Nowhere is winter more cruel to an intrepid city cyclist than to the extremities, with the head and face perhaps most vulnerable. After all, you can cocoon and shroud hands and feet, but above the neck the need for unobscured vision and breath on a bicycle opens the door to wintery drafts and discomfort.

In this connection, we recently received a question about winter warmers from a velojoy reader, Ken. He wanted to buy his sister, a year-around bicycle commuter, a new balaclava for her birthday. Reportedly, the one she owns is on the tight side, making her head look like “a stuffed grape.”

Well, that won’t do! We found a cozy alternative with more give in the SmartWool model below. However, while one size may fit all in balaclavas, individual needs regarding cold-weather sensitivity and style vary. So check out the slide show below for more great solutions to keep the comfort and joy in your winter ride:

Before you buy, here are the ranges of cold-weather layers to consider as temperatures plunge. In the most frigid or snowy weather, hearty commuters often add ski goggles.

The Brrrrrr Index:

  • Low 50s to low 40s: From helmet only to light cap beneath helmet
  • Low 40s to low 30s: From helmet and cap with wind cover, as needed, to balaclava or neck gaiter
  • Below 30: Skull cap, helmet cover, ear coverings, balaclava or gaiter

P.S. The cold-weather combo that I count on for both city and road cycling: a synthetic or wool cap under my helmet, a wool gaiter that I can pull up over my face as needed during the ride, sunglasses, sun screen and limitless applications of Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1. How do you keep your head warm on your winter ride?

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  • Smartwool Balaclava, $40

  • Under Armour ColdGear Hood, $25

  • Fifo Cycle Blériot Hat, fits under helmet, $92

  • Bern Berkeley Helmet, with winter knit liner, $30

  • Gore WindStopper Bike Helmet Cap, $33

  • Rapha Winter Hat, $55

  • Rapha Winter Collar, $32

  • Helmet Huggers, faux fur band around a spandex shell covers helmet, $48

  • Buff Reflective Tubular Collar, $22

  • Buff Tubular Collar: 11 ways to wear it!

9 Responses to Winter Cycling: 10 Ways to Keep Your Head Warm

  1. M. McNab says:

    Hear, hear! What a great post. Its certainly not the worst thing ever to be a year-round cyclist in Durham, NC – but, hey, it cold for at least a couple of months. I’m definitely going to look into that Bern helmet/liner for my morning ride into BUYSTAND.

  2. Ken says:

    I ended up going with a few selections from ZanHeadgear.

  3. Nina says:

    I like the merino wool Buff. It is light and warm. Easy to vary as a Toque, head and neck cover or pull up from neck as a balaclava. It is easy to tuck in a pocket. There are also full polar fleece or part polar fleece versions.

  4. catherine says:

    Have you seen our super-cosy Chapka helmet…?
    Banish chilly cycling ears forever with its snug furlined earflaps! And unlike some helmets, this is really discreet. Nice tweed cap covers available too.

    Shipping to north America available.

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