Winter biking presents many challenges to dressing right and keeping warm for the temperatures and weather conditions. In this post I will concentrate on gear worn above the shoulders for a variety of conditions which will not only keep your head, face and neck warm, but also help regulate core body temperature.
I have been using a balaclava for many winters now and it is my go-to piece of apparel for very cold temperatures and windy conditions. There are many brands out there but my balaclava of choice is the Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Balaclava because of its thin breathable fabric that completely cuts biting wind on those days and nights when the windchill factor dips to sub-zero. A balaclava will help protect your skin from wind burn, frost nip and in extreme cold, frostbite.
Another product I have used for several winters is the ColdAvenger Pro Softshell face mask. I break this out when temperatures dip below zero because the ventilator on this mask warms and humidifies the cold, dry winter air making it much easier to breathe. The ventilator does not restrict my breathing, even during times of rigorous activity. The wind and water resistant softshell fleece material wraps around my face and neck keeping me warm during the coldest rides.
If you have ever ridden in the cold with a regular bike helmet and a snow/snowboard helmet you'll notice the difference immediately. Last winter I got a Smith Vantage MIPS helmet and never wore my regular mountain bike helmet again for winter riding. One of the major differences was the snow helmet had vents that could be opened and closed to regulate heat so I would get too hot or cold. The other feature I liked a lot was the insulated coverage over the ears.
This snow helmet allows me to add the extra protection needed such as a beanie, balaclava or neck gaiter to adjust for a variety of freezing temperatures I'll be riding in. Most of the time, unless it's really cold, I wear just the helmet without anything else to insulate my head. It's that warm and if I start to heat up, I'll open the vents on the top of the helmet to let some of the heat out and cool off. If you ride a lot in the winter, it is definitely worth upgrading to a snow helmet.
A good pair of goggles can make seeing the trail easier during snowy and windy conditions and protects eyes from watering. During previous winters I had a cheap pair of goggles and I tended not to wear them because they would fog up quickly from breathing or sweating. I decided to give goggles another try, only this time I would spend a little more and get a pair that had plenty of ventilation to prevent fogging. I opted for pair of Smith Knowledge OTG goggles that fit perfectly with my Smith Vantage MIPS helmet. They had adjustable lens vents and a foam membrane with plenty of ventilation all the way around the lens. Because they were an OTG goggle, I could also wear them with my prescription glasses.
To further prevent my new goggles from fogging, I treated the inside of the lens with Fogtech DX Instant Anti-Fog wipes. The extra ventilation these goggles provide and the anti-fog treatment did not disappoint. I have ridden in a wide variety of conditions and temperatures and have not had a problem with my goggles fogging up. I now wear them regularly to protect my eyes from the wind and cold. It's true what they say, you get what you pay for so spend a little more on a good pair of goggles for better performance in the cold.