Here’s the Skylark team’s take on what to wear and why, when out riding during the cold winter weather.
Feet – it’s generally accepted that the “extremities” suffer more than most during a cold weather ride on a bike and the feet in particular take a battering from spray and rain. Combat this by wearing thick overshoes or even purchasing a proper pair of ankle-high winter boots. The latter are much more durable than overshoes and will make you winter cycling a lot more bearable for a number of years if properly looked after. Waterproof socks are useful, but tend not to be as effective as good boots.
Hands – a good quality pair of waterproof winter cycling gloves are another essential piece of kit that will “pay for themselves” in the way they open up winter cycling options in all but the worst weather. Don’t buy them too tight – a slightly looser fit allows warm air to circulate around the fingers and act as an insulating layer.
Legs – on the whole, the human legs are less prone to the cold than most other parts of the body. A good pair of winter-weight cycling bib tights is usually sufficient to keep away the worst of the cold and wet for most rides, especially if you use mudguards. As with gloves and shoes, a slightly more relaxed fit will promote warmth better than a tight fit. It also gives you the option of slipping a extra base layer underneath. Buy a pair that doesn’t have a padded insert and wear over normal cycling shorts.
Upper Body Outer-Layer – obviously your choice of outer-shell depends on the weather, but it should be at the very least windproof. Modern waterproof jackets are excellent and once the temperatures are approaching zero, they are the best all round solution to what to wear on your outer layer. Generally speaking, choose one with only a light lining. Cycling, even in very cold temperatures, produces a lot of heat and you’re better able to adjust you clothing if you use a number of thin layers, rather than one or two thicker garments. A full length front zip helps with temperature regulation and with quick removal to shed layers.
Upper Body Under-Layers – We’ve all heard of layering to preserve warmth and allow for rapid adjustment of clothing if you get too hot or cold. But there’s a couple of tips we’d add to that. Firstly, don’t forget to carry at least one spare layer, starting with a fresh base garment, such as a short-sleeved thermal garment or just a plain old cycling top. You can use that to replace your sweaty base layer if you plan a length mid-ride stop. Build your layers starting with that short-sleeved base garment. Add in a second layer with long sleeves. Further layers can then be added between these layers or over the top. We’ve found that it’s better to avoid too many sleeved garments. Keeping to a single layer on the arms aids comfort and temperature control. Concentrate the remainder of your layering on short-sleeved or sleeveless garments – there are lots of really useful sleeveless cycling“tabards” on the market at the moment, giving you a great layering garment for winter and a useful back pocket extra layer on warmer days. As well as the spare base layer, a sleeveless “tabard” is another good “extra” garment for the back-pack/back pocket on a cold day.
Head – There are lots of thin thermal/windproof /waterproof caps now on the market which can be worn under the helmet and provide a great way to keep your head warm. Many riders suffer from cold ears and the addition of a fleece headband can also prevent this, though it’s important not to impair your hearing, for safety reasons. There are even helmet covers, but be careful to make sure than you adjust your helmet straps etc to allow for any additional layers. Eye protection is another good idea – as it is at any time of year – protecting you from the icy wind and from any road grit or salt thrown up by other traffic.
Carry a Bag – We’ve said it before, but a mountain biker’s back pack is a great extra piece of kit for bad weather riding. Not only can you easily store extra layers, there’s also room for food, a safe place for your phone and wallet and you can also attach an extra rear-light to the back of it to give your visibility a boost. Getting all that extra kit out of your back pockets and onto your back will give you a big comfort boost and make your pre-ride routine a lot more simple.
We hope that helps you stay out and about on your bike this winter!