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Zero To 45: Riding The Polar Vortex

From Issue 83

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“I like cold weather. It means you get work done.” — Noam Chomsky

  • With recent advances in materials, riding in temperatures from zero to 45 degrees Fahrenheit no longer needs to feel like torture.
  • Two similar riders may have a 10- to 15-degree difference in cold tolerance.
  • Don’t be afraid to mismatch. On a day when it’s 32 degrees, you may be most comfortable with your core dressed like it’s 40 degrees, while your feet and hands are like it’s 20 degrees.

We don’t care how lifelike your virtual world or how realistic your trainer’s “road” feels, it’s not like riding on pavement; and sometimes you just gotta get out there, no matter what the Weather Channel says. We’re not gonna pretend we’re experts on riding in inclement conditions—preparing for nasty weather at PELOTON’s world headquarters in sunny Southern California usually means nothing more than digging in the bottom of the sock drawer for some arm warmers. So, we hit up Colorado-based Pactimo, whose crew knows a thing or two about riding outside in winter conditions. After a long chat with Ryan White, Pactimo’s senior product designer (who just happened to be fresh off a bike commute in 25-degree temperatures), we felt ready to tackle the polar vortex.

Before any discussion of the climate or apparel itself, it’s important to remember a few things: First off, know before you go. Watch the weather and make sure you’re dressing for what you’ll actually experience. Also, keep in mind that two similar riders may have a 10- to 15-degree difference in cold tolerance. What works for your buddy might not work for you. Finally, is the ride going to be wet or dry? Cold, dry weather gives you a lot more options and flexibility, while even a light drizzle is miserable if you aren’t ready for moisture.


Pactimo suggests a relatively simple plan to handle all kinds of temperatures and it actually involves very little layering. Up top, Pacitmo recommends a very warm base layer—like its High Grade Wool or Thermoregulator—matched to a really warm jacket with zippered vents, like the Vertex WX-D. And that’s it. No jersey. If this feels a bit warm, go with a lighter base layer. As you warm up while riding, open up your jacket’s zippers to drop heat and you won’t need to worry about shedding layers.

pactimo neck gaiter

At near-freezing temperatures, you’ll need some accessories like neck gaiters and a thermal cap. It’s these accessories that you’ll shed if you need to dump any excess heat. Pull off a thermal cap and replace it with a headband like Pactimo’s Alpine Thermal and it will keep your ears toasty while allowing your head to radiate excess heat. Yank your neck gaiter off and the increased airflow will cool you by up to 10 degrees. This is a wonderful strategy in practice. You feel less bulky on the road and more comfortable in the saddle, and the only garments you might need to swap can fit easily in the back pocket of the Vertex.

Options to Consider:

Pactimo Vertex WX-D Jacket, $215.Other options: Castelli Alpha Ros Jacket, $350; Giordana A+V Extreme Jacket, $425; Voler Black Label Thermal Regulator, $169.

giordana av extreme jacket

Pactimo Thermoregulator LS, $80.Other options: Castelli Flanders Warm LS, $80; Fiandre Thermo Layer SS, $70; Voler Black Label Wool Undershirt, $45.

voler black label thermal regulator

Pactimo Alpine Thermal Cap, $30; Alpine Thermal Headband, $20; Neck Gaiter, $20.Other options: Sportful Fiandre NoRain Warm Cap, $60; Alé The End Tubular, $21.

Related: Pearl Izumi Elite WXB Jacket


With your core handled, it’s time to talk legs, hands and arms. There’s a lot more flexibility when it comes to legs. If you’re riding at the low end of this range you might want to consider full-on thermal bib tights. If it looks like it may warm up a bit, or you want some real flexibility, look at some thermal bibs, like the Pactimo Alpine RT, and mate them with Alpine leg warmers. You can also stick with regular bibs and use a set of chamois-less Alpine thermal tights to avoid doubling up bib straps.

When it comes to feet, if your entire ride will be 25 degrees or below, it’s time to get some legit winter boots, like Bontrager’s JFW winter shoe. If it’s a bit warmer, or you expect it to heat up during the ride, Pactimo’s Vertex shoe cover with waterproof laminate and some nice wool or synthetic winter socks should suffice.

bontrager jfw winter shoe

Hands are another animal altogether. Nothing is quite as miserable as cold hands. Rather, counter-intuitively, think about going a size up on gloves, as long as dexterity isn’t a big issue. The air between your hands and the glove’s interior will heat up and act as insulation in the same way a down jacket works. Of course, the golden rule here is, never take your hands out of the glove! If you spoil the air gap by taking a selfie, your hands will never warm up again, since there is so little blood flow to your extremities on very cold days. In fact, make sure to put your gloves indoors where it’s warm. How your jacket interacts with your gloves is important too. Mate a Pactimo Vertex WX-D Jacket to a set of Vertex WX-D gloves and your air gap is protected from your fingertips to your core, allowing your torso’s radiant heat to reach down into your gloves. If you do this and still find your hands are cold, or you’re riding south of 15 degrees F., it’s time for lobster gloves.

pactimo vertex wx-d glove

How your extremities handle cold temperatures can be vastly different from rider to rider, so don’t be afraid to mismatch. On a day when it’s 32 degrees, you may be most comfortable with your core dressed like it’s 40 degrees, while your feet and hands are like it’s 20 degrees—and that’s okay. If it works for you, go with it.

castelli soprasso tight
Options to Consider:

Pactimo Vertex RT WX-D Bib Tights, $205.Other options: Castelli Sorpasso 2 Wind Bib tight, $200; Giordana A+V Windfront Bib tight, $298; Voler Artico X Thermal Bib tight, $149.

Pactimo Alpine Thermal RT Bibs, $150.Other options: Alé PRR The End Winter Bibs, $140; Giordana G-Shield, $175

Bontrager JFW Winter Shoe, $200. Also: Northwave Extreme RR 2 GTX, $330; SIDI Zero Gore, $325.

Pactimo Vertex WX-D Shoe Cover, $50.Other options: Castelli Ros Shoe Cover, $90; Sportful Roubaix Bootie, $50.

Pactimo Winter Sock, $25.Other options: Castelli Primaloft 13, $25; Sportful Merino Wool 16, $20.

Pactimo Vertex WX-D Glove, $65.Other options: Castelli Estremo, $90; Giordana AV 300 Winter Glove, $65.

sportful roubaix bootie
Related: The Roundup: 7 of Our Favorite Shoes


Knowing how much moisture you’ll see on the road is critical to staying comfortable. In some ways, it’s easier to dress for below-freezing temperatures, because you know it will be dry. It’s when the snow turns to rain and the ice to spraying slush that moisture protection is critical. Pactimo’s Vertex line is well qualified for this type of cold and wet weather. While the jacket is not considered truly waterproof, the seams are taped, the zipper is waterproof and the fabric has three layers, including a waterproof membrane backing. It will keep you dry for many, many miles. The Vertex WX-D glove is actually waterproof, with an un-perforated, watertight liner between the fleece and the glove’s exterior.

pactimo winter sock

Knowing how to choose the right warmers in these situations is key as well. If snow and ice is getting wet, that means it’s warming up, which can lead to a decision to use leg and arm warmers instead of full-on tights and jackets. You’ll need to know if your warmers have any water barrier. Pactimo’s Alpine warmers have great thermal properties, along with good breathability, but they lack water resistance. Pactimo’s Storm warmers feature DWR (durable water repellent) and great wind resistance, but they lack the Alpine’s gear’s breathability.

Options to Consider:

Pactimo Alpine RT Warmers: Leg $60, Knee $50, Arm $45.Other options: Castelli Thermoflex Leg, $50, Knee $40, Arm $50.

ale klimatikleg warmers

Pactimo Storm + Warmers: Leg $60, Knee $40, Arm $35.Other options: Alé Klimatik Warmers: Leg $75, Knee $65, Arm $55.


Bike riding has plenty of challenges, but with today’s new apparel, staying warm on cold days doesn’t have to be one of them. That new apparel also means staying warm doesn’t need to be complicated or require layer after layer of clothing. Know the conditions, know your body and know your apparel. That’s all it takes to get out the front door for a ride when the polar vortex drops below the 50th parallel.

This story originally appeared in issue 83