Saturday, November 4, 2023

Cold weather gear, 2023, Portland Oregon edition.

I live in the temperate climate of western Oregon. That means cool, rainy weather for six to eight months a year (and yes, climate change is evolving all that, but in fits and starts). My bikes wear fenders year-round, and I tend to wear layers when I ride in anything colder than about 55F.

Most of what I use is pretty tried and true over decades. I do ride less often in really cold and really wet weather than I used to, and since I no longer commute regularly to a day job my rides tend to be for pleasure more often and I don’t need to bundle up the way I used to.

I don’t wear special cycling clothes, just regular clothes with a sweater and rain gear. Here are my tried-trues for this time of year in Portland.

Middle layers. When it gets cold enough to require warmer middle layers I go with wool. It’s easy to care for (about every fifth or sixth wearing, machine wash gentle cycle, lay flat on the top of the drying rack and air dry) and if cared for properly it will last. I have a few favorite pieces that I’ve used for a long time.

Rivendell Wooly Warm Sweater and Vest. The sweater is a heavy one, ideal for cold but dry days. The vest is an early edition version that is versatile enough to layer over a shirt, over a wool jersey and/or under a shell. Both have a scratchy feel and need a shirt underneath them.

Wool caps made by Randi Jo Fabrications. Soft, comfy and they come in sizes! Also, if you have an old wool shirt you don’t wear anymore, you can send it to Randi Jo and have her turn it into a lovely cap. I’ve done this with a couple of shirts and the resulting caps are beautiful. She also makes caps for Rivendell, and I have one of those as well for its slightly broader brim.

These are even easier to care for than wool sweaters.
They’ll get wet in the rain, so when you arrive at your destination just hang it up to air dry.
When it starts to feel funky — I can’t smell so I can’t help you there — wash gentle cycle with gentle detergent (lots of folks like Kookabura Wool Wash) and air dry.

Wool or wool-blend neck gaiter. I had one by Smartwool that I’d bought through the Campmor catalog almost thirty years ago, when the catalog was still printed on paper. It lasted a shockingly long time with occasional hand mending. Two years ago I finally had to consign it to my sewing basket. I replaced it with one by Chrome that so far is soft and comfortable.  Lots of companies offer these things, and if you feel ambitious you can even make your own out of very fine merino yarn.

Along with your head, your hands will benefit from wool.
Here in rainy Portland, any glove that’s breathable will let moisture in. Any glove that isn’t breathable will allow your hands to soak in their own seat. In the end, you just have to decide where you want that moisture to come from.

I prefer breathable gloves that will stay relatively warm when wet, so I mostly use rag wool gloves with grippy dots on the palms. Yes, my hands get wet in them. But they stay pretty warm until I reach my destination, and then all I have to do is hang them over the vent to dry while I enjoy my hot beverage.  These are easily found on the cheap at hardware stores, so buy a couple of pairs and switch off.

Outerwear. On dry days, a heavy sweater will suffice. But if rain is at all in the forecast, add a waterproof shell. As with the gloves, breathable fabrics will eventually leak through, usually at the seams. Truly waterproof fabrics will not breathe and you will sweat prodigiously. 
For thirty years I’ve relied upon Burley rain jackets. They fit me well, they can be repaired, and I wash them gentle cycle once a year in a waterproofing detergent from Kwikwax and hang dry. The sad thing about Burley is that stopped making rainwear over twenty years ago. The good news is that you can still find used Burley products online at places like eBay or Poshmark.

Burley rain jackets can sometimes be altered as well. When I gained weight, I expanded my jacket with gussets made from similar fabric I found at recycling-repurposing shops (a good one here in Portland is ReClaim It!). It looks funky, but I don’t care. The yellow strips make me more visible and I’m fine with that. Note: if you use needle and thread, you can use Seam Seal to seal the holes made by the needle, or cover the backside with outdoor cloth repair tape.

Don’t forget your feet! A number of companies make all sorts of shoe covers for rainy weather. Most that are cycling-specific fit cycling shoes, but not street shoes like sneakers or oxfords. Rivendell offers something called Splats, made from waxed cotton material similar to what they use for their canvas saddlebags. It covers the top of the shoe and comes in sizes. I have a set of these and they do work, though a hard rain can peek into the space between your pants and the top of the Splats. 

When I don’t use my Splats, I wear waterproof shoes. My favorites are the Storm series from Chrome Industries; the 415 Storm boot is durable and sturdy while being comfortable.

Finally, pants or no pants? I wore Burley rain pants for many years. They were repairable, sturdy and came in sizes. Then I got too big for their regular pants and their fancy pants were very expensive and very complicated to use. Then I discovered Rainlegs, a half-pant solution very similar to chaps. They were affordable, easy to use, and fine in all but the worst downpours. They come in Black, grey and day-glo. They dry quickly, and then roll up into a neat little bundle that fits in a pocket or saddlebag.

At this point, because I don’t ride for primary transportation as much as I used to, I feel pretty well-equipped. (If you live in a snowier climate you probably know what to wear where you are, and you’re made of sterner stuff for riding in the snow.)

Remember that reflective tape can be used to add visibility to almost anything you wear, and use lights at night according to the laws where you live.

Happy riding!

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