Brrr…how we deal with cold

Seems timely to write a post about bundling up for the cold. I forget much of what I know about rain and cold each year. I figure it’s a survival mechanism, not laziness (please humor me on this). We tend to underdress and hone our cold-weather or wet-weather layers as the seasons begin to change. Partially due to having to locate all the bits and pieces of gear, partially having to figure out what has been outgrown and needs to be replaced, and partially that intentional forgetting. If I’m on the cargo bike I don’t often get too cold since it’s heavy, most places are uphill both ways, and I’m a mom–I’ll suck it up and give every article of clothing to my offspring so they may stay layered up while I grin and bare (<- that was intentional, though I’ve never had to bare so much as to be indecent. But I would. Comes with the job.) it. But those non-pedaling kids need an extra layer or two.

So we’re still in the process of getting enough layers on when we leave the house, but we were just about there on Saturday for 40 degrees with rain:


  • Merino wool base layer…
    …is not part of this picture because I’m too cheap for fancy base layers, but merino wool long sleeved shirts and leggings are awesome and your cold kids deserve them. Instead these guys had on their usual uniforms of sweatpants and t-shirts.
  • Rain pants.
    Better than nothing to help block the wind. I haven’t yet located their snow pants and it’s probable the bigger kid has outgrown his.
  • Sweatshirts…
    …are a good idea, and hoods fit under helmets, but neither kid wanted to wear a sweatshirt. However, my eight-year old has his Blue Angels flightsuit over his sweats and shirt so there’s an extra layer right there. ADVICE OF THE YEAR: OFF-SEASON COSTUME AS EXTRA LAYER.
  • Snow jackets.
  • Extra old adult snowboarding jacket as bonus extra layer (on the front kid).
  • Extra adult rain jacket as apron for extra layer over legs with added benefit of draping over feet clad in regular tennis shoes (on the front kid).
  • Feet tucked into Xtracycle FreeLoader bags (rear kid).
    I’ve seen photos off this as a means for having somewhere to put kid feet if one doesn’t have running boards, stirrups, or U-tubes down there, but it also seems to be pretty insulating. I need to find a pair of size 4 snow boots for the big kid and we’ll up our footwear game. The little kid has grown into the big kids size 3s from last year, but I think I need a pair for each kid before either will want to boot up.
  • Warm gloves. BUT I need to insulate my Xtracycle Hooptie. The metal conducts cold. I’ve heard bar tape and pool noodles both work nicely. I should do something soon.
  • Balaclava (just on the front kid). Call it a ninja mask if they seem reluctant to wear them–that always works. Um, except on the rear kid today.
  • Snowboarding helmets and goggles. The goggles don’t stay put very well with bike helmets so we switch to their snowboarding helmets when it gets cold.
    The rear kid is holding his away from his face because he picked all the foam off them a couple years ago. I remind him of this fact every time he says they’re uncomfortable.

But even with our almost-there rain-and-cold gear, I worried about dragging them all the way to our planned destination of the Seattle Center. They had wanted to ride their own bikes and miraculously I was able to talk them out of that just before we set out (even after applying BarMitts and BikeMitts to their little handlebars and pumping up the little kid’s slow leak I’m too stubborn to change and rather have been successfully reinflating weekly for the last three months…ha, I win, slow leak!). They’ve biked all the way to the Seattle Center in group rides in warmer weather and I can easily tow them if it gets dicey, but I just wasn’t feeling it, plus we had to detour by the library to return some books on the way and despite being a few blocks off the Burke-Gilman Trail, the Fremont Library isn’t very easy to access in a kid(s)-riding-solo way.

It had started out a little messy as it took me a good 20 minutes to get everyone settled on the bike and layered up (including running back inside for the old snowboard jacket to toss on the front kid). It was really too cold for us to be outside so long without moving. Fortunately, they conceded to my wimping out and we didn’t make it past the library, reading books and doing puzzles for long enough for my shoes to dry out. I, uh, was in ballet flats because I need to go get the zipper on my boots repaired. Then we walked (I walked the bike) around the corner for a late sushi lunch and that was our whole day.

I figured at least now I had everything figured out for a do-over on Sunday. And for the record our ride, small that it was, was very fun. The rain, wind, and cold were pretty intense, but we created a song: “It’s a perfect day if you’re a ______” with verses about dolphins, worms, platypuses, sockeye salmon, chinook salmon, coho salmon, etc.

Sunday started with dry skies, but I was feeling a little skittish about tackling our colder colds so we took the bus. Also, with three destinations planned (Space Needle, ice rink, model train), I didn’t relish having to drag around a bag containing our three helmets and all our extra layers. We don’t do any busing outside of our once-a-month orthodontist visit, but I wouldn’t mind incorporating it a bit more.

Here’s some even colder cold last year in full gear and no complaints. But he also rode his bike part of the way and had a couple months of acclimating under his belt by this point:

Setting out with bikes for more bike

I think we might do Chilly Hilly on the tandem and trailer bike this year and I’ll most likely get some chemical heat packs for them if we do.

Do you have any great cold-weather family biking tips to share?

9 thoughts on “Brrr…how we deal with cold

  1. Hooptie insulation is so easy! Pipe insulation, cut to the length of your hooptie. It’s a super quick trip to the hardware store, and you’re done. It’s made the biggest difference for winter riding.

  2. I have an unfair advantage with the rain cover for the Bullitt which also blocks wind for both me and him. That makes a big difference for k-bot. When cold he wears an insulating later like a puffy jacket, a windproof layer/shell and a full coverage baclava. I usually start out with a wind/rain shell, wool mid layer and wool base layer. And thick wool socks, wool scarf and skullcap. Discard stuff as I warm up!

  3. I’ve done more busing this fall than ever before. My daughter rides the school bus so I’m only hauling 1 kid (to a different school, which is why she’s on the bus) & there have still been days I’ve said no way. It the wind for me, which is a drawback to a front-loader with a cover: the wind can turn the cover into a sail. If the forecast says the wind is in double-digits with gusts even higher it’s a bus day. Otherwise I stick it out because 1) I’m cheap, and 2) I may be drier those days, but he is wetter.

    That’s the other problem with a bakfiets (we’ll just ignore the weight issue): my kids are not tough about weather. Rain? Cold? Wind? Waaaaaaa!

    • I am so glad we don’t regularly get wind here! There have been a few occasions where I’ve been blown sideways a foot on the Big Dummy. I’m glad you have the bus, but yeah, it adds up.

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