Winter road-bike cycling clothing choices

So you wanna cycle in the winter and aren’t sure what to wear? Here’s what works for me - maybe it gives you some ideas.

Generally speaking, being a bit on the cold side with your upper body when you leave is fine, you’ll warm up a bit. Having clothes that you can open (jacket) or roll up (long sleeves) makes it easy to adjust. For rides longer than an hour, you want to make sure your feet are warm enough, since they tend not to get as much blood circulation and hence don’t warm up as much over time.

Keep in mind that gloves, while awesome for cold weather, generally mean not being able to use your phone. If you rely on your phone for navigation, you will either need to figure in time to unglove & unlock, or leave the phone on (or … check out the route better before you leave). Some gloves have touch-screen-fingers, but good luck unlocking a screen with gloves on :). Also, with temperatures under freezing, you should also assume the charge on your phone, headphones, lights, computer, etc. won’t last as long as otherwise (depending on your cycling frequency / distance, that might just mean recharging more often during the week).

Everyone has different clothing parts available. To keep things simple, my recommendation is to use layers instead of trying to find one piece that just works. Layers allow you to vary for quirks like “more wind” or “some rain”. As you go through the winter, check the local temperature before leaving, and evaluate how things are going during your ride – is everything ok? too much upper-body heat? too cold legs? Next time, when you check the temperature, you can adjust appropriately.

My base set in the summer is:

  • Upper: Short-sleeved running shirt
  • Lower: Mid-length cycling bib
  • Feet: Light shoes

In the winter, this changes to roughly:

Upper body:

  • 14C: use long sleeves instead of short
  • 12C: add under-shirt under long sleeves
  • 9C: add light jacket, add thin / wind-proof gloves
  • 3C: use heavier jacket instead of light jacket, add head cover, swap to thicker winter gloves
  • 0C: add neck cover

Lower body:

  • 9C: add winter tights
    (yeah, this is pretty easy - legs stay warm fairly easily when you use them)

Feet:

  • 9C: switch to winter shoes
  • 5C: add rain-covers over shoes
  • 0C: add toe-covers over socks, within shoes

So far, this has worked down to -5C. Fingers & toes for longer rides at that temperature seem to be what get cold most, so for even colder temperatures I’ll have to improvise.

Pro-tip: when it gets dark early/light late, add lots of lights (rear) and keep an extra front light with you should your front light fail. And, when commuting, use more lights on Mondays.

Comments / questions

There's currently no commenting functionality here. If you'd like to comment, please use Twitter and @me there. Thanks!

Tweet about this - and/or - search for latest comments / top comments