Wasn’t it just August? Layering for a cold November ride

Now to start with, I AM a Seattleite (the denizens of Seattle really call themselves that). I’m used to cool, humid, wet, gray winter days. It rarely gets below freezing and very rarely in the teens Fahrenheit (the record low of 0°F was in 1950). We get a big wet sloppy snowstorm once in a while and a couple inches of snow bring this hilly city to a halt.

So today it was sunny and cool and I thought I should get out for a ride. My days on the bike have slacked off since September and it takes some extra initiative to get out. Sunny or just rainless days are rare and I should make every effort to ride when the weather is better. The weather stats are pretty typical for a winter day: 45°F, 50% humidity and it was windy today with winds from the NNW at 15-25MPH. I felt the 15MPH wind at least and had the total pleasure (NOT) of getting headwinds coming AND going on this trip. Note the humidity was rather low today, with high humidity levels being common (and temperatures in the mid-forties Fahrenheit). 

BTW, I found a great weather statistics web site at https://weatherspark.com/averages/29735/11/Seattle-Washington-United-States

I lean to my ultralight hiking and cross-country skiing experience for my cycling layering scheme. Many of my choices are driven by thrift store finds rather than deliberate purchases chosen by market research, reviews and the like. Although I have seen excellent reviews for wool, it doesn’t agree with me and my only consistently used wool garments are Merino wool socks. Everything else is synthetic, including lofted insulation. I do have one down jacket and it would be last on my list for biking gear.

The goal: combining wicking, breathable layers that allow adjustment for activity level and conditions. The challenge is staying warm and dry without overheating and sweat-soaking my layers and  getting chilled and bringing on hypothermia. With the cool (but not freezing) temperatures, no direct sun and high humidity it’s easy to overheat while active, but it is hard to stay dry. Add the usual drizzling rain and you have the choice of getting wet inside or outside. Ventilated rain gear is a must: even the best breathable fabrics are hard pressed to keep up with perspiration in the conditions found here.


november layers

So this is the pile of goodies that I chose for my afternoon ride

  • Bell Stoker helmet. I have large head and my helmet choices are limited. The Stoker even allows room for a beanie or buff underneath. I got this one for a Jackson at the Cascade Bicycle Club Seattle Bike Swap last year. It isn’t as well ventilated as some helmets and if I were to buy a new one, I would go with lighter color; the “titanium” gray made little difference today. I should add some reflective tape to that one.
  • Original Buff, Blaze orange with reflective stripes. Buffs work: they are light(1.4oz) and very adaptable. I wore this one as a neck gaiter and face mask. It is easy to pull up from the back like a balaclava or as a beanie.
  • REI Novara Conversion bike jacket. I wore this for my outer wind shell. This ventilated jacket converts to a vest. It has hand pockets, a “Napoleon” chest pocket and the typical cycling rear pocket across the lower back. It doesn’t breathe as well as I would like. The older Patagonia Houdini windshirt and the Nike Hurricane Vapor jackets are better in the breathability category, but lack the nice cycling-oriented features. This Novara came from a thrift store, so I don’t mind exposing it to the horrors of Chain Grease, so my precious pre-2012 Houdini is safe. This specific Novara model is no longer available, but there are legions of similar bike jackets. This is NOT a rain jacket; it is water repellent and will handle light precipitation. In a perfect world, I would get a Showers Pass jacket with eVent fabric (a perfect world has $250 to buy me a rain jacket). I use a typical 2.5 layer rain jacket for now.
  • Patagonia R1 vest. No longer made and a great outdoor mid-layer garment. R1 is Polartec Power Dry gridded fleece fabric and the stuff is light, breathes, wicks, and keeps me warm and dry. I use the Patagonia R1 hoody for hiking and would use if for biking in colder (sub freezing)  weather. You can get R1 1/2 zip tops and long john bottoms too. If you want a bargain, look for the military version— Google “Gen III Level 2 ECWCS fleece.” Today the vest was just enough on the flats and downhills, maybe a bit much on the hills.
  • Patagonia Midweight Zip Neck base layer top. I am a fan of picking your base layers for the basic conditions and then adding layers to suit. I have a palette of base layers from short sleeve “silkweight” tees on up to a Capilene 4 long sleeve zip neck top. The Midweight is a lighter thinner Power Dry grid fabric. As with the R1, the grids breathe, and wick and trap fat little pockets of warm dry air. Feels good on the skin too.
  • Craft windproof tights. I bought these used and Craft makes a bunch of windproof tights. They are fleecy on the back side and have a polyester front panel to block the wind. They have a elastic/drawstring waist, ankle zippers and reflective piping. They have been too warm at times, but were prefect today. There are biking-specific versions out there. Pockets would be nice.
  • As the tights were made for running, I added Zoic padded liner briefs borrowed from my Ether bike shorts.
  • For foot gear I wore Thorlo wool blend hiking socks and Keen Briggs shoes. I like Merino wool blend socks and Keen shoes are my favorite all-around urban shoes. I use MKS RMX “sneaker” pedals and they mate well the with Keens.
  • For gloves I found a pair of G-Force racing crew gloves. Basically they are mechanics gloves in a bright “don’t hit me” yellow. They were okay in the cold wind today but they would suck in the rain— more sponge than waterproof. I use fingerless mechanic’s gloves for my summertime biking and they work great. I got a pair at Home Depot for $10 and they are every bit as good as a $40+ pair of cycling gloves.
  • Eyewear: I always wear some sort of eye protection. I was wearing Native Dash XP sunglasses and when it got dark I switched to generic clear safety work glasses.

So I went abroad with this set of clothing. It kept me warm enough on the downhill runs and was good when pushing it on the flats. I was hot on the hills, but opening up the jacket and pulling the buff down off my face made it bearable. A more breathable wind shell may have helped. I do live on a 300 foot hill with a 2 mile continuous grade for the return leg.



2 thoughts on “Wasn’t it just August? Layering for a cold November ride

  1. adventurepdx November 25, 2015 / 12:03 pm

    I’d be interested to hear how wool doesn’t work for you. I basically cover myself in merino from November through April!

    • dalesjournal November 25, 2015 / 12:52 pm

      There are some excellent wool products available, but I don’t like the feel as a base layer. It does dry slower than polyester, which can be a problem, especially on wet multi day trips with no direct sun. It can be expensive and very hard to find used. I do like Merino socks a lot and wear them 99% of the time.

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