27 September 2011

What Not to Wear: Dressing for a Fall Century

By Gary Medley, Albabici contributor and seasoned all-weather cyclist.

NOTE:  this article first appeared in the September 2011 edition of Bicycle Paper.  Abridged version reprinted with permission.

Pro Tech ST jacket. Photo courtesy of Showers Pass.
Weather makes gear selection a key decision on rides. In the Pacific Northwest, autumn announces crisp mornings, sunny afternoons, and a color palate unmatched by other seasons. Few cyclists would argue that fall is one of the best times of the year, as it typically stretches toward Halloween, and October riding can offer ideal cycling weather. Sure, our famous drizzles descend on occasion, but the mild temps make for enjoyable outings.

Moreover, opportunities to take part in organized rides are plentiful: centuries, gran fondos, tours, club rides, etc. — all beckon. Centuries, of course, have become the most popular long-distance format for recreational riders, presenting an endurance test as well as the chance to mix it up with participants of all abilities. Tucking into a 20-mph paceline can be a challenge worth taking. And if you drift off the back to enjoy a slower pace, well, no one’s the wiser.

That said, whether you’re hammering in an impromptu peloton or casually pedaling with your family, the clothes you wear can make the difference between an enjoyable ride or a frigid, soggy sojourn. Fall cycling, with its clammy climbs and wind-chilled descents, presents a mind- (and potentially finger- and toe-) numbing range of temperatures.

Photo by Jay Stilwell
Considering autumn’s schizophrenic forecasts, then, what’s the best combination of gear to wear on a century? One word trumps all: flexibility. Chose an ensemble that can be adjusted, removed or added to meet the conditions. Sure, you could tow a Burley with a closet full of gear, but that isn’t practical. Better to bring the fewest — and lightest — pieces of clothing as possible that can handle variable conditions.

Ed Dalton, president of Showers Pass, the Portland-based maker of rain gear, knows all about riding in the Northwest. His aptly named company offers a host of rain gear for commuters, racers and riders.

Yes, riding in the fall is a challenge,” Dalton explains. “You never know what’s going to happen. And nothing takes the fun out of a ride, particularly a long one like a century, than not having the right gear. This is the premise that goes into the apparel we design.

When planning for a typical fall tour, say the Harvest Century in Hillsboro, Ore., on October 8 (touted as the last organized ride of the year), you can count on temperatures ranging from 50 degrees to maybe high 60s, with a chance of rain. Here are some helpful suggestions on what to wear.

A Jacket for All Trades

Elite Pro jacket, now available in Black or
Goldenrod. Photo courtesy of Showers Pass
The most important piece in your weather defeating arsenal is a lightweight, packable jacket that offers both wind and rain protection. You might only wear it the first few miles, only to need it later when that rain squall moves through. Gear that offers rain protection will block the wind as well. It should be packable and light, too, so it will wad up into a small package that fits in your jersey pocket. (You could also go “Euro” and carry your jacket in a water bottle with the top cutoff — de rigueur for gran fondo riders in Italy.)

Showers Pass makes two jackets that are ideal for autumn centuries, the Elite Pro and the Pro Tech. The Elite Pro weighs a mere 8 ounces with a sleek, contoured fit. It uses Elite™ Fabric, both waterproof and highly breathable. In addition, adjustable ventilating cuffs, water-resistant zippered core vents, asymmetrical front zipper and a rear exhaust vent allows maximum breathability. And finally, it can be scrunched into a tidy package for storage.

Even lighter is the Showers Pass Pro Tech. It weighs only 5.5 ounces, constructed with a nifty transparent stretch membrane that allows race numbers and kits to show through. The fabric is both windproof and waterproof-breathable, and packs down into a very small pocket-sized bundle. For milder days with just a chance of precipitation, this or something similar would be an excellent choice.

Castelli Sorpasso bib knickers and
bib tights are favorites amongst
BicyclingHub.com staff and customers alike.
Shorts and Knickers

Fall riding can usually be done in summer weight Lycra or mountain bike shorts. Choose shorts that you know fit you well and are comfortable over the long haul — because 100 miles is a long haul. If the temperature is too chilly for exposed knees, you have two choices, a pair of knickers or knee warmers. For days that are likely to remain cold, bibknickers are the way to go. However, if a warmer afternoon arrives, knee warmers can be removed, but you do have to carry them home.

Tops and Jerseys

For a fall ride, deciding on what to envelope your torso with is straightforward: baselayer and a jersey. The big decision is long-sleeve or short-sleeve jersey with arm warmers. If you are convinced the temperatures will remain brisk, the long-sleeve option is the way to go. But the short-sleeve arm warmer combo provides the same adjust-on-the-fly flexibility as shorts and knee warmers do. For example, on a long climb, with your body temp rising as fast as your heart rate, arm warmers can be pushed down over your wrists. This delivers instant cooling. Sadly, it has no affect on your pulse.

If no rain is forecast, you could leave the jacket at home, then start off with a jersey, arm warmers and a lightweight packable vest — which can also be used on cold descents.

Hands and Feet

Pearl Izumi Cyclone Cycling Glove
Those who ride in fall and winter know one indisputable fact: If your hands and feet are warm, your entire body is warm. Unless it is guaranteed to be cold and wet, you’ll probably want to carry both long-finger and short-finger gloves. If it promises to rain all day, bring two pairs of long-finger gloves, waterproof, of course, as they will inevitably get soaked, and a dry backup pair will save the day.

Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Toe Covers
Keeping your feet warm and dry is important, too. Wool socks are a must, as they provide warmth even when wet. To keep the cold and moisture out of your shoes, there are three options. For dry, medium temperature rides with no rain, go with toe covers, which block air from flying into the mesh toe box, adding unexpected warmth. These things really do work. Next up are full booties that wrap the entire shoe and ankle, warding off wind and water. They are a pain to put on, but if you expect a deluge, you have little choice. Some companies offer lightweight shoe covers — like you see the Pro riders use during a time trial. They will fend off some moisture and block the wind, and they make your shoes more aerodynamic — always important on recreational rides!

The Head

Castelli Wool Cycling Cap Grey Plaid
As anyone who has taken a class on hiking or skiing knows, much of your body temperature in cold conditions can escape though your head. So, what to wear under your ANSI/Snell-approved helmet? The simplest option is the standard short-billed cycling cap. It provides warmth and the bill can flip up and down, keeping moisture off your glasses. If it is really cold, a skullcap with ear flaps can keep your noggin toasty, but perhaps too toasty during a climb, and there is no neb to block the rain.

Events such as the Harvest Century are a great way
to test our your gear as well as your legs.
Non-cyclists laugh at the plethora of gear that overcrowds our closets. But few sports dish up such a variety of weather conditions and ever-changing temperatures and windchill, and fall is the most challenging. Rebecca Miller, event director for the Harvest Century, knows this all too well.

“This will be our ninth Harvest Century,” she explained, “And we’ve probably had every possible weather occurrence ... Last year it drizzled for most of the event, which could have dampened the fun. But it didn’t. Most riders had the appropriate gear and had a great time. The right apparel made the difference.”

Comfortable fall riding is all about preparation and flexibility. The above tips can help you make the most of your autumn century experience.

No comments:

We are on a mission to spread meaningful content and give you awesome deals on cycling clothing. Like us on Facebook and see for yourself.