Hand-ling the Cold

What a dichotomy… your body is sweating but your hands and feet are freezing.
It takes some time to figure out what to wear for every weather condition and temperature you might face during cold weather rides. And of course, no two days are the same and I don’t remember last year, so it often leaves me either a rolling popsicle or dangerously wet from sweat and afraid to stop, as I’d freeze to death in seconds… usually the latter, in attempt to err on the side of caution.

Outside of t-shirt and shorts riding conditions, where it’s nice to just be on the bike and get some air moving across your skin, it’s helpful to record the weather conditions and what you wore during the ride. Also note how your clothing system worked and what you’d change for those conditions next time. This will help minimize the popsicle fingers and soaked clothes on future rides, considerably.

Because Fairbanks has the widest temperature range of any large city in the world, from -66 to 99F, I have a huge plastic tote filled with hats & gloves of every combination and material – softshell, fleece, wool, leather, Windstopper, etc. I’ve tried them all and the only ones I’m wholly satisfied with for biking in cold weather (Alaskan standards) are my Pearl Izumi Lobster Gloves & Dogwood Designs Poagies, neither of which even reside in the tote because I’m always using them!

I like to keep my hand system simple. Even with the massive frame bag on my Pugsley, there’s limited room to store things I’m not using. Down to about 35F, I use fleece liner gloves and between 35 & 20F, I reach for wool-lined softshell gloves, depending on the conditions and the ride duration. Between +20 & 0F, I use the lobster gloves, as no other glove can keep my hands as confidently warm at zero degrees. The pairing of the fingers provides the warmth of a mitten with the much needed dexterity of a glove for braking and shifting.

Three pairs of gloves for a 60 degree temperature span. Simple and I like it. Now, let’s swap out the softshell gloves for the real big hitters and the lower 40 degree span in temperatures I bike in.

Dogwood Designs poagies on a cold backcountry trip in Alaska

Dogwood Designs poagies on a cold backcountry trip in Alaska

Below zero, nothing else can stand on the podium with poagies. I combine the poagies with the fleece liner gloves for temps from +10 to -20F. Anything warmer makes my hands and wrists sweat profusely. Below -20, I swap out for the lobster gloves inside the poagies, with the arm holes on the poagies cinched up to seal out the cold. This keeps me comfortable even at -50F.
I do recommend wearing at least a thin liner glove whenever using poagies, in order to keep the slimy & sweaty feeling to a minimum. If this is too warm, it’s probably above zero and you should switch to the lobster gloves.

If I’m doing a multi-day ride where I might face highly variable conditions, I’ll opt for the poagies, to ensure my digits don’t become ‘frigits’ and bring both the fleece liner & lobster gloves.

Without question, the best poagies available, and what I and all the serious winter bikers & racers in Alaska use, are the Dogwood Designs poagies. Unique to their design are thin wires inside the insulation, above the hand, that arch the top surface of the poagie, creating ample space inside to reach the brakes and wear thicker gloves, without feeling claustrophobic like flat-shaped poagies do. Some pairs are available with reflective striping for increased visibility.

They’re available in two versions – warm enough for almost any weather & too warm for any cold, dark, ice-covered place on the planet. I run the ‘warm enough’ variety and actually don’t like the ‘too warm’ model as they are just that in anything but 40 below. Plus, there’s not much space inside them for brake lever grabbing or camera and snack storage since the insulation is so thick, comparatively. The ‘warm enough’ model is highly versatile, as they allow you to wear thin or thick gloves for at least a 40 degree temperature range.

For any place where you don’t see temps colder than -20F, there should be no question as to which model to get.

Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell Lobster Glove

Dogwood Designs Poagies


6 Responses to Hand-ling the Cold

  1. Kaat November 20, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Living here in Michigan, I LOVE riding in the winter and as of next week I’ll be getting my very own FAT Bike. The only thing that makes winter riding less than stellar is cold toes for me. Any suggestions for a clip in solution for footware that’ll keep me warm?

    • Josh Spice November 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

      If you’re running clip-in, try the Lake MXZ302 boot. Jeff Oatley (Alaska winter racer) runs a pair 5 sizes too big so he can fit extra socks inside. That is an extreme case, though. I’d recommend a size or so bigger and use vapor barrier liners or, even better, switch to flats. Nearly everyone in Alaska rides flats in winter. The simplicity of footwear trumps the advantages of clip-ins for most people.
      Vapor barrier liners are beneficial in all boots, especially for longer duration rides. I use a liner sock, a one gallon Ziploc freezer bag, then wool sock over the top. The liner sock keeps the plastic off your skin, the Ziploc prevents latent heat loss and soaking your boots, and the wool sock insulates, as normal. I’ve used this system camping at -35 and my feet were hot the entire trip. The Ziploc is usually good for two full days of use before it starts to get a little nasty.
      Generally speaking, vapor barrier liners are best implemented below +20F.
      Read this link for more information and explanation on vapor barriers:

  2. Sven Haamer November 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    Right on, Josh! I love the Pearl Izumi gloves as well and have had a few pair over the years including the latest P.R.O.s and they have all been great in Wisco. Gotta see if we get cold enough for poagies. Haven’t in a couple of years, really.

    Good tip on the log too. My memory is increasingly short and remembering what works is important.

  3. Joboo November 21, 2011 at 5:58 am #

    Nice write up!!
    I’ve had my lower body dialed in for years. Not much regulating with Craft with tights/pants, and my Rocky 1600 gram thinsulate winter boots in anything under -10.
    I’ve had a harder time getting the upper body dialed in.
    I’m hoping my recent purchase of Foxwear’s new NeoShell jacket helps in my quest for the perfect winter set up!!
    +1 on the pogies, northern Mn. does get cold, and the Dogwood Design pogies are a great addition to my winter riding pleasure.


  4. Moby January 7, 2014 at 6:47 am #

    Just FYI the links to the Peal Izumi gloves no longer work. I’m wondering if the ones you recommend are still available?

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