How Do You Dress to Ride an E-Bike in Winter?

It's not the same as you do for a regular bike, but it's not like you do for walking.

Lloyd ready to ride
Lloyd Alter ready to ride.

Kelly Rossiter

If we are going to have an e-bike revolution, then people have to be comfortable doing it all year round. After I had to do a four-mile ride recently, I tweeted this photo of me dressed for the 5 degrees Fahrenheit and windy weather, and noted: "Whoever said 'there's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing' nailed it, riding in -15 C and just fine." This started a discussion and elicited a tweet:

My Twitter-length response is short for saying that dressing for e-biking is different than what you would do for a regular bike: You don't get as hot and you don't need to follow the old rules about dressing in layers that you can peel off as you warm up. In fact, depending on your speed and your boost, you can get as hot as you want to. I have previously suggested you should dress as you do for walking and not make a big deal about it. I learned this when I used a regular bike, learning from Michael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize:

“How do you cycle in the winter?” is a question that baffles us as much as it amuses us. The answer is simple: we put on our winter clothes. No scary GI Joe outfits, no high-vis vests, nothing too complicated. Just sensible winter clothing. There’s no need to go out and buy all the most technical, specialised weatherproof gear. In Copenhagen, we dress for our destination, not our commute. The cycle tracks, even in the winter, are a rolling catwalk of Nordic design. In the winter we gear up with scarves, gloves and hats. Sleek boots, pea coats, and wool beanies. And never underestimate a scarf, perfect for layering up, wiping your glasses dry, and drying off your wet saddle."

And he doesn't even like e-bikes.

Treehugger senior editor Katherine Martinko, who rides all winter, took a different view in her post, titled "Yes, You Can Ride an E-Bike All Winter Long."

winter cyclist
Katherine's bright red coat, paired with an orange bike, means she is highly visible.

Katherine Martinko

She wrote:

"Electric bikes are similar to conventional bikes in that you don't need to dress as warmly as if you were out walking. Stay on the cool side, even a bit uncomfortably cool at first, following the classic advice, "Never dress for just the first mile." With the electric assist, however, you won't get as hot and sweaty as you would on a regular bike, so keep that in mind."
What I wore yesterday

Lloyd Alter

Looking at all the stuff I wore on that recent ride, it is clear that I wasn't following my own advice. The shoes may be basic Blundstones with the sheepskin insole, but this is not how I dress for a walk around town. I have MEC waterproof pants that I use for cross-country skiing, long underwear, a merino wool sweater, a thin puffer jacket, and then a biking-specific 45NRTH cycling-specific shell that I was given a few years ago. It shouldn't be black—Martinko goes for bright orange—but it is covered in reflective material. I have a Gore Windstopper biking balaclava topped by my helmet and clear ski goggles. My hands are kept from freezing by Dakine ski mittens which make it very hard to change gears.

I did not overheat because I go very slowly when it is snowing and possibly icy, even with my studded tires. But this was definitely overdressing. It took me 10 minutes to get out of it all when I got to my destination. But the only actual bike-specific gear that I bought was that balaclava, a few years ago when my nose was freezing off during a ride—everything else was out of the ski bag.

Profit Greenly winter biking gear

Profit Greenly

Matt Herndon at Profit Greenly says much the same thing: Use what you have.

"Most posts you find online about cold weather biking gear are all about pricey stuff for bike racing. That’s all well and good for some people, but I primarily use my bike for taking my kids to school, going to the store, riding to work, etc. My cold weather biking clothes are ones that are equally at home both on and off a bike, and they’re generally cheaper than cycling specific gear." 

He makes a very good point that if you have a healthy outdoor lifestyle, this gear is multipurpose.

 "Outside of the helmet cover and the ski goggles I wear all this just walking outside on any normal cold day. This sort of clothing isn’t a bike-specific investment, it’s the sort of stuff that anyone living in a cold environment should own. Living a climate-controlled car centered life causes many of us to forget how to handle the elements. One of the great positives from biking is ensuring that you’ll spend more time out in the real world learning how your amazing body can truly deal with it."

And when I look back at what I was wearing, I do wear a lot of this stuff as my regular clothing, just not all at once, and minus the stuff on my head. I am always wearing this "athleisure" wear, including the 45NRTH cycling jacket, whether I am on a bike or not.

So in the end, there is a kind of consensus: There is no need to go out and buy bike-specific gear; many people have closets full of sporty winter stuff. But you won't get as hot as you do riding a regular bike. Generally, you do as much work as you want. And as Yvonne Bambrick noted in her Urban Cycling Survival Guide, whether you are on a bike or an e-bike, the best thing about winter cycling is "it makes you feel like a bad-ass to know that the cold can’t beat you."

I was not alone out there in the cold. Engineer Shoshana Saxe, who has been on Treehugger a number of times, was out in the cold as well and makes a very good point about long underwear.