Winter Bike Commuting: Head-to-Toe Gear Breakdown

Bike commuting in northerly climates presents unique challenges for riders during the winter months. But by adapting the way you ride and wearing the proper gear, even the harshest of winter days are bikeable. Here’s my head-to-toe breakdown of the gear that’s allowing me to get the miles in, despite the cold and snow, this winter in Minnesota. —Patrick Murphy

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The author in full riding gear on Minneapolis’ Greenway Bike Path

Helmet: Cutting to the chase, the Lazer Dissent helmet is straight-up warm. No need for a hat underneath even in low winter temps. A slide-lever on top lets you regulate airflow by opening or closing its vents, and a magnetic buckle allows you to take the helmet on and off without removing your gloves. One drawback: The insulated ear pads make it difficult to hear what’s going on around you, so be careful in traffic.

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Hot Head: Cold days aren’t an issue with the Lazer Dissent

LED Add-On: With winter commuting in limited daylight we added a light to the Lazer hard hat. The Vis 180 Micro from Light & Motion provides a strong red rear light as well as blinking side visibility. Strap it to a helmet to keep yourself more visible on the road. $49.

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Vis 180 Micro from Light & Motion provides compact visibility

The Buff: The thin, seamless headwear called Buffs are one of our all-time favorite pieces of gear. They are clutch for winter riding. On days that temps are above freezing, I stick to my normal summer helmet with a Buff underneath. On the most frigid days, a Buff around the neck provides additional warmth to a susceptible area, sealing out the cold. $20.

Jacket: A “comprehensive cold-weather system” is an accurate billing for the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell 3×1 Jacket. The snug-fitting softshell uses PrimaLoft insulation and Cocona fabrics to wick, breathe, block wind, and warm the core on cold rides. In addition to warmth, the fit of this jacket is exceptional and made for a body positioned on a bike. Bonus: It comes with a detachable balaclava for the harshest winter days. $375.

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The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell 3×1 Jacket is the whole package

Bib Knickers: We were surprised to see that the fleece-lined Castelli Sorpasso Bib Knickers are only rated down to about 50 degrees F by the company. For me, they’ve done the job in the 30s alone, and paired with the my Icebreaker base layers I’ve had plenty of warmth to ride well below freezing in these sleek and racy cold-weather tights. $189.99.

Base Layers: Underneath it all I’ve been wearing Icebreaker base layers this winter, including the brand’s Pursuit Leggings ($110), Commute Long Sleeve Zip top ($175), and the Quantum Vest ($130). This pricey merino wool system offers base insulation, breathability, and (based on our longterm tests of Icebreaker clothing) high-quality designs that will last for years of on-the-bike wear and abuse.

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The Commute Long Sleeve Zip is a staple for winter riding

Gloves: A waterproof outer and puffy PrimaLoft insulation makes the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell WxB 3×1 Glove the warmest in the company’s arsenal. While a good mitten is almost always going to be warmer than gloves, the added dexterity of gloves makes these my go-to in all but the worst of conditions. I found them more than sufficient for an hour of riding in the low 20s. Reflective elements on the gloves boost low-light visibility, which is more important than ever as daylight wanes during the winter days. $130.

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Warmth meets dexterity: Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. Softshell glove

Biking Boots: I reviewed the Wölvhammer boots back in December, and you better believe I’ve been keeping warm in them ever since. As the creation of cold-weather cycling specialists 45Nrth, the Wölvhammers have durable Cordura uppers and insulation all around for endurance riding in the harshest of winter weather. Caveat: The built-up boots are likely overkill for the vast majority of cold-weather commuters. But if you never want to worry about cold feet while riding these are the answer, albeit with a high cost. $325.

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The Wölvhammer is a beast in the worst of winter conditions

Socks: The Elite Thermal Wool Sock from Pearl Izumi round out the merino wool base system I use. In the most common problem area for cold-weather riding these socks offered warmth and kept my feet drier by wicking moisture as I pedal. $18

—Patrick Murphy is an assistant editor.

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