We’re in what the tourism industry calls a shoulder season. I think of it as “cover your shoulders” season when I’m getting dressed for the morning departure on my bike.
Cover your legs, for that matter. Last Thursday the forecast was pretty good—lower 60s—and the sun was in the sky so I took off at 7 a.m. in a skirt with bare legs. Since the temps were around the high 30s/lower 40s at that point–not 60–those were some red and chilly limbs when I got to that first meeting! No more bare legs for me—tights all the way if I’m wearing a skirt. The next day, which was cooler, I was completely comfortable with a pair of SmartWool tights under my skirt.
As for shoulders and arms, it’s all about the base layers, baby. A microweight or midweight SmartWool base layer is your best friend under a tailored jacket, sweater vest, or cardigan. The businesslike top layer covers the flat-felled seams and other design elements of the top that say “sporty!” (Another of my asides to the clothing industry—please, please, use SmartWool but make things that look as if they came from Nordstrom.)
The wool does its magic when you ride: keeps you warm, wicks any sweat without letting you get chilled, dries quickly, and hallelujah, doesn’t stink the way synthetics can.
For many years I swore I couldn’t wear wool. The few sweaters I tried on, whether they were el cheapos from a big box chain or a lovely angora or cashmere at an expensive boutique, made me claw-at-my-neck crazy.
Then I discovered SmartWool and it was love at first touch. Merino wool is just . . . better. And SmartWool emphasizes the happy sheep in their business philosophy statement, which I like.
The trick, though, is not to be totally warm when you leave the house. If you have dressed in such a way that you’re warm and cozy when you step outside, you’ll be too warm with just a few blocks of pedaling. If you cross-country ski, hike, or engage in other outdoor activities in cool weather, it’s the same principle for bikewear. Be a little on the cool side when you start and you’ll be fine as soon as you get the blood pumping.
One factor that creates more of an issue on the bike is wind, since you can go faster than you’d move hiking or snowshoeing. Wear a wind-block layer on your front. Your back is less of a problem since the wind doesn’t hit it directly. This is why you’ll see biking/running tights with wind-blocking fabric on the front but not the back, so you can vent sweat and heat there.
This is where having a high-visibility jacket that lets you zip off the sleeves comes in handy. You can wear just the vest portion both for the added visibility (“Hi, Driver! Here I am!”) and the wind-block.
Advice from some other blogs on dressing for autumn and rain:
- Seasonal Dressing: Summer/Autumn Rain—on Collyn’s Body Does This, in London
- Dressing for the Weather—on Let’s Go Ride a Bike, in Chicago
- A Toasty Tip—Biking in Heels gives another short shoutout to SmartWool tights; other brands mentioned in the comments
- Slide show of tights on bikes compiled by Velo Vogue
Where to Get Tights
- In Spokane they sell SmartWool tights at Title Nine on South Perry
- Mountain Gear has SmartWool leggings, but not tights, last I checked
- Here’s my Amazon Associates store if you don’t have a local source
- What are your favorite clothing tricks for dressing to ride in cooler weather?