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Tag Archive: winter clothing

Review: Watson’s Performance Base Layers

Wouldn’t you know that spring has sprung for a lot of us…but we’ve still got a winter gear review or two in the hopper to share with you?

About a month ago, the good folks from Watson’s offered to send samples of their baselayers for us to try out. At the time, I thought to myself, “but spring is almost here…it’s a little late in the game for thermal baselayers!” Silly me; we’ve gotten two huge snowstorms and a bunch of below-freezing weather since the Watson’s package arrived at my door.

When you look out the window and see this, you’re going to want to add some layers for warmth:

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I was offered a choice from the Watson’s waffle, cotton-blend, and performance lines — and I figured that active use in winter demanded something a little more technical than cotton. Here’s a little bit about the “Performance” line straight from the Watson’s website:

• Wicks moisture away from skin keeping you dry and warm.

• Spandex for 4-way stretch and comfort fit.

• Antimicrobial treatment to control the growth of bacteria keeping the garment fresh and odor free.

• medium weight

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The material is a midweight blend of 85% micro polyester and 15% Spandex. Both top and bottom pieces have a brushed interior for softness against the skin, and an antimicrobial treatment to prevent odors from lingering (you may remember that a few years ago, we wrote about “the stink” in performance wear). The stitching is quality throughout…no rough edges to dig into flesh. These particular baselayers come in black or indigo.

Baselayers should fit snugly to maximize their performance, and the medium size fit me perfectly. I can be a tough fit for a lot of clothing, so this was a definite plus in my book. Both top and bottom fit close without the “sausage casing” effect so many cycling clothes offer. The bottoms have a sort of pouch affair in the crotch for a little extra…ahem…”man room”.

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I wore the Watson’s baselayers cycling, commuting, sledding, snowball fighting and a host of other outdoor activities — they seemed to perform just the way they should have. They add just enough insulation to help on chilly days. Hell, I’ve even been lounging around the house in them when the thought of venturing outdoors is simply too much for me! I would have gotten more action photos for you, but I’m not taking my outerwear off for ANYONE when the needle is south of freezing.

Here’s the best part of the Watson’s baselayers: they are a screaming deal. At a retail price of $19.99 per piece, that’s pretty tough to beat. I know that when my wife outfitted our family with similarly-constructed baselayers from other brands when we first relocated to winterland, she paid a lot more. Watson’s checks all the boxes in terms of material, construction, and odor-resistance at a fraction of what some other brands are charging. I don’t know how they do it, but I wish I had known about them a lot sooner.

And there is no discounting the “superhero” effect — wearing these high-tech baselayers under office attire for your commute is quite empowering!

An additional plus is that my young one loves the way they feel…here’s proof:

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Check out the full line of Watson’s outdoor wear for men, women, and kids by visiting their website.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Winter riding – suicidal? Just bring on the mittens and snow goggles!

We’ve hardly had much “winter riding” lately in Chicago. Just this Monday and Tuesday, temps hovered in the 50s and 60s! But the rollercoaster, topsy turvy weather ride has plunged us back down to real winter temps and now our Chicago temps only hover at or below 0-degrees with windchill… bringing back the need to properly layer for the daily bike commute.

For me – the cold, sub-zero windchills mean it’s a snow goggles and mittens kind of “BRRRR!” (BRRR as in BRRRRING IT ON!)

No skin exposed on the “BRRR”-est of days


My body is cozy – covered in layers of a wool base layer and a thick cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. My legs also get a nice wool base layer and then just khakis (sometimes I add a wind pants layer – especially in wet/messy condition) and thick wool hiking socks under my BOGS boots. My head = no skin exposed; I use a double-layer balaclava system (one thinner one pulled up over my nose), plus goggles, plus helmet on top! Over all that is my hi-vis yellow commuter jacket to block the wind. Wool gloves covered by big primaloft mitts and I’m ready to roll.

I’m more bundled than the average pedestrian, plus I’m generating body heat – more than the mere walker.. and I’m definitely warmer than the person just standing there waiting for the bus or train.

So – when I saw a post by “He Who Knows” on local Chicago suburban social site entitled “Bicyclists are insane riding in winter’s deep freeze!” and claiming that winter riding is suicidal, I had to chuckle. Seriously? He Who Knows certainly doesn’t know much about cold weather activity outdoors. On the other hand, we who know layer appropriately and reap the benefits of year-round cycling in any weather.

Should we be surprised by such a general posting by someone who is clearly not a cyclist? Isn’t this what happens when anyone and everyone can post their opinion online? “He Who Knows” likely has no authority on the topic. Though I do find his take humorous… since it is just so ridiculous! But just to clarify and set the record straight for would-be winter bike commuters, do not take his statements seriously… Based on this guy’s opinion, I would have killed myself cycling through winter years ago.

Take it from this guy in New York who bikes (even in winter) 40 miles to work in Manhattan!

I’m alive and well to let you know that – even on the harshest of days – cycling brings me sanity.

Ride on…

Layering: as easy as 1, 2, or 3

I tend to over-think things a lot! This quality of mine can be both good and bad. What I like about fall/winter riding is that dressing for it really is easy – you just need to know the purpose of each layer and best fabric for that task. Aside from those days when I start pondering other gear, layering is really quite easy – and leaves me feeling always prepared.

From fall through springtime in Chicago I either always carry with me in my commuting arsenal (water resistant pannier) OR am already wearing on my body (esp on the colder winter days) the following items: extra glove liners + extra gloves or mitts, wool knee warmers, a Warmfront, extra wool socks (in case one pair gets wet), rain or wind pants to block wind and keep the road spray off my clothes, silk or wool long underwear for top and bottom (I especially like SmartWool and L.L. Bean wool), beanie cap that covers my ears, Hedz headwear, and wool/fleece balaclava – topped off by my most visible layer…. a hi-vis wind- and waterproof jacket. I rarely have a need for any more than 3 layers worth of clothing – base, mid and outer suffice in any weather; so while our skin may consist of 7 layers, for me, the gear only needs to be 3 layers deep at most … most of the time. (If you live in a much warmer or colder climate, I realize your needs for layering may vary; please adjust your technique accordingly and share with us what works for you in the comments.)

When I first started to bike through the colder, yuckier weather months in Chicago, I did a lot of my own research for what to wear and soon learned about the fine art of layering. (My go-to resource at that time was a blog authored by a woman in Alaska living a bike adventure life and recording it in her blog – I think it was called Up In Alaska; she has since moved and renamed the blog to Jill Outside.) A few of her posts detailed her layering technique and gear. Another site that has also helped me over the years is the Icebike website, brimming with strategies and gear designed to keep you warm (without overheating) while out bike riding or enjoying other winter activities for long periods of time. Last, but not least in deserving credit, is Chicago’s Bike Winter — a grass roots effort that has supplied me with how-to knowledge and an awesome DIY fleece balaclava designed to keep as many Chicago cyclists pedaling through the winter as possible.

If Jill could make it work for rides in Alaska and these Icebikers and fellow Bike Winter-ers could do it, I knew I could apply the layering strategy to my Chicago commutes; below I provide you with the layering technique that works for my urban bike commutes and the importance of each layer.

Chicago’s recent bout with chilly, windy and damp fall days reminds me that I really do have all I need already in my wardrobe (even though I’m always thinking of the next best gear or tip most of my winter “gear” is not really cycling specific gear). Take a photo gallery tour of these layers I recently wore during a damp fall commute (temps in the high 40s/low 50-degrees):
Base layer: long sleeve microfiber shirt (easily substituted for wool or silk on chillier days). A good base layer will wick the sweat away from your skin so that you don’t overheat OR get chilled from damp skin. Wool and silk are also naturally odor-resistant = bonus! I’ve learned to avoid cotton next to my skin at all costs, since it tends to keep the perspiration close to your skin.
Mid layer: vest (or wool or cashmere sweater in winter). A mid-layer helps insulate. This layer continues to challenge me during the fluctuating temperatures we get during the spring and fall, but in winter I usually turn to a cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. During warmer months, I may forego this layer or opt for just a vest or stick to a cardigan sweater that can be zipped or unzipped as needed.
Bottom: REI cargo pants (with long underwear when the mercury dips below freezing). Depending on the level of chill in the air, I adjust my wardrobe – from jeans to lighter weight khakis to stretchier fitness style pants. As a female, I also have opted for wool tights and a skirt – and have found this combo to be just as warm as pants. I also keep a pair of wool knee warmers (or leg warmers in you prefer) around just in case I need a little more buffer.
Feet: midweight wicking socks (I live in wool hiking socks come winter), Vasque waterproof hiking shoes (and NEOS overshoes in the worst of it!). Just the other day I wore mid-calf Bogs boots with a neoprene liner. Once it’s freezing and below, my feet prefer the thicker socks and waterproof shoe. For commuting I don’t usually ride with clipless pedals, and in the chill I prefer the added warmth of regular hiking/winter boots – just make sure they allow your foot/ankle enough mobility for pedaling. You may even want to ride on wider BMX-style pedals to accommodate the clunkier footwear.
Hands: Gore bike gloves (new this year!); Headsweats lobster shell gloves (mittens and hand warmers on standby for temps below freezing). Up til this year I used a pair of wool gloves I acquired at the Army-Navy Surplus store and paired those with the shell gloves or with a pair of REI mittens. Mittens keep my hands warmest on the sub-freezing days. Hand warmers helps when it drops below zero.
Outer layer: Loeka (or other waterproof) commuter jacket with pit zips, Marmot rain pants. A jacket -even on the coldest of days – need not be thick and heavy. The best outer layer provides maximum wind resistance so as not to allow the chill in and is also waterproof; a sports-oriented jacket will have pit zips to allow added ventilation and help prevent your body from overheating. Given the lack of daylight during winter, I stick with hi-vis and reflective jackets to keep me as visible as possible to fellow road users.
Head: HAD microfiber tube to cover my neck, REI Novara cap (new to my arsenal this year… and I wonder how I lived without it all these years!) to cover my head and ears, helmet. In winter my layer below the helmet is a wool/fleece balaclava; sometimes I use the microfiber tube like a neck gaiter beneath the balaclava and will pull it up over my nose so I’m not breathing in the bitter cold air. My mom always stressed keeping my head warm; to this day, I cannot argue with my mom’s advice. For me, if my head and neck are warm, the rest of my body seems to naturally be warmer.
And last but not least Eyewear: Sunglasses with an amber tint in daylight AND clear or yellow tint glasses in darkness suffice for me most of the time (all my sunglasses have come from Solar Eyes (an online retailer)); in the winter I switch to ski goggles (rose tint works day and night even navigating the well-lit urban roads at night).

As I mentioned above, as a female I love having the option to wear wool tights and flashy rubber boots to spice up my winter cycling wardrobe, too, when I feel so inclined.
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One final note: it’s best to feel slightly chilled during the first few minutes on your bike. If you start out already warm, you could easily overheat. I find that less is more to avoid overheating. Folks at work think I must be so cold given my thin layers, but I assure them that by the time I reach the bus stop at the corner, I’m already warm from generating my own body heat; those folks waiting for the bus are the ones who look so cold just standing there. Rather than overdress, it’s best to carry an extra layer, so you can always stop and put it on if you need it or if it turns chillier for the bike commute home later that day. My commute is about a half hour each way and in the stop-and-go traffic of the city, so I’ve adjusted my layering accordingly. Those of you with a shorter or much longer commute may have other tips and tricks to share. Noah shared a few of his tips last year, including starting a log of weather conditions and your clothing choices.

Since my gear – most of it not cycle specific – seems to be accounted for, it gives me time to ponder getting a bike with disc brakes this upcoming bad weather season…. to at least improve my stopping power in the dampness. Then again…. I could finally try adding a more full coverage helmet (like a Nutcase or Bern)… options….

Toes Froze? Here are some tips

You’ve probably noticed the up-tick in winter content here. For Elizabeth and I along with many other bike commuters, Winter just got cranked up to Eleven this week, despite the fact it’s still officially “Autumn”.  We’re hoping that these posts help newer commuters cope with the weather change, and encourage bike commuters to expand their foray into the cooler climates. We also welcome the sage advice of others in the comments.

Continuing with our winter theme: Keeping those feet warm. The toes are further from your heart than any other body part, and they spend most of their time close to the snow and slush. Here are some suggestions for keeping those feet warm.

  • Ditch the clipless. The big metal plate found inside most clipless-ready shoes acts like a giant heat sink. You can try putting in extra-thick soles and other tricks like that, but clipless shoes will always cool your feet pretty quickly. I usually end up switching to a completely different bike with platform pedals. It’s also easier to catch yourself before you eat snow if you don’t have to punch out of your clipless pedals when (not if) things go badly.
  • Shoe Covers. Elizabeth has mentioned them several times. These neoprene or rubber covers zip over many different styles of shoes. They block out wind and water, and help hold the heat in that your feet naturally radiate. Many of them are designed to be compatible with clipless shoes and pedals, so if you really don’t want to sacrifice the “connected” feel, you can probably find a set of covers that will work for you.
  • Layer up. Wool socks are thick, and often one single layer of wool will do wonders. I know a few cyclists who wear one or two layers of wool socks with cycling sandals (no, really!) year round. A good, wicking technical sock closest to your skin with less expensive cotton socks can also work. I really do prefer wool or wool/polyester blend socks this time of year, though.
  • Plastic grocery sacks. I learned this trick from Warren during my first winter of bike commuting. Take part of a grocery sack and put your foot in it before you put it into your shoe. Sometimes, I put this layer of plastic in between two layers of socks. Either way, it works to block the wind, but I only use it on the coldest of days, else my feet actually get too hot and can’t breathe. I’ve also seen cyclists (mostly the urban homeless variety) tape or rubber band grocery sacks around the outside of their shoes. I wouldn’t do it, but you can try it if you want. It might keep your shoes dry.
  • Loosen your shoelaces. A LOT. Even without the extra layers of socks, many shoes worn somewhat snugly will impact circulation to your toes. Loosening them up a bit will help. This is even more important when you’re adding layers of socks to your feet, though.
  • Wiggle those toes, and get off the pedals for a bit. If your toes start to go numb, use brief periods of coasting or stopping to wiggle your toes and get the blood flowing. Take one foot off the pedal and flex it around a bit. It usually helps.
  • Air-activated “hand” warmers.  I don’t usually have to resort to these, even in below-zero temperatures. I know plenty of people who do, though. As they’re disposable (and frankly, quite expensive for their purpose) I’d urge you to use them as an option of last resort. Also, I find that the lump they make in my shoes is fairly uncomfortable regardless if they’re above or below my foot. Your mileage may vary.

Got any other tips for keeping those little piggies nice and comfy on cold winter rides? Tell us in the comments!

Advance Commuter Tip: Newspaper!

When I was a young pup, I couldn’t afford any type of winter clothing for cycling. So I resorted to using newspaper underneath my jersey as a way to keep warm during my rides. It was my step-brother that gave me this tip. He had seen pros do the same thing in old photos and videos of the Tour De France…back in the Eddy Merckx days.

What this does is soak up your sweat and prevent cold wind from touching your skin. All you have to do is fit a few pages on your front side(chest) and a couple more on your back. Generally, my legs don’t need them. But you can wrap sheets of paper around your thighs. Heck, if you want to impress the ladies, just stick a rolled up section down your shorts…

The only drawback to this technique…your skin will look like the Business Section of the paper. The ink gets absorbed and leaves an image of whatever was on the page you used. But don’t worry, it washes off!