When cycling in the cold, its all about layering. When the temps are a changing, you want to have the right cloths to adapt. Morning rides, usually mean cold starts with warmer finishes. Evening rides are almost always the opposite.
For me Spring/Fall is always a tricky endeavor and sometimes I don’t get it right. I am getting better at judging temps and what to wear (honest). I am one of those who doesn’t want to be cold starting out, but often times, I misjudge how warm it is going to be. Needless to say, I am still a work in progress. Winter can also be a bear depending on your location. Here in Austin, our winters are pretty mild, with almost fall like conditions. There are a few days with the temps are below freezing, but for the most part it stays rather warm. To manage cold weather of winter, you must make sure your head, feet and hands are well insulated.
Here is our advice for cycling in the cold.
The first piece of clothing you should invest in is a good base layer. Base Layers are designed to wick moisture away from body and help regulate body temperature. Today merino wool has become hugely popular. This isn’t the wool your father wore, it is soft and feels fantastic on. There are of course all sorts of new types of materials that are also designed to transfer moisture away from the body. Base layers are designed to remain on you the entire ride. These are your first line of defense against changing temperatures. Typically most rides only require one base layer. I prefer, to use a short sleeve base layer, but sometimes a ride might require two and perhaps long sleeve versions.
Mid Weight/Heavy Weight Layer
When the temps are downright cold, having a mid/heavy weight layer over the base helps keep you warm and adds a barrier between your vest/gilet or jacket. Again these come in many materials. I prefer a merino wool mid weight long sleeve version. These heavier layers often have zippers which comes in handy to unzip if the temperatures start to rise. Icebreaker has some fantastic Mid/Heavy weight layers. I like the ones that have collars to help keep the chill out.
Arm, Knee and Leg Warmers
When the temps are cold, but not too cold, arm, knee and leg warmers can add a lot warmth and is an easy way to cover up body parts from the elements. I tend to use arm warmers a lot in the spring and fall. If and when I get hot, I simply put the arm warmers in my rear pockets for storage. I am not as much a fan of knee/leg warmers. I prefer wearing 3/4 length/three-quarters tights. For those on a tight budget however, having a set of knee warmers/leg warmers means you don’t need to get a set of nickers. Another reason to use leg/knee warmers is to show off your teams colors (If you ride for a team). My favorite set of arm warmers right now are ones made by Rapha. They look fantastic on and perform flawlessly. I actually wrecked in them without tearing the material. My arm wasn’t so lucky, but the material held its own.
Vests or Gilets come in three main flavors, light, medium and heavy. Light vests are perfect for those cool days where a little bit of wind protection is needed to keep you warm until the temps rise. The downside to a light vest is it is just that, light weight. Once the temps start to drop, they don’t add much protection against the cold. Another issue with most lightweight vests is they often don’t come with rear pockets for stowing gear. This is a problem if you don’t have any rear pockets because you’re wearing base layers instead of a cycling jersey. Most people who use light weight vests, use them in conjunction with a cycling jersey, so having a rear pocket is a moot point. The medium and heavy vests are designed to really repel both wind and chill. The medium weight vests are certainly better at keeping the chill off and often come with rear pockets. Many of these come as team kit vests to wear when the temperatures drop. Lastly are the heavy vests. My favorite by far is the Rapha softshell gilet. It has deep pockets, looks fantastic on and is extremely functional. The vest simply stays put and when the temps do rise, I can unzip it and get lots of ventilation.
Now if you want to avoid wearing arm warmers and vests, you always have the option to wear a cycling jacket. The issue of course will be if the temps rise on you, you might overheat. Many cycling jackets come with multiple materials. Some materials are designed to block the wind, while others are designed to allow for breath-ability and moisture management. Most good cycling apparel companies have some fantastic jackets to choose from. Capo has the Padrone thermal jacket that is sort of a combination jacket/heavy weight layer.
During the spring/fall it is a little tricky to decide to go with cycling shorts and leg/knee warmers or just opt to go with a 3/4 length bib shorts or full length tights. For me I much prefer the three-quarters tights to the leg/knee warmers. The tights just feel better when cycling. I also don’t have to worry about the leg/knee warmers shifting positions. In general, the longer tights have zippers around the ankle to make them easier to get on and off. My go to 3/4 tights right now are made by Rapha and Capo. The Rapha 3/4 Bib Shorts just feel amazing and thus far are the most comfortable tights I have worn. I feel the Capo Padrone bib knickers are a little better suited if the weather turns cold. The Capo tights have various materials being employed throughout the tights depending on location. Still either is a great choice.
Toes and Hands
Your toes and hands can make what would otherwise be a perfect ride turn into a miserable experience. Keeping your extremities warm is always a cat and mouse game. I prefer to use merino socks for my feet and depending on the temperature possibly toe warmers or booties. Toe warmers are usually perfect for temps above 40 degrees. Booties are usually required for temps below that range. The merino socks help regulate foot temperature and makes riding in cooler/cold weather much more bearable. My favorites are shocks from Rapha, Icebreaker and Darn Tough (Amazing Socks).
For the hands, it’s always a guessing game. I tend to wear fingerless gloves until the temps drop below 40 degrees. Below that you can either opt for cycling full fingered gloves or what is know as a lobster glove (mitten and glove combo). The advantage to a lobster glove is it tends to be warmer, the disadvantage of course is you don’t have use of all your fingers. The issue with wearing gloves that are too heavy is your hands will eventually start to sweat inside, making the ride less enjoyable. My go to fingerless gloves right now are the Giro LX road gloves. Amazingly comfortable. This year I am going to try some over gloves that I picked up at REI and combination with my Giro gloves. We shall see how that goes.
I just started wearing those euro style cycling caps under my helmet for days when it has been cool out. They certainly do help with the cold. Flipping the cap up also keeps the wind off the head. When the temps drop lower, something to cover the ears is required. Rapha makes a killer knitted hat that is made from merino wool and covers the ears. A few manufactures also make helmet covers to keep the wind out and the head warmer.