights over shorts, for several reasons. First, unpadded tights are less expensive than padded tights and we find the tights with shorts setup to work just fine. Second, if it is cold out, having two layers gives you a little extra warmth. Third, the garment with the pad should be washed after every ride. Since washing wears out a garment almost as quickly as riding wears out a garment, and since shorts are cheaper than padded tights, we think washing shorts, rather than padded tights, after each ride makes more sense.
The other question that comes up frequently is “tights vs. bibs.” I prefer tights, but many riders prefer bibs. It comes down to whether the waistband on tights bothers you or not, versus the inconvenience of relieving oneself when wearing bibs. Also, plain tights can be worn for running and other activities, where bib-tights pretty much just lend themselves to riding. It is your call.
How many layers do you need for the cold? Everybody has a little different tolerance for cold, so some experimentation on your part will probably be needed. With that in mind, here is a rough guide to proper leg coverage for cool and cold weather cycling. I actually can push the following recommendations by five to ten degrees, depending upon the wind speed, the amount of sunshine and the effort being put forth.
If you are planning on riding in temperatures under 60 degrees F, then we recommend that you have something covering your knees. From 60 down to about 50, knee warmers or lightweight tights should do the job. Below 50 you will probably want tights. Once the temperature drops below 40, light tights with a base layer, or heavier tights are probably in order. Below thirty, heavy tights or tights with wind protection built in, perhaps with a base layer, will be necessary. Once you get into the lower teens, and down into the single digits, heavier windproof tights with a base layer or super heavy/windproof bib-tights will be needed.
A key question will be how often will you actually ride in those conditions? Heavy tights usually cost around $100. Tights with wind protection will be in the $100 to $200 range, especially if they are bibs with a built-in pad. It takes a fair number of rides to make it worth that kind of investment. But then, wowing your friends with the fact that you went on a forty-mile ride in sub-zero wind chills might be worth it!