It's like a fine balancing act of knowing just how much to wear as you roll out the door, in order to stay warm, yet still be able to carry anything you remove without needing a backpack to haul extra gear.
It's all about using effective layers and pieces. This is why arm warmers, knee warmers and light jackets or vests that can be removed and stuffed in a jersey pocket are no-brainers and essential to any cold weather cyclist's wardrobe.
But what about your ears -- those poor neglected extremities we tend to ignore? It seems headbands always interfere with the fit of your helmet while skull caps warm your whole head when all you're really interested in is covering your poor exposed ears.
Exolite Ear Warmers
When I first saw the Exolite ear warmers, I knew these guys -- from an up and coming company called 180s -- had nailed the right idea. Even though they primarily market the Exolites to runners, the application is even greater for cyclists because of the helmet fit issue.
Instead of having to place something over your head, the Exolites come in from behind your head and snugly fit around your ears. Thus the name 180s -- a half circle that does not interfere with helmet fit whatsoever.
Weighing in at a mere 0.7 ounces, the wafer-thin design minimizes pressure on the head to -- according to product literature -- six ounces or less, with absolutely no bulk. The material that covers your ears is made of antimicrobial-treated wind-resistant Polartec Power Stretch. Simply stated, and in English, this four-way stretch fabric traps heat, yet breathes and wicks away moisture, keeping ears warm and comfy.
Cold Day Test
I decided to give these babies a try on some of the coldest days San Diego has seen in quite some time. So hitting speeds of 45 mph downhill, with outside temperature at 35 degrees F, was a good indicator of whether these things would cut it for cycling.
And -- for those thinking I need counseling -- if I weren't commuting to work, the idea of "training for fun" in 35 degree weather would carry no appeal. (It's actually more about my stubbornness in refusing to sit in traffic and pay $2.50 a gallon for gas.)
What I found is these Exolites are exactly what I've been thinking about for years. Wow. Why didn't anybody think of this before? Not only did my ears stay nice and toasty at a calculated wind chill of 19 degrees F, but I could hear traffic perfectly.
On a recent Saturday training ride, I got caught in some cold rain about 30 miles from home and was amazed that while I was pretty wet from head to toe, my ears not only stayed warm, but the Exolites were still dry when I got home.
You effectively get the best of both worlds: total protection from wind and cold, yet no muffled sounds coming through the microfiber lining.
The other big benefit, as I mentioned up front, is that the Exolites have been designed to easily collapse and fold so as to neatly fit into any thin pocket or jersey. So if the day warms up and you no longer need these puppies, just pull them from behind your head and fold 'em into your pocket.
The only negative I see is the price tag. At a suggested retail of $30, these aren't cheap but judging from how well they work, I don't think they'll have a lot of trouble selling these to cyclists and runners. For more information and complete specifications, check the 180s Web site at -- you guessed it -- www.180s.com.