Gear Guy

Quantum Radiation Jacket     Photo: courtesy, Castelli

Q:

What’s the updated word on cold-weather biking gear?

You answered a question in 2004 about the best gear for cycling in freezing temps. What's changed since then? John Alexandria, Virginia

A:The answer: not much, and quite a bit.

In that reply I highlighted things such as Icebreaker wool clothing ($80 for the Bodyfit 260 L/S Crewe) and the Gore Balance Jacket (updated as the Balance III, $150). And a lot of what I said still applies. I still wear a lot of wool as a base layer and still like shells such as the Phantom. And things such as bike tights haven’t changed that much—Pearl Izumi’s Therma-Fleece tights ($85) remain great cool-weather items and can be reinforced with any light long underwear layer worn beneath them.

One big change, in my mind, is the improvement in soft shell fabrics. A piece such as Mountain Hardwear’s Synchro Jacket ($190) becomes a virtual one-stop shop for biking outerwear. It’s waterproof, breathable, and has a light fleece lining for warmth. On cold winter days, you can toss it over a light base layer and ride away. REI’s One Jacket ($189), made with Schoeller fabric, is a little more breathable and is water-repellent rather than water-proof. But it has a terrific temperature range and shrugs off light rain or snow. I use its lighter, now-discontinued sibling, the Mistral (Hey, REI! Bring it back!), as a winter mountain-biking piece.

The other advance has been in true hard shells. A Portland, Oregon, company named Showers Pass, for instance, makes a bike-specific piece called the Elite 2.0 that uses eVent, a fabric that I think is as breathable as anything out there. The Elite 2.0 is $230, but is a long-term investment in excellent weather protection. Layer it over some Icebreaker or other wool, and you can venture out into the worst weather.

Or, give the economy a boost and buy a Castelli Quantum Radiation Jacket. A Gore Windstopper shell is layered over a proprietary insert that reflects 80 percent of your body heat back inside the jacket. A mere $400!

So, ride forth!

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