Whitewater Gorge, Richmond Indiana

3 wardrobe updates that worked for winter bike commuting

Whitewater Gorge, Richmond Indiana

The seasons are changing and it’s time to prepare for another winter of transportation with minimal car use. 

Over the past couple of winters, I successfully experimented with some wardrobe updates that allowed me to be comfortable outside without a car.

My recent changes included swapping the hooded waterproof/breathable jacket for a soft shell jacket for daily use. I also tried a long-sleeve bamboo base layer as an alternative the merino wool layers I had been happy with.

One more experiment I tried was cutting the tubes off of some retired wool dress socks, and using those those to cover the gap between the jacket and gloves on cold days. I’ll cover all these points briefly below.

On a soft-shell jacket versus a hooded waterproof/breathable jacket

A primary benefit of a soft shell jacket over a waterproof/breathable one is that it looks less like I’m about to depart for mountain climbing expedition. It’s more normal, versitale look that does scream “technical” the way the plasticy sheen of a waterproof/breathable jacket can. I wanted to look more like a person who happens to ride a bike and less a cyclist with special gear.

The soft shell jacket came with no hood, and I considered that a definite comprimise in functionality that I wasn’t sure I would like. The other major trade off was that the soft shell would be very breathable at the expense of not being fully waterproof, but still water-resistant.

The result was the the soft shell has become my new everyday jacket. Pairing the soft shell with my WigWam merino wool hat made a fine hood alternative to protect me from most rain. The water resistance proved good enough for common cases. On especially wet or cold days, I still chose to use the waterproof/breathable jacket instead, or over top of the soft shell.

I found my Columbia-branded softshell in downtown Richmond, Indiana at Elder Beerman on sale for about $60. I expect other soft shell jackets would perform comparably

On do-it-yourself sleeve extenders

DIY sleeve extender for winter bike commuting
Turning an old sock into a sleeve extender for winter bike commuting

The wool-socks-as-wrist-covers has a great supplement to the jacket, keeping wind off the gap between the jacket and my gloves. This is especially important when cycling, when arm’s might need to be stretched out, pulling jacket sleeves up the arms a bit. Worn in the right direction, the sock-end looks indistinguishable from the cuff of a shirt poking out beneath the jacket, so there was nothing awkward looking about this solution. This has become a standard part of my wardrobe that I’ve kept for a couple years now. It’s small but important detail. Our perception of how cold we are is related to the coldest part of our body. So if there’s a little bit of full strength cold wind on my wrists, it makes a big difference in how cold I feel, as well as some difference in how cold I actually am.

On bamboo as an alternative to merino wool

I found a “Comfortech” bamboo long-sleeve base-layer, also from our local Elder Beerman store, and it was another success. It has a very soft feel and seems to have warmth and wicking properties similar to the merino wool base layers I have. I also appreciate the bamboo grows in the region, while merino wool is imported from the other side of the world.

Today, it looks like bamboo shirts are hard to find, and the price of merino wool may be coming down. I recommend either one as a base layer that is comfortable, light, warm and wicking.

While these clothing updates made a difference, the most impactful change to my winter warmth came from changes to my diet. Continue reading about that in my next post: what really keeps me warmer in the winter: my diet.

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