Saturday, December 11, 2010

Keeping Warm pt2 - Core Warmth
Having previously covered extremities - hands and feet - I'm going to take a moment looking at how to keep your body warm. Actually, not so much keeping warm, because cycling at a reasonable rate is going to warm you up, but more accurately, stopping getting cold.

Any garment needs to maintain a careful balance between insulating you from the elements and stopping you becoming too hot, or at least too sweaty and thus reducing the effectiveness of the insulation.

Again, one of the most important properties of any garment, apart from breathability, is the ability to stop wind passing through the fabric and taking away heat. There are a number of fabrics which will do this to some degree or another, so make wind-stopping ability high on your agenda when making a purchase.

Currently, I wear a Gore Tool jacket. It has a few nice features; the breast pocket is mesh lined so it's possible to let a controlled amount of cool air enter if things do start to warm up on those hills. Similarly, there are zipable vents under the armpits which also allow cooling without a howling gale blasting into your chest.

I have a jacket from Assos which has similar properties. When worn with a thermal base layer it's hard to believe such a thin covering can be so warm and comfortable.

Almost all the properties which apply to your torso also apply to your legs with the added criterion of mobility. Some riders wear knickers - as they are known in the US - or plusses elsewhere, with long socks to cover the gap between the shoe and the cuff of the garment.

If you are tall, plusses often terminate just below the knee so are to a large extent not practical, at least to the extent of keeping you warm. Most riders go with full-length tights. Whichever you choose, winter is what bibs were made for, keeping the area around the lower back and kidneys warm.

The best tights comprise of a wind-stopper layer as well as a thermal lining. Make sure they're not too snug. You need to maintain a layer of air to maintain warmth.

Lastly, don't forget your head and ears. Most modern cycling helmets are designed to let the wind whistle through and keep your head cool ... fine for the summer. However, you can lose a substantial amount of heat through your head as well as risk nipping your ears if they're not protected, due to wind-chill.

I use a couple of items, depending on the weather; a fine fleece cap which also covers my ears, and a wind-stopper skull cap if it looks like rain.

Most helmets will accommodate a cap worn underneath, although my most expensive helmet will not, because higher-end helmets tend to be more accurately sized, as opposed to the universal fit. I tend to use a universal helmet in the winter to be more comfortable. It also means I don't feel so bad about strapping lights and sticking conspicuity stuff on it. leaving my super-cool summer helmet pristine ... If you insist on cycling through blizzards and sub-zero temperatures - degrees C that is - consider a balaclava or bandit mask to protect your face.

Cycling makes particular demands on winter apparel. There's a world of difference between stuff that's suitable for, say, running and cycling ... about 15mph of wind-chill for a start. So get down to your LBS - local bike shop - get some advice and get the right stuff. It's not cheap, but believe me, when push comes to shove you'll not regret a single penny spent on top-class gear.
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