Is your full time job not technically employment? Do you think $25k is a lot of money for just one person to make in a year? If so, this is the gear series for you. Welcome to Proletarian Biking: a broke bike kid’s guide to making the most out of your tiny income.
I’m sure some of you have been reading Tiny Fix gear posts as long as I have been. You might read them sitting silently in your room, lusting after fancy bike gear that you know would make your ride at least slightly less uncomfortable, smelly, cold, or hot. If you’re anything like me, sitting in your room dreaming about nice gear is about as far as you got. Real talk: I work in non profit, and have slowly amassed an acceptable wardrobe over 3 years, but it wasn’t easy getting there. This guide aims to help you find and re-purpose other items which you already own to make your ride better.
Here is my comprehensive broke-person’s guide to what to wear at varying temperatures.
I stop riding after 97° because I will get heat stroke. I’m wearing spandex and the most lightweight moisture wicking tank top I can find. I’m sweating profusely and very grateful for the sweat towel I keep in my bag. There is not a chance I’m not wearing sandals.
As it approaches 80 I switch from jorts to spandex shorts, which I bought at Target, and I’m definitely wearing my workout tank tops now, which I bought for $7 at Old Navy. I hold off on wearing spandex as much as possible; it’s thin and it’s more comfortable to wear thicker jean material unless you decide you want to go all in and enter chamois territory (but that’s a $$ investment).
This is definitely jort weather. Obviously I made my jorts myself by cutting the legs off of $3 thrift store jeans. I’m either wearing a normal moisture wicking tank top, purchased from Target for about $12, or a tank top that someone probably made for yoga.
At this point I start wearing jorts and short sleeves. It’s barely warm enough to wear sandals, and my Keen tan will prove it!
Sometimes in the morning, I’ll throw a pair of tights on under my jorts if it’s not a particularly sunny day or wear tall socks. This is right on the line of where I might decide to wear jeans. I definitely still wear something short sleeved, maybe even just a plain t-shirt as it’s not a big deal if I sweat a bunch, and might roll up my jeans on the way home. I’m wearing converse and normal sporty socks. Hurray, I can still wear short fingered gloves!
At this point, I probably want to wear long pants, and fully cover my arms. I’m not wearing a coat unless it’s raining, at that point I wear a normal rain coat. I wear a moisture wicking long sleeve shirt from Target. This will cost around $15 (pro tip, they’re cheaper in the children’s sections; I can wear a youth large most of the time) I also once found an Under Armour long sleeve in the little boys section of a thrift store for $5. Dreams do come true!
My bottom half is usually just jeans or jorts+cotton leggings. I wear either wool socks + regular shoes or regular socks+ hiking/cold weather boots.
At this point I definitely want long finger gloves.
This is one of the only areas where I always drop $$$. I have to ride with padded gloves, so I bike with Pearl Izumi’s Women’s Cyclone gloves; Giro also makes a serviceable pair of lady’s gloves. These are wind resistant, and it definitely helps as it gets colder. Terrible knit gloves that you can get for $1-3 most places will also do the trick.
You can get away with wearing the same things you wear at 50° here, except you’re going to need a light coat.
I usually wear a moisture wicking tank top. I pair this with the inner shell of my Columbia winter jacket. It’s fleece lined and the outside is wind and water resistant. Any of the Columbia soft shells with “Omni-shield” wind and water resistance do the job. They’re usually on sale for about $70.
You can also pair a long sleeve base layer (always moisture wicking) and a regular hoodie/zip up or a rain jacket; however, I strongly recommend a wind resistant outer layer, especially because the spring and fall seem to guarantee a headwind on both legs of your commute, no matter where you are going.
Start basing what you wear on wind chill temperature rather than air temperature
In this range I’m wearing jeans with cotton leggings underneath. You can still wear normal socks with boots, so you can save your wool socks for the true terror weather. I’m usually still wearing a moisture wicking tank top or long sleeve warm weather base layer, a thin hat, and my wind resistant soft shell jacket.
It’s now obligatory wool sock time. Your toes are definitely going to get cold if you try to stick with cotton socks here. I usually switch to fleece lined leggings in this range, both Walgreens (I know) and Target have viable options. I make sure that the jeans I wear are thicker jeans. You really want to avoid stretch here, if you can pull on it and it stretches like elastic, the wind will cut right through it. Up top I’m now wearing a long sleeve moisture wicking base layer. I’ve now switched to 2 pairs of gloves (nice gloves, horrible $3 target gloves). I’d suggest either long finger bike gloves or leather gloves as your base set, cheap knit gloves on top. At this point I convert my buff from a hat to a balaclava.
15° or colder
This is the point at which you really just need to wear the warmest things you have. I’ve successfully ridden wearing the same things from 15 to -12°. I wouldn’t suggest riding beyond much colder than -12° because you’re probably going to get frostbite.
Your legs will be cold unless you layer up. I suggest:
Tight fitting shorts + thermal tights of some variety, major bonus points to wind resistant pants + jeans
Up top you’ll want to base layer something moisture wicking. I haven’t noticed a big difference between long sleeve and a tank top. I follow my base layer with a thermal long sleeve shirt and the same shell as worn in all other temperature ranges. If it is below 0 and windy, I’ll add a t-shirt on top.
FACE MASK: I pull my buff all the way up over my nose and double layer it.
Depending on how hot your head gets, I would add a regular stocking cap as well, I usually do.
You might want to consider getting ski goggles and wearing them when it’s this cold. It helps you be less squinty and you probably won’t tear up at all. I use Smith’s Knowledge OTG goggle in clear, but a yellow can be nice, too. These are almost always available somewhere on the internet for around $20. You can do without goggles if you go slightly slower, but you’re definitely going to experience the hot eye sensation when you go back indoors.
Shoes: if you have a warm winter boot that is still ride-able, do it. I put toe covers on my hiking boots and stop after 40 minutes to warm up and avoid frost bite.
If you can afford it:
Invest in some lobster claw bike specific gloves. I use Pearl Izumi’s, Giro also makes some. This will make your bike experience much better and is a worthy investment. (Start wearing at 30°)
Get some kind of windproof tight/warmer/whatever. Your legs will thank you. REI has a few budget brands that you can probably make happen. I’d prioritize thighs if you’re not buying a pant or full leg warmer. (Start wearing at 40°)
Truly living the dream is getting Gore Windstopper layers to encase yourself in. I just saved up for a jacket last winter and it was definitely worth it.
July is the best time to go deals hunting for winter bike specific gear. You can usually get a 40-60% sale.
I’m a North Dakotan which means my temperature tolerance is skewed. I’m usually most comfortable at temperatures 5° cooler than the average person. So, I literally cannot handle temperatures warmer than 97° and don’t think it’s really cold until it is 5-10°, you’ll want to factor that into my recommendations.