Part II: In Which I Attempt to Provide Some Practical Advice But Get Bogged Down In Introductory Details About Clothes Instead
The Swedish saying mentioned in Part I, kläder after väder (clothes after weather) maps most closely in my American mind to Tolstoy’s “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Just replace the unhappy family with the mercurial and pitiless climate.
Back in the US my sartorial regimen was squarely aimed at uniformity, interchangeability and decision-avoidance; my wardrobe mainly consisted of, from head-to-toe:
- Black Fruit-of-the-Loom T-Shirts, M
- Plaid button-down shirt for work
- American Apparel Hoodie, M
- Uniqlo Supima Common ‘Trunks’ (e.g. tight boxers)
- One type of pants: Carhartt Jeans 1999-2011; Levis 508, 2012-2016
- Carhartt Black All-Season Cotton Crew Socks
- Blundstones: 550 Brown for upstate, 558 Black for work.
Some of the above still holds true, but Sweden has largely obliterated the uniformity and simplicity of my wardrobe, mostly because weather.
I arrived in Sweden in mid-January, deep inside heart-of-darkness season. The zipper to my only warm jacket broke as I was zipping it up just a few minutes before getting into the minivan to drive from upstate NY to the airport at JFK. In hindsight this appears to have been fate or some spirit sending a last ditch 'what the fuck are you doing, fool?' message from the other side.
I’ve acquired 4 new jackets over the past 9 months, 5 if you count the one I bought at the ski shop that we stopped at on the way to JFK. There are enough variants of cold and shitty weather here that I expect to buy at least a couple more over the next interval. Part of being in Sweden is playing outdoors whenever possible and not getting trapped indoors by the weather and you need good clothes to do that and it's completely worth the investment.
The new jackets include to an Arcteryx windbreaker, a Fjallraven raincoat, a down jacket, and an Ortovox waterproof ski shell that's the primary cold weather biking jacket. You’ll read more about at some point.
You probably want to get some actual practical advice here, but we're so far down the page this seems like a better option for Part III.
The gloves came on first, in early September. Unfortunately, I've not yet found a pair of gloves that I’m happy with, but I hope that the information recorded below can help you save some money. Alternately, you may find a good pair of gloves for a milder climate. Spoiler alert: the non-biking gloves are the best performers so far.
Giro DND, “Mil Spec Olive”, ~$25 US, ~400 SEK in Sweden
These gloves are just fine for nice cool weather. The snug Medium fits me almost perfectly, and they saved me from what would have been a painful road rash on the day I took a spill and cracked my helmet. They have a suitably minimal amount of padding for people who like such things, and the touchscreen compatible fingertips are neat. The cuffs are short, which can be good or bad depending on your preference, the weather, and your jacket.
The DNDs absorb water, so their usefulness drops in parallel with the chance of precipitation.
I like wearing gloves when it’s a little cool, so these gloves have some use for me, but they saw zero action after September.
Pro Bikegear Ultimate Winter Gloves, ~400 SEK
These are the gloves that make me angry, the only one of the 3 that are a real disappointment. I had my eyes open for a warmer pair of gloves and spied these at a not-totally-exorbitant price and recommended by an employee in a shop I otherwise have liked. They were the only winter biking gloves on display; I inferred, incorrectly, that this meant that these gloves were all my hands would need.
The water-repellence of these gloves is surprisingly low, almost DND-esque, but my expectations are justifiably higher. I can cope with moderate hand wetness, but these gloves aren’t warm enough wet or dry. They are thicker and warmer than the others, but my hands go numb in these after 10-15 minutes of riding at zero-ish celsius temperatures. These gloves are neither warm nor dry enough to keep their promise of being the ultimate glove for Swedish winter.
As a general bike glove, they’re OK. They have a cuff that’s long enough to go under your jacket sleeve, but it’d be way easier to grab with a gloved hand if it was just 1cm longer or so. The fingers are a bit long for me, but glove fit is hard. My favorite feature is the reflective piping along the fingers.
Also, FWIW, these are made by Shimano. I wouldn’t have known this without reading the fine print on the tags on the inside; for whatever reason, this fact was either not-present or very subtle on the packaging.
Outdoor Research PL150 Sensor Gloves, ~300 SEK at Alewald’s
These are fairly generic midline synthetic winter gloves. They feel drier than either of the other gloves when it’s wet out (either due to repellence or wicking). They’re not quite as warm as the Pro Ultimates, but they’re less stiff and the cuffs are stretchier so it’ll be easier to use a liner underneath. They don’t have any special biker padding like the bike gloves do, but that’s not a big deal for me. They do have some grippy stuff on the palm.
I’ll need a liner for these when it gets really cold, but I’m more OK with that in this case than I am with the Pro Ultimates, both because it’s expected and because it’s significantly easier to get these gloves on and off.
FWIW, these gloves also claim to be touchscreen compatible, but this doesn’t work for me.
Major takeaway: Avoid overpriced bike-specific gear. I had thought that the bike gloves would provide benefits in dexterity and fit, but the conventional gloves landed better on combined weather handling and dexterity, and were also less expensive and came without cheesy logos. I would take reflective piping, tho.