Sucking It Up In Winter

Vanessa Marie RobinsonVanessa Marie Robinson is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer who’s blog For The Love Of Bikes covers her multifaceted interests in all things cycling. She is typically found either riding in the city on a single-speed or training upstate on her road bike — year-round!

Biking year-round as a university student living in Montreal taught me how to survive whatever winter weather was thrown at me: snow, slush, black ice, serious wind.

Fast forward 13 years, I still prefer riding year-round in NYC. You just can’t beat that kind of freedom and self sufficiently. In the middle of winter I get plenty of looks of shock mixed with confusion and get often asked “how do you stay warm enough?” There’s no big secret — winter cycling is about being prepared and figuring out what works for you. Below is a round up the apparel I rely on for my cold weather commutes…

No matter what time of year, once you get your heart rate up high enough, your body temperature rises dramatically. The trick is to wear just the right amount of clothing without bulking up so you get uncomfortable and overheat and start sweat a ton — getting drenched and not being able to dry off in the cold simply sucks. Plus if you're biking to work or heading out with friends, you likely don't want to walk in carrying a lot of extra stuff or spend time changing. So much depends on simply protecting your core with windproof materials and keeping your extremities warm.

Here's what been working for me:


On most winter days a cycling headband under a helmet with vents works perfectly. It keeps your ears warm without overheating. It's actually a myth that you lose most of your heat through your head!


Gaiter, turtleneck, cow — whatever you choose to call them they are super versatile. You can pull it up and cover you nose or your mouth whenever you need that extra coverage. If you start to heat up, just pull it down. And unlike a scarf, you never have to worry about it unraveling. (They also work nicely if you get stuck behind a bus and don't want to inhale fumes.)


From experience, wearing a big coat will not necessarily keep you warmer. Wind and overheating are your biggest enemies. When it comes to jackets, a windproof and breathable shell helps keep you warm yet relatively dry once you get to your destination. Make sure your base layer(s) is/are breathable by wearing wool or synthetics rather than cotton. My jacket is by Castelli which makes well tailored clothing for women. I’ve had it for eight years now and was worth the investment.


Pearl Izumi‘s excellent windproof AmFib collection (which includes leggings) is pretty remarkable at keeping the wind out. But if your looking for any easy transition off the bike, fortunately there are lots of jeans these days that come with two percent spandex making them super comfortable on the bike. If it’s wet at all out (especially slushy), rain pants on top will keep you dry and block the wind. And for the ladies, if it's cold enough that my thighs freeze up, I wear a pair of tights (or two) underneath which also makes for an easy transition into the office by just swapping pants for a skirt once off the bike.

Hands + Feet

Keeping extremities from going numb is obviously crucial. Once you get over how they look, lobster gloves offer the warmth benefits of mittens but give you more control to use your brake levers. I also always have a pair of glove liners handy to either double up with or use them on warmer days — full-finger mountain bike style gloves also work for me as a back up pair. Thick sturdy waterproof boots with rubber soles help you keep control while pedaling and stopping in all types of weather. I opt for wool socks under thick leather boots which keep me warm. Another option are water/wind proof shoe covers which you pull onto cycling shoes (and may even fit on over the shoes you typically wear).

Lobster Gloves
Lobster Gloves

Some additional essentials:


In winter there are (sadly) far fewer daylight hours. I always carry a front white light and two rear red lights just in the event that one fails on me. Dusk, down, and even a light rain fall are underestimated times of low visibly for fellow cyclists, motorists and pedestrians so I basically never leave the house without a full set of lights. My favorites these days are Knog’s Boomer Lights which are extremely bright and easily removable.

Nubby Tires

It’s a great option to switch out slicker road tires with nubby ones once there is any accumulated precipitation on the ground. You’ll have more handling control making it safer for everyone. You’ll just want to make sure that your frame has enough clearance before buying tires to switch out.

Your length of commute, climate/temperature, elevation variation will evidently play a roll — so see what works best for you!

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