Dressed to Chill

Well this is more like it. THIS is badass Winnipeg winter.

Since I started this madness that is winter commuting, I’ve had all sorts of people asking what I wear when I ride. Needless to say I am always delighted to share my fashion advice, albeit of the frumpy and androgynous variety.

I thought I’d need to spend a fortune on gear, but so far I’ve managed with items I already had around the house, pinpointing through trial and error things that I need to upgrade to be warmer or more comfortable. I’ve given up on attractive.

So let’s start from the outside in, and from the top down, shall we? I call this the “Honey Badger Winter 2012 Collection”. If you make it to the end, I promise to make it worth your while.

Outer Layer
Here I am in full honey badger regalia. And you wonder why I resisted commuting.

01. My helmet is the one I use year round and cost more than the bike I ride to commute. Not even joking. I’ve had to adjust the neck strap to fit over all the bullshit I have to wear to keep my head warm, and I’ve attached a blinking red light to the back with clear packing tape. It’s ghetto, but it works.

02. Ski goggles. Just a cheap pair I had already had. They don’t fog up like regular sunglasses when I cover my eyes and nose. They also keep my eyes sheltered from road debris, wind, and snow – which can feel like tiny ninja throwing stars on unprotected eyeballs.

03. Hubby’s Columbia shell. A bit big and bulky, but it’s windproof and keeps a warm cushion of nice dry air around my body, which is great when I’m sweating like a Texas linebacker. Plus I have enough pockets to keep a mickey of vodka and half the contents of my house.

04. Hubby’s garbage mitts. Not sure why they are called garbage mitts, but it  makes me think of fish skeletons and empty tin cans. They are warm as hell and I like that they go really high so my wrists are covered. I can’t see my watch though. No matter – it’s motherfucking freezing o’clock.

05. Ski pants. When I was a kid there was nothing that would get you beat up faster than wearing ski pants. I still hate them, but they do keep me warm. I will also point out the reflective ankle band on my right leg – it keeps my ugly ski pants from getting caught in my chain rings and making me do an endo into traffic. I’m NOT dying in fucking ski pants.

06. Ugly Columbia boots. Sylish, no, but if there’s anything I hate more than ugly footwear it’s missing toes. After 30 minutes in extreme cold my toes are very cold. I’ll likely invest in some equally hideous Neos overshoes. I wonder if they’ll fit over my slingback pumps.

Warmth Layer
Sheep may not be the smartest animals, but they are tasty and their wool is great for making clothes that keep us warm and dry.

01. Balaclava. I swore I would never wear one of these, but when faced with the possibility of losing my nose, I reluctantly surrendered. One of the offspring used this one for hockey when he was four, so it’s a little small. And it’s fleece (which ironically contains no sheep products) so it gets all wet and clammy. But it will come in handy when I go rob Mountain Equipment Coop for a better one.

I also wear a headband to keep my ears warm and to block out the sound of assholes who yell at me for having the nerve to ride a bike on the road.

02. Neck Warmer. To properly complete the ninja look, I recommend the use of a neck warmer. Sure it makes you look a bit like a turtle (a NINJA turtle), but it keeps my neck and throat warm, thus protecting my melodious singing voice. Shut up Kristen.

03. Merino Wool Cycling Jersey. The retro-er the better. This is, after all, your only opportunity to have any cycling credibility or sex appeal whatsoever. So work it.

04. Long Johns. Yes, the indignity never ends. These are an old pair from my running days. I’d love a pair of nice Helly Hansen ones (sponsorship welcome), but these ones do the job. (A trap door would be handy for longer rides).

05. Wool Socks. Wet feet suck and will freeze up like a couple of game hens in no time flat. I’ve heard of people coating their feet with everything from vaseline to baby powder to antiperspirant. I haven’t had to resort to this yet, instead I’ve opted for good quality wool socks from deFeet, Sock Guy, or SmartWool.

Base Layer
Technically, this isn’t really a “base layer”. If you buy “base layer” stuff at the store it’s considered thermals and the like. But this isn’t necessarily by the book, this is just my base layer. The important thing here is comfort. You’re going to look stupid regardless and nobody sees this stuff anyway.
01. Wicking shirt. Personally I don’t really like the feel of wool directly on my skin. I am a delicate flower of a girl after all, as you can tell by the colour of my shirt. Under this I wear a sports bra – unless you are a woman or a triathlete, you can skip this step.

02. Cycling shorts. We are, after all, riding bikes are we not?

03. Extra socks. I only wear these on the coldest days because my boots aren’t quite warm enough. It’s important your boots aren’t too tight. Again, a nice cushion of warm air is important.

And under that, well, I’m naked and look something like this:

Please excuse the gratuitous badger shot.

I thought winter commuting would be really challenging, but it’s really not hard at all. The hardest part is getting the gear dialed in for the conditions that day. On most occasions I have been overdressed, arriving at work an overheated, sweaty mess. But once the gear is put away and I’ve taken some time to fix myself up, no one is the wiser.

It may not take any particular toughness to commute in the cold, but I do take great satisfaction in it nonetheless. It’s better for the planet, more fun, great exercise, and people think I’m totally badass. And I’m not going to tell them any different.