Dress For Success: Winter Fat Biking
After last year’s dismal winter on the East Coast, I decided to forgo my annual season pass at my local ski resort and instead bought a fat bike and ride through the season. After coming to this decision, I went down to a local bike shop to purchase a new KHS 4 Season 3000. As soon as the transaction went through, I knew that two things would come to fruition: First, that this winter was inevitably going to be snowy and the skiing was going to be great (because I decided not to buy a pass), and second, that I was going to have a blast on this new fat bike nonetheless.
I’m no stranger to cycling or mountain biking and while I’m not a bike addict, I may be on the precipice of becoming one. While this purchase would bring my bike-count up to five, it would also serve as my first venture into fat biking. My biggest concern getting into this sport was what to wear to stay warm.
I didn’t want to go out and spend hundreds of additional dollars on specialized products for mountain biking in below-freezing temperatures; instead, I did a few things in order to figure out what gear would be best.
I grew up in Vermont and have been on the mountain since the age of two, so I know how to prepare myself for the elements. That said, high-aerobic activities are a different beast than gearing up for a day of skiing. My biggest challenge in finding the right gear was the fact that I tend to “run hot” - so to speak. I don’t get quite as cold as the next guy, as I’ve been known to wear shorts in the middle of winter. Because I run hot, I tend to sweat more than I’d like to admit, which poses a problem while outside in sub-freezing temperatures since hypothermia becomes a realistic risk factor. Obviously, this was a risk that I was trying to avoid by all means.
With this challenge, I took several sources of information into account: I posed questions to close avid riders about what they wear, read far too many blog posts and articles on the subject, and took what I know from running in the winter. In conclusion, my research ventures allowed for me to come to the following list:
10 pieces of gear for winter fat biking
I already owned a pair of Merrell hiking boots so I used these instead of getting a pair of insulated boots. My feet don’t tend to get cold enough to warrant the added insulation.
Depending on the temperature and the duration of the ride I use either the Darn Tough Badge of Honor Micro Crew Light (above 20 degrees) or the Hiker Boot Sock (below 20 degrees). These socks fit great and always keep my feet warm.
On my legs I wear padded bike shorts for seat time comfort, thermal tights and a pair of North Face Isotherm Pants. This layering has kept me comfortable and warm in all conditions although there have been a couple of times where windproof briefs or a windproof outer layer might have been nice.
I wear the Ibex Woolies 1 Crew over a technical t-shirt. This top is lightweight, comfortable and stays warm even when it gets wet.
I purchased the Flylow Ridge this winter. This glove isn’t too thick and has good finger articulation for holding the handlebar and working the brakes.
I wear the Turtle Fur Carapace ¼ Zip Pullover. I love this top! It’s made from Mirco Fur which has two qualities I really appreciate on the trail. First, it has a great warmth-to-weight ratio and always seems to provide just the right amount of warmth and second, is the fit. I am 5’11” and 195lbs and the large fits perfect and fits under my shell without feeling bulky.
I landed on the Mammut Ultimate Hoodie. This shell has all the tech features I was looking for; soft shell, Gore Windstopper, pit zips, hood, breathable, and waterproof. This jacket paired with the Carapace pullover is the perfect combination. On -0 degree days I may swap the Mammut jacket out with my Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody for added warmth.
I wear the Turtle Fur Comfort Shell Brain Shroud. The Brain Shroud fits perfectly under my helmet, gives me good ear coverage, is breathable and quick-drying which is important when I work up a sweat. If it gets really cold, I’ll wear one of the Turtle Fur Merino knit beanies that also fits under my helmet and always seems to provide the right amount of warmth no matter what the temperature is.
Just In Case items
As I stated earlier, I don’t tend to get too cold while riding but that doesn’t mean I don’t prepare myself for those just-in-case times. To always be prepared, I carry a Turtle Fur Comfort Shell Totally Tubular with me. The versatility of this product is fantastic (I carry one with me in the car and in my hiking pack). Whether I need to cover my neck, face or pull it up over my head to wear as a balaclava it provides the ultimate protection. One thing to note about this tube is the brushed inside. This adds a little extra warmth and comfort that other tubes just don’t have.
To keep myself healthy and hydrated, I always bring a post ride tea with me. I put a bag of my favorite tea in my Klean Kanteen insulated bottle and let it seep while I ride. These bottles stay warm for up to 10 hours so no matter how long my ride is, I always have a hot beverage waiting for my drive home.
If you tend to be a little colder or are looking for warmer headwear options I would recommend the following products to try: Polartec Thermal Pro Stria Fleece Beanie and Fleece Turtle Tube, Micro Fur Balaclava, or the Comfort Shell Ninja Balaclava. Hopefully my list helps, now get out there and enjoy winter.