Thin shells & layering vs. "jackets"

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Anonymous's picture

"I'm looking to upgrade my gear for the winter (Jan-Feb-Mar, when it's <30) and have seen a lot of pricey shells and pricier ""jackets"" (shells with some sort of liner. I'm also considering layering a thin shell (e.g., Performance Century jacket after all, it's only for a few rides a year) over a mid/heavyweight jersey over a thin Capilene base layer.

Any thoughts, experiences, recommendations? (Saturday morning on the GWB is a bad time to realize you're underdressed...)

- Isaac"

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Keep an eye on Campmor


As a perpetual overdresser, I have recently learned that a lightweight jacket, windproof and water-resistant, keeps me comfortable to the low 30s, with a shell underneath and a light or heavy jersey, depending. If the temps go above 50, the unbulky jacket is easy to wrap around my waist. I paid $40 for it at Campmor, after perusing much more expensive options.

Keeping the hands, feet, and head warm seems to be more important, so in the 30s I've been using full balaclava and Gore-Tex ski gloves. Of course, ymmv.

Check out some of the bargains at Campmor. Feel free to send the money you save on overpriced gear to SE Asia.

Anonymous's picture
Isaac Brumer (not verified)

"Hi Carol,

First of all, I've really been enjoying that Bontrager jersey you sold me at the NYCC meeting! Thanks for the link. When you said ""shell underneath"" did you mean a base layer or are you talking two jackets?

Finally, though you claim to be a perpetual overdresser, I recall from e-Bikes that you've had an exception or two.

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)

1. Sleeveless lightweight polypro top; keeps the core warm with minimal bulk.

2. You still couldn't call me an under-dresser, now could you?

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Never say never

Boy did I underdress today. My formula above (jacket, shell, light jersey) is totally inadequate for temps in the 30s. I rode most of the day without the jacket and that was fine. But I got so chilled this afternoon I had to take the subway home at 175th St.

In the 30s a long sleeve base shirt seems necessary, if not a wool jersey.

Other than that, it was a nice day to get outside.

Another 60 degree day coming on Thursday?

Anonymous's picture
Isaac Brumer (not verified)

Pants Carol, Pants!

It was a great day. Scouted the NJ Waterfront, your old jersey is getting a lot of mileage this winter.

Anonymous's picture
Jedcontact (not verified)
WInter riding

I just got a winter jacket Bianchi Team Jacket '02 it has two foam layers with a windblock layer in between, man it is great. Layers a skin tight bast layer and a winter jersey and one of these wind jackets and you should be good to go. Protect your feet with booties and your hands. Cover those ears too.

Anonymous's picture
seth (not verified)
keeping warm is only

1/2 the issue. You have to keep dry and not let all the sweat and moisture build up which makes you even colder. I think the key is to wear snug, form-fitting, euro style clothing so that the moisture-wicking properties can actually work properly.

It also depends on how hard you are riding. If you're just doing a 1 hour recovery ride, you'll probably want to pile on more clothing. If you're doing a 3.5 hour zone 3 ride, you'll probably want to wear less clothing. I've gone out in the mid 20s with only a tanktop base layer, mid layer long sleeve, regular long sleeve jersey with a light fleece lining and a lite vest, and felt fine.

Don't forget, you lose about 80% of body heat thru your head.

In any case, I would recomend a jacket with the zip off sleeves and take them off before you get too warm.

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

> I think the key is to wear snug, form-fitting,
> euro-style clothing so that the moisture-wicking
> properties can actually work properly.

I actually think most cycling-specific winter clothing is pretty bad at moisture management. I have an Assos Roubaix jacket and the windproof material renders it incapable of transferring anything but a very slight amount of moisture. This leaves moisture on the skin and allows you to chill quickly if you stop.

I've had better luck with a polypro, capilene, or wool underlayer, a wool longsleeve jersey, and a softshell vest, or (if it's really cold) a wool or softshell jacket. It doesn't windblock strictly, but is able to transfer sufficient amounts of moisture to allow frost to build on the outside of the jacket.

For a constant output training ride, the Assos stuff is ok. For a club ride with pit stops and a lunch break, no dice.

- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Hank Schiffman (not verified)
That old saw about 80% heat loss thru your head ..

If you were totally naked I don't think you would lose 80% of your heat thru your head. We have to define perameters here. If you are well insulated but have no head insulation that 80% formula would begin to make sense. Unless you are dressing for survival and doing aerobic exercise, you need to let excess heat out somewhere. Sometimes the head is as good a place as any other. You might titrate the situation between a skullcap and a balacava. Or you might leave your arms with one layer and put on arm warmers when you are getting too cold. But keeping heat and moisture at bay is the philospher's stone of cold weather riding. So open up your clothes when you get to lunch. And take your booties off and turn them inside out to get that moisture out.

Anonymous's picture
seth (not verified)
If I was totally naked

I would still be in bed with my girlfriend, not out riding.


Anonymous's picture
rjb (not verified)
modern fabrics

I agree. In my experience, I have found several problems with most ‘modern’ high-tech cycling clothing. Assume one is riding hard enough to build up a sweat. Firstly, about the ‘wicking’ concept: during constant output, the clothing itself is always wet as moisture passes through it to the outside, where the wind hits it and cools the body by evaporation – great on a hot day, terrible in winter. In addition, most of these hi-tech fabrics lose their insulating qualities when they get wet. You start off warm and dry, end up wet and freezing. This is worsened with a shell, where the moisture builds up even quicker. Of course, all this changes when the activity is low-output, and the fabrics have a chance to stay dry. I have to say I’m the most comfortable with at least one of the layers in wool, which still insulates when moist.

Anonymous's picture
April (not verified)
Keeping cool

"I'm the last person to give advice on cold weather riding since I don't ride in the deep winter (temp. < 40). My only ""cold weather gear"" is a thin cycling jacket!

Still, I've been out riding at around 40 degree weather and I was perfectly comfortable with that very limited gear! What I have, instead of thick balky and expensive jackets, I invested in gloves. If I were to go out in colder temperature (below freezing), I'd add bootie and headgear before shelling out the big bucks on them fancy jackets.

""keeping warm is only 1/2 the issue. ""

Very good point! That's the other 1/2 of the key (the first 1/2 being keeping the extremity warm with glove/bootie and such).

For me, instead of forever seaching for the latest and greatest high-tech sweat wicking material to keep myself from drowning in my own sweat, I purposely under-dress to some degree. So when I'm moving, I'm just warm enough to not feel cold but not so hot to sweat a lot. That translate into relatively little clothing on the body. And I found that as long as my extremities are warm, I don't really NEED that much clothes on the trunk to stay comfortably cozy.

Since it's not always possible to bring the perfect clothes to every time, ""layering"" is much more flexible than one thick jacket which might turn yourself into a biological furnace! And I will not hesitate to start stripping extra layers away as soon as I feel I'm over-dressed to prevent excessive sweating to become a reality. I do carry an extra layer for when I have to stop outside for any length of time, in case I got a flat."

Anonymous's picture
Yogi (not verified)
As you know, we go to Nyack with the gear we have.

>(Saturday morning on the GWB is a bad time to realize you're underdressed...)

Riding in the 30’s is not so bad. Unless you’re dehydrated or far from shelter, you’ll have to try pretty hard to get hypothermia if you’re dressed appropriately. You won’t be in danger of getting frostbite unless you get closer to 0 degrees. So we’re talking about levels of comfort. Pay more attention to moisture management and ventilating as you heat up, keep your fingers and toes warm and you’re in business.

Everybody has different preferences, try what works best for you and your level of fitness. I noticed my polypropylene (cheap) stuff always air dries faster than my Patagonia capilene when I do my laundry.

Does anybody else come across this commuter heading south on RSD in the morning? He wears a cotton short sleeve T-shirt in the 30 to 100 degree range. A backward baseball hat for a helmet, and rides a 10 speed from the 1970’s.

Maybe he thinks warm thoughts? Or maybe he doesn’t think at all?

Anonymous's picture
Isaac Brumer (not verified)

I don't worry as much about hypothermia as feeling...
a. cold and awkward
b. bulky and awkward
c. hot and awkward
...and feeling unable to keep up with a group. I felt miserable during early weeks of last year's B-SIG.

Anonymous's picture
Yogi (not verified)
Feelings… nothing more than feelings.

I’m guessing that you feel ….. awkward?

First check if this happens only when you’re riding in the winter, or riding year round. Do you feel awkward when you’re off the bike?

>c. hot and awkward
–take off layers, or decrease your effort.

>b. bulky and awkward
–wear layers for better versatility; stay away from jackets filled with anything.

>a. cold and awkward
–opposite of C.

>...and feeling unable to keep up with a group.
Some people’s muscles just don’t contract as efficiently in the cold air. Before you ride in the 30’s range, do more rides in the 40’s.

>I felt miserable during early weeks of last year's B-SIG.
It might also be that the people you’re riding with were in better shape and it takes you a few weeks to catch up.

Next time you feel cold and tired on a ride, just notice– I’m cold and tired (and add layers or fuel). Try not to attach any feelings of inadequacies to the sensations of being cold. After all, you’re riding a bike in the winter, you’re supposed to be cold.

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