Keeping Your Head Warm and Your Glasses Clear in Winter

Posted by Doug Shidell, December 30th, 2008 1 response

Last post we dealt with keeping your hands and feet warm during winter bike rides. This time we’ll deal with keeping the rest of your body comfortable.

Head: The head radiates a lot of heat. If it’s cold, your whole body, down to the fingers and toes, will feel cold, so keeping your head warm is critical to your comfort on the bike. Keeping it too warm, however, will only make you sweat excessively. The goal is to stay warm, but not overheated.
1. Start by expanding the retaining system on you helmet to make room for headwear.
2. Wear a balaclava that creates a good seal around your neck and fits tightly around your face and skull. The tight fit will hold your ears against your skull, where they will stay warmer, and keep cold air from sneaking in. If your neck is still cold under the balaclava, add a neck warmer made of fleece or wool.
3. The balaclava should cover your cheeks and nose. Some do it by pulling up over your mouth, forcing you to breathe through the fabric of the balaclava. Others offer a nosepiece and an opening for breathing through your mouth. The style you use depends on whether you wear glasses while bike riding. More on that in a second.
4. Wear a ski mask or wrap-around glasses to protect your eyes and the upper part of your cheeks. The combination of eyewear and balaclava should cover all exposed skin. Ski goggles work best because they are designed to ride an inch or two away from your face and allow airflow around the lens to prevent fogging.

Foggy Eyeglasses: Ski goggles do a good job of staying clear in the coldest weather. Eyeglasses don’t. They don’t do a good job of protecting the skin around your eyeballs or upper cheeks, either, so it makes sense to wear goggles over your glasses when riding. Unfortunately, glasses fog up under goggles. I haven’t found the perfect solution for riding with glasses in extreme cold (under 15 degrees F), but I have learned a few tricks to reduce the condensation.

Until recently, simply wearing goggles over glasses was a hassle. The goggles pressed against the eyeglass temples, creating painful pressure points. Smith Optics, has overcome that problem by creating a break in the frame of the goggles and replacing it with a foam membrane that puts very little pressure on the temples.

Riders without glasses have learned to exhale up through the balaclava. The warm moist air flows over their cheeks and keeps them toasty. Those of us with glasses don’t have that luxury because the moisture fogs the lenses. Not a good situation in traffic.

This is where a nosepiece and opening for the mouth help. The trick is to forcefully direct your breath down and away from your glasses. I do it by forming an “O” with my lips and breathing out hard. That same “O,” however, draws freezing cold air into my mouth when inhaling. I nearly froze my teeth one zero degree morning before learning to open my mouth into a big, cheesy grin on the inhale. The grin created an opening that was wider than the mouth hole in the balaclava so I pulled in warm air from around my cheeks to mix with the chilled outside air. Riding through the streets of Minneapolis alternating between an “O and a cheesy grin isn’t a natural thing to do. When I finally admitted that I was using this unusual breathing technique, someone told me it was similar to a Buddhist breathing style. I suppose that should make me feel calm.

Stopping invites fog. As soon as you stop, even for a minute at a traffic light or stop sign, pull the mask down and breathe directly into the outside air. If your body has started heating up, you will also want to pull the goggles up and away from your eyes to cool down your face.

If your body temperature rises high enough to break a sweat, your glasses will fog. The moisture from around your eyes and forehead will float out to the glasses and condense on the relatively cold lenses. I give up at this point. I pull the goggles down and finish the ride with only my eyeglasses to protect my eyes and cheeks. It isn’t too bad because the heat from my head keeps my face relatively warm. A better option is to open a layer on the torso or reduce the insulation around the head to shed some of that excess heat. The best time to do that is before you break a sweat.

Dry Your Clothes: Nothing is more depressing than putting on damp clothes for the ride home. If you want a comfortable ride at the end of the day, start dealing with clothing moisture before you step indoors at work.
1. Open zippers, pull off your helmet and remove the wind shell if practical while still outside. This will begin cooling your body and driving off excess moisture. Depending on the length of your ride and how hard you pushed yourself, your body will pump out extra heat for about 10 minutes. That’s enough time to get into a shower or dry clothes without getting chilled.
2. Turn the wind shell inside out and hang it on a hanger or drape it over your handlebars (assuming the bike is indoors) so it can dry out during the workday.
3. Reverse your gloves or mittens, especially if they have a waterproof layer that might trap moisture.
4. Locker technology is way behind the times. Despite all evidence to the contrary, most people and institutions still believe that a metal box with a couple of slits on one side is the best way to store damp clothing. It’s not. At the end of the day clothing stored in a locker will be damp and cold. The best way to dry our clothes during the workday is to hang them on a clothes hanger, outside the locker, to get maximum airflow. If your choices are limited and it is nearly impossible to dry your clothes during the workday, bring an extra base layer to work. Keep it dry in your panniers or a backpack during the ride in, then pull it out and use it for the ride home.

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One Comment to “Keeping Your Head Warm and Your Glasses Clear in Winter”

  1. Owen Neale Says:

    To dry your clothes, get a coat rack and fan.
    I’ve been using this method for many years.
    Some people have made comments about it, but rather than fight them, I ask for their solution to the problem. Some solutions have actually been a marked improvement.
    As for the fogging of your glasses. Oh vey! I’ve tried everything. As soon as you start to perspire and air flow decreases, fogging starts. No product has every worked really well. I’m thinking of making a “mardi gras” mask out of that Sham-Wow material to see if that might absorb the perspiration.