Cycling in 40-degree Weather

I've noticed that some of you are finding this blog after a search for "can you ride your bike in 40-degree weather?" Although it is not really the right season for this question, I'll go ahead and give it a go (even though there are other fantastic bloggers out there who are far more qualified to answer).

My answer is: Absolutely!

I should preface that by saying that 40-degrees is about as cold as it gets here in San Diego. But then, I've lived here all my life and to me 40-degrees is pretty dang cold. The key to riding in colder weather is knowing your ride and having the right gear.

Knowing your ride is important because it affects what gear you will need. If your ride is less than 5 miles on flat ground, your body won't really have time to warm itself up so you'll need to bundle up. If your ride is more than 15 miles or there is a big hill in the first half of it, you will either want to stop and lose layers before the hill or suck up the cold while your body warms up from the riding. Just know that it will be really cold when you start and you will hate yourself for being out there. Then, as you go along, you will warm up and forget that it cold at all. Until you get to that big down hill that blows cold air all over your sweat soaked body (don't worry, once you slow down you warm right back up. So plan your wardrobe around your route.

Now, when I say you need the right gear I don't mean that you need to go out and spend $300 on long cycling pants and all that. (But if you do, use the REI link at the bottom of this post). When I started riding in cold weather I didn't buy anything, I just used things I had around already.

Things you will need to ride comfortably in cold weather:

Polyester Pants (like Dickies)
A bandanna or tall socks
2-3 long sleeve layers
A beanie (or skullcap)
Winter gloves

Let me explain.
The polyester pants do a better job of keeping the wind off your legs than cotton pants. Wool works even better at keeping you warm so if you have some wool pants laying around, go ahead and use those. I have several pairs of dickies that I don't use (from back when I worked food service in college) that do a great job of keeping my legs warm.
The bandana and tall socks are to keep your pants out the chain. Either tie your bandanna around the leg or pull your sock up over the bottom of your pants.
The key to keeping your torso and arms warm is layering. As you ride you will get warmer and want to remove a layer. I would usually lose the cotton layer that had already been soaked with sweat. That bad boy will chill you to the bone if it sees any air flow.
I found that my ears were always cold when I rode. Painful cold. So I just loosened the strap on my helmet and started wearing a large beanie that covered my ears. Again, polyester or wool here is key.
My final piece of gear was a pair of Isotoner gloves I've had for cold weather for about 8 years. The didn't look all that nice anymore so I was comfortable sweating them up with my hands. They did an admirable job keeping me warm.

Once you figure out that cold weather riding isn't that hard you might want to upgrade a few things for comfort and ease of use (listed here in the order I would purchase them):
I would start with a reflective leg band or two. This replaces the bandanna or tall socks. Just wrap it around the bottom of your pants. Really, you should get some of these anyway and just always wear them. The movement of your legs makes them far more visible than your stationary reflectors.
Next I would get a bacalava. This is kind of a full face covering like you see on olympic skiers. This covers your ears like a beanie and if you need to you can pull it up over your mouth and nose if you want.
Next would probably be a non-cotton layer for your torso. I currently wear a thin breathable, wicking layer covered with a cotton sweatshirt and then my cycling jacket. Probably next winter I'll replace the cotton layer with something that wont soak up all my sweat.

So there it is, everything you need to know about how to stay warm in cold weather (that a guy from San Diego could tell you).


Let's be honest here. This will be handy for very few of the readers at this point in time. I did get a hit from a search for riding in 40-degree weather. Mostly, however, I wrote this so that I wouldn't have to do it next October.

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