How to Keep Bike Commuting All Winter Long
Now that I’m back in my office, post-pandemic, I’m back on a commuter bike most days. My office is about four miles away from home, but if I take the long way around and add in an extra hill I can stretch it into a 30-minute ride in the morning and another 30-minute ride on the way home.
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Picking out my commuter gear was easy during the summer and fall. Once temps dropped and the sun started disappearing earlier, however, I had to up my gear game. To get everything dialed, I asked for recommendations from Lee LaMunyon, a school counselor and adventure course builder who rides his bike daily in the cold and wind of Wichita, Kansas. Then I did my own experimenting here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our recommendations will keep you pedaling no matter how dark or cold a commute you’re facing.
Velocio Alpha Glove ($120)
Riding a commuter bike in the cold without the right gloves is a recipe for never riding again. That’s why I’m advocating for these admittedly pricey gloves. Just launched by Velocio, they layer a windproof and water-resistant softshell outer over a lush, instantly warm, and highly breathable Polartec Alpha Direct lining. I’ve worn these gloves in temps below freezing while pedaling 15 miles an hour for 30 minutes and my hands were warm and happy. They also allow a ton of dexterity so you don’t have to take them off to pull out your wallet or turn your bike lights on.
HotHands Toe Warmers ($23 for 20)
LaMunyon usually puts in 100–200 miles on a road or gravel bike each week. He’s become accustomed to shitty Kansas weather that often dips into the 20s, and he says toe warmers have saved him more than once. LaMunyon lets the packets heat up and then places them on top of his toes before putting his bike shoes on. These HotHands warmers are small enough to fit well in a compact shoe.
Pearl Izumi AmFIB Toe Covers ($20)
LaMunyon also recommends covers that fit over your shoes, cut the wind, and add warmth. Some covers go over your entire shoe, but those can be an absolute pain to get on because they’re slim and meant to fit snug. They’re also overkill if you’re just riding for 30 minutes or so. I prefer this version from Pearl Izumi, made of a stretchy, wind- and water-resistant soft-shell fabric, that just covers the toe. They look ridiculous, but they’re way easier to get on, and you’d be surprised how much of a difference they make.
Smartwool Ski Full Cushion Over-the-Calf Socks ($29)
I find merino ski socks work best for bike commuting because the extra sock height provides additional warmth under my pants. I also usually roll up my right cuff to avoid getting grease stains from the bike chain, so I need socks that come up fairly high to not leave any exposed skin. I went with Smartwool’s version because their ski socks have the perfect fit that’s snug but not too tight.
Duer All-Weather Denim Slim Jeans ($199)
Trust me, you can’t wear a normal pair of jeans and expect to be comfortable commuting in the winter cold. That’s why I went for a pair of durable, triple-stitched Duer jeans, which come with a windproof and waterproof membrane lining. I always wear a pair of padded bike bibs when I’m commuting, and these pants layer well over top. I change into regular underwear at work, but keep the pants on because they look like quality jeans that I’d wear to work anyway. If you don’t want to spring for $200 jeans, you can layer long underwear under regular jeans, but it’s significantly more bulky and won’t keep you from getting wet in the rain or snow.
Arc’teryx Rho Lightweight Wool Toque ($35)
No one likes cold ears. Both LaMunyon and I ride with a thin beanie that fits well under a helmet. I’m partial to this one because it’s made from a high-quality merino wool that adds warmth and cuts the wind, but also breathes—so I don’t walk into work with a head full of sweaty hair. Nab the black colorway if you want a streamlined look with any color helmet.
7Mesh Seton Jersey ($200)
Think of this newly-launched jersey as a Patagonia R1 TechFace that’s cut for cycling with a longer tail and slimmer fit. Inside, the Seton Jersey has that familiar warm and breathable grid fleece. Outside, there’s a thin layer that blocks most of the wind, but ventilates well enough to keep you from getting too sweaty. I’ve found that the Seton works best by itself in milder winter temps—like you might see in Santa Fe or the Bay Area—but it can also be layered under a vest or windbreaker if you’re commuting in a place like Kansas. If you don’t like the snug fit of a bike jersey, you can also wear a midweight wool sweater that will add similar warmth and breathe nearly as well—plus look more appropriate at the office if you choose to keep it on.
Mission Workshop Interval Jacket ($255)
Patagonia Houdini Jacket ($109)
LaMunyon says the only way he can stand to be on a bike on the worst days is with a solid windbreaker layered over a fleece jersey. The windbreaker is essential, because when you’re moving at 15–20 mph in below-freezing temps, the windchill will absolutely destroy you—especially when it’s already windy out. I love the five-ounce, nylon-spandex windbreaker from Interval Mission Workshop that delivers stretchy comfort and lightweight protection. The somewhat stiffer, non-stretchy, 3.7-ounce Houdini from Patagonia is a great substitute at less than half the price. It’s not quite as comfy to wear, but it is durable, cuts the wind admirably, and looks great.
Bookman Curve Rear Light ($45)
A few weeks ago, I nearly hit a cyclist with my car; It was dark and he was going through a roundabout directly in front of me wearing dark clothes and without any bike lights. The incident made me thankful to have Bookman’s curved rear light on my bike. It not only shines red directly behind me, but also throws light to either side. If that cyclist had one of these equipped, it would have caught my eye instantly, even with his bike perpendicular to my car.
North Street LTD Upcycled Micro Pannier 14L ($100)
Wearing a backpack while commuting, even in the winter, leaves you with a sweaty back—a recipe for hypothermia. To avoid this, I added racks to my bike and now use panniers to carry my gear. I love the newly-designed North Street version because it’s made from upcycled event tents. It’s totally waterproof, better for the environment, and has cool, one-of-a-kind coloring. The 14-liter version is big enough to haul a 14-inch MacBook Pro, plus my notebooks, a pair of shoes, and any extra clothing I need for work. It fits on the standard 9mm bike racks, but can also be fitted with hooks for 12.5mm and 19mm racks.