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I bike to work. It's about 3 miles. I live in Minnesota. It is getting cold. When it is like 40 and below I bundle up but I sweat and then I am hot so I lose a layer and then freeze. Should I wear like a windbreaker or that under armor stuff? I get to work and my body can not tell if its freezing or sweating.

  • Hi William. Your question has a few answers, but to me it's not clear. You are riding 3 mi (5 km), in temperatures 40°F (~4.5°C) and lower. What isn't stated is how fast you are riding (it makes a big difference), and whether you expect to be riding in rain or snow. Apparently the climate of Minnesota varies according to how close you to are the lakes, so it would help to know where you are. – andy256 Oct 13 '14 at 0:37
  • I used to commute to work 10 miles each way (25 when I took a "short cut" some mornings). This in southern MN (near Rochester). Down to 45-50 I'd generally wear T-shirt and running shorts. Below that I'd slip on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt -- easily removed (and shoved in my pannier) when I warmed up and needed to be cooler. For temps below 30 or so I had wind pants & jacket. Would commute down to about zero. (I don't commute any more after I changed jobs and it became less convenient.) – Daniel R Hicks Oct 13 '14 at 3:26
  • A little on the terrain here will help us. For me I'm doing jeans, flannel shirt, and light gloves. I'm still chilly when I leave, but I do a lot of climbing so I still end up sweating by the end. I get a few good downhills to cool off on but start climbing up again. On the way home though all this is required not to freeze to death on the downhill. At 5 miles it would take longer to stop and adjust clothes (beyond unbuttoning shirt) than the whole ride itself. – BPugh Oct 13 '14 at 14:11
  • As others have said, gloves are important when you get below about 40F. Start out with plain riding gloves, then polypropylene "glove liners" under the riding gloves when temps get to 40, then something like lightweight ski gloves when the temp is below 15F or so. (And I have a pair of the polypro glove liners in the pockets of every jacket I own. They're cheap, light, incredibly warm for the weight, and extremely handy to have in many situations off the bike.) – Daniel R Hicks Oct 13 '14 at 15:43
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It depends a lot on you. I live in Illinois and I'll go out in a T-shirt and shorts in the 40's for bike rides.

But if you want some additional warmth in the around 40F and 3 miles, I'd say maybe some thin gloves (I have a set of Underarmour coldgear running gloves which are useful for longer rides in the 30s) and a hoodie - you might be cold for the first 2-3 minutes but then you'll feel fine. If you find that a hoodie leaves you cold for the whole ride, maybe add a wind breaker with some ventilating holes.

In general, you shouldn't dress enough to feel warm when you're getting on the bike. You'll generate some extra heat, so in most cases, the right amount of clothing will make you feel a bit cold for the first few minutes.

A ski jacket is way too much bundling for riding in 40 degree weather (given that its probably overkill for even just standing outside).

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    The bit about "don't dress so that you're warm when you get on the bike" is crucial. That's the fast road to overheating. – D.Salo Oct 11 '14 at 15:18
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I find that at warmish cold temperatures like the 30s-40sF, the most important thing is to keep my hands and ears warm; the rest of my body takes care of itself after a few minutes of riding. (I am assuming your normal garb does not leave exposed skin other than hands and head/neck. If it does, well, fix that first.)

Have a good pair of wind-stopping gloves; experiment with glove liners if the gloves aren't enough. A fleece earband keeps my ears and forehead warm and doesn't get in the way of my helmet, but if that's not enough or your nose complains, try a hoodie, stocking cap, or balaclava.

You may find that keeping the wind from stripping heat away is plenty enough for the rest of your body, in which case a standard rain jacket or nylon windstopper will do the job. If it doesn't, try a hoodie or put on a fleece vest or jacket under the rain jacket. (A water-resistant jacket with fleece lining is essentially this; Land's End carries such, among others.)

Other minor considerations: Sleeves that are snug at the wrist (e.g. stretchy knit cuffs or buttoned cuffs) keep the wind from sneaking up your forearm. Crew or longer socks do the same for your ankles and calves, or failing that, a cycling cuff-band.

  • Keeping the hands warm is must, it will make you uncomfortable and affects your reactions. The rest of this answer is good as well. I generally don't require ear coverage at this temperature, but I do long pants (jeans), t-shirt with a flannel over, and gloves (thin leather driving gloves). I do get too warm though, but 300-400 feet of climbing in 3 miles will do that. If it rains though, I just get wet. I'm only out for 30 minutes and hill climbing. – BPugh Oct 13 '14 at 14:05
  • I have ears that stick out a bit. ;) Round about the low 40sF cold ears start getting distracting for me. YMMV! – D.Salo Oct 13 '14 at 23:07
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I've found that "soft shell" garments work really well in that temperature range as long as it's not raining. Soft shell fabrics are jack of all trades. They are much more breathable than your typical nylon shell, they are more windproof than a microfleece and with a good DWR they are reasonably good at repelling light rain and snow.

My favorite fabric of this type is Schoeller Dryskin, but it's kind of pricy. Polartec Powershell also works pretty well.

IMHO, you want to avoid anything that claims to be waterproof/breathable. Even the best versions of these kinds of fabrics are not breathable enough for moderate exercise. WB fabrics (i.e. goretex) have their use, but they are vastly oversold.

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My commute has always been about that distance, and when temperatures reach around freezing point, I simply wear a ski jacket which has ventilation shafts under the armpits. Opening these helps me a lot from sweating, and you can easily adjust them. Also thin (e.g. running) gloves can help: they break the cold wind, but allow you to transpire.

And finally, like in warm weather: don't rush too much.

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5 degrees celsiusis is chilly and the main enemy is wind.

Those are the areas of the body, that generate a excessive heat:

  • torso
  • head
  • thigh

Those are the areas, mostly affected by wind:

  • knees
  • palms
  • front part of the body: breasts, neck, face

I would wear:

  • no backpack
  • knee pads, thin gloves
  • wool shirt with long sleeves
  • helmet

In colder weather (below freezing) I would add:

  • wind breaker
  • winter gloves
  • ski mask
  • long trousers

At below -20C I would add:

  • ski jacket ;p
  • In English, corpse typically refers to a dead body. Tights=legs? – Batman Oct 13 '14 at 14:30
  • Used to be you could get a "helmet liner" that was a lightweight fleece or polypro cap that fits inside the helmet and attaches to the straps. Good to have below 15F or so. Haven't seen then of late, though. – Daniel R Hicks Oct 13 '14 at 15:47
  • They still exist - look for skull caps, or you can find ones built into certain helmets like those made by Bern. – Batman Oct 13 '14 at 15:50
  • Something like this? The throat needs to be protected as well. – Vorac Oct 14 '14 at 6:55
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I bought a few wool blend base layer tops and bottoms and a pair of neoprene gloves, all from Costco, which keep me very comfortable down to 40 degrees. As the temperature dips lower, I am experimenting with adding layers. At 34 degrees, I wore two pairs of the base layer bottoms, one on top, plus a very thin windbreaker from REI, which worked very well.

I commute about 10 miles each way.

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