Biking in the Northeast has become a challenge lately because of the cold; my ears freeze.

I can't wear a hat (because of my helmet) - I never actually tried, maybe I can.

Sometimes I'll put my hood on and then my helmet on top of that, it looks really weird. (Helmets look weird, hooded helmets are a whole new level of weird.)

I'm wondering if there are any other solutions.


I normally have a single Bluetooth earbud in one of my ears as well, not sure if that makes a difference.

  • 3
    Just use one of them ninja masks – Nick M Nov 12 at 2:43
  • 4
    Use a head band (e.g. Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Headband) and/or a thin cap. – Michael Nov 12 at 8:43
  • 5
    If your hood keeps your ears warm, the helmet still fits well with your hood on and the hood doesn't obstruct vision, you should just wear the hood, regardless of how "weird" it looks. – Johnny Nov 12 at 8:55
  • 1
    I wear a thin woollen beanie under my helmet. I look like a plonker, but it works just fine. – Strawberry Nov 12 at 10:14
  • 2
    When it's not so cold I use a Buff under the helmet (wearing it using "pirate" method - see the instruction), when it gets colder I switch to a ski helmet (I know, but it's better than nothing) – k102 Nov 12 at 11:25

18 Answers 18

Try searching for the term "ear band". They tend to be thin enough to comfortably wear under a helmet, and the good ones are fully wind-resistant, yet breathable.

If you have an open ventilation-style helmet, I recommend a helmet cover as well, which is a fabric sleeve that stretches over the top of the helmet which also significantly cuts wind passing through, and may be easier to use instead of a jacket hood (not to mention more streamlined). Install once per season.

Balaklavas or "dickies" are also good to protect the neck and shoulders, and there are also polar fleece neck warmers that may be more comfortable and can bunch up nicely under the back of the helmet.

Any quality of biking glasses/goggles are useful, too — look for ones with clear lenses — which will ensure your eyes don't get a full blast of cold directly.

  • +1 for balaklavas! They're my favorite temperature regulation device- put it on when it's cold in the mornings, take it off after sunrise/warmup. Take it off before the big climb, put it on for the wind-in-my-hair descent. The one I got folds down really small, making it a no-brainer to take along, and it fits under the helmet easily. The bonus sun protection isn't too bad either! – ClimbsRocks Nov 12 at 17:00
  • 7
    Don't be fooled by the ear band's thinness, it doesn't take much to keep your ears warm when they're not being hit by the wind directly. I use them well below freezing with great success. – Brad Nov 12 at 17:07
  • I've also used a variety of things from head band (slightly below 0°C) over woolen beanie (-> -25°C [with increasing scarf coverage]) to balaklava ( -25°C -> -35°C; below that the axle grease got so stiff that the bike would be stuck freewheeling). You may need to adjust the padding thickness of the helmet. – cbeleites Nov 15 at 19:42

I have a thin material tube that can be used for a lot of things. Also called a headsock or necksock or a buff.

I wear mine around my neck, with the top edge at my mouth/nose, and up over my ears at the back. The lower edge rides on my shoulders and slightly over my collarbone. Some buffs have a split on both sides and cover the top of the chest a bit.

Then on top of this I wear a cycling cap with a visor (my commute is into the sun both ways and helmet lacks a visor.)

Downsides, covering the mouth leads to problems with dampness from the breath, and contributes to steamy glasses.

Also, if you're biking fast enough you warm up with the effort and can get too hot, even in the cold.

Links:

  • 2
    Yes I wear one of these around my neck and over the top of my head to cover my ears - it's amazing how a single layer of thin material it enough to keep the chill out of ones ears. – Mr_Thyroid Nov 12 at 17:36
  • 1
    These are standard issue for motorbikes as well, surprisingly effective even at much higher speeds. – Separatrix Nov 13 at 9:41

This is an unconventional answer but it works for me.

I have an aero TT helmet that has fairings over the ears. The reason the fairings exist is to reduce my head's aerodynamic drag, but in doing so, it also takes my ears out of the boundary layer and keeps them toasty warm in winter.

Good luck

  • This is crazy but I love it. Welcome to the site! – David Richerby Nov 12 at 13:36

Living in Sweden, I know what you're talking about. Because I like wearing a hat for any temperature below 10°C (50°F) and it can be -20°C (-4°F) in the winter, I have a special hat for usage under my bicycle helmet. For the warmer days I just use a thin buff, which I can always keep in my pocket due to its limited size. For the colder days I have a hat without anything on top of it (e.g. no pom-pom). I noticed the helmet is not very friendly for the fabric, it will wear out a little bit and start looking ugly, so do not use your favourite hat for it. Because the thickness of the hat is just a few millimetres, only a small adjustment of the helmet is needed.

  • 1
    Yeah, it's called "thermal cap". At least looking up "running thermal cap" yields it. – Agent_L Nov 13 at 11:02

When it's cold enough here, I use a toque (or beanie or knit cap or whatever you call it in your part of the world) under my helmet. It's thin enough that a small adjustment of my helmet is all that is needed for a comfortable fit. Mine fits over my ears and doesn't interfere with headphones.

I have a chillcheater skull cap for kayaking. It's designed to fit under a helmet and keeps the wind off your ears while also holding them closer to your head (warmer in its own right). I've tried it on the bike in a UK winter, and found it too warm for significant effort -- but our winters are warmer.

  • If you google "Bicycle cap under helmet" or similar you will find some suitable examples. My SO wears one in cold weather. – RedSonja Nov 12 at 12:52

We've got plenty of good answers already so just want to share my head warm set up depending on the temperature. I also live in Sweden and in my daily commutes experience from +25C to -20C.

+15C and up - only helmet, no head wear.

+5C to +15C - helmet with a cycling cap.

+0C to +5C - this is where stuff gets serious. On the upper limit of the range it could still be acceptable to ride without any ear protection in a normal cycling cap, due to the fact that our ears (or at least mine) adapt really quickly to cold by increasing a blood flow. Otherwise light ski scarf on the ears could help, or light cycling cap with ear cover.

-10C to +0C - for these conditions it's impossible to live without ear covers. I have winter cap with ear covers which is too warm, so mostly I use thin balaclava which goes around my face. Winter cap is not perfect for such conditions because you would also want to cover your neck. So too warm winter cap with ear covers in my case feels like a bad purchase.

-20C to -10C - in these conditions it's very important to both protect your face and your lungs. This is when I go for a full face balaclava for cycling with breath holes and ski goggles.

Hope my experience would help anyone to stay warm :)

UPD: also would like to add that commuting in cold temperatures adds unexpected requirements to your face wear. When it comes to lower than 0+ temperatures I also use protective lipstick (very greasy, you come to this naturally) and of course always use protective glasses, transparent for the dark part of the year, which are getting replaced by ski goggles when stuff gets even more serious.

  • 1
    Of course, different people will put these temperature bands in different places. (For example, I'd only start thinking about wearing a cap if the temperature got below about 5C. Actually, I'm kinda surprised that you live somewhere where the temperature gets down to -20C but you find 15C cold enough to need a cap.) – David Richerby Nov 13 at 12:17
  • @DavidRicherby heh, it's slightly different from that :) ~15+ is the edge temperature when cap is not feeling too hot, and for some reason I prefer to wear it most of the time (it's comfortable and also gives you convenient sun blind like in your car :) While for around ~10+ it becomes a must. – Sapphire64 Nov 13 at 22:40

Having a proper headwear under your helmet should be a preferred way to keep oneself warm. However, for the picture's completeness, I want to mention using different types of helmets in winter: full-face MTB and moped/motorcycle helmets.

They are heavier and pricier than regular "open" helmets, but they have much less ventilation, and often come with some sort of goggles to cover your face even more. Both aspects are beneficial in winter.

Another thing is that these helmets are also certified for riding two-wheeled (non-)motorized vehicles, if this is something you are concerned with. Other types of "warmer" helmets, such as ski helmets or water-rafting helmets, may not be tested against the types of impacts that may happen in a bicycle/motorcycle crash. You need to check certifications of a helmet before using it in possibly unintended conditions.

  • 3
    I've never heard anyone report good experiences of cycling in a motorbike helmet. The lack of visibility (motorbikes have rear-view mirros), sound insulation (ditto) and OMG-my-neck-is-going-to-snap-from-this-weight are all significant disadvantages. – David Richerby Nov 12 at 9:55
  • Yeah, @DavidRicherby, but think how strong your neck muscles will be from a winter's riding season with a full-face motorcycle helmet on your head! ;) – FreeMan Nov 12 at 17:01
  • 1
    @FreeMan Probably about this strong, which is useful for winter! – David Richerby Nov 12 at 17:13
  • @DavidRicherby meh... that's just light power... :) But also a useful skill! – FreeMan Nov 12 at 17:17
  • I used to use a very thin windbreaker style hoodie and it worked until I switched jackets. Now when the weather is super cold, I generally ride my human powered bicycle with a motorcycle helmet made by Bell. Aside from the visibility, sound insulation and neck issues already mentioned by Richerby, you may also have trouble drinking from your water bottle and moving the plastic bug shield when it freezes up. Now a days, I actually prefer the motorcycle helmet in extreme cold because I no longer have to adjust my helmet straps for a hoodie or whatever before and after rides. – Shawn Eary Nov 13 at 3:22

There are literally hundreds of cycling specific headwear items available in the US that can keep your head and ears warm in cold weather, that are thin enough to fit under a helmet (and not look too strange).

Just google 'bicycle headwear cold' and you'll find many choices; from headbands that keep the ears warm, but allow for cooling from the top of the head; simple skullcap type hats that insulate head and tops of ears; hats with extended ear and neck protection flaps; to full-face and neck balaclavas.

I've even seen casual cycling helmets that come with a fitter liner with ear flaps that attaches to the chin strap 'fork' that goes either side of the ears.

Well, having bicycled through Finnish winters in our cold coastal regions, my tips should be helpful :)

When it's around +5 ... -5 C (41 F ... 23 F), I usually wear a thin bandana that covers the ears: enter image description here

Then when it goes a bit lower, around -5 C ... -15 C (23 F ... 5 F), I wear a bit thicker fleece beanie which has no "band" in the bottom: enter image description here

And then I loosen the helmet from the headsize adjustment so that it still fits fairly snugly and is not loose. You might also need to adjust the chin strap.

And for the real wintertime, between -15 C and -32 C (5 F ... -25 F) - the coldest I've bicycled in, but I didn't feel cold - I have the above fleece beanie and also a fairly thick wool pipe collar that starts from below the throat until all the way to the ears: enter image description here

That keeps me warm :)

Also remember to dress in layers in wintertime:

  • The bottom layer should be technical moisture wickening / merino wool
  • The middle layer should be warm and slightly loose fleece
  • The outer layer should be water and windproof but breathing, eg. goretex, softshell, etc.
  • Two pairs of socks - thin moisture wickening and then wool socks :)
  • Same for gloves: wool gloves and then water and windproof thick gloves where your index, middle, ring and pinky fingers are all in one "big finger".

And one more thing: Don't overdress! You will start sweating and then you'll feel miserable. Dress like you would when walking in 10 degrees C warmer weather. So if it's -25 C (-13 F), dress like you would in -15 C (5 F).

  • Welcome to the site! – David Richerby Nov 13 at 12:21
  • The question is about protecting ears so I would remove the general stuff about dressing in layers. – JiK Nov 13 at 22:56

My wife knitted me a pair of bike helmet earmuffs from a pattern similar to this: http://brineydeepdesigns.blogspot.com/2008/10/free-pattern-bike-helmet-earmuffs.html

They do pretty well at keeping the wind off my ears.

  • 2
    Time to find a wife like yours... :P – WELZ Nov 13 at 0:58

A completely different solution would be a thin but warm hat and a Hövding airbag collar. Not cheap, but I see plenty of people with that combination in Malmö, Sweden (probably because they’re a local company). Added bonus: it keeps your neck warm too.

Edit: hadn’t realised these were only for sale in Europe and Japan. I guess from OP’s “Northeast” that they mean north east USA, which might make this answer a little harder.

There are dedicated ear warmers to be attached to bike helmet straps (similar to those on ski helmets). There are photos on this blog post about "cat ears". I myself use hot ears. (I did note make a survey of all manufacturers that produce these. I just listed the first I found online).

Other than these, some bike fashion manufacturers produce dedicated thin hats to be worn under the helmet from some windproof fabric, that are cut out to cover the eary but leave enough of forehead and neck free, so you don't push it up when turning your head forward. I don't think though they are in practice much different than a buff.

With either (hot hears or under-helmet-hat) I'm not always satisfied as the helmet straps put very little pressure on them (from the side against the hat), so there is no force preventing a gap between head and tissue, through which the wind can blow in. I suspect that depends on the shape of your head, but in any case they are better than nothing. On very cold days I go with the combination under-helmet-hat + hot-ears which does a good job at sealing the ears from wind.

I use a "buff" almost all around the year in the outdoors - it is just a tube of cloth which you can wrap around your neck or different parts of your head, i.e. the ears, or neck+ears, or neck+ears+head+forehead, or neck+ears+mouth/nose. Very flexible. Should fit under any helmet, especially if you use it to cover not the whole head, but mainly neck/ears.

Also, ear muffs without the "bridge" part (trademark name seems to be "earbags"). Very nice, and may just be the right thing for your helmet, depending on its cut.

I use a set of earmuffs (eargrips brand) to bicycle in Montana winters. They fit below the helmet in the back. If you go for a helmet cover get one with some flair. I get smiles every time I ride with my Tail Wags dragon helmet cover. The covers are also great year round if your favorite helmet is starting to look faded.

Purchase a snowboarding helmet -- they are basically the same thing only fitted with internal insulation to .... keep you head and ears warm. It works great for me.

  • Are snowboarding helmets suitable for cyling? Obviously, they're designed to protect your head from impacts, but are they the right kind of impacts? – David Richerby Nov 14 at 10:04
  • My ski helmet protects more of my head than my bike helmet and also has MIPS. It’s as least as good. – Eric Shain Nov 14 at 18:10

Wearing a full face helmet drastically reduces the amount of wind moving over your ears. I and my wife have had very good luck riding on roads and trails and single track wearing full face helmets. Of note, my wife's ears are very cold sensitive and ache and hurt her if they get too cold. She does not have this problem at all with her full face helmet, even though it is designed to a large amount of air flow. This has the advantage of not requiring a hat or buff, if it works for you. It also has the advantage of keeping all your teeth in your mouth if you wipe out and smack your chin when you hit ice. The main disadvantage is you look goofier than a normal helmet riding on roads... but I'd rather be warm and not have my jaw wired shut, at the end of the day. Some people are concerned over loss of directional hearing, but I haven't had that be an issue for myself or my wife, and my hearing is relatively poor to begin with. A properly fitted MTB helmet will not reduce your peripheral vision.

You can use a buff under the helmet and a wind (rain) cover over the helmet. I bike with this outfit during the winter and it keeps my head warm even with wind an snowy weather below -10 degrees C.

protected by Gary.Ray Nov 14 at 14:48

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