Friday, 4 January 2013

Wool Conquers Winter

At the start of the new year I find myself the only cyclist on my daily commute and surely one of the only cyclists in Silver Spring. The 'Bike to Work Day' crowd are nowhere to be seen (I doubt we'll see any of them for another three months yet) and the roads are left to the lazy lard-asses in their cars and those of us who have figured out that cycling in winter is by no means uncomfortable if you know how to dress for it.

Last year, with no winter wool to speak of, I couldn't do without my winter jacket, and still I never felt warm (still, I wasn't going to let a bit of cold force me off the bike). This year I finally managed to scrape together enough cash to splurge on a couple of layers of wool, and it's really made a huge difference for me. I haven't even needed my winter jacket yet.

Yesterday was pretty much the coldest it's been in the last 3 months -  it was in the high 20s fahrenheit when I woke up. I got out my wool long underwear for the second time this season and topped that off with wool socks, jeans, T-shirt and a nice thick wool sweater. Still no need of a jacket - with two layers of wool and some nice thick woolen gloves a jacket makes it just a little too hot.

I also bought my daughter a set of woolen underwear, a good pair of ski gloves and a 3-in-1 ski jacket. This year our commute is quite a bit longer (she's on her bike for at least an hour every day), so she really needs something to deter the chill. If it gets colder, I think she'll need a thick sweater, but so far she says she's comfortable.

I reckon the teachers at my daughter's school have yet to discover the merits of wool, as they are bundled up in their polyester jackets and still looking cold, while I'm cycling by looking like I'm enjoying a different season. Of course it's not just their choice of fabrics - they're not getting the exercise either, so that plays a big role.

I wish I'd figured out the benefits of wool sooner.


  1. Body isn't the problem here, its the face and extremities.

    My old ski gloves are so thick that its tough to manage the SPD controls on my usual work bike, so I rode yesterday using leather and fabric lined mittens. My fingers were cold and my thumbs numb by the time I got to work. Even funnier was that by using a balaclava, my glasses froze up and I had to stop to let them clear. The final straw was my HID headlamp went out on the trip home, leaving me making a hard left turn on snow with only the handlebar headlight working, and pointing forward rather than into the turn. I think the Li-ion battery on the helmet unit finally gave up the ghost because I got home and recharged it (just like I had done the night before) and the light worked fine.

    This morning it was 4 deg F instead of yesterday's 8 deg F. I gave up and used the evil gas guzzler. I need to re-think this next week and use the Surly Long Haul Trucker, which is set up with bar end shifters but lacks fenders. That way I can use heavier gloves.

    Still gotta isolate what died on the headlamp. Batteries for those are not cheap. For the price of a Light and Motion battery, I can get a whole new light system. The HIDs are not as bombproof as the new LEDs, either. I'm a terrible packrat about fixing things rather than replacing them, but sometimes technological improvements are compelling.

  2. My face and extremities used to be a problem too. No gloves ever seemed to be able to keep my hands warm. But since I started wearing the 100% wool long underwear combined with a wool Aran sweater, they seem to keep the blood nicely warmed all the way down my arms so that the gloves don't have to do all the insulating they used to do.

    True, it's nowhere near as cold here as it is where you are, but I'm a lot warmer and more comfortable at this temperature this year than I was at the same temperature last year wearing a polyester and synthetic fleece jacket over a mixture of synthetic winter garments. I just don't think synthetics have anywhere near the same insulation ability as wool.

    I envy your LHT. I have to get me a proper touring bike one of these days. Maybe I'll hit the wife up for one for my birthday. My bike is going on 20 years old - about time for a replacement I reckon.

  3. The LHT is a pretty cool bike. At 5'6", mine was only available in a 26" wheelset design but I had a spare set of wheels from an old mountainbike hanging in the garage and a full gruppo of servicable components in boxes (most of them from an old tandem I had disassembled after Meena and I bought the Co-Motion), so that worked out well. The frame arrived in perfect alignment and I built it up. It can take huge tires--right now I have a set of Richey Cross 26x2.1" on it for winter riding. Normally, I run 26x1.5 or 1.25 and its fast and comfortable.

    I can never decide which bike I prefer for commuting since the 'cross bike (the one I rode yesterday) and touring bike work so well. Cross bike is marginally faster for this old fart, but the LHT has gotten me to work with panniers stuffed with a week of food, my clothing, and a laptop strapped over the rear rack. Nice bike!