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Winter Cycling: Keeping Your Head And Neck Warm

Note: This is the seventh installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap

Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap

I always ride with some sort of cycling cap under my helmet—in the summer I use the Headsweats Shorty Cycling Skull Cap to keep the sweat out of my eyes, and in late fall and early winter I wear the Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap to keep my head warm and my ears from freezing. This is a soft, windproof and water-resistant insulated cap that provides excellent moisture transfer (i.e., it doesn’t trap water). It is also thin enough to fit comfortably under your helmet.

This cap is constructed of two polyester panels. The panel that covers your forehead and ears is made from a windproof Barrier fabric—it is meant to be snug against your head to keep you warm and protect you from the wind. The back of this cap is made from Pearl Izumi’s P.R.O. Thermal fabric—it will keep you warm without causing moisture buildup under the cap. This cap is only sold in one size and should be suitable for most people. However, if you are petite it is going to be too big and if you have a large head it is going to be too tight. The Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap is only available black and retails for $30 and if your local bike shop does not have it in stock you can get order one from Performance Bicycle, Bike Nashbar or Amazon.com.

Louis Garneau Bicycle Helmet Cover for rain and winter

Louis Garneau Bicycle Helmet Cover

Another item I often use in cool weather is a helmet cover. Helmet covers close up the vents in your cycling helmet and shield your head from rain—my favorite one is the Louis Garneau Bicycle Helmet Cover. This cover is made of a very breathable Stopzone fabric and does a fantastic job of blocking both wind and rain.

The Louis Garneau Bicycle Helmet Cover is available in two colors: Black or Bright Yellow. Both colors of this helmet cover have reflective piping to help motorists see you in low-light situations. I wear the bright yellow cover when I am riding on the road because it is hard for drivers to miss. When I am riding on muddy off-road trails I wear the black helmet cover because it will still look good after I wipe the mud off. The Louis Garneau Bicycle Helmet Cover is available in two sizes: Small/Medium and Medium/Large. This helmet cover retails for around $20 and I have yet to find a better helmet cover on the market.

With a good balaclava and a helmet cover I have no trouble keeping my head warm in temperatures down to around 20 degrees. If you look in any cycling catalog you will quickly see that there is no shortage of balaclavas available—I own at least six balaclavas and not all of them are cycling specific.

Bontrager Unisex Balaclava

Bontrager Balaclava

For early winter one of the least expensive balaclavas you’ll find is the Bontrager Balaclava. The feature that appeals to me most about the Bontrager Balaclava is the way the front folds down so you can get a drink or eat a carb gel. The balaclava fits well and offers full head, face and neck protection. It is thin enough to easily fit under your helmet, but thick enough to provide real warmth. The flatlock seams on this headpiece means that you won’t have the imprint of a seam on your forehead for several hours after your ride is finished. Some balaclavas are so thick that they restrict your ability to breathe. I had absolutely no problem breathing while riding with this balaclava. However, the fabric around the mouth held moisture like you wouldn’t believe! All of the balaclavas I own hold moisture to some degree, but this one held a lot more than most. Another negative with this item is that because it holds moisture it will also fog up your glasses every time you stop. On the other hand, the way this balaclava folds down in front makes me love it anyway.

While Bontrager does not usually have “top of the line” clothing, I think their products are reasonably priced and offer a decent value for the price. In addition, Bontrager offers one of the best guarantees you will find anywhere for cycling product: “If for any reason you’re not satisfied with the comfort of your Bontrager saddle, shoes, or technical apparel, return the item(s)—along with the original sales receipt—to the place of purchase within 30 days of purchase date for exchange or store credit.” The Bontrager Balaclava retails for $25 and should be available at any bike shop that sells Trek bikes. If there is not a Trek dealer in your area you can order it online from hundreds of different Trek bike shops.

Seirus Combo Clava Balaclava

Seirus Combo Clava For Winter Cycling

The Seirus Combo Clava is usually sold as a balaclava for alpine skiing, snowboarding and hiking, and is also a good choice for winter cyclingit is lightweight, extremely warm, quick drying and highly breathable. The main body of this clava is made of Polartec fleece and the smaller face mask part is made of contoured Neofleece. Neofleece is really five layers rolled into one. The first layer is the outer shell, the second is a waterproof liner, and under that is fleece lined Neoprene, followed by Thermolite insulation and finally a wicking Microfleece lining next to your skin.

The Seirus Combo Clava fits great under most bike helmets. Out of all the balaclavas I own this one produces the least amount of fogging on my glasses. In fact, the only time it ever produces any fog is when I have to stop. The easiest way to deal with this is to pull the face mask down under your nose when you stop. While your mouth will be covered with the face mask part, I have found it to be easy to breathe through due to the holes in the mask. This balaclava is available in three sizes (ES, SM/MD and LG/XL). To determine the size you need just measure the circumference of your head just below your nose. The SM/MD size fits 20–24 inches and LG/XL size fits 22–26 inches. The Seirus Combo Clava retails for around $30. I purchased mine from Dick’s Sporting Goods, but they are also available at many online stores, such as REI.com and Amazon.com.

Howler Multi Tasker Pro Windproof Balaclava

Chaos Thermal Regulation CTR Howler Multi Tasker Pro Windproof Balaclava

Another great balaclava is the Chaos Thermal Regulation CTR Howler Multi Tasker Pro Balaclava. This balaclava offers incredible face and neck protection, in part due to the hinged design that prevents gaps in the fabric, and it easily drops down off the face when you need to get a drink. This product also has a soft fleece interior to help wick moisture away from the skin. For a winter athlete the most important feature of this balaclava is the mesh breathing panel that covers the mouth area. One of the biggest complaints most cyclists and runners have against balaclavas is that they restrict air flow. I am happy to report that this balaclava did not impede my breathing in the slightest!

Because of the way this balaclava is designed you can cover nearly your entire face, leaving only your eyes exposed, or you can open it up a bit if you start to overheat. If the weather warms up you can pull the face mask down and use it as a neck gaiter. Like every other balaclava I’ve ever owned this one can cause your glasses to fog up. Since this balaclava is extremely warm you might save it for days when it is so cold you need to wear ski goggles instead of regular cycling glasses—in which case you won’t have to worry about anything fogging up since the goggles will seal the balaclava against your face.

This balaclava is considerably warmer than the two balaclavas mentioned above. In addition, the Howler Multi Tasker Pro Balaclava is 100% windproof and has a water-repellent surface that sheds rain and snow. We all have different tolerances for cold weather, but let me tell you how well this balaclava works for me: I’ve used it several times when the temperature was below 20 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind blowing at over 20 mph. Even when riding my bike at 20 mph into a strong headwind my face was perfectly warm.

The Chaos Thermal Regulation CTR Howler Multi Tasker Pro Balaclava is available in three sizes (Junior, Small/Medium, and Large/X-Large). This product retails for around $35, but you probably will not find it at your local bike shop. However, it is available at many ski shops and online retailers like Amazon.com.

Talus Outdoor Technologies ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava

Talus Outdoor Technologies ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava

One of the most effective pieces of cold-weather gear I own is the Talus Outdoor Technologies ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava. This balaclava has a medical-grade polyurethane ventilator that covers your mouth and nose and it mixes the warm air your expel from your lungs with fresh air from the outside—the result is that you breathe in warm, moist air. This ventilator will raise the temperature of the air your breathe in from 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (for example, if the air temperature is zero Fahrenheit, you should be breathing in air that is somewhere between 40 and 60 degrees). This polyurethane ventilator is both non-toxic and anti-microbial. If you head out for a bike ride in the morning in the cold and it warms up in the afternoon you can easily remove this face mask and just use the head covering.

This product is not sold as a medical device for asthma patients. However, I do have asthma and I can tell you that if it were not for this product I wouldn’t even dream about participating in winter sports. I’ve gone on long winter bike rides while wearing the ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava when the temperature was well below zero and have not had any lung problems as a result.

The material that covers your face, neck and head is made of “soft-shell” Polartec Wind Pro fleece and without question this is the warmest balaclava I own. The manufacturer claims that this product will block 95% of the wind, and in my experience they are absolutely correct. This balaclava is also longer than any other balaclava I own—it completely covers your neck and throat area. I’ve not had any problems with my glasses fogging up while wearing this balaclava. However, by the time it is cold enough to use this balaclava I wear ski goggles instead of cycling glasses (and the ski goggles I use are pretty much fog proof anyway). I’ve worn this balaclava under both cycling helmets and ski helmets without any trouble.

My only criticism of this balaclava is that the fit is a bit sloppy, i.e., it is not as form-fitting as I would like. I am of average size and this product is a bit loose on me. However, since the face mask attaches to the hood with a wide Velcro patch I can usually adjust it so that no cold air gets through to your skin. The Talus Outdoor Technologies ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava is made in the U.S.A and retails for $80. This product comes with a one year warranty against manufacturer defects.

Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet

Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet

When the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit I wear a helmet that is normally intended for snow skiing—at the moment I prefer the Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet. This helmet is certified as a multi-sport helmet, which means it is suitable for use by skaters, bicyclists, and snow skiers (certification: ASTM 2040 / CE EN1077 / CPSC). If you experience an unplanned dismount (crash is such an ugly word) while riding in deep snow you probably aren’t going to get hurt. However, snow can also hide some nasty rocks, broken fence posts and sharp objects—not to mentioned a layer of slippery ice.

Unlike regular bicycle helmets, snow helmets usually allow for a bit of customization. The Giro Encore 2 has removable ear flaps that will definitely help keep your ears warm, but they also inhibit your ability to hear ambient noises. If you are riding off-road where you are not worried about getting hit by a car, you can install a set of Skullcandy headphones into these ear flaps (like the Skullcandy Home Brew Kit). All of my winter cycling jackets have headphone ports—a small opening inside a vest pocket so you can run a headphone jack into your iPhone or MP3 player. And let’s face it, riding in a blinding snowstorm is a lot easier when you are listening to Air Supply (does that officially make me old?)

This helmet has thirteen small cooling vents with mesh covers (the mesh helps keep the snow out).  The Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet retails for $60. This helmet is available in three sizes: Small (52–55.5cm), Medium (55.5–59cm), and Large (59–62.5cm). This helmet comes in several colors, but since the names they use won’t mean much to you, I’ll say the color selection is red, black, white, hi-viz yellow, and ivory (not all colors are available in all sizes).

Smith Optics Variant Brim Snow Helmet

Smith Optics Variant Brim Snow Helmet

When the temperature drops to below -5F I wear a Smith Optics Variant Brim Snow Helmet. This helmet has a dual regulator climate control which means you can close the vents when you get cold (I kept mine closed when the temperature is below -5 Fahrenheit). The removable ear flaps allow you to hear traffic, but still keep your ears warm at the same time. Also, because this is a snow helmet, you can wear snow goggles and when you don’t need them they will rest comfortably on the top of the helmet without falling off (there is even a small clip at the back to keep the goggles from moving around).

The curvature of the helmet is designed to match the curvature of most snow goggles and it also provides flow-through ventilation which means no fogging even on the worst days. This helmet is very lightweight and has a very comfortable fit. This snow helmet has the same safety certifications as the Giro Encore above. This helmet retails for $160.

 

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I Rode My Bike Naked Yesterday!

Yesterday morning I put my cyclocross bike into the back of my Jeep and headed out to my favorite off-road bike trail. After I got the bike out I put my helmet on but I couldn’t get it buckled—so I took it off and noticed that one piece of the buckle was missing! I started to drive back home to get a different helmet (I have more than a few of them), but finally decided to just “ride safely” and pray I didn’t hit an oak tree at 30 MPH. Riding without a helmet made me feel like I was riding naked—or at least a lot more exposed than I’d like to be. The funny thing is that the day before I saw a graphic on Facebook that said, “Deciding to ride your bike without a helmet is a beacon of hope for those in need of new organs.” The graphic on Facebook was rather pixelated, so I decided to create a new one for your enjoyment.

Remember To Fill Out Your Organ Donation Card!

Remember To Fill Out An Organ Donation Card!

Yesterday was only the second time in the past twelve years that I rode without a helmet. Last year I started to go for a ride with a young woman when the heat index was already over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) at 6:00 in the morning. The woman said she was not going to wear her helmet because it was just too hot, so I decided I wouldn’t wear mine either. My wife said it was OK to go without my helmet because we were both probably going to die from heat stroke anyway! Well, we survived the ride but we both ended up riding slower than normal (and not just because of the heat).

One of the reasons I don’t like riding without a helmet is because a 17 years ago our middle son nearly died in a bike crash. Even though he knew he wasn’t ever supposed to ride without a helmet he didn’t put one on because he was only going a few houses down the street. Unfortunately, just two houses away he hit a rock in and fell off the back of his bike and his head hit the pavement. I’ll spare you the details, but he suffered from multiple skull fractures and had to be airlifted to a trauma unit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He eventually made a near-perfect recovery, but the surgeon who worked on him said he would have trouble with math for the rest of his life (I guess that means he could work in the Congressional Budget Office). As a result of his accident I just don’t like to see anyone, child or adult, ride without a helmet.

By the way, when I got back to my Jeep after my “naked” ride I found the missing piece of the buckle in the grass. The only damage done by riding without my helmet was a sunburn on my forehead (before I left home I put sunscreen on my face, but not on my forehead since it was going to be covered by my helmet). According to the Snell Memorial Foundation, “95% of bicyclists killed in 2006 reportedly were not wearing helmets.”

Do you ever ride without a helmet? If so, why on earth would you do that?

 

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Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet

I am almost embarrassed to admit how many bike helmets I own (eight in all). However, I ride all year long and in all sorts of weather. I have two cross-country skiing helmets for winter riding, a couple of mountain biking helmets, one that I keep my high-powered headlights on for night riding, one hi-viz helmet for riding on cold days with limited visibility, and a few others. My latest helmet purchase was a Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet and this helmet is perfect for hot, sunny days!

Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet

Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet

There are three things that make this helmet my favorite for summer riding: it is lightweight, cool and is available in hi-vis yellow.

Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet

Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet

Lightweight. When I picked up this helmet at the local bike shop I first thought the sack they gave me was empty! It felt like the box the helmet came in weighed more than the helmet itself. This helmet is available in three sizes (S, M, L) and the medium-sized helmet only weighs 222 grams. When you get off your bike after a long ride it is really easy to forget that you still have a helmet on!

Cool. This helmet has 24 Wind Tunnel™ vents with internal channeling—I’ve never had a cooler helmet! I’ve been out on days when the heat index was well over 100 degrees and have never felt like the helmet was heating up my head (as long as I was moving).

Hi-Viz Yellow: While the other features of this helmet are great, I wouldn’t have bought this except for the fact it is available in a bright hi-vis yellow (it also comes in seven other colors as well). This Hi-Vis Yellow helmet matches my Hi-Vis Yellow Pearl Izumi Attack Short Sleeve Jersey perfectly. Since I spend a lot of time riding on riding on busy roads I prefer Hi-Vis Yellow clothing in the summer, but bright red in the winter when there is snow on the ground.

The Giro Aeon Road Bike Helmet retails for around $250 and if your local bike shop does not have it in stock they can order it for you. This is definitely a “high ticket” item and it has a decent mark-up so don’t be afraid to ask your local bike shop for a discount (I did and it saved me 10%).

 
 

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Lid Lights (Product Review and Giveaway)

I love riding my bike at night. With two bright headlights in the front and a pair of high-powered taillights in the back I am kind of hard to miss on most roads. However, one of the most common forms of bicycle accidents involve side impact—and headlights and taillights do very little to protect you from this kind of collision. The folks at Lid Lights recently sent me one of their new LED helmet lights to try out and I was really impressed with what they’ve put together. If you like riding your bike at night then keep reading—you might even be lucky enough to win a free set of Lid Lights (see details below).

Lid Lights LED Helmet Lights

Lid Lights LED Helmet Lights (Helmet not included)

Lid Lights consist of a pair of 12″ long flexible LED lights that attach to your bicycle or ski helmet with 3M adhesive tape (it comes pre-attached to the back of the light strips). If these strips are too long for your helmet (and they might be if you are putting them on a child’s helmet) then you can trim them down to size with just a pair of scissors (complete directions are given on the company website). Since these lights attach to the side of your helmet it makes it easier for cars to see from the side. In addition, helmet lights are usually about two feet higher off the ground than most taillights—and this also makes it easier for folks to see you!

Lid Lights LED Helmet Lights

Powered by a single 9-volt battery

The LED lights are incredibly bright and are powered by a single 9-volt battery. The whole unit only weights 3 ounces and the battery unit attaches to your helmet with a piece of Velcro (included). Typical battery life for this product is around 15 to 20 hours of continuous use. I would suggest you use rechargeable batteries—they won’t last as long between charges, but they are a lot more cost-effective.

Lid Lights LED Helmet Lights

An easy to use switch controls the blinking pattern

Lid Lights are available in two versions: one with a static light (always on) and a blinking version. The static light retails for $25 and the blinking version is $35. In my opinion the blinking version is the only way to go—blinking lights make you a lot more visible to motorists than an “always on” light. The blinking lights are controlled by a small switch so you can choose from 25 or so different blinking patterns. Lid Lights are available in several colors, including: Blue, Pink, Orange, Green, White, Yellow and Red.

Lid Lights LED Helmet Lights

The green LED lights are pretty cool at night!

The bottom line: If you ride your bike at night these lights are a no-brainer. Buy a cheap helmet and put a pair of blinking Lid Lights on them. I use very expensive helmets during my daylight rides (both for the ventilation and cool design). However, when you ride at night you don’t usually have to worry as much about ventilation and since no one can actually see the helmet you might as well just go with a cheap one! If you would like to see how the different color lights look in action you can head over to the Lid Lights Storefront (you can order them from this same page).

If you would like a chance to win a brand-new set of Lid Lights then leave a comment below telling me why you need this product. The contest ends at midnight (CST) on Friday, May 31, 2013. After the contest closes I will read through the comments and choose a winner based solely on my incredibly subjective mood at the time—however, humor in your entry is highly encouraged (just keep it clean). If you don’t need this light yourself you are free to comment on other entries. So I can remain impartial until the contest is over I will not be responding the comments left on this post. This contest is for U.S. residents only and only one entry per household allowed. I will send this product to the winner via U.S. Mail at my expense. Good luck!

 

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Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet

The days are getting longer and the average daily temperature is gradually beginning to rise—so this week I’m going to review a couple more winter cycling products, and then next week we’ll move on to warmer weather cycling gear. I always wear a helmet when I’m on my bike, but those lightweight summer helmets with the large air vents just won’t cut it in the dead of winter. When the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit I wear a helmet that is normally intended for snow skiing. This past winter I bought a Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet and was very happy with the way it performed.

Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet

Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet

The Giro Encore 2 is certified as a multi-sport helmet, which means it is suitable for use by skaters, bicyclists, and snow skiers (certification: ASTM 2040 / CE EN1077 / CPSC). If you experience an unplanned dismount (crash is such an ugly word) while riding in deep snow you probably aren’t going to get hurt. However, snow can also hide some nasty rocks, broken fence posts and sharp objects—not to mentioned a layer of slippery ice.

Goggle Strap on the Giro Encore 2 helmet

Goggle Strap on the Giro Encore 2 helmet

Unlike regular bicycle helmets, snow helmets usually allow for a bit of customization. The Giro Encore 2 has removable ear flaps (black padding). These covers will definitely help keep your ears warm, but they do inhibit your ability to hear ambient noises. If you are riding off-road where you are not worried about getting hit by a car, you can install a set of Skullcandy headphones into these ear flaps (like the Skullcandy Home Brew Kit). All of my winter cycling jackets have headphone ports—a small opening inside a vest pocket so you can run a headphone jack into your iPhone or MP3 player. And let’s face it, riding in a blinding snowstorm is a lot easier when you are listening to Air Supply (does that officially make me old?)

This helmet has thirteen small cooling vents with mesh covers (the mesh helps keep the snow out). When the temperature drops to below -5F I wear a Smith Optics Variant Brim Snow Helmet that has air vents I can close. Also, because this is a snow helmet, you can wear snow goggles and when you don’t need them they will rest comfortably on the front of the helmet without falling off (there is a small clip at the back to keep the goggles from moving around).

Giro Encore 2

I Love The Red Accents

The Giro Encore 2 Multi-Sport Helmet retails for $60. I bought mine at a brick-and-mortar Dick’s Sporting Goods store and paid full-retail for it, but it is also available from several online retailers, including Amazon.com. This helmet is available in three sizes: Small (52–55.5cm), Medium (55.5–59cm), and Large (59–62.5cm). This helmet comes in several colors, but since the names they use won’t mean much to you, I’ll say the color selection is red, black, white, hi-viz yellow, and ivory (not all colors are available in all sizes). I chose the red helmet because, in my opinion, red objects are the easiest to see in the snow. Sometimes I have to ride on the same off-road trails used by snowmobiles—and getting hit by one of those things could make for a really bad day.

 

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Bontrager Solstice Cycling Helmet

This past spring one of my sons decided to take up cycling and in the process of getting him ready for hitting the road I gave him my favorite cycling helmet (a beautiful Giro road helmet). He liked the Giro helmet because it was so lightweight (certainly lighter than the Kevlar helmet he wore in Iraq). Since I have several other helmets for special uses (night, rain, MTB) I decided to replace the Giro with an inexpensive Bontrager Solstice Cycling Helmet.

Bontrager Solstice Cycling Helmet

Bontrager Solstice Cycling Helmet

The Bontrager Solsctice is a durable, lightweight helmet that provides excellent airflow due to the large air vents. This helmet is a “one size fits most” and unless you are either very petite or have a large head it should fit you well. Bontrager’s propriety “Micro-Manager Fit System” make this helmet very easy to adjust.

Since I planned on using this helmet for riding on the road I took off the “removable snap-on visor” that comes pre-installed on the helmet. Unfortunately, the plastic pins that hold the visor on place broke while I was taking it off the first time—which means I will never be able to put it back on the helmet. Several “wicking pads” on the inside of the helmet not only make the helmet comfortable, but dry as well. These wicking pads are held in place with Velcro and are both removable and washable.

The Bontrager Solstice cycling helmet comes in four different color combinations and retails for $45. You should be available to find this helmet at any bike shop that carries Trek or Bontrager products. If you can’t find a dealer in your area, you can always buy it online from the Trek Store. If you are looking for a helmet that will make it easier for motorists to see you, please see the review I wrote for the Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Bicycle Safety, Product Reviews

 

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Psolar Balaclava Heat Exchange Mask For Winter Biking, Hiking And Skiing

If you enjoy winter sports like snow biking or hiking you probably already own a balaclava to keep your face from freezing. A good balaclava will certainly keep your face warm, but if you want to protect your lungs from being damaged by the bitter cold you should get a Psolar Balaclava Heat Exchange Mask.

Psolar Balaclava Heat Exchange Mask for winter sports

Psolar Balaclava Heat Exchange Mask

The Psolar Balaclava Heat Exchange Mask combines a regular balaclava with a small heat exchanger (a lightweight thermal conversion module) over the mouth that traps warm air as you breathe out and then allows you to inhale warmed air. The heat exchanger looks like a very small air filter and requires no batteries to operate. The company that makes the mask claims that on a 0 degree day (Fahrenheit) your inhaled breath can be warmed to over 75 degrees before it enters your body. After several winters of use I have to tell you it works perfectly! Not only does the heat exchanger warm the air you breath in, but it also humidifies it as well (this will help keep you from getting bronchitis).

The Psolar Balaclava is not sold as a medical device for asthma patients. However, I do have asthma and I can tell you that if it were not for this product I wouldn’t even dream about participating in winter sports. I’ve gone on long winter bike rides while wearing a  Psolar Balaclava when the temperature was well below zero and have not had any lung problems as a result.

The Psolar Balaclava is available in several different models. The Psolar.HX Balaclava is a little thin on the top layer and is designed to be worn under a helmet. The Psolar.BX Balaclava is thicker on the top and is designed for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing (this is the one I wear when I am running my snow blower). They also have models available that do not cover the top of your head at all, just your face and neck.

The only downside to this mask is that it can cause your glasses to fog up when you are not moving. The company sells a Vapor Shield, which is a is a small foam device designed to prevent this from happening—but it does not always work. When it is cold enough to wear the Psolar Balaclava I stop wearing my cycling sunglasses and start using a pair of ski goggles. I’ve never has a problem with this mask fogging up while wearing the ski goggles.

The Psolar Balaclava Heat Exchange Mask retails for $40. At the moment the only place I can find this item online is at The Museum Store in Milwaukie, Oregon. I might be wrong, but it appears that the Psolar Balaclava is being replaced by the ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava (review coming soon).

 

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Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light

You already know that you need a good taillight if you are going to ride your bike at night. However, the biggest problem with mounting a taillight on your seat post or seat bag is that they are situated fairly close to the ground. While the motorist directly behind you can see your taillight, the cars behind them can’t. They best way to increase your chances of being seen (and staying alive) is to use a helmet mounted light like the Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light from Illuminated Cycling.

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light

The Fire Eye 2.0 light consists of a lightweight (63 grams) control box and two flexible light pods. The control box attaches to the top or back of your helmet with Velcro (included with purchase). The light pods also attach to your helmet with Velcro. The Velcro attachment system makes it very easy for you to take the Fire Eye unit off of your helmet if you desire. Complete installation instructions can be downloaded from the Illuminated Cycling Website, but I think a trained monkey could put these lights on in just a couple of minutes. I have a special helmet that I use for off-road rides at night and, in addition to the Velcro, I secure the control box to the helmet with two cable ties (the trails are often rough and this way I don’t have to worry about the Velcro slipping). Just for clarification, I don’t have the cable ties on in these photos. You will also notice that this helmet also has a lot of 3M Scotchlite Reflective Tape on it.

The Fire Eye 2.0 is powered by two non-rechargeable 1/2AA lithium batteries (6.3 volts). You should be able to get around 100 hours of use from a pair of batteries. This unit is also totally waterproof—it still works even while sitting in a tank of water!

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light (side view)

Illuminated Cycling Fire Eye 2.0 Helmet Light (side view)

I bought the original Fire Eye 1.0 about a year ago and was fairly happy with it, even though I never liked the way the switch on the control box operated. Recently Illuminated Cycling came out with a new version, the Fire Eye 2.0, and this product not only switched to a rugged toggle-switch design but also doubled to brightness of the lights! The new taillight has three modes: High power solid beam, Low power solid beam, and High power strobe. The Fire Eye 2.0 is set to the strobe setting by default. Personally, I would suggest you keep it on the strobe setting since it draws a lot more attention than a solid light. The new toggle-switch is bulletproof—just one simple touch to turn the unit on or off. When I am on the trails I often turn the light off to conserve the batteries (no one is out there to see me anyway).

Now for the best part: these lights are incredibly bright, even in full sunlight. My photographs or the videos you can find online just don’t do justice to how bright these lights are! It has been my experience that the pre-dusk hours are the most dangerous time of the day to ride. Visibility is declining but most motorists don’t have their headlights on yet. If cars don’t have their headlights on then all the reflective clothing in the world won’t do you any good—you need something like the Fire Eye 2.0 to protect your life!

I have a pet name for cyclists who ride at night with only one taillight—I call them “future organ donors.” Even under the best of circumstances batteries die unexpectedly, electronics fail and mounting brackets break for no apparent reason. Even with a light as powerful as the Fire Eye 2.0, I always ride a standard taillight like the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo on my seat bag. And, if I plan to ride on a really busy road, I will also add a Portland Design Works RADBOT 1000 to my seat post.

Fire Eye 2.0 helmet lights are hand-built in the USA and are available from the Illuminated Cycling Website for $60. In my opinion, if you ride your bike at night this is one of the best investments you will ever make. If you have any questions about this product you can call Erik Shaffer at 1-888-406-7626. Illuminated Cycling also offers a light designed for use by bicycle patrol officers—a Fire Eye unit with fiercely bright blue lights (only available to Law Enforcement agencies).

 

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Seirus Combo Clava (Fleece Lined Face Mask)

If you look in any cycling catalog you will quickly see that there is no shortage of balaclavas available. However, my favorite balaclava isn’t cycling specific. The Seirus Combo Clava is usually sold as a balaclava for alpine skiing, snowboarding and hiking, but it is my absolute favorite for winter cycling.

Seirus Combo Clava Balaclava

Seirus Combo Clava For Winter Cycling

The Seirus Combo Clava is lightweight, extremely warm, quick drying and highly breathable. The main body of this clava is made of Polartec fleece and the smaller face mask part is made of contoured Neofleece. Neofleece is really five layers rolled into one. The first layer is the outer shell, the second is a waterproof liner, and under that is fleece lined Neoprene, followed by Thermolite insulation and finally a wicking Microfleece lining next to your skin.

The Seirus Combo Clava fits great under most bike helmets. Out of all the balaclavas I own this one produces the least amount of fogging on my glasses. In fact, the only time it ever produces any fog is when I have to stop. The easiest way to deal with this is to pull the face mask down under your nose when you stop. While your mouth will be covered with the face mask part, I have found it to be easy to breathe through due to the holes in the mask.

Some people prefer to have their balaclavas tucked inside the neck of their jackets. Personally, I like a balaclava to sit on the outside of my jacket (I think it holds the heat in better). After a long ride the face mask part will be a bit wet, so allow it to dry before your next ride.

This balaclava is available in three sizes (ES, SM/MD and LG/XL). To determine the size you need just measure the circumference of your head just below your nose. The SM/MD size fits 20–24 inches and LG/XL size fits 22–26 inches.

The Seirus Combo Clava retails for around $30. I purchased mine from a Dick’s Sporting Goods (a brick and mortar store), but they are also available at many online stores as well, such as REI.com and Amazon.com.

 

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Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I knew where he could find a hi-vis yellow bicycle helmet. I told him that I had searched every supplier I could think of in the United States and had turned up empty. My friend was a bit more persistent than I was and he finally found the Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet. The problem was that Hardnutz is located in the UK and he had a difficult time finding anyone who would ship to the US. However, he finally found Ski-WebUSA.com (located in Minnesota) and they were able to ship the helmet to him (I bought one as well).

Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet

Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet

The Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet is a well-designed bicycle helmet with a bright, hi-vis yellow outer shell. To help motorists see you at night this helmet also has 13 large reflective 3M Scotchlite panels. To keep you cool in warm weather the helmet has 21 air vents (and they work well). The chin strap is sturdy and very easy to adjust. At only 251g, this helmet very lightweight and once it was on my head I couldn’t tell the difference between it and the Trek Circuit Helmet I normally use.

This helmet is only available in one size (54-62cms). I am of average height and weight and this helmet fit me well, but if you cannot wear a normal cycling helmet you probably won’t be able to wear this one either. The fit is adjusted by a “dial-fit adjuster” on the back of the helmet. The helmet also has a removable visor.

As an added bonus, this helmet includes a rain proof carry bag that can be used as a helmet protector or a reflective backpack (the reflective strip is fairly large).

If you live in an area where motorists are more likely to pay attention to hi-vis orange than hi-vis yellow, you are in luck—SkiwebUSA.com also sells the Hardnutz Hi-Vis Orange Bicycle Helmet with the same specifications as the hi-vis yellow. I live just south of the Wisconsin border and I know for a fact that most people on the other side of the “Cheddar Curtain” have a great deal of reverence for Blaze Orange, especially during hunting season (they are also known to venerate anything that has a Green Bay Packers logo on it).

The Hardnutz Hi-Vis Yellow Bicycle Helmet retails for $85 including postage. I’ve ridden in this helmet long enough to tell you it is comfortable and well-made. I am also an advocate of hi-vis yellow cycling clothing. I highly recommend this product for all cyclists.

 

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