Essential clothing for cycling in the cold winter days
If you’re new to winter cycling, you might be wondering what should you be wearing to stay warm on your bike? Too little clothes can make you feel cold, and too many clothes can make you start sweating. The secret to perfecting your winter cycling gear lies in having the right clothing materials and a layered outfit. In this article, we’ll look into how to choose the right base layer, winter jacket, gloves, caps and all the other accessories that make winter cycling so much better.
The secret of staying warm: a layered outfit
There is a solution that fixes both the problem of keeping warm and not overheating the body while cycling in the winter. It is layered clothing – and even more layered than the normal wintertime outdoor clothing while walking.
Proper winter cycling clothing is well worth the investment, as you can really feel the difference on days with low temperature. There is still room for choice between the cheaper and more expensive options, although with winter gear it is harder to fake it than with the summer cycling clothes.
If you are still a beginner in winter cycling, there is something else to keep in mind, which perhaps is not intuitive:
Your body will warm up as you ride, and you need to take it into account while choosing the cycling clothes.
There are two ways to go about it. You are either brave and step out of the house feeling mildly chilly, knowing that the warmth will follow, when the blood circulation gets going. Or if you prefer to set off nice and cosy, be prepared to take off a layer quite soon as you will most probably start feeling too hot.
Mastering the base layer of cycling clothing
One of the most important parts of staying warm while cycling in the winter has to do with choosing the right base layers. The seasoned winter cyclists agree on one thing: the layer that is closest to your skin is vital.
One of the best choices for an undershirt is anything made out of merino wool, which feels nice on the skin and takes the sweat away from the body.
This is important, as sweaty clothes can make you feel cold very quickly when you stop for a break.
If it is not merino wool that you wear below the other clothes, make sure your base layer is some kind of textile which has good absorbing quality. There are also some decent synthetic materials out there that can help take the sweat away from the body.
Besides filling that requirement, the base layer should certainly also provide some warmth.
Central item: winter cycling jacket
While choosing a jacket for winter cycling, there is a dilemma to solve. You have to decide if you need the jacket for some really frosty temperatures, or you might use it more for moderately cold and possibly rainy weather.
The waterproof shell jackets provide protection from the rain. The soft-shell jackets aren’t completely waterproof but can be warm and breathable. If you know which one you need, it is easy – but most often in life, the weather surprises us.
As nearly always with those dilemmas, it is possible to buy yourself out of it. The best fabrics manage to be highly waterproof and breathable at the same time, but of course, they are more expensive.
If you need the winter cycling clothes mostly for commuting and you plan to do it with any weather, it might be worth it to pay more attention to keeping yourself warm and put less stress on breathability. Perhaps a hood might also be a helpful extra in such a case. Some of the cycling jackets have drop tails, which help to keep the lower back and bottom dry and warm with wet weather.
Keeping your fingers warm with cycling gloves
Good gloves are essential for two different reasons. First of all, it is simply uncomfortable to keep on riding when your fingers go numb because of cold. Secondly, it might be dangerous, especially in winter, when the road can be slippery and a cycler must be ready to react quickly to anything.
Good gloves are an absolute must among your winter cycling clothes. Fingers are your best tools for pulling the brakes, changing gears or simply holding on to the handlebars.
If you want to invest more in creating a perfect winter shelter for your fingers, we must turn back to lesson one on winter cycling clothes: layers! If you want to go pro, you can go as far as having three layers of gloves. You already know the best material for the base layer: merino wool. Then there could be gloves, and finally overmitts on top, but that might be too much for most people.
Still, only the base layer, merino or not, might not be enough if the weather is either wet or frosty, so two layers might be worth it.
Some gloves have padding on the palms, sometimes also on the thumb, to make the ride more comfortable. Also, gloves might offer an option to improve the grip, especially of the palms, index finger and thumb. If you plan to mix using your smartphone with cycling, let’s say to check the map once in a while, you might look for the kind of gloves which allow swiping the phone.
Protecting your feet and legs from cold
Similarly to fingers, toes tend to get numb if they are not protected enough during those winter rides. The most important part is yet again the base layer — your socks. Socks should be somewhat thicker than the ones you use in the summertime. Also, socks made of 100% cotton is best to avoid. Cotton holds onto moisture and can make your feet feel wet inside winter boots.
Socks made of wool (especially merino wool) are best to keep your feet warm as they insulate heat while keeping feet dry.
For shoes, you can use the same cycling shoes throughout the year, but for winter cycling we recommend using extra overshoes, which keep your shoes clean and dry.
Legs will also need a base layer, and here the best option is leggings or leg warmers. Leg and arm warmers are simple tubes of insulating material which can easily be removed when the weather turns for the better or if your body starts generating enough heat to make you sweat. It might be well worth it to have some arm and leg warmers with you, as they are easily removable, and then can be rolled up and carried around.
Choosing cycling clothes that make you visible in traffic
Besides keeping a comfortable and healthy body temperature, you can also use your cycling clothes to increase your visibility to cars and other cyclists in traffic. Bike lights are paramount to cycling in the dark, but you can add to that with some reflective details on your clothes.
It’s especially important to have some reflective elements on your cycling jacket as it will considerably increase your safety in traffic.
One important reminder — don’t overdo the high visibility clothing. Reflective materials also reflect light back to the driver’s eyes, so if the whole jacket becomes one big reflector, it could increase the likelihood of dangerous situations in traffic, instead of reducing them.
The choices to make when buying winter cycling gear
High-quality winter gear is not so easy to get without spending some money. On the other hand: It doesn’t have to be the nicest all-purpose winter jacket from the most expensive brand to get a great, well-functioning cycling outfit.
There are many smart choices you can make with accessories. Gloves, gaiters, socks, arm and leg warmers want to be chosen wisely. And now out into the winter wonderland. The first roads have been cleared again.