We’re right in the transition period between late autumn and early winter, so I found myself seeking the best way to keep my head warm and still continue to wear a helmet. It seems a pretty simple thing to do, however, I’ve found it difficult to find a helmet/hat combination that can perform as well as an old basic wool/fleece beanie. When you throw a helmet into the equation, it seems to get a hell of a lot more complicated to maintain the balance between wind resistance, ventilation, and moisture management.
I’ve been riding a bicycle in the winter since I was a kid. Way before fat-bikes were available me’n my friends used to ride the Des Plaines River Trails and Deer Grove outside of Chicago in the snow and ice on singlespeeds with Nokian studded knobbies. Back then, we wore styrofoam helmets. The kind that came with a lycra cover. My early attempts at winterizing those helmets were pretty primitive. I blocked the vents with a plastic bag and later bought a Goretex helmet cover. (Fast forward a decade). Not long after I started riding fat-bikes, I started wearing Lazer helmets with a Lazer Winter Helmet Liner and Aeroshell cover during the winter months (photo left).
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make whatever brand helmet that I was wearing work through all but the very coldest part of the winter. I’ve had pretty good success at temperatures down to 15F. Below that range, I switch to a Smith Vantage winter helmet. I would say that the majority of the riding that I do is between 15F and 35F. That’s my guess for the average daytime temp for a normal Wisconsin Winter. So I wear my normal bike helmet for most of my winter riding.
The Helmet that I’m currently winterizing is a Starvos by Bontrager. It pays to have a helmet that has some extra room for a hat or hood. The new series of Bontrager WaveCel bike hats are perfectly suited for winterization due to their generous sizing. The Boa adjustable closure allows enough adjustment to allow for a thin or medium-weight hat/hood to be worn comfortably inside of my size XL helmet. If your helmet is sized smaller you can run larger hoods over your helmet. The Bontrager OMW jacket has a hood that is specifically designed to fit snugly over a helmet. It has a boa adjustable closure the tightens the hood around the helmet. If your hood doesn’t fit over the helmet, then try to run it under the helmet. This works really well with a hooded shell or a synthetic puffy. (Photos Above)
If your helmet is large enough to fit a medium-weight hat, you have choices for what kind of material that you’d like to run. Merino Wool is an excellent choice. I regularly wear merino wool hats made by Ibex and 45NRTH. Wool wicks very well and insulates when it is moist. Its only flaw might be its inability to block the wind. The alternative to wool is synthetics. I’ve been experimenting with a myriad of synthetic hats and hoods. R1 Fleece by Patagonia and Goretex Infinium are the two standouts that I’ve been wearing for the last couple of months under my helmets. The Goretex Infinium is 100% windproof yet wicks moisture better than any other breathable substrate that I’ve ever tested. If you can find an Infinium helmet cover, hat, or headband that will fit with your helmet, I’d buy two of them!
The other trick that I employ to winterize my helmets is these triangular-shaped ear coverings that attach to the straps of most helmets. The larger ones are a product called Hel-Muffs made by GiGi’s Handiwork. I bought the wool mudflap version from her shop and The smaller Wind-Blox version came to us recently for testing.
This week, we were gifted some colder temperatures (and a snick of snow) so I went riding (like I need an excuse). The air temp was 16F. The photo above is my current cold end of the spectrum setup for winterizing my regular bike helmet. I’m wearing a Simms GORE-TEX Infinium Wind Beanie, under my helmet. The helmet has the Mudflap Hel-Muffs attached and the hood on this Specialized/686 jacket fits over the helmet, in case I got cold (but I didn’t). It was snowing and particularly glorious outside.
So there you have it. My quick two cents on how to winterize your bike helmet. Of course, there are a lot of things that we didn’t cover like balaclavas, neck gaiters, bandanas, and eye coverings. I think that I’ll cover that in a separate article about how to keep your face from freezing off or how to Winterize your FACE! The best way that I’ve found to winterize my current helmet is with a Goretex Infinium Beanie. It presents the best balance between wind resistance, ventilation, and moisture management in temperatures between 15F – 35F. I’d really love to try a Helmet Cover made from Infinium because (for me) it’s not about looking cool (obviously – photos above)…it’s about staying comfortable so you can enjoy the ride!
A subject near and dear to my heart as a year round commuter in Michigan! My go-tos for winter commuting:
Arcteryx Fortrez hoody fleece – has a built in balaclava
BlackStrap balaclava for the super cold days
Mountain Hardwear Superforma Jacket – 3 layer rain jacket with a huge hood that fits over the helmet.
My favorite piece is the Norrona trollveggen Primaloft100 Zip Hood jacket – super warm, really high collar, and a perfectly huge hood that fits over a helmet. I wear this jacket all winter long and it is frankly perfect for cold weather riding.