Picture of Winter bike clothing for less
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: A brief history/physics/textiles lesson

Picture of A brief history/physics/textiles lesson
Before going into how to keep yourself nice and toasty while riding through the frightful weather outside, a quick diversion into what you need to stay warm in high wind.

Normally clothes keep you warm by trapping an insulating layer of air next to your skin- this is why many layers are better for warmth and the best undergarments (thermals or old-fashioned string vests etc) are actually mostly made of air. In windy conditions (for instance, sitting on a bike at 55mph), the wind blows straight through your clothes and removes this insulating layer, which is why you don't see many Harley owners wearing cardigans.

For warmth in cold and windy conditions, therefore, the best combination is an insulating under layer with a windproof layer over the top. Think about early aviators wearing sheepskin-lined leather jackets, or arctic-dwelling peoples wearing furs with the fur on the inside. Insulation underneath, windproof layer on top will be a recurring theme in this Instructable.

Step 2: Hot headed

Picture of Hot headed
The head:

On a motorbike this isn't much of an issue for me as my head is entirely encased in a windproof and insulating full face helmet, but cyclists need to consider their headwear carefully- a large proportion of the body's heat is lost through the head, but it is often the least clothed part. A simple beanie hat does wonders, with a scarf over the lower part of the face. If you tend toward black headwear like myself, the fact that you are riding a bicycle should allay any fears that you might be a terrorist.

Note: each of the clothing options described in this Instructable will be rated for cost, weather-resistance and looking stupid on a completely unscientific and wholly subjective 1-5 scale, with 5 being the preferred end of the scale (cheap, weatherproof and not stupid looking)

Motorbike helmet:
Cost: **
Weather resistance: *****
Looking stupid: *****

Cost: *****
Weather resistance: **
Looking stupid: ****

Beanie hat and scarf:
Cost: ****
Weather resistance: ***
Looking stupid: ***
Susitna2 months ago
I grew up in Alaska. The coldest (much worse, hottest in summer) was Fairbanks. I have been in -84% F real not wind chill. Real thermal underwear ( such as hunters use, not the junk from W Mart) are worth while because trapped air works on wide range of temperatures. When I move back home, I'll buy a down ( not down and feathers which does not work) .
Because down parkas use the trapped air, they can be comfortable from -30% to +50%.
Mittens are much better than gloves. Eskimos use wool glove under wind proof mittens, a system that gives the best of letting you shake the mitts when dexterity is needed. I used a harness to keep my mittens attached. Although Vancouver has a relatively mild climate, wind chill can make it feel much colder, a problem solved by wind proof outer layer.
Now, slightly off topic, I am in Sunny Southern California and therefore don't see snow a whole lot, but would you 'actually' ride your bike in this whether? I mean, its hard for me to imagine a temperature much below 50f but this just seems extreme! Interesting ways to keep warm though, good to keep in mind whenever i head up the the mountains.
This is the coldest I have ever seen it down here, it actually hailed! This is the kind of day for us Californians when you just concede to taking a car/public transportation.

As a Canadian in rainy Vancouver i cycle most places year round. Vancouver is warmer than most of the rest of Canada to be sure, but it'll still be below freezing at night and in the mid 30's during the day for a couple months in the winter and just cold and wet in spring and fall. It's nicer when it's below freezing because that means it is dry although icy. it sucks when it's 35 degrees out, pissing rain and i'm riding to work on the ice from the previous day.

PKM (author)  applesaucemodifier3 years ago
"Would you actually ride your bike in this weather?"

Yes, I would. In the UK it will routinely be below freezing temperatures for an entire day in the depths of winter, and chilly (below 50F) for several months of the year. I cycled to lectures daily at university, and cycled or rode a motorbike to work for another couple of years.  I'm not an extremophile (though I will admit to being a bike fanatic), I just needed to get around in winter on two wheels.
Wow!, well more power to you. I guess I am just a cold wuss. I love getting around on my bike but think that I may just stay home on days with more than a foot of snow.
wschruba3 years ago
There is a very sparse selection for cyclists looking for clipless shoes for winter riding. They exist, but are expensive and very specialized. Pedal straps are available that are designed to function with larger footware (ie: boots). There is always the route of the bootie for cycling shoes, but finding ones to fit 'mountain' style shoes can be troublesome.

Depending on the weather, I will wear a thin polyester sock underneath a wool hiking sock in addition to a bootie, or a combination of the three.
rtwitchy6 years ago
just a few thoughts...1. scarf, not too bulky with extra length tucked in a jacket helps on the stupid points. 2. water repellant and wind resistence i tend to associate together and I wonder if you were to scotch gard a beanie making it water repellent if that would help wind resistance 3. now you got me try to calculate and see how you could do this but...take a shower cap, attatch it to the inside of a bicycle helmet with brads maybe (just sticking it into the hard foam material...or glue might be safer if you get in an accident. Then wear a beany under the helmet (optional - my head is so small it helps me for a tighter, safer fit anyhow) and the wind isn't rushing in the holes of the helmet. In the summer you can remove the shower cap for ventilation. just a couple thoughts this inspiried...any commments or insight to problems they may present?
A decent balaclava does great, both as headgear and as a neck warmer, since many will drop all the way down to the shoulder. Don't splurge on the super fancy vented ones, but do get one without a mouth hole. It's more difficult to breath, but much less of your face will be exposed. My lips, and I'm sure others, are very prone to cracking in the winter, even with lots of lotion and care.

I rarely ride now without some sort of headgear under my helmet, even in sweltering weather. A simple cotton bandana works great for keeping sweat from pooling above your eyes, and doesn't add much more heat than a head of hair.

In my experience, even with driving, soaking rains, not too much comes down through the vents in the helmet (granted, my helmets have never had more than 20 vents, your mileage may vary) at least not more than the above balaclava/bandana/hat/other wicking headgear can handle. All that foam in the helmet keeps the top of my head pretty warm, toasty even with a base layer of some sort.
wschruba3 years ago
I really can't gush enough about proper windproof/waterproof pants. Ones made specifically for cycling have straps that tighten down the lower leg around your calf, such that it doesn't get sucked into the chain in a strong wind/regular pedaling.
My only gripe is that we seem to have gone into a 'easy on/easy off' phase with specialized clothing, which means zippers more often than not. Zippers leak, even it they are flatlocked. I use ordinary canning wax rubbed over the zipper to seal them somewhat better, and I couldn't be happier.
ecricirce3 years ago
i find putting legwarmers pulled up over the knees with wool socks does the trick. but i may try this for the super bitter cold days.
miols6 years ago
lol i once wore my crocs when i was on my moped, and when i was back home, there was no bottom on them. :P
Kaiven miols5 years ago
Did you hurt your feet at all? I was riding my bike with no brakes down a hill and put my feet down. My toes were bleeding and my big toe was missing a pretty good chunk...
miols Kaiven5 years ago
Yeah, they where all brown, cut up, and had a rock stuck in it.
Kaiven miols5 years ago
theophilus6 years ago
you forgot top list Minnesota in the epilogue. at times it gets colder here than in Siberia
rtwitchy6 years ago
You mentioned london...while I'm not sure if they have craigslist for london, this concept for trousers is gonna send me looking for some cheap craigslist ski panst or...the little kids overalls, I'm sure I could adjust and make the length fit, just not wearing them as overalls (I'm not too tall). cause ski clothes are wind/water resistant....just another idea to throw out there and explore for others looking for solutions.
11orem6 years ago
also wore flipflops (thongs here in australia) while riding a bycycle. got a massive graze on my foot
rhubarb6 years ago
Garden gloves work great for cycling. They are cheap, have great grip, and come in a wide variety of thicknesses/warmth.
Thats what you want right there. The down side its veeeerrrrry expensive.

the only danger is that when you start biking or even just sitting indoors is that you start to sweat. Then when you stop moving the sweat can cause hypothermia.
The goal is not to keep you toasty but comfortable. (like say a 60°F A/C would in the summer)
scafool6 years ago
I agree with what Skepticool says about mittens. What I wear is the outershell mittens which are water and wind-proof and then wear wool or fleece gloves inside them. Spare gloves in pocket, they are a small enough packag.
For winter footwear you might want to check out "Bog" boots. They are neoprene like a wetsuit with a rubber outer sole.
I have been using them for 3 winters now and find them good to very low temperatures. The pair I have even have fairly good grip on ice.
I have also found a helmet liner that is like a fairly thin bellaclava, not a total solution but it helps.
skeptikool6 years ago
I bike all year and all weathers. My hands are the biggest problem in winter cycling - keeping them warm, particularly since I'm afflicted with Reynaud's Syndrome. I've found the most suitable hand protection to be the mitten with the thumb sewn separately. They should be waterproof and not so tight fitting as to obstruct application of brakes. Visibility is extremely important. I never cycle without a fluorescent vest and reflective pant cuffs.
Phil B6 years ago
Years ago I began to make notes on what I had to wear to stay warm when exercising (biking and jogging) in the cold according to the temperature. Those notes have been helpful in the years since, and I have added to them. If the temperature takes a sudden dip, I can consult my notes and be pretty comfortable. Feet and hands are my bigger problems when I cycle during the winter. Feet are a problem because it is a long way to pump blood and keep it warm. Putting four layers of newsprint over the front portion of my foot from the ball of my foot over the ends of my toes and up the top of my foot. With that inside my shoe, my feet stay considerably warmer longer. Sometimes I put about four layers of newsprint around the side and back of my foot, too. I also buy clothing in the sporting goods sections of stores. Cold weather is something hunters have to handle, and the items are often less expensive than they would be in a bicycle specific store. In case you are wondering, I live in SW Idaho where the temperature will be between 0 and 10 deg. F by the end of the week.
PKM (author)  Phil B6 years ago
Thanks for the comment- I hadn't thought of the newspaper thing, might try that if it gets much colder here. The sporting goods plan is also a good idea- then you can get almost identical clothing to the bike shops and it's still a lot cheaper.
snoyes6 years ago
This totally wouldn't work in Stavanger/Nunavut/Murmansk/Reykjavik/Tibet/Antarctica, you need uber thermal underwear and Goretex sock liners and NASA-developed hollow fibre everything to not freeze to death.
PKM (author)  snoyes6 years ago
See step 8. Actually I think you already did.
bumpus6 years ago
Hhah, Great instructable PKM!