Adventure Cycling - Guide on what to wear Part 2
Temperature, Weatherproofing and Breathability
In our previous blog we gave you the run-down on what to wear on your five contact points with your bicycle. Once you’ve got your contact points well protected and comfortable, then temperature, weatherproofing and breathability are the next big challenges you need to solve for a comfortable long distance cycle tour.
Keeping your body at a comfortable temperature throughout a long day’s ride is a lot more tricky than many might think. When you start off in the morning the weather’s most likely at its coldest for the day, and your body is also cold. But as cyclists, our body is also our motor, so once we get going, we soon start warming up. Therefore it’s actually best to endure being under-dressed and a little cold for the first few minutes of your ride, otherwise you’ll be cooking for hours afterwards.
Then there’s the additional complication that when you’re going uphill not only is your body working harder and generating way more heat, but the air flow that normally cools you down drops because you’re riding so much more slowly. If you don’t take cooling measures, you’ll cook before the top!
On the other hand, once you start descending, you can freewheel so your body motor cools down, plus you have a huge rush of cooling oncoming wind. It’s very easy to catch a chill as the sweat on your body from the climb turns cold, not to mention that your tired legs can start to cramp if you don’t keep rolling over your pedals.
You’ve probably even noticed that it’s warmer when you ride with a tail wind that when you’re riding into a cross or head wind. This is due to the huge cooling effect that airflow has upon cyclists. That’s why we need to wear more than slower moving joggers.
There are several solutions to these temperature dilemmas. The first is to always dress in thin layers. A bulky, super warm jacket does not work for cycling. It doesn’t allow free movement and it won’t let you fine tune your temperature. Three or four thinner layers that can easily be removed and roll down into a pocket sized bundle and tuck into the back of your jersey pocket or a seat or saddle pack, will work much better.
Your jerseys and rain jackets / thermal jackets should have full length zippers at the front, so that even if you don’t take them off, you can partially or even fully unzip them when you’re riding up a hill.
Even on cold days we prefer the combination of a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, rather than a long sleeve jersey. When you ride up a hill, you can quickly push each arm warmer down to your wrists. Ok it might get a bit sweaty under your crumpled arm warmer ‘bracelets’, but as soon as you’re over the hill (geographically speaking…) then you simply push your arm warmers back up again. If it’s warming up for the day, then you can just pull your arm warmers off, roll them together like socks and stuff them into your jersey pocket.
In the same way, you can wear leg warmers, or even knee warmers as an in-between measure. It's all about practicality!
Another age old, low tech trick that is incredibly effective in combating the huge body temperature variation between long climbs and descents is a few sheets of newspaper. (If you’re under 25, better ask your parents what a newspaper was…). You may have seen on TV pro racing team helpers at the top of mountain passes during the Tour de France handing out newspaper to their riders as they crest the summit.
Here at CycleLifeHQ, we use a slightly higher tech solution to conquer the same problem. It’s a sleeveless undervest with Goretex Windstopper front and shoulders and breathable mesh back. You can cut the sides so it’s like a mini poncho. When it warms up you can pull it out over your head from under your jersey while still riding. It crumples down to nothing and easily fits into a jersey pocket.
This is a classic case of clothing that does the job well because it’s specifically designed for cycling. You don’t need extra warmth for your back, it’s your front that cops all of that cold air and it’s that wind chill when cycling on a cold day that really makes you feel cold.
Unless you’re cycle touring across the Atacama Desert where it doesn’t rain at all for years at a time, you’re going to need some wet weather protection.
A good cycling rain jacket should still fit reasonably well so that it doesn’t flap in the wind. It should have a nice long back, always longer than the front so that it fully covers you when you’re bent forward over the handlebars. It should be light and pack down tightly for when you’re not using it. And most of all, it needs to be at least partially breathable. This last requirement was impossible to achieve until the invention of modern fabrics that keep out larger rainwater particles but still allow the smaller sweat vapour particles to escape.
We also recommend high-visibility for this one. Chances are, if you're wearing it, it's because conditions aren't that great, and general visibility conditions might be rainy, foggy and generally pretty poor. You'll want to take extra steps to make sure you're seen when riding in these conditions.
If your rain jacket is totally non-breathable you’ll end up almost as wet on the inside as if you weren’t wearing a jacket at all. The only downside of super lightweight, breathable rain jackets is that they’re way more expensive than cheap sweaty ones. It’s a classic case where you get what you pay for.
Don’t worry too much about trying to your legs dry, apart from one exception that we’ll come to soon. That’s because lycra cycling shorts tend to dry out quite quickly and are not too heavy or uncomfortable to ride in when they’re wet.
Some of our team are ancient enough (we say this very respectfully!) to remember the feeling of riding in old style wool knicks with a leather chamois. Heavy, slimy, smelly. It felt a bit like an image that a baby would feel wearing a wet nappy all day - youch!!… technology has definitely made cycling in the rain better!
That one exception alluded to is at the end of your legs. If you’re riding in the rain and it’s at all cold it can be particularly miserable for your feet, especially if you’ve got poor circulation. That’s partly because your feet are closest to the road and more likely to get splashed with puddles and road spray and partly because through the top arc of every pedal stroke, your feet actually travel faster though the wind than any other part of your body so your feet get an extra wind chill.
Having very poor blood circulation, we swear by waterproof overshoes, sometimes called booties. These not only keep your feet dry, but as a consequence, warmer too.
We also recommend - if you have just one piece of clothing that's high-visibility, choose it for your booties. As your feet continually rotate, they're going to attract the greatest amount of attention of any body part while riding your bike. High-visibility on your feet will have most effect for being seen.
Another key element of wet weather protection, often overlooked if you live in a dry climate is mudguards (sometimes called fenders in the USA or, more recently - ass savers) on your bike. When you’re riding in the rain you cop as much water from your tyres as from the sky. In particular, the two rooster plumes from your front and rear tyres that give you a muddy face and a brown streak up your backside. Ride with a group of cyclists in the rain and it’s like riding inside a car wash – except that the water is dirty. Fun, hey?!
Good mudguards eliminate 95% of this road spray, and keep you, and those around you, more dry and comfortable.
In our next blog we'll look at what to pack for your cycling holiday.
To help make it easier for you, we've partnered with the good folk at online retailer, Wiggle. To take advantage of great prices for all your adventure cycling needs, check out their full range here. It's your one-stop-shop for all the gear you could possibly need.