The Middle Atlantic Region and Its Climate(s)

The climate of the region we ride in is remarkably varied. Winter temperatures can go as low as the teens or single digits Fahrenheit. Summer temperatures can reach triple digits, with humidity to match. Rainfall can range anywhere from mist to nearly apocalyptic, especially in the Spring and early Summer. Temperatures can vary more than 30 degrees in the course of a single day, regardless of the season. Especially if you live in Baltimore or the District of Columbia, the temperature where you live may be a good 10 degrees warmer than it is at ride starts such as Frederick MD or Middletown VA, let alone more remote points of transit in West Virginia or central Pennsylvania. Cross one of the major mountain ridges to our west, and you may find significantly different winds, temperatures, or patterns of precipitation on the other side.

If you want to be properly clothed for a ride, the first step is to find good weather forecasts for at least the ride start and its turnaround, or most distant, point. In addition to the regular sources of weather information, club members also use more specialized sources of information, such as the Epic Ride Weather app. Then imagine a wider envelope of perhaps 5 degrees colder than the forecast low and 5 degrees warmer than the forecast high and figure out a wardrobe that will keep you comfortable through the entire range. And keep the whole package as light and packable as possible.

Cold Weather

Many of us find hot weather harder on our bodies but cold weather harder on our spirits. In really cold weather, keeping your torso and head warm is essential because as your core gets cold, circulation to your extremities decreases significantly. Wool works particularly well as a middle layer in the cold because it holds heat well even when moist with perspiration. But modern, synthetic insulation also works well, as long as it is designed to work in less than bone-dry conditions. Think about putting a synthetic layer next to your skin to move perspiration away from your body as quickly as possible, and be sure to choose an outer layer that is windproof and as breathable as possible.

If you find your legs are too cold even when you're wearing winter cycling tights, don't be afraid to wear two layers of tights. Ideally, the inner tights will have a chamois, and the outer tights won't. The latter are harder to find but are available if you look.

Things get a bit trickier at the extremities. Many of the shoe companies offer winter cycling shoes, both road and mountain models. But your regular summer shoes with winter booties may work better for you. Hand protection that has worked for club members ranges from woolen mittens with outer coverings, through leather ski gloves and liners, to bar mitts, also known as pogies. Your choice will be influenced by what type of shifters you use and how hard they are to operate with your chosen glove or mitt.

Don't forget that your goal is to keep your head, not your helmet, warm. Insulation worn beneath your helmet and next to your skin should work better than a helmet cover.

Wet Weather

This is an area where bike clothing has improved rapidly in recent years, mostly because of improved fabrics but also because the major speciality clothing manufacturers realized that transparent plastic rain capes weren't the last word in foul weather gear.

Here again, layers work well, with wool a good option for the middle layer. Garments made from Gore Windstopper, such as the ubiquitous Castelli Gabba / Perfetto line, work well in light rain or mixed conditions. For heavier, longer rain, stick to fabrics that are advertised as water and windproof.

Especially in cold rain, waterproof hats, gloves, and overshoes also help. Even the best overshoes tend to soak through eventually, so look for something, such as neoprene, that holds in warmth as well as holding out moisture.

As Leonard Zinn pointed out long ago, even the best raingear is hampered by the reality that heavy rain means the relative humidity outside is 100 percent. So don't count on any clothes to keep you completely dry, either on account of the rain or on account of your perspiration, and make sure you dress for warmth as well as to keep dry.

Hot Weather

Your primary concern when riding in hot weather should probably be insuring that you are wearing enough sunblock or protective clothing to prevent your skin from becoming burned or damaged. While you are at it, don't forget your head and scalp, which don't receive much sun protection from that fancy helmet with huge air vents, and your lips, which can get remarkably sunburnt over the course of a long day in the sun.

But the proper clothes help here as well. Most bicycle clothing lines now included lightweight, featherweight, or "climber's" jerseys and shorts. Some advertise SPF figures for jerseys and arm or leg protectors. Wearing light colors also helps; black lycra, in particular, absorbs a lot of heat.

Ride in the heat long enough, and you will get hot no matter what you are wearing. At that point, it's useful to put an ice sock around your neck or find some shade and get out of the sun for a while.