Why You Need a Great Cycling Balaclava
A good cycling balaclava makes cycling MUCH more comfortable in winter. A great deal of heat is lost from the head, so it is essential to keep your head warm. Also, there is no doubt that having a warm and toasty head is key to actually enjoying cycling in very cold temperatures.
Every cyclist should keep a good windproof handy. It’s a low price for something that will make your life way more comfortable, so why wouldn’t you own one? But how to decide which is the best cycling balaclava?
How to Choose the Best Cycling Balaclava
Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist wanted me to get her a good cycling balaclava, and I didn’t want to get her anything but the best, so I spent many, many hours researching how to choose the best cycling balaclava. I discovered that there are several important issues to take into account when choosing the best cycling balaclava. I have listed these below.
Will the Cycling Balaclava keep your neck warm?
This is really the most important issue of all, given that the whole point of cycling balaclavas is to keep you warm!
The most common complaint about cycling balaclavas is that the balaclava was too short and did not fully cover the neck. For me, this is the most important aspect to consider. Your neck is full of very important, very big veins. If these get cold, YOU will get cold. Worse, your BRAIN will get cold. Usually you can easily assess this aspect from the product pictures. If the cycling balaclava is not long enough to tuck into the neck of your winter jacket, then it’s not going to keep you warm. You’re going to have freezing air hitting your neck, which is NOT going to be fun. Or you will be forced to wear a scarf as well. However, the other point of a cycling balaclava is to be an all-in-one solution to keep your head and neck warm. So look at the neck length first and foremost.
Will you be able to breathe wearing the Cycling Balaclava?
The second-most common complaint about cycling balaclavas has to do with breathing. Many people complain that they cannot breathe well enough to cycle while wearing a balaclava. The main reason for this is that people wear balaclavas for different activities. The same balaclava that works very well for a motor cyclist might not work very well for a cyclist, because the cyclist needs to breathe much harder. So the second aspect to consider when picking your cycling balaclava is whether you will be able to breathe enough to ride your bike.
Different manufacturers approach the issue in different ways. A common method is simply to cut out a giant hole for the nose and mouth. While this is effective in enabling you to breathe, it may be less than effective for keeping your mouth and nose warm in super-cold conditions. Some kind of compromise between nothing and an impermeable cover seems to be required! Manufacturers use various sizes of holes for breathing and eyes, ranging from very large to extremely small.
Choosing among all these options will come down to a balance between how cold your ride is, how well you want to be able to see, and how claustrophobic you get. Some balaclavas have a hinged nose and mouthpiece that you can pull down to enable you to breathe deeply from time to time. This sounds like quite a simplistic solution, but I must say that in my experience this simple solution works really well. Given that most balaclavas are made with a stretchy fabric of some kind, you can do this with most balaclavas, pulling them down when you need more breathing room.
The Outdoor Research Option Balaclava is very stretchy and could be a great option if you want a mask you can easily pull down. Users pull it around to cover more or less of their faces, as needed.
If you prefer a balaclava with a hinged mouth to make it easier to pull down, the Chaos-CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava with windproof face mask is a good one to try. Many balaclavas enable breathing with ingenious combinations of design and textiles. For example, the part that fits over your mouth and nose often has tiny vents for breathing, as with the Gore Bike Wear balaclava mask.
However, some users complain that those vents are insufficient, and that they cannot breathe enough. If you don’t have a hinged option to pull the balaclava downwards, that could get really claustrophobic. Of course, you could also just make the holes a bit bigger, which some people do via the simple method of sticking a ballpoint pen through the holes!
Will you be able to wipe your nose while wearing a Cycling Balaclava?
Another problem that cyclists may experience while wearing balaclavas is that they cannot wipe their noses. This might not sound like much of a problem – until the extreme cold is causing your nose to run, and you have frozen snot stuck to your upper lip. Trust me, this is NOT fun. If this might be a problem for you, look for a hinged mask that enables you to access your nose, such as the Chaos-CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava. OR go with something super slim and stretchy (and cheap) such as the Trendy Swede Face Mask Sports Balaclava.
Will you be able to see while wearing a Cycling Balaclava?
Some balaclavas have relatively small holes for the eyes. This will keep you warmer, but it may mean that you have a limited range of vision. So think about this as well. Look at the size of the eye holes, and think about how much you move your eyes around while cycling. For example, if you ride a road bike your eyes you need more flexibility: you need to be able to look in different directions, depending if your hands are in the drops or on top of the handlebar. So that would mean you need bigger eye holes. On the other hand, if you ride a hybrid bike your eyes will not need to move around as much, as you will usually stay upright all the time. So you might be able to get away with smaller eye holes. However, for safety reasons, I would not recommend them.
Will you be able to wear glasses with your Cycling Balaclava?
A lot of cyclists complain that if they wear a balaclava, their glasses constantly fog up. This can be a real problem. The balaclava may funnel warm air straight upwards and cause serious fogging problems. Consider this aspect if you need to wear glasses while cycling. One solution (but not cheap) is to buy cycling glasses with air vents. Read my review of the excellent Adidas cycling glasses here – they work incredibly well with a balaclava.
Will a Cycling Balaclava keep you warm?
This is of course a key question. And this is where choosing the right balaclava can get really tricky. A wide variety of different textiles are used to make balaclavas, ranging from cheap polyester blends to state-of-the-art especially designed synthetics. This is where price often becomes a factor. There are thousands of cheap balaclavas available, and most of these are made from a simple polyester blend. They will keep you warm – but they may also be so non-breathable that they will keep you way TOO warm. They may also have no wicking ability at all, so that your head will soon be soaked in sweat. And you do NOT want to be stopping in freezing conditions to take your helmet and gloves off so that you can rip off your soggy balaclava.
Many of the more expensive ranges, such as Pearl Izumi, offer a choice of cycling balaclava for differing levels of cold. For example, their Pearl Izumi Barrier Balaclava is intended for colder conditions than their Pearl Izumi Transfer Balaclava.
But it may come down to a bit or trial-and-error, to find out what will work for you. And it is very likely that you will decide that you need more than one balaclava. Personally I have two beanies and two balaclavas that I use for different levels of cold. It’s easy to carry them in your pannier, as they weigh next to nothing.
What size Cycling Balaclava should you get?
Many manufacturers offer balaclavas in one-size-fits-all. This is usually OK, because all balaclavas are made from stretch fabrics. They will probably all fit the biggest head – although if you have tons of hair, you might be in trouble. I notice that some of my readers choose balaclavas that have space for ponytails!
This is definitely not a problem for me, though – turns out that there are some advantages to losing your hair! You might have a problem if your head is very small, in that there could be bunching of the material under your helmet. Note that some brands offer a range of sizes, so if your head is unusually big or small, go with one of those brands.
Do you need a reflective logo?
Many cycling balaclavas have reflective logos, which are intended to be for safety. It’s a nice little touch – but if you wear a helmet, it’s going to be invisible, so I don’t really see the point.
I trust that this information will help you pick the perfect cycling balaclava for you.
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