Layers

It’s starting to get cold here in Little Bay Root and that means that I have to start thinking about how to keep warm on my commute. In the summer I have it easy, wearing light shirts and 3/4 length pants. As the seasons progress, I add layers. More in the morning, when it is coldest and fewer in the afternoon in a effort to stay comfortable on my bike.

When I first moved into the rainy northwest, I had to start coping with colder winters. At first I wore fleece and other synthetics. That tended to be bulky and uncomfortable. I started doing research to figure out how to be smarter about my commute clothes. One of the first things that I discovered was wool. Wool is a bit of a natural wonder-fiber, but I’ll speak more of that in some other post.

I started investing in light layers that could be stacked one on top of another. In the fall I start with a base layer and a light insulating layer, one short sleeve and the other long sleeve. Later they are both long sleeved. As the temperature dips even further, I wear heavier insulating layers. The nice thing about thin layers is that you can pile them on when it is cold and remove them as necessary as it warms up. I try to keep all of my layers breathable, otherwise sweat builds up and I get colder.

When it rains, the rules start to change. If it is only misting, I can simply wear top layer that sheds water and move on with life. If it is actually raining then I have to wear a rain jacket. Since the rain jacket doesn’t breathe well, I wear a light base layer but skip any real insulator. If the rain is pretty light, I have a pair of nylon pants that generally shed water. Once the rain gets serious, I wear a heavier pair of waterproof rain pants.

I try not to get to paranoid about the rain and wet. I see some cyclists around town who wear their expensive rain jackets nearly year-round. Me, I prefer to err on the side of getting a bit wet. I do have the luxury of having lockers and shower facilities at work, so it is easy for me to change when I get there. I tend to hot-house inside my rain gear and get really sweaty, so I avoid it unless I think that I’m going to get soaked.

A couple of years ago we had a particularly bad period of cold in December. It was about 16 degrees every morning when I needed to leave for work. I wore two pairs of tights under my pants, a base layer, two insulating layers and my rain jacket, a skullcap under my helmet, and my heaviest gloves with liners. I was still cold, but adding the impermeable layer of the rain jacket to the top retained some of my body heat that otherwise would have been sucked out into the cold.

The weather here isn’t as extreme as the midwest, but our winters do get cold and it definitely takes some planning to ride comfortably. Every year I experiment and add more tools to my wardrobe. Then the weather throws me new curve balls and I have to further adapt to stay comfortable.