Oct 172011

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:

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

Your Turn

  • What are your favorite clothing tricks for dressing to ride in cooler weather?
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Reader Comments

  1. Ibex and Icebreaker make great merino stuff too. I’ve found the quality of smartwool to be deteriorating a bit over the last few years as they’ve attempted to scale to demand; at best they’re inconsitent with quality.

    Ibex, OTOH is super high-quality, wtih some of their stuff made in USA/Canada. It’s spendy, but it lasts longer and is better quality. Local bike shop, 2 Wheel Transit, makes an effort to stock a variety of bikey Ibex stuff.

    Icebreaker is a Portland company that used to make all of their merino stuff domestically — it’s nearly all been farmed out overseas in the last few years, but they have maintained a pretty high quality bar. However, their stuff is more “performance” oriented/cut than smartwool or Ibex, generally speaking. And also super spendy.

    The best value merino though is still to be found at local thrift stores and at Maceys (end of Spring, men’s dept. And if you’re super lucky, you can score a cashmere number for under $20). This type of merino is not as tightly woven and doesn’t hold up as well, but you can get nice colors/styles which make for a good mid-layer under a shell when it’s super cold.

    Full disclosure: Ibex has sent me samples to review in the past.

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