While hardly style statements – Pussy Riot excepted – it’s hard to argue with the no-nonsense, pull-on practicality of balaclavas for cycling around the city when winter temperatures plummet.
First worn by soldiers in the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War in the 19th century, and not to be confused with the yummy pastry baklava, this one-piece knit packs a lot of head warmth and wind protection for your delicate skin into a lightweight accessory that fits easily under a bicycle helmet.
Top photo: SmartWool NTS Mid 250 Pattern Balaclava, Merino wool for warmth and moisture wicking, flatlock seams to help prevent chafing, $32.96 (sale)
Most styles have a dropped hem at the front to help seal out neck drafts. Depending on weather conditions, the bottom of the facial opening can be worn under the chin, or pulled up over the mouth, or over the mouth and nose. When rolled down from the head, balaclavas morph into neck gaiters; when rolled upward, some can be worn as caps to cover the crown of the head, post-ride.
My only quibble: Most balaclavas for adults come in black. Here’s a popular example designed for road cycling. It’s not that I don’t love my basics. But since a balaclava, when fully deployed, hides facial features and expressions, black can look, well, a little scary. So, I searched out some balaclavas that are more sunny than SWAT team.
Check the slide show below for options to keep your head cozy on commutes and rides around town. You’ll see that balaclavas come in range of styles, weights and fabrics, so consider your needs and riding conditions. (I’ve included only versions with wide facial openings; the ones with two separate eye holes can sometimes limit vision on a bike.)
Read more about winter cycling: