What are you going to wear while touring? To some this is of grave importance, perhaps of more importance than what to hang on the bicycle in the way of equipment. Others will be tempted to skip this Section entirely, figuring they will wear what they always wear or whatever strikes their fancy at the time. Whichever you are, at least strive to maintain harmony between yourself and your environment, both in physical and psychological terms. If your body is as comfortable as possible given the weather conditions, yet you feel at ease with yourself alone in camp, in the midst of a group of tourists or walking around a small town square on Sunday afternoon, then your tour will be that much more enjoyable for you and for those exposed to you.
There is an increasingly varied se lection of clothing and shoes available for bicycling. A trip through any large bike shop, the sport clothing section of a department store or a mail-order catalog will bombard you with a confusing array of colors, styles and materials. Unfortunately, most bicycling clothes and shoes are designed for the racing set. Bicycle touring shares some of the same needs, but has its own particular requirements. Rather than attempt to discuss the selections of brand names, which are constantly changing, expanding and expiring, we are going to give you criteria of choice that you can al ways use when selecting or replacing your touring wardrobe.
The most important single factor in touring-clothing suitability is comfort. No matter what other features an item has, if it’s not comfortable you have lost the game. By comfort we mean off the bike as well, mental as well as physical. Something may feel great as you put in your mileage for the day, but as soon as you stop in town to shop for dinner you feel like hiding behind the produce counter anytime someone approaches. We don’t consider that being comfort able.
On most bicycle-touring adventures you are outside urban areas. What is accepted dress in the city or suburbs are outlandish in the country. Do you care? Should you care? That depends on your feelings about what other people think of your appearance, which is the only thing they have to go on until you open your mouth. If your appearance is weird to them, you may never have a chance to say a word. Per haps that isn’t how people should judge each other, but the fact remains that it’s the first consideration of the majority.
We’re not advocating that you cycle in coveralls and boots in the country. Just be cognizant of your own attitude toward acceptance. If you truly don’t care what others think, then physical comfort is your only concern. Others are more sensitive to opinions and will consider psychological comfort as well as physical. Cycle touring in most areas of the world and in many parts of the United States is an unusual occurrence. You will be an object of curiosity no matter how you dress. This can work to your advantage in getting to know people if you don’t scare them away with unnecessary eccentricity, It’s possible to have comfortable cycling clothing that fits in just about anywhere even when you are off your bike; just remember to remove your helmet and rearview mirror.
Physical comfort means the item is not binding or constrictive; there are no ridges, grommets, zippers or other protrusions between you and the bike; and the item is conducive to a comfortable body temperature in any weather conditions. Whether it’s binding has to be determined by trying it on. Protrusions and ridges can be seen on examination, and temperature comfort is largely a matter of material type.
When you are riding a bicycle with an eye to getting somewhere, you are going to get hot and sweaty no matter what gears you have. Your clothes must allow passage of perspiration from your body to the outside where air can evaporate it. Otherwise you might as well be pedaling in a sauna. Besides being uncomfortable, saturated clothing can be dangerous. In hot weather you overheat because evaporation cannot take place fast enough to cool your body. In cold weather, or simply going down a long grade, saturated clothing increases the windchill factor to an uncomfortable degree. In either case, a breathable fabric is essential for touring comfort.
Overall weight is a critical factor in any self-propelled vehicle; you don’t want clothing to be heavier than necessary either on your body or in your panniers. We have seen people that were concerned that their water-bottle cage be the lightest available jump on their bike to tour in a pair of heavy jeans, carrying an army-surplus parka for evenings. If you order clothing from a catalog, total weight is usually given. In person, you can judge for yourself. If all else is equal in considering several articles of clothing, opt for the lightest.
You are carrying the bare essentials while touring so every piece of clothing counts. If something critical falls apart, you could be losing one- fourth or more of your wardrobe. Don’t count on being able to replace an item at the next town as many towns don’t have the selection or quality you need. Even the major department stores vary widely in what they carry for different sections of the country. Test items before going on an extended tour; if seams are going to rip out, they usually do it early. Wash everything several times before a long tour. The middle of the Mojave is no place to find out your shirt is suddenly too short.
This is an area where touring clothing requirements differ from those for racing. You might have the finest wool, chamois-lined riding shorts, but what will you wear during the two days they take to dry? Worse yet, what happens when you put them in the dryer out of desperation or forgetfulness only to find that they fit your kid brother back home but no longer fit you?
Touring clothing must be machine washable and dryable. Even if you wash by hand, as you must in many countries, easy-care fabrics dry quicker. In the United States there are self-serve laundries in most small towns with a business district. With easy-care clothing all you have to do is stop every couple of days for an hour or so. For a nominal fee you can start out fresh. Most have soap dispensers and some even have showers.
You needn’t look like a court jester in an orange-and-red-striped jersey, but make yourself able to be readily seen for safety’s sake. This can be as simple as choosing lighter, brighter colors over darker ones. Being seen is critical, especially in the United States where drivers tend to mentally block out any thing on the road that doesn’t have four wheels. Bright colors are a morale booster too.
You may want dark colors, how ever, in the shorts department. Any type of riding pants, short or long, should be dark if you have a solid-leather saddle. You may already have discovered that the black dye used on many of the better saddles rubs off on your pants. This can add greatly to that psychological discomfort we talked about. Now you know why most chamois-lined professional cycling shorts are black.
Economical does not necessarily mean least expensive. If something you bought cheap proves totally unsuitable or does not wear well, it can be very ex pensive indeed. Much of the cycling clothing now available, and some of it’s truly great for touring, is highly priced. We don’t think the manufacturers are trying to rip off the consumer, rather the market for specifically designed items is not large. However, something costing a great deal initially can prove to be a very economical item in performance and durability.
Don’t overlook the possibility of adapting some common piece of clothing or footwear to your cycling needs. We all wore ordinary, wash and wear shirts, shorts and blouses on our cross- ‘country tour; they were physically and mentally comfortable, and fit all of the criteria listed here. Better yet, choose the material to your liking and get acquainted with a sewing machine (or someone who has one). You determine the quality of workmanship and the price is right.
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Comfortable, breathable, light weight, durable, washable, bright and economical — use these criteria when selecting any item of touring clothing or footwear. A lot depends on the type of material an item is made of. The choice is usually wool, cotton, man-made fiber, or a combination of these. Wool and cotton are more popular for sport-clothing construction.
Wool is common in the manufacture of cycling clothing for a number of good reasons. It’s breathable and readily wicks moisture away from the rider’s skin. It can hold almost one-third of its own weight in water without being saturated, which makes it comfortable to wear even when the rider is perspiring heavily. When it’s cold, even if you are wet, wool will keep you warm and comfortable. Wool items are now available that are lightweight as well as brightly colored, making them hard to beat for cycling wear.
On the negative side, wool is not as durable as some man-made materials and it can be very expensive. More than that, wool clothing has traditionally been difficult to care for; it must be hand washed and line dried, sometimes requiring dry cleaning and blocking.
That is no problem for occasional use or weekend trips, but it’s a huge stumbling block for the long-distance touring cyclist. Frequently, you simply don’t have the time, inclination or weather to hand wash and line dry clothes. Dry cleaning means a planned layover of several days, not impossible but not al ways convenient either.
Some wool clothing is treated with a process called SUPERWASH so the item can be machine washed and dried. We haven’t used a SUPERWASH product, mainly due to the high cost, but it might be the answer if you definitely prefer wool.
Cotton is used in many sports clothing items because it’s comfort able, breathable, lightweight, easy to care for, durable and economical. All of these are criteria for good cycling clothing. It has, however, one predominantly negative feature. It’s cold and clammy when wet. When saturated with sweat or rain it holds moisture and does not readily release it to the atmosphere. Even in hot weather this is uncomfortable because your clothing clings and sticks to you.
Man-made fibers have the advantages of cotton — economy, light weight, durability and ease of care — but they don’t breathe as well and don’t wick moisture away from the body. They are not comfortable under many climatic conditions.
The solution seems to be in the many blends of natural and man-made fibers. Some fiber blends incorporate wool, but it’s not yet a common procedure and they are difficult to find. Cot ton/man-made fiber blends are abundant.
Our own choice in touring-clothing material is a blend of cotton and polyester. This meets all the above criteria except that it’s cold when wet; only wool can overcome that. The secret about using blends for cycling clothing is to keep the man-made fiber content at 50 percent or below. Otherwise the blend does not breathe well and the material holds perspiration odors in spite of frequent laundering. We try to purchase items that are 50 percent cotton, 50 per cent polyester; they are sometimes hard to find. We never settle for more than 65 percent polyester.
Using the criteria above you should be able to judge most items offered for touring, especially when it comes to determining properties of the material. Be ginning at the bottom and working up, here is what you need to tour anywhere.
It’s generally true that any light weight, comfortable sport shoe is suit able for touring. However, there are specialized models that have certain advantageous features. The most efficient shoe available is a leather cycling shoe designed strictly for riding. It’s tight fitting and low cut and has soft leather uppers with holes punched throughout to help cool the feet. The hard leather or plastic sole incorporates a nylon, leather or aluminum-alloy cleat. The cleat attaches to the sole so that the groove in the cleat lines up with and fits down over the rear cage of the pedal. When you tighten the toe strap, your foot is locked into the pedal. This insures that your foot is always in proper alignment to exert maximum force on the pedals. Your feet actually become extensions of the pedals.
For sheer efficiency this cleated cycling shoe is ideal; every racer wears a pair. For the touring cyclist there are some problems. With the stiff sole, no heel and cleats they are hell to walk in. Besides ruining the rider, the rider can also ruin the shoes by walking in them. It breaks down the sole, loosens the cleat and generally destroys the rigidity of the shoe. Yet a touring cyclist can count on doing a considerable amount of walking, whether up some impossible hills or around town and camp. Cleated shoes are also dangerous because the slick leather sole slides in wet conditions. Wearing them on cement is a bit like a horse trying to tiptoe.
Some touring cyclists opt for the advantages of a cycling shoe and carry a regular pair for walking. This is a viable alternative, but remember that you are then not saving any weight and we have yet to see a rider change shoes halfway up a difficult climb. However, the, choice is yours. Another idea is to wear the cycling shoes without cleats. You lose some efficiency, but are left with a lightweight shoe that can be worn for walking if you don’t mind not having a heel.
Cycling shoes cost a minimum of $20. If you decide to purchase a pair, be very careful in sizing. Most, especially those manufactured in Italy, are cut narrow; many Americans have difficulty getting a good fit. If you have wide feet, try Dutch or English shoes. Also the cleats come in a variety of styles; find an experienced person to help you as they must fit exactly.
A few manufacturers now offer a touring shoe due to growing interest in touring and recreational riding. It looks basically like a cycling shoe but is wider and more flexible and has a small heel for more comfortable walking. The rubber soles don’t take cleats, but there is a steel shank under the ball of the foot to take the brunt of the pedaling shock. They are not as comfortable for walking as running shoes are, but they are far better than regular cycling shoes when you are off the bike.
Two of the most popular touring shoes are made by Bata Shoe Company and Avocet, Inc. The Bata is made of canvas and rubber; the Avocet, of leather at twice the price. If this type of shoe appeals to you, try on both and make your choice. You should not then have to carry an extra pair while touring.
Many tourers use a regular running or lightweight tennis shoe. This has been our choice and we are well satisfied with the results. The running shoe is stable both on and off the bike, has a thick-enough sole for pedaling, looks “normal” everywhere and doesn’t necessitate that you carry an extra pair. There are so many running shoes on the market that your choice will be highly personal. Look for comfort, a sole that is fairly thick through the ball of the foot (about % inch at minimum), quality construction, and nylon or nylon/leather uppers. Nylon keeps the foot cooler and dries faster when wet. If the running shoe you choose has a wide heel, check that it will clear the chainstays as the pedal revolves.
We like the thin socks sold in back packing shops and called inner or liner socks. They are available in all wool (Wigwam Mojave), 70 percent wool (Wigwam Summit), or olefin (Wigwam Dry Foot Sock). All are machine wash able and dryable. The Summit is the most practical as it maintains warmth when wet yet wears better than an all wool sock.
A lot of women, Don included, don’t like the ankle sock. Don wears half socks, or golf socks; they don’t extend over the top of the shoes and have a pom-pom at the back to keep them from slipping down. They are not available in wool or cotton, but are quite cool and comfortable and would be suitable for men who have no “macho” thing about the pom-poms.
What you wear between you and the saddle is a great determinant of how happy your tour will be and how many miles you will be able to put behind you each day. Soldiers walk on their stomachs, but cyclists ride on their butts.
There are riding shorts specially designed for bicycling. They are tight fitting, long in the legs and made of stretch material — usually black — with a piece of chamois leather sewn inside the crotch. There are no seams to rub or chafe so they are worn without underwear. The chamois is soft and smooth and absorbs perspiration.
All racers, many dedicated recreational riders and a few touring cyclists wear cycling shorts. As with other bicycle items, what is good for the racer is not necessarily good for the tourer. The primary disadvantage of the chamois- lined cycling short is the laundering care required. Many are made of wool, which cannot be machine dried. Even those made of dryable man-made fabrics have a chamois lining that cannot be dried by machine. The chamois be comes stiff and hard and will eventually break down if dried with heat.
Cycling shorts must be washed by hand in mild soap and left to dry out of direct sunlight. The chamois should then be rubbed with chamois fat or some type of skin cream to keep it soft. Even with two pairs of shorts (about $25 each), we doubt that you could keep up with the washing and drying while touring. Such shorts, worn without under wear, should be washed after each day’s ride to keep the bacteria count within limits, but even if you let it go for two days it would be difficult to dry the other pair out of the sun while on the road. Besides this care problem and cost, the chamois quickly gets saturated with sweat. Even on day rides a change of shorts at noon can be a necessary luxury.
There is a hiking-type trail short on the market — you’ve seen the khaki ones with all the pockets — that manufacturers have lined with chamois and called a touring short. It has none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages of the cycling short as far as touring is concerned. Because the legs are too short, they ride up and are uncomfortable, besides being hard to care for.
A few manufacturers are coming out with snug-fitting touring shorts of synthetic-blend stretch material, long in the legs, with a liner of absorbent, fast- drying, towel-like material in place of chamois. These are the best answer yet for the tourer. The shorts fit well, give without sagging, can be worn without underwear, and can be machine washed and dried. The man-made fiber in the lining dries quickly, even on a lunch break, without removing the shorts. The better brands are difficult to find. They can be confused with a walking short now available with a cloth crotch liner, also called a touring short. Make sure that the legs are long enough to cover your seat entirely when you’re bent over the saddle and that the fit is right before you lay down your money.
If you can’t find a suitable touring short in your area, or you are on a tight budget, there are some options. But be cautious as any old short won’t do for cycle touring. Stay away from cutoff jeans or any short with heavy double seams as they are very uncomfortable for sitting over a period of time. Women are cautioned against wearing short shorts, no matter how great they look on the models in the bike ads. You end up sitting half on the hem and half on the bare saddle, uncomfortable at best, impossible at length. Look for shorts with fairly long legs (what used to be called Jamaica shorts — not Bermudas) and smooth seams, which are loose in the thigh or — better — slightly stretchy, and easy to wash and dry.
For years Tim has been satisfied with Sears’ or Penney’s cotton/poly ester work pants cut off and hemmed with a six-inch leg. They wear like iron, cost under $10 and fit great. Don wore a pair of double-knit, polyester stretch shorts cross-country and in Hawaii, but they caused rash problems due to heat retention. She now wears a pair of cloth-lined touring shorts of stretch khaki material that she is well satisfied with. If you are clever with a sewing machine you might try sewing your own chamoislike liner into a favorite pair of shorts. Look at a pair of chamois-lined shorts or a replacement chamois at your local bike store to see how it’s cut and sewn in. Don’t, as we did, use too thick a piece of material. Something with the thickness of a worn, thin towel is best, preferably 50 percent cotton at the least. Good terry cloth does not have to be hemmed, which minimizes seams you are sitting on. For less than $20 (using work pants with do- it-yourself liner), you can have two pair of riding shorts. Whatever materials you choose to use, experiment and take your time.
Any pair of shorts is improved by applying baby powder, cornstarch or a medicated cream several times a day and overnight as well if you really have a problem. Above all, keep yourself clean; take advantage of every shower that comes along. If you are touring in an area where showers are out of the question, at least make good use of soap and water before you go to bed each night. A little prevention works wonders in this area.
Here you have more latitude to let your personality show through. A top is important but not for the critical reasons that shoes and shorts are. There are cycling shirts (jerseys), again designed with the racer in mind. They are knit with long or short sleeves and a zippered neck opening, are long at the bottom — especially in back — and have a food storage pocket(s) in the rear. Available in a wide variety of bright colors with intriguing combinations of stripes and patterns, they fit the needs of the racer or day rider nicely. They can be used on tour if they are machine washable and dryable. They are relatively expensive (above $20) but that does not mean they are uneconomical if easy to care for and durable.
Other than jerseys, your choices are limitless. Keep protection from the sun in mind in addition to the criteria already presented. Some thin materials don’t keep out dangerous rays, al though they provide some protection from sunburn. Don found that she must wear long-sleeved shirts on extensive tours due to an allergy to the sun’s rays that causes a rash on her arms and legs. Very sensitive to heat as well, she found she could tolerate a light-colored 50/50 cotton/polyester shirt, which was loose enough to provide good ventilation yet covered her arms and torso completely. Wear whatever is comfort able for you both mentally and physically. Bright colors heighten visibility; remember this when choosing your shirts.
Jackets and Leggings
You have even more choice in warming-up gear because it’s specialized for certain conditions and need not be worn all the time. A warm-up suit, wool sweater, down or Dacron vest, or even a heavy shirt will meet the need. Keep in mind that you will probably be wearing it more off your bike than on. Choose the lightest, most compact item that gives the protection you need.
You should carry some protection for the lower half of your body in case of cold conditions. The bottom half of a warm-up suit or a pair of long casual pants is better than nothing, and may be all you need under most touring conditions except in high mountains or during winter.
If you are concerned about weight, you can purchase specially designed leg and arm warmers at your local bike boutique. They are stretchy double knit and slip on to meet your jersey or riding shorts. Usually available in basic black, they are made of a variety of materials and work very well. Their appearance is something else again; wearing them off the bike or around town depends on how thick-skinned you are.
Carrying rainwear is like carrying a bike light; you may not plan to use it but when needed, nothing else fills the bill. How you prepare for rain will depend to a certain extent on your basic philosophy toward it. Tim hates it. At the first drop he either makes a beeline for the nearest sheltering roof or throws up the tent fly in a panic to wait it out. Fortunately, the longest we have had to wait is two days. If we ever tour the Northwest, it will most likely be by bus. If caught in a cloudburst or drizzle, Tim rides in an attitude of general reluctance and great disgust, ever on the lookout for escape. Because of this we seldom carry a full complement of rain gear.
When riding in rain you have two choices; either to be wet and warm or wet and cold. Most rainwear does an adequate job of keeping rain out. It also keeps your perspiration and body heat in. Either way you end up wet. If you ride without rain gear, you will be wet too, but also cold — even in tropical conditions — due to the windchill factor. Especially going downhill.
The rain cape has been a tradition al solution. This is a round, poncho-type garment with a hole in the center for your head. The cape covers you to the knees and is held down in front by thumb loops on the underside. The rear is held down — in theory — by a waist tie on the inside. The whole thing is so loose that it allows good air circulation around your body to help perspiration evaporate; you remain essentially dry. Most capes have sewn-in hoods that are too small to go over your helmet and too hot to wear under the helmet over your head. You end up stuffing it down the back of your neck, along with a good deal of rain that drips from your helmet, your nose, your ears, your hair or whatever. See why Tim hates rain?
If you are really determined to ride in the rain, a pair of chaps can be worn along with your cape. They tie to your waist to protect your legs. Fairly cool and comfortable, they have no crotch to trap moisture.
The biggest drawback in rainwear has been lack of breathability. Gore-Tex seems to have the answer. Gore-Tex is waterproof yet breathable, allowing water vapor (sweat) to pass out of the material from the inside yet blocking water penetration from the outside. Test re ports and recent experience indicate that the fabric does indeed do what it claims. However, under heavy touring conditions — hill climbing with a loaded bike — you can expect some condensation on the inside; but nothing like with old-style rain gear. Gore-Tex loses its breathable properties if body oil gets on the underside of the fabric. This means always wearing it over a long- sleeved shirt or, better yet, getting Gore-Tex rainwear lined with nylon.
The big disadvantage with Gore Tex is the price. Expect to spend in excess of $70 for the parka alone. Acquaintance with a sewing machine can save money, but the material is expensive (about $9 per yard) and it should be lined — not a job for novices.
We carry a minimum of protection; only enough to keep us dry during our mad dash for shelter. Several years ago we purchased lightweight, snug-fitting waterproof nylon jackets that fold into themselves to form neat little storage packets. Don opened the underarm seams from the elbow along the side and inserted wedges of good-quality nylon mosquito netting. This allows air to circulate while we are pedaling yet keeps perspiration evaporation continuing while we stay reasonably warm and dry. We don’t worry about the lower body as we don’t stay out in the rain that long. We always have long pants with us, however, if the need arises.
Windbreakers are excellent shells over a sweater or wool shirt on cool nights or mornings in camp.
One other alternative for the dedicated rainy-weather cyclist is to have a good set of wool underwear, tops and bottoms. When the rain starts just slip on your long johns, put your shirt and shorts over top (this really looks classy), and carry on through the storm. You will be wet but the pure wool keeps you warm enough for survival if not comfort. Wool underwear is a good guard against any cold conditions, wet or otherwise. If the appearance bothers you, dye them black to look like a racing pro.
Feet can develop problems in the rain. One solution is to carry special rubber or plastic shoe covers. More simply, put your feet into plastic bags, then slip your shoes over them. Your feet will stay reasonably warm if not dry.
Another problem is rain being sucked up into the ventilation holes of your helmet. Your choices are to stuff them with cork, rags, waxed paper, chewing gum, or any combination of these, or to purchase a ready-made helmet rain cover.
Clothing for Desert Conditions
Sometime during your touring life you will encounter hot weather, whether in the summer heat of the United States or the shimmering sands of the Sahara Desert or Australian outback. Actually, deserts offer some of the most enchanting bicycle touring around. The trick is to understand what you are getting into, prepare yourself adequately and accept, rather than fight, conditions.
The temptation in the desert is to think that the fewer and lighter your clothes the better. This is definitely not the case. You must strike a balance be tween clothes that are cool and light, yet protect you from the intense sun and dehydration possibilities of heat coupled with very low humidity. You don’t have to look like a Bedouin on a bike but neither should you cycle in your shoes only.
Even if you are well tanned, you should use a sun-protection cream (sunscreen) rather than a sun-tanning oil. Check labels to be sure the product screens out the sun’s rays; look for PABA in the ingredients. If a cream isn’t enough — and it isn’t for sun-sensitive skin — you should wear a loose, long- sleeved shirt. The shirt not only protects you from the sun, but allows your body to cool more efficiently by slowing down the evaporation of sweat from your skin. That is why desert people traditionally have worn long, loose robes as op posed to G-strings. In the extremely low humidity of the desert your perspiration will dry as it’s formed. A garment slows this process enough to give an illusion of cooling, especially as you move through your bicycle-created breeze.
You will need to protect your legs, especially the upper thighs, if you are sensitive to the sun. Long pants might be your only answer if a sun-screening lotion doesn’t do the job. Tim uses loose-fitting, cotton/polyester work pants. Don sewed a piece of matching Velcro to the outside of each front crease, its other half to the outside seam. Both cuffs can be closed to keep them out of the chain or to keep bugs out in camp, but are loose enough for air to circulate. Off the bike, Tim re leases the Velcro and they look like ordinary pants. Don prefers a gaucho skirt (culottes) if she must cover her up per legs when the sun is particularly in tense. They are loose and comfortable with lots of room for ventilation, yet are too short to get caught in the chain. Whereas Tim’s long pants can double for protection in cold weather, the culottes don’t serve this dual purpose. If you prefer double duty you should choose long pants when encountering both heat and cold on a tour.
A useful article of clothing for desert conditions is the bandanna. The large arteries that service the head run very close to the surface as they pass through the neck. Thus they are especially susceptible to heat and intense sunshine. Tie a bandanna loosely around your neck; if you have sufficient water, keep it wet for added protection and comfort. When not used for that, a bandanna is an emergency hat, pot holder, washrag, towel, first-aid device, strainer, all-purpose rag, diaper or handkerchief. A couple of bandannas are useful on any tour.
Desert conditions demand a head covering, whether you have taken our advice to wear a helmet or not. Only a fool would walk or cycle in the desert without some sort of light-colored, breathable, brimmed hat. We carried white, net-ventilated tennis hats for use in the desert portion of our cross-country tour. After extensive experimentation with these hats, dry and wet, without any head covering, and then with the Bell helmets, we decided that helmets were coolest of all.
Unfortunately, neither Bell nor MSR offer a smoke-colored, plastic snap-on visor for their helmets. This would be a welcome addition for extensive desert touring. Such visors are available at motorcycle-equipment stores and, as with motorcycle helmets, attach with snaps. Visors are especially helpful during the early-morning and late-afternoon hours when the sun is low on the horizon shining directly into your face. They can be stored away until high sun hours, otherwise wind resistance might be a disadvantage.
Clothing for Cold-Weather Touring
Cold conditions are not confined to winter months; they occur in high altitudes and during unseasonal weather. There is no reason to avoid high altitudes during your tour only because you might encounter cold. A little preparation will see you through.
Use the layer approach instead of cramming your polar-weight parka into your panniers. Carry light- or medium- weight warm clothing that you can wear simultaneously. Conditions change rap idly while cycling; you may be sweating and shedding shirts on the up-side of a mountain, but literally freezing at the top or down the other side when you are no longer working hard. You need to be able to change your clothing without a thin shirt and a heavy parka being your only choices.
For cold weather, we each carry a fishnet T-shirt, a lightweight long- sleeved shirt, a wool sweater, or a down or Dacron vest (it need not be machine washable as it’s not always worn), and a waterproof nylon jacket or light parka. If expecting severe conditions, we add a long-sleeved wool or wool-blend long-john top to be worn over the fishnet shirt. Long john bottoms to be worn under long pants or warm-up suit pants complete the outfit for really cold weather. In an emergency a newspaper placed between layers of clothing in the chest area can get you through an especially cold morning (or night).
The hands, feet and head require special consideration in cold-weather cycling because of their extreme location and the windchill factor. Cold- weather cycling gloves with full fingers are available for this type of weather. In an emergency you can wear a pair of socks (wool ones are best) over the hands. By placing your thumb in the heel area you should be able to grip the handlebars and apply the brakes, but practice this maneuver before mounting up. If you happen onto unexpected cold weather and it isn’t raining, you can get an ordinary pair of cotton gardening gloves at almost any grocery or hard ware store in the United States.
The feet can be a real problem. Wear double socks if your shoes are large enough. If not, put a pair of cheap, heavy socks over your shoes. It looks strange but works OK. In an emergency, plastic bags between your socks and your shoes will help, but not for long. For extensive cold-weather cycling, one company makes small shields that fit on the pedals and over the toe clips for good protection from the cold. Check the ads in Bicycling magazine for a mail-order source for these Polar Pals.
Ventilation holes in good bike helmets work a bit too well in cold weather. Either plug the holes or use a helmet cover. For extensive cold-weather riding wear a knit hat or balaclava under your helmet; you might have to adjust the sizing to do this. If while wearing a balaclava with only your eyes and mouth showing, foot covers, gloves and long johns you are still cold, forget the whole thing. Find a warm spot to hole up in until spring. You won’t be alone.
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