Winter cycle kit. What to wear when the weather turns cold!
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
It seems apt that this post is written as half the country is currently experiencing at least a sprinkling of snow (some areas have a lot more) and bitter winds. This week we’re looking at the essential kit needed when the cold weather arrives so we can help protect ourselves from the elements while out on a ride.
Before we look at the kit, a quick tip is to remember that for winter riding you should aim start off being a little cold! Now this might sound strange, but if you set off on a winter ride feeling that you’re at the right temperature already, before the hard work starts, then you are only going to get warmer. This will likely mean that you have to take layers off (and carry them) or sweat excessively which even the best bits of kit can’t cope with and this can lead to an uncomfortable ride.
What you wear on a ride is more an art then a science and some trial and error is needed, it will depend on your own body if you run hot, cold or somewhere in the middle. Once you have the key bits of kit in your locker then you can always add if/when needed and at the end of the day you can never have enough new kit, can you? Remember there’s never the wrong type of weather, just the wrong type of kit.
A good baselayer designed for colder temperatures will provide a layer of warmth while absorbing and wicking away your sweat to keep you feeling warm and comfortable. Worn next to your skin they are designed to be skin-tight, to allow outer layers to fit smoothly without any bunching and wrinkling. The material should aid moisture transfer to help rapidly move sweat away from the skin allowing you to remain dry and comfortable throughout your ride. For a winter baselayer we’d recommend long sleeve although you can also get short sleeve versions, but they tend to be for spring/autumn.
Long sleeve jersey
A good long sleeve jersey makes a great mid-layer (under a wind/waterproof jacket) or outer layer option depending on the weather. A winter jersey is normally thicker than your summer/spring/autumn version, with fleece lining and sometimes with an element of wind proofing built in.
When the temp drops but you don’t need a full-on jacket, then the combo of a gilet over a long sleeve jersey and base layer is a winner. A good lightweight gilet is one of the most useful and versatile bits of kit you can own. Look for one that is showerproof and breathable, this means it can be used all year round when an extra layer of wind proofing and/or a little more warmth is required. They also pack away small enough to go in a jersey pocket.
For when the chance of a wet/windy ride is high, a light-weight water and wind proof jacket to wear over your jersey is a great addition to your locker. This bit of kit should keep you dry from the rain, keep the worst of the winter wind at bay and be small enough to stow in a jersey pocket. Winter weather can be changeable, and we all know the impact on your core temperature when getting caught in the winter rain or how quickly a winter wind can chill you to the bone.
When in the depths of winter and the temperature drops too low for a long-sleeved jersey gilet/waterproof combo, it’s time to turn to a softshell jacket. These provide greater warmth and more protection from the wind and in some cases the rain too and will be plenty warm enough combined with a good base layer for any winter ride the British weather can throw at you. Look for one made from fabrics which are breathable, water and windproof so to ensure your body stays dry for a comfortable winter ride.
A good pair of bib tights are an essential during the winter. Keeping your legs protected and warm through the wet, windy and cold miles is so important to make the ride comfortable. Keeping your legs and particularly the muscles in your legs warm is important to help reduce the risk of any injuries such as pulls or strains which can happen when exercising with muscles that haven’t warmed up sufficiently. The bib tights should fit well (like your summer bibs) so the chamois/pad stays in place, be fleeced lined and fast wicking so keep you warm and take moisture away from the skin. A good pair of bib tights will also come up higher on your back than summer bibs which helps ensure you don’t get any uncomfortable drafts when you’re down on the drops.
Cold hands are a common problem when cycling in the winter and there is no shortage of gloves out there trying to solve this problem. When looking for the perfect hand warmers you need them to be tight fitting with good grip so you can operate your gears and breaks safely but not so tight they cut off circulation! They should be warm and breathable, ideally made from a wind and waterproof material. And if you ride with a touchscreen bike computer or smartphone on the handle bars then some form of electroconductive compatibility would also be a requirement.
Having cold feet is never fun, but when you’ve still got half your ride left it can really take the enjoyment out of a ride. The best overshoes provide protection from the worst a British winter can throw at you, keeping your feet warm and turning those peddles. They should fit tightly over your shoes and will take some practice getting on and off!
A flexible bit of kit that keeps your neck warm and can be pulled up over your chin mid ride or (when stopped) up under your helmet if the temperature really drops. Normally made from a stretchy polyester microfiber, it can wick away moisture whilst still being wind resistant. This bit of kit can also be used in the summer to stay cool and keep the sun off the back of your neck, so a really versatile addition to your locker..
Helmets are great for safety, but they are not designed to keep you head warm! The tried and tested old-school cycle cap with a peak is a great addition to your locker and completes the look of the well-dressed cyclist. They add a layer of warmth and can also be used in the summer to help keep the sweat out of your eyes. When the temperature really drops, a fleece lined skull cap is the ticket as it will be warmer than a cap and has the added bonus of covering up those exposed ears, still making sure you can still hear sufficiently so remaining safe while out on the roads.
It will take you a few rides in colder conditions to work out what works best in the various weather conditions. but if you start with the above basics, we think you won’t go too far wrong.
Happy cycling from VitxCycle
p.s. If the weather is too cold, wet, windy or snowy then there’s always the indoor turbo trainer!