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Contra Faffing, or Dressing For the Destination

We are experiencing typical March weather for Minnesota right now. The kind that can make it somewhat frustrating to dress for when you’re riding a bike. The morning ride into work is about 20 degrees F, and the ride home about 40. There are two ways to approach this kind of weather.

One of my coworkers takes what I call the Space Suit route. He is dressed as if the city of Minneapolis is an alien lunar landscape, the atmosphere of which is so inhospitable to human life that extreme precautions must be made against contact with it. He’s covered head to toe in some kind of skin-tight, black, performance costume; he’s got big specialized winter boots for clipping in, and a full coverage helmet and ski goggles. He’s got two full-sized panniers to bring a change of clothing and whatever else is needed for the day. It is at least handy that the facilities at the place of our employment includes lockers and showers.

But this is not the only way to approach a bit of cold. I abide by the transportation cycling proverb that one should dress for the destination, not the ride. The key for me is layers, flat pedals, and “natural” performance fabrics.

(Photo by Kristoffer Trolle,

In all my many years I have never clipped into a pedal. I don’t even use toe straps with my fixie anymore. The beauty of a flat pedal is that I can just wear whatever shoes I want for the day. Today it was my Doc Martens ankle boots. But tomorrow it might be the Solovair derbies. Depends on the outfit. At any rate nearly all seasonally appropriate footwear is compatible with a flat pedal for the majority of trips I take.

With no rain in the forecast I went with my supremely comfortable, pleated, tapered Banana Republic pants in a dark olive green. Just had to roll the right leg up a bit since this bike unfortunately does not have a chain guard. Sure I wouldn’t wear them on tour, but for the 10 miles today, the brushed cotton can handle it no problem.

Wool is a magical fabric whose properties have already been written about extensively so I won’t rehash them here. I’m wearing a light, black, long sleeve, 100% woolen REI base layer under a red, black, and green cotton flannel, and Irish walking socks in a dappled tan ragg wool. I sweated a tiny bit on the way in but within an hour I was dry. No need to change.

In order to deal with the cold I wore a speckled grey and blue crewneck sweater. Having gotten it at a thrift store bereft of tags I don’t know for sure what material it’s made of, but it seems to be either pure wool or a blend. This is the only article of clothing I wore solely for the ride, but it is at any rate a normal garment and if I wanted to switch things up midday I could exchange the flannel for it. In the meantime it fits nicely in my basket bag.

(Photo by Kristoffer Trolle,

With those three layers I didn’t need a full winter coat. All I needed was something to break the wind, so I went with a short, single-breasted Harbor Master trench coat, also thrifted, in a dark navy.

A winter cycling cap, some windproof gloves, and a linen scarf completed the set. I looked normal because I was dressed normally. I could meet a friend for a drink after work if I liked and remain in the same clothes I rode in on, and would ride out in. My coworker was peeling off his outer layers as I walked my bike into the parking room. Before he had unhooked his panniers I had set the Clem on its kickstand, taken my helmet and cap off, tousled my hair, loosened my scarf, and exited for work. What can flat pedals and a little layering can do for you?


2 responses to “Contra Faffing, or Dressing For the Destination”

  1. Yes, you and I have the same philosophy. I do have a pair of corduroy chinos and a pair of heavier cotton pants for morning temperatures below 25f. I also add a Proviz brand vest on top of everything for visibility. I am always biking in the dark from November through March.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve also got some cords! If it gets into the 10s and below I’ve got some wool tights I’ll throw under my pants as well. I’m speaking pretty much to this March weather here.


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