The Ultimate Guide to Cycling in Cold Weather

Travis Gneiting Apparel, Bikes Leave a Comment

This article is designed to be the best and most comprehensive guide to dressing and apparel for riding a bike in cold weather. It will cover everything from different layers, our favorite clothing, and when to wear each type of layer. Then we cover riding in different types of weather and protecting different parts of the body from the cold and weather. In conclusion we cover some cycling terms used in this Cycling Guide and their definitions as well as a broad list of cycling cold weather clothing manufactures.

This guide is very long, use the links below to jump to different sections.

1. Layering for Cold Weather Cycling

  1. BEST FIRST BASE LAYER FOR CYCLING
  2. MID THERMAL LAYER
  3. SOFT SHELL/HYBRID LAYER
  4. INSULATION LAYER
  5. HARD PROTECTIVE LAYER
  6. ACCESSORY LAYER

2. Dressing for Temperature Ranges

  1. 70 to 60 Fahrenheit (21.1 to 15.5 Celsius)
  2. 60 to 50 Fahrenheit (15.5 to 10 Celsius)
  3. 50 to 40 Fahrenheit (10 to 4.4 Celsius)
  4. 40 to 30 Fahrenheit (4.4 to -1.1 Celsius)
  5. 30 to 20 Fahrenheit (-1.1 to -6.6 Celsius)
  6. Below 20 Fahrenheit (-6.6 Celsius)

3. Dressing for Different Types of Riding

  1. Road Biking in Cold Weather
  2. Mountain Biking in Cold Weather
  3. Bike Commuting in Cold Weather
  4. Biking in the Rain
  5. Biking in the Snow
  6. Biking in Ice
  7. Biking in the Cold Wind

4. Areas of Protection When Riding in Cold Weather

  1. How to keep your head and ears warm biking
  2. How to keep your face warm biking
  3. How to keep your body warm biking
  4. How to keep your arms warm biking
  5. How to keep your hands warm when biking
  6. How to keep your legs warm biking
  7. How to keep your feet warm biking
  8. How to protect your eyes in cold weather biking
  9. What type of chamois or cycling shorts for cold weather

5. The Conclusion of Bike Riding in Cold Weather

6. Cycling Clothing Term Definitions

7. Cold Weather Clothing Manufactures


Introduction

I am a mountain biker by heart, but when the snow arrives and the trails are covered I long for the circular motion of my legs. Road cycling has been my alternate as opposed to fat biking or stationary bikes. I enjoy the cold crisp air (although usually polluted here in Utah) as well as gear that can make riding in near freezing temperatures almost enjoyable. From many years of biking in cold weather with average ride lengths and times of an hour or two covering 20 to 50 miles there is a system to staying warm and comfortable when riding a bike in cold weather.

Weather, Forecast and Preparation

I usually check the weather daily finding the high and low for the day, chance of precipitation and anticipate what I might experience during my ride. For example if I’m starting a ride in the daylight, but plan to end into the dark I can anticipate at least a 10 degree change when the sun sets, I better have charged lights with me, and a clear lens pair of glasses. Another variable worth checking is cloud cover and precipitation. In my experience riding in freezing weather with a bright sun warming you is a lot different that freezing weather with cloud or pollution cover. Even with similar outside temperature a sunny cold weather ride always seems warmer. Lastly, precipitation can come in various forms or rain, hail, and snow. Being prepared for them keeps me happily pedaling even when things get nasty.

Bike ride into the sunset
One of my rides into the sunset – Jordan River, Utah

I break my rides into different temperature ranges to know how to prepare for a ride. I will dress very different on a 50 degree ride vs. a 40 degree ride. Additionally, if I leave late afternoon in the winter I know I am going to experience some sort of temperature drop. I then make a decision of layering, venting, and additional protection.

There are some basics when planning to ride your bike in cold weather that are helpful to understand up front. You can and will likely still sweat, even when its below freezing. Remember, moisture is your enemy. The windchill can be brutal, and rapidly bring down your core temperature. Pay special attention to toes, fingers and face as they are typically the first to get cold.

Winter Cycling Considerations

As we cover all aspects of riding bikes in cold weather, there are a few considerations to think about when trying to remain comfortable in the cold weather.

Air Gaps

When riding in cold weather weather a small gap in clothing can let cold air in and start to cause discomfort. Around the wrist, ankles, and up from the bottom of a jacket are all places that air can creep in. Also, cheaper cycling clothing or summer clothing worn in winter can allow air in through seams in clothing. Spend a few extra seconds to pull a sleeve over your gloves, or secure zippers.

Head Neck and Face

Don’t ignore your head and face when riding in the cold. Covering your head with a cap can be an easy way to adjust your temperature and cool off or add warmth quickly. A lot of heat can also be lost on the neck, a trick is using a tight fitting hooded layer like the Gore Layer. The hood fits tight around the back of your neck keeping the wind off, and in extreme conditions can quickly be put on under a helmet to add warmth, without a packing an additional layer.

Use a tight fitting hooded cycling jacket and cinch the hood around your neck for modular protection that can also be used to cover your head in an emergency.

Heating and Cooling Control

Riding in colder temperatures requires adjustments especially on rides over an hour or two long. You will likely experience ranges plus or minus 10 degrees. Keeping your body and clothing dry by adjusting clothing will help you remain comfortable the duration of your ride. Use your zippers to adjust body heat quickly.

Garment Construction

Cycling clothing can be made specifically for cold weather, warm weather or indifferent. Jerseys, shorts and tights are usually constructed by sewing panels of material together. Typically the more panels the more comfortable the clothing and fit. Additionally, waterproof and water resistant material often have taped seams to prevent leakage. Look at these considerations when purchasing clothing for cold weather biking.

Bike Clothing Construction
Bike Clothing Constructions

Sweat and Moisture

The absolute most important consideration when biking in cold weather is keeping your body and clothing dry. If you set off for a ride and are comfortable, it is likely you will be too warm shortly. Simply unzipping a jacket or jersey can help cool down quickly and easily adjusted to regulate heat.

Heat Management

Along with managing sweat and moisture, you should be managing your overall heat. Cycling can generate a lot of warmth, but a long stoplight you can loose it quickly. A full zip or 3/4 jacket can easily dump head while riding, but can be zipped up at a light to hold in heat. Some tights offer wind protection on the front, while being completely vented on the back.

Temperature Change

Temperatures can fluctuate up to 40 degrees on a ride. Checking the forecast before a ride is always helpful to know what changes you might be encountering, and prepare for the worst. I like using the National Weather Service Forecast to plan my bike ride. It offers temperatures, wind chill, precipitation, sky coverage, wind, and a lot more.

Additional Clothing Storage

A great place to store an extra jacket is in a water bottle cage. Simply roll your jacket up into the diameter of a water bottle and slip it in there. A rubber band can be helpful to keep the jacket together.

Store an extra jacket in your water bottle holder

Another option is using jersey pockets but for a bulkier jacket I recommend the above trick of storing a jacket in a water bottle cage.

Lastly saddle packs are another great place to store a light weight layer depending on the size.

Bike-saddle-bag

Bike Saddle Bag for Extra Clothing Storage

Preparing Your Bike For Cold Weather

It is worth noting that your bike may need additional care when riding in cold temperatures. Bike suspension can become sluggish, salt and water can wreak havoc on components and bearings.

Using a bucket and brush with warm soap water to remove salt grit, and other debris is essential. Take time to check your bearings that water is not getting into them, clean and re-grease to keep the water out of them. Keep a clean and well lubed drive train. Using a wet specific lube like WHITE LIGHTNING WET RIDE (TM) or FINISH LINE WET BIKE LUBRICANT

Staying Hydrated in Freezing Temperatures

Trying to use a Camelbak® in cold weather just doesn’t work, even when temperatures are above freezing, the hose still freezes up making it impossible to get any fluids. Even various water bottles tips get ice around them making it difficult to drink from.

I’ve found that soft hydro pack water bags works great to store water under layers to prevent freezing and are not cumbersome like a hard water bottle. They also collapse as you drink from them making them less occurred to carry.


1. Layering Clothing for Cold Weather Cycling

The key to staying comfortable either warm or cold weather is preparation and layering. We list a large amount of options for different layers and styles for riding in temperatures from well below freezing to mildly cold. We provide options for clothing to start riding in as well as additional layers that should be brought to stay comfortable throughout a ride. For example it may be acceptable to bring less layers for a short 30 min ride when you know you will be back home or to the car to warm up if things go bad. However, on a multi-hour ride you may encounter many different weather and temperature rides, and may be miles form the protection and safety of structure. You will want to ensure you are equipped with layers to support you should the worst weather arise.

1.1 What is the Best First or Base Layer for Bicycling

A proper first layer will sit against your skin as the “First Layer” of clothing you put on. It should fit fairly snug around your body and is the first line of defense from the cold weather and your body moisture. The main purpose of a base layer is to draw moisture off the skin and keep you dry. Sweat, condensation, rain, snow and other forms of moisture can be your enemy when trying to stay warm while bicycling in the cold weather. Remember here the goal with the first layer is to keep you dry. A proper base layer will act as a slight insulating layer, but it’s main purpose is to pull moisture from the skin.

The best base layer for bicycling should be worn against your skin. It will act as an additional layer of skin on your body. Most base layer materials are fabricated to provide a small amount of insulation while wiking moisture.

Often times a cycling short is worn as a first layer on the bottom. This could also be a tight or bib depending on the weather. For colder applications think about wearing a padded chamois as your first layer and an un-padded tight or pant over the top. In addition to a bike short, arm warmers and leg/knee warmers can be used as a base layer for ultimate adjustability.

1.1.1 Base Layer Materials

The best base layers are made of wool, wool blends, and synthetics like Polyester and Microfiber. Manufactures have also began to include GORE-TEX Windstopper® into base layers for an additional layer of protection. There are also insulating base layers and non-insulating base layers.

There are some materials that are designed to use moisture as a cooling mechanism and can make you feel colder when riding be aware of materials and manufacturing processes that are labeled as “Cooling”. Also be aware of cotton, it holds moisture like a sponge and will create a cooling effect.

1.1.2 Types of Base Layers

  • Top – Long Sleeve Base Layer
  • Top – Short Sleeve Base Layer
  • Top – Sleeveless Base Layer
  • Top – Full Zip, 3/4 Zip, Button, Pull over
  • Bottom – Shorts with and without Chamois
  • Bottom – Nickers
  • Bottom – Tights

1.1.3 Why you should own a base layer

Base layers are more common now in summer and winter however, they work differently. A summer base layer is designed to keep you cooler, and are constructed differently than a winter base layer that is designed to keep you warm. A base layer is the first defense against perspiration, sweat, and cold chills. You should own and wear a base layer to help keep you drier, and better regulate temperature. Wearing a cotton shirt will trap and hold onto moisture and when the temperature drops, or you pause your ride, you immediately feel the chill set in.

1.1.4 GearChase Pick for Base Layer

The Craft Warm base layer is a simple well designed base layer for cold weather riding that won’t break the bank. It’s made of Polyester and Elastane and works very well in moisture transport.

Craft – Warm Comfort Long Sleeve Baselayer

The Gore C3 Windstopper® Classic Thermo Bib Tight+ is our pick for an offering base layer protection with an incorporated seat pad. It incorporates Windstopper® technology as well as light insulation. It’s a great base layer and chamois pad combination for temperatures down to 32° degrees (0 Celsius) when combined with a tall wool sock, or layering with knee warmers.

GORE – C3 Thermo Tight

I have been wearing the Kitsbow Escalator for mountain missions in the cold for a few months now. Kitsbow uses top quality materials and adds a touch of style to them, here with the button 3 button look. I’m 5’10” about 160 and wear a size Medium. It fits slightly snug but perfect for layering, and looks great when shedding layers. It’s also works well around the office.

The Kitsbow Rockstacker Merino Tight is a great base layer for the lower body. Layering with a Cycling Short with padding, It’s a mixes merino wool with wind and water resistant panels around the shin and knee. It offers more protection that an integrated biking tight, or knee warmers and make it a great option for a base layer for your lets you layer on the bottom as well.

The Giro Thermal Leg Warmer is a light weight low profile stretch fabric that can be used alone or layered under additional tights for warmth. They are low profile, can be layered easily.

Giro – Thermal Leg Warmers

1.2 MID THERMAL LAYER

A mid layer is designed to fit over the top of a base layer, not restrict movement add warmth and sometimes wind protection. It should also have some moisture wicking properties, and trap air as the first layer of warmth. Often a bike jersey can be used for a mid thermal layer depending on the conditions you may work off your other layers all the way down to a mid layer as temperatures rise. A bike jersey with a fleece lined back makes a great mid layer. It can be warn alone, but will also offers functionality like pockets and zippers if needed.

1.2.1 Mid Layer Materials

Mid layer materials like merino wool, fleece lined fabric, or synthetic polyester insulation make excellent mid layers. They may have a thicker weave or heavier knit to increase warmth. Look for layers that offer a way to trap a small amount of air from the skin and elements. Wool and fleece do an excellent job at holding air and keeping you warm.

In the mid layer you will start to see additional features like zipper pockets, elastic and rubber grips to keep jerseys in place. You will also start to see jersey pockets on the back of a mid layer, something you should avoid with a base layer.

1.2.2 Types of Mid Layers

Decisions for Mid layer might be to wear a long sleeve, short sleeve, or sleeveless jersey, a full or three quarter zip, or high neck. When shopping for a mid layer take these into mind.

  • Top – Long Sleeve Mid Layer
  • Top – 3/4 Sleeve Mid Layer
  • Top – Short Sleeve Mid Layer
  • Top – Full Zip Mid Layer
  • Top – 3/4 Zip Mid Layer
  • Top – Button Mid Layer
  • Bottom – Full Length Tights
  • Bottom – Nicker or 3/4 Length Tights
  • Bottom – Insulated Short

1.2.3 GearChase Mid Layer Picks

The Gore C5 Thermo Trail Jersey is a heavier weight jersey great for cold weather cycling. It has a slim fit with a lot of features a typical bike jersey may not. Because it can be worn as a jersey or layered it make it a great value.

Gore – C5 Thermo Trail Jersey

The Gore C7 Windstopper® Pro Bib Tight is our top pick for a mid-layer tight. It has incorporated Windstopper® technology to block wind, is still very breathable, and provides some waterproofing, all with a seat insert (chamois) for comfort without bulk.

Gore – C7 Windstopper® Pro Bib Tight

The Pearl Izumi Elite Escape Thermal Jersey is a great option for a mid layer. It can be worn alone, with a base layer under, or as part of an entire layering system. Its slim fit and articulated arms allow it to be layered better than a non cycling mid layer.

Pearl Izumi – Elite Escape Thermal Jersey

The Pearl Izumi Elite Escape AmFIB Cycling Tight is a great option when you know you are going into extreme cold weather. It’s the warmest tight Pearl Izumi makes and incorporates PI Dry™ and a Soft Shell fabric to keep you try and warm. I’ve been wearing these tights for about 3 years on the coldest of days. They are still my top pick for when the weather is at its worst.

Pearl Izumi – Elite Escape AmFIB Cycling Tight

1.3 SOFT SHELL/HYBRID LAYER

A soft shell or hybrid layer is a third layer that can offer partial protection from wind, rain and snow. Layering on top of the base layer, and mid layer it builds the base to keep the core temperature up. Soft shells can also be worn as an outer layer. More and more companies are incorporating Windstopper® tech and waterproof coatings to make them a great option in a defense against the elements. You can find soft shell jackets with rear pockets and front zipper pockets for storage and easy access.

A Soft shell layer should be where you add your warmth. Aside from a full insulation layer for extremely cold days, the soft shell layer should be a thermal fleece type fabric that provides moisture transfer and heat. A soft shell is flexible and more comfortable layer than a hard shell jacket. It doesn’t have that hard crunchy feeling of a hard shell (think of your ski parka). A soft shell is much more comfortable than a hard shell, and it provides more protection that a fleece jacket.

1.3.1 Soft Shell Layer Materials

Soft shell materials are constructed with stretch woven fabric that often have a waterproof durable water repellent (DWR) to protect against rain and snow while still being breathable. Often times soft shell jackets combind layers by adding this waterproofing, or additional fleece on the inside of the garment.

When comparing soft shell jacket vs. hard shell jackets, soft shells are three times more breathable that Gore-Tex hard shell material. They offer more stretch and comfort. However, they are not as waterproof or windproof as a hard shell in the worst of weather.

When comparing soft shell jacket vs. fleece jackets, the soft shell is more water resistant, and will block wind better than fleece alone. Soft shell jacket won’t pill like fleece and do not attract as much animal hair.

1.3.2 Different types of Soft Shells

Soft shell layers come in a variety of options. Because they are a versatile clothing option that can be worn as an insulation layer or as an outer layer there are many features in soft shells like hoods, internal and external pockets, pit zips, and convertibles into vest. They often start incorporating WINDSTOPPER® Gore-Tex® and other features to make them full featured all around jackets.

Bottoms tights and shorts are often lumped into soft shell and mid-layers. Some of the extremely warm tights are very similar to a soft shell. Separate leg, knee and arm warmers can also feel a lot like a soft shell and are made from the same materials.

  • Top – Full Zip Chest Pocket
  • Top – Hooded Soft Shell Cycling Jackets
  • Top – Arm Warmers are often constructed like Soft Shells
  • Bottom – Full Length Tights
  • Bottom – Nicker or 3/4 Length Tights
  • Bottom – Insulated Short
  • Bottom – Leg Warmers are often constructed like Soft Shells

1.3.3 Why you should own Soft Shell

A soft shell cycling jacket or insulated cycling tight/pant is one of the most versatile biking clothing options. It can be used in many applications and covers a wide range of temperature options making it a great choice to grab when heading out for spring and fall bike rides. Additionally, when winter and cold temperatures come, it can be used as an insulation layer.

1.3.4 GearChase Soft Shell Picks

The Pearl Izumi Elite Jacket jackets is one of our picks when layering with a protective layer. It’s slim fitting and articulated arms work well when working with multiple layers.

Pearl Izumi – Elite Pursuit Amfib Jacket

The Gore Wear C5 Windstopper® Trail 2 in 1 Pant is a great hybrid pant. It’s our pick because of the versatility. It offers a tight under a second short like layer with Windstopper®. The bottoms can also be turned in to convert to a long short. These have been a goto pant this winter for both road rides in the rain and mountain biking.

GORE® C5 GORE® WINDSTOPPER® Trail 2 in1 Pants

The Gore R3 Windstopper® Hoodie is one of my go to soft shell jackets. Hooded jackets aren’t always popular for cyclist, however the tall neck coverage that comes with the hood, and the option of throwing the hood on under a helmet in a extreme condition makes it a very versatile soft shell jacket for cycling. The fit for the hoodie works well for road and mountain rides and is excellent for layering.

Gore – R3 Windstopper® Hoodie

The Pearl Izumi Soft Shell Zip Off Pant is the one of the best warm pants that works great for layering. A slim base layer or leg warmers fit well under the Soft Shell cycling pants. The articulated knees and adjustable waist make them a great all around pant on and off the road in all weather.

Pearl Izumi – Softshell Zip Off Pant

1.4 CYCLING INSULATION LAYER

For extremely cold conditions add an insulation layer to keep your body temperature up. When riding in sub-freezing temperatures you will likely add a full insulation layer to keep you comfortable.

An insulation layer could be a soft shell jacket but a new style of puffy jackets for cycling are starting to be brought to market. They are excellent for bike commuting, fat biking, and other extremely cold cycling activities. Insulated jackets are often larger and harder to pack into a jersey pocket if things get warm.

1.4.1 Insulation Cycling Options and Materials

Full insulation layers could be a fleece lined jacket or even into a down or synthetic down jacket to really trap air and add warmth. These jackets will likely fit looser that typical cycling clothing to allow for trapping air and layers. You will see these jackets made with PrimaLoft® , DownTek™ hydrophobic down, and Polartec® to provide ultimate warmth.

A cycling specific insulated layer will be lower profile while still offering similar properties to that of a ski/snowboard insulating layer. The arms will likely be articulated and longer sleeves to prevent air gaps.

1.4.2 Different Types of Insulating Layers

  • Top – Down, Fleece, Primaloft®, Thinsulate®, Polartec® Vest and Jackets
  • Bottom – Fleece, Primaloft®, Thinsulate®, Polartec® cycle pants

1.4.3 GearChase Insulation Layer Picks

The Castelli Cross Prerace Jacket is marketed as a warm up jacket for pre-race. It’s cut as a cycle jacket with long articulated arms and low back. It’s insulated with Primaloft® which makes it a great option for adding a lot of warmth on sub freezing days.

Castelli – Cross Prerace Jacket

The Endura Primaloft® Puffy Cycling Jacket is insulated and cut for cycling. It’s silicone hem and light enough to be packed down if needed. For ultimate warmth when fat biking or on the coldest of rides this is another one of our personal picks.

Endura – Primaloft Puffy Cycling Jacket

1.5 HARD PROTECTIVE LAYER

A hard shell jacket is the first line of defense from the outside elements inward is your outer protective layer. It should be a waterproof breathable shell. It acts as a barrier against wind, rain and snow, yet still allows the body to breath and resist perspiration buildup. They are great to have for maximum wind and weather protection.

The downside to a hard shell jacket is that they can be noisy, and a little harder to roll up and pack in a back pocket.

1.5.1 Hardshell Protective Layer Materials

You will see a lot of hard shell or outer layer made from GORE® Windstopper®. It is some of the best technology for water resistance, breathability and wind stopping (pun intended).

1.5.2 Different types of Hardshells

  • Top – Light weight wind blocker
  • Top – Heavyweight Shell
  • Bottom – Most hard shell bottoms are long pants, but there are a few options or hybrids like the Gore hybrid pant above, or hard shell shorts.

1.5.5 GearChase Hardshell Cycling Picks

The Gore c5 Active Hoodie has been a long time favorite of mine. You can read our full review on it here. I would consider it a light weight, packable, protective layer. It’s great at trapping in heat, and fits great stored in a water bottle cage.

GORE C5 GORE-TEX Active Hoodie

The Pearl Izumi Elite WxB Rain Pant is a full rain weather pant for the worst conditions. It’s adjustable to keep water out while remaining breathable. They are also a great option for adding serious warmth.

Pearl Izumi WxB Rain Pant

1.6 Accessories Layering

Items like eyes, ears, toes, knees, fingers and faces sometimes need special attention. There are many different accessories like headbands, hats that fit under helmets, helmet covers, arm warmers and knee warmers to help quickly protect an area that has become cold.

1.6.1 Types of Accessories for Staying Warm When Biking

There are a number of various accessories for hands, head, neck, arms, legs and toes to keep them warm.

  • Skull Caps
  • Balaclava
  • Face Covers (ColdAvenger)
  • Gloves
  • Clam/Lobster Gloves
  • Arm Warmers
  • Leg Warmers
  • Socks
  • Shoe Covers
  • Toe Covers
  • Disposable Warmers

1.6.2 Best Winter Cycling Gloves

The Gore Universal Glove is a perfect glove for a wide temperature range. It’s not too bulky it makes riding difficult. It still has a good amount of insulation. It’s one of our favorite winter riding gloves for both road and mountain biking.

GORE UNIVERSAL WINDSTOPPER THERMO GLOVES

Hands are one of the first extremities to impact cold weather, wind, and start to feel the effects. They can be difficult to keep warm and still be able to hold onto the bike, shift, and use brakes.

There is a huge variety of gloves from thin finger-less all the way up to fully insulated lobster style gloves for sub-zero bike riding. There is also something called “Bar Mitts” that allow you to hold onto handlebars without the bulk of gloves around your hand.

When selecting the best gloves for cycling in cold weather. Look at the forcast, do you anticipate rain or snow? I’ve found riding down to about 20 degrees with a split finger mitt. Any colder than that requires short rides, hand warmers, or bar covers. Choose a glove that allows you to still hold onto your bike, use brakes, and shift comfortably.

1.6.3 Best Winter Cycling Socks

The Gore Thermo Sock is one of our favorite cycling sock because if it’s function. The sock is a tall wool stocking that offers a layering of calf when paired with a long tight. It provides additional warmth and does well at keeping the foot warm, even with foot perspiration. It’s not overly bulky, and a mix of synthetic and wool makes it great for all around riding. Also the taller sock under a tight adds an extra layer of warmth that a 7 inch sock won’t.

GORE THERMO SOCK

Next to hands, feet are often the fastest part of the body to get cold. When selecting the best winter cycling sock for cold weather think about the thickness of the sock, how it will fit in your shoe, and stay dry.

1.6.4 Best Winter Cycling Shoe Covers

The Pearl Izumi P.R.O Barrier Shoe Cover offers water and wind resistance. It is not the warmest shoe cover, but a great all around. I’ll typically wear it from 45 degrees down, and may layer over the top of it for extreme rides. It’s worked well in keeping my feet dry in rain rides for a couple hours.

PEARL IZUMI P.R.O. Barrier Shoe Cover

Shoe covers are a must in winter cycling. They block out wind and water while allowing moisture to escape. There are insulated and non-insulated versions of shoe covers. Some are velcro closure and other offer zippers. For extreme conditions there are full rain covers. For extreme days I like to layer even my shoe covers.

1.6.5 Best Winter Cycling Leg Warmers

The Gore c3 leg warmer are a simple full length leg warmer that offers the flexibility of removing and storing them in a jersey pocket. The zippers make them easy to remove without removing shoe covers or shoes.

GORE C3 LEG WARMERS

When choosing the best leg warmers think about when you will be wearing them. Are you buying them trying to avoid buying a biking tight? Or as a quick way to warm up and plan on pulling them on and off throughout the day.

A thick, fleece lined leg warmer can work well replacing a thermal tight. However, they are not as easy to apply and remove as a thin wind blocker or knee warmer. So when you are looking to buy the best leg warmers think about how you plan to use them.

1.6.6 Best Winter Cycling Arm Warmers

The Pearl Izumi PRO Soft Shell Arm Warmer is our favorite pick for cold weather. It’s heavy weight, soft lined, with front panel wind protection makes it one of the most advanced arm warmers you can buy.

PEARL IZUMI P.R.O. ARM WARMER

Similar to leg warmers, how do you plan to use the arm warmers? A light weight thin wind blocking arm warmer can work well to take the chill off on an evening ride but can store easily in a jersey pocket.

If you are trying to avoid taking an extra layer, an arm warmer that is fleece lined can offer more protection and warmth.

Commuting in Cold Weather

A commuter pant should be something you can walked into the office without turning heads from noise or function over fashion. A commuter pant also needs to offer protection from the cold and some additional function over a normal trouser.

The Arcteryx A2B Commuter Pant is a nice lighter weight pant designed for the bike commuter with reflective tags on the back pocket and inner cuff.

Arcteryx – A2B COMMUTER PANT MEN’S

The Kitsbow Haskel has to be our favorite commuter pant. The pant is full of features like hip pocket, plastic buttons around ankle to taper leg, vented pockets. All in a style that can be worn around the office without attracting attention. It is one of my favorite pants to wear for any activity because of the fit, function and I love the soft durable material.

Kitsbow – Haskell Pant

2.0 Dressing for Temperature Ranges

Now that you understand the many different layering options, you need to understand how to use them together for different temperatures ranges. There is a lot of personal preference in riding temperature comfort, so there may be some experimenting to find out what works best for you.  A good rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable when you leave for a ride, you will quickly be too hot. If you leave on the colder side with an extra layer you should be comfortable for an hour or two long ride in colder temperatures.

The guide below offers ten degree groups to give you a guideline of what types of clothing and layering options can be used to remain comfortable during a ride.

2.1 70° to 60° Degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 to 15.5 Celsius)

When riding in temperatures above 70° degrees Fahrenheit a typical cycling kit of light short and jersey will be sufficient. You may even look into some wind protection or tall socks for style points. As soon as the temperature drops down to 60°, you may start to notice the cold on an overcast or slightly windy day windchill will feel even colder.

This is a great range for shorts or bib cycling shorts and a jersey. A cooling base layer might also be a good option for this range. In your jersey pockets it nice to have a very light weigh shell and/or leg and arm warmers in case of a temperature change.

Top: A lightweight cycling jersey paired with a cooling first layer works great for this range.

Bottom: A standard cycling Short, or bib will offer enough protection and warmth for a ride in this range.

Hands: Finger-less or glove-less is a good way to go with semi-warm temperature.

Head: A vented helmet in this range is a good idea to keep air moving over your head keeping yourself from overheating.

Feet: Light weight cycle specific sock

2.2 60° to 50° Fahrenheit (15.5 to 10 Celsius)

Bike riding in 50° to 60° degree Fahrenheit weather is when you start thinking about wearing a long sleeve jersey, and bringing a lightweight jacket with you. Also at this point you may start your ride with arm or leg warmers already on. Generally, the heat generated from your pedaling will warm your body in this temperature range if covered.

Starting a ride will be slightly chilly. But after your cadence increases for a few minutes you feel the warmth trapped in your clothing.  At the lower range around 50°, you will feel the chill when stopped for lights or conversation. You may also want to wear a full fingered glove.

Top: Long sleeve jersey, Short sleeve jersey with arm warmers, lightweight outer layer.

Bottom: Cycling Short with knee warmers, Bib with knee warmer, knickers

Hands: Light to medium glove

Head: Cycling cap, lightweight cap

Feet: Heavier cycling sock, toe covers

2.3 50° to 40° Fahrenheit (10 to 4.4 Celsius)

Biking in 40° to 50° Degree Fahrenheit weather is going to require a bit more preparation. You will often be starting a ride in warmer full leg warmers or heavier tights, a long sleeve jersey, maybe a base layer. Staying dry becomes even more important when the temperature drops. Make sure you are managing moisture by adding and removing layer or unzipping throughout your ride as needed. You also need to start thinking about your head, ears, toes and fingers staying warm.

Longer rides in the 40’s will start to get to your extremities. A shoe cover, well insulated, wind blocking glove, and head cover are becoming a necessity.

Top: A good option is to wear a light base layer, and an insulated jersey and a soft shell to start off the ride. You may also want to bring a light protective shell or other item that is packable and can quickly be put on to trap heat if the temperature drops.

Bottom: Starting with full length leg warmers, tights or bibs is recommended. Also, some hybrid pants that incorporate Windstopper® into the front and tights on the back offer great breathability and protection from cold wind.

Hands: A mid weight riding glove with insulation should provide comfortable riding for shorter rides. For longer rides you may want to consider a more insulated weather resistant glove.

Head: A cycling cap, light head cover

Feet: This is when you need to start thinking about keeping your toes warm. A full foot cover, Wool cycling socks.

Eyes: Cold air passing over your eyes becomes uncomfortable and causes them to water. Take care to protect your eyes with full cover cycling glasses.

2.4 40° to 30° Fahrenheit (4.4 to -1.1 Celsius)

We are getting serious now. It’s going to be cold when you walk out the door. You should be starting your ride with a base layer, mid layer, and light outer layer.  Windchill can really bring down your core temperature. You will be starting with a base layer, long sleeve jersey and layering up with a mid layer. Next consider adding an insulative layer or vest over your protective layer.  Keeping your overall body temperature warm while also keeping your extremities warm takes some planning.

Biking in these cold temperatures you will still be adding and removing protective layers, and unzipping softshells to breath and exit heat. Keep in mind you could encounter snow and ice.

Top: Base layer, mid layer, soft shell and protective shell

Bottom: Thermal tights or bibs

Hands: Cold weather gloves with substantial insulations.

Head: Head cap

Feet: Here you really need to start thinking about your feed. A thicker wool sock should be worn, and a shoe cover when getting down to freezing tempatures.

2.5 30° to 20° Fahrenheit (-1.1 to -6.6 Celsius)

Cycling in the twenty degrees fahrenheit will be cold to start with, face covers, head covers, shoe covers and winter specific gloves will be needed.  Shorter rides are more manageable in these temperatures, but 2 or 3 hour rides shouldn’t be out of the question with the proper preparation.

Ask yourself questions as you are planning your ride. Do you expect precipitation? Then a waterproof top and bottom will be a must. Do you expect a drastic change in temperature, for example going from daylight to night? Then make sure you have an extra layer.  Is wind going to be a factor in your ride? Windchill can bring down a temperature drastically, especially when wet.

Top: Wool base layer, mid-layer, soft shell, thin insulated layer, insulated protective layer

Bottom: Knee warmers, wind blocking tights or bibs. Waterproof tights

Hands: You will need a heavy weight winter riding glove with insulation and wind blocking of some sort. Additionally, you may want to look at bar mitts at this point. Disposable hand warmers can also be used on the backs of hands in gloves to keep the dexterity of your fingers in the gloves.

Head: You will be loosing a lot of heat from your head, especially with a large vented helmet designed for warm weather riding. A wind stopping skull cap that covers ears, balaclava, and/or a helmet cover can all help keep your head from loosing all your bodies heat.

Feet: Protect your feet with thick wool socks. Keep your feet dry, start with dry feet and fresh socks right before your ride. Another pro tip is to start using disposable toe warmers. They offer just enough to take the edge off and keep you in the saddle a little bit longer.

2.6 Below 20° Fahrenheit (-6.6 Celsius)

Be prepared to really bundle up, and cover those air gaps. Any skin that is exposed at this temperature is going to get uncomfortable very quickly.

Top: You should be following the full layering guide above for sub-20 degree biking. Wear a long sleeve base layer to wick moisture from your skin. Next a jersey on top will help to start the insulation layer. Over your jersey should be an insulated soft shell. At this temperature I like to wear a hooded soft shell to use in an emergency. If it is really cold out put on a full insulation layer with some loft to it that will trap warm air. Lastly, a hard shell jacket will do the best at protecting you from the wind.

Bottom: Start with a heavy weight cycling short, then layer up from there. For really extreme days, put on leg or knee warmers next. Cover them with a wool tight.

Hands: Hand warmers, lobster gloves, bar covers, well insulated gloves

Face/Head/Neck: Balaclava, Face cover, glasses

Feet: You should start thinking about layering your with your feet. Typically layering socks won’t work with low profile shoes. Start with a thick wool sock, then your shoe. You can then layer the outside with a thermo overshoe cover, or just a toe cover followed by a larger over cover like the Gore(r) Light overshoe that has enough room for layering.

Another trick I’ve used for feet is to put them in a plastic bag. This isn’t comfortable, or a long term solution but it works.

Eyes: Your eyes need protection at this temperature range. Look for a full coverage glasses or eve goggles.

3.0 Dressing For Different Types of Biking in the Cold

Road Biking in Cold Weather

3.1 Road Biking in Cold Weather

When road biking in cold weather you will be moving through a lot of cold air that can bring down your core temperature. With road biking there can be short intervals of high output followed by short intervals of mild effort. Generally with a steady temperature, and relatively steady riding, you can remain in the same layering throughout your ride. It’s easy to dump heat by unzipping a layer.

When selecting clothing for road biking in cold weather, it can be difficult to layer multiple long sleeve layers. Start with a short sleeve base-layer and build up from there. Try to select clothing that progressively gets larger as it hold additional layers under, while still remaining form fitting.

Pay close attention to protecting your hands and feet from the cold. Keeping them dry is essential to keeping them warm.

Pro Tip: Start your ride with a fresh pair of socks. The socks you have been wearing all day in the office will likely have a little moisture in them that will cool more quickly.

3.2 Mountain Biking in Cold Weather

When mountain biking in cold weather you are more likely to encounter snow, water, and mud. Layering for a cold mountain bike ride is a little easier that a road bike ride. Layering can be a little bulkier because you aren’t fighting the wind as frequently. Also, you may be riding with a backpack or hip pack that allows you to more easily store an extra layer.

Following the layering pattern above, start with a base layer, build upon it depending on the temperature. Skip or include layers according to the climate and forecast. Just be prepared for a walk in the mud or snow if you double flat miles from your transportation.

3.3 Bike Commuting in Cold Weather

Commuting to work, school, or just around town in cold weather on a bike doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Like the Kitsbow Haskell pant there are many article of clothing designed to be worn from the pedals to the chair.

Consider layering when commuting on a bike. A thin tight added to a commuter pant can be plenty to block the wind and prevent a wardrobe change at every stop. Layering with stylish layers like the Kitsbow Escalator Merino Henley top and a protective layer over the top can be worn from the bike to the office.

You may encounter water, mud, snow on a commute. Having a protective coated pant that is easily wiped clean and waterproof or water resistant can prevent you from looking like you had a protein stain on your backside. Additionally, a waterproof protective layer can be ditched at the door leaving your mud soaked remains to drip in the entry.

You may want to look into getting a set of fenders for your tires to keep the additional mud and grim off your clothing.

3.4 Biking in the Rain

Obviously the key is to stay dry.  There are many advanced clothing articles designed for riding in the rain.  Everything from rubber pants to Gore-Tex. Rain doesn’t need to spoil a bike ride and with proper coverage with the right clothing it can be enjoyable.  Riding a bike in the rain, make sure you keep your feet and body dry. Cover your feet with waterproof boots. If warm enough I choose to ride in the rain without gloves as  they are usually the first item to get saturated. A waterproof cap with a brim can be helpful to divert the water from your head. Lastly, eye coverage is essential when riding in the rain.

3.5 Biking in the Snow

Riding a bike in sleet and snow is similar to riding in rain, but add an additional insulating layer as needed.  Close off gaps where water and cold air like to creep in.

Biking in slush and snow can require good tires that offer grip on multiple surfaces. Additionally reducing tire pressure can help increase traction. There are even studded tires for extreme ice conditions. Just keep in consideration that once the road gets wet, man hole covers, painted lines, and oil patches become very slick on two wheels.

3.6 Biking in the Ice

Similar to riding in snow and rain, riding in ice storms or icy streets can be a bit daunting.  But with the right equipment and spiked bike tires can make commuting in an ice store very possible.  Follow the guidelines of dressing for snow, and add layers as needed.

Think about studded tires if you know you are going to be commuting in ice on a bike. These are little tiny pieces of metal that protrude from the tire and provide traction through ice.

3.7 Biking in Cold Wind

Wind: Biking in a cold wind can bring temperatures down as much as twenty degrees with windchill.  Additionally, a cold wind can expose gaps and loose seams in clothing allowing cold air in. Technologies like Windblocker are great for keeping the cold air from getting in.  However, the cold moving air around you still cools your core temperature. Use an outer layer that is waterproof or windproof. Layer underneath as recommended above in our temperature range section.

4.0 Areas of Protection when Riding in Cold Weather

4.1 How to Keep Your Head and Ears Warm Biking

They say we lose most heat through out head, whether a misnomer or truth, your head is an extremity and loses heat quickly.  To keep your head warm, skip the beanie and get a lower profile cap that’s designed to be worn under a helmet. For warmer days a headband can keep ears tucked in and warm while still allowing sweat to evaporate. For colder days a fleece neck warmer with a skull cap or a balaclava can keep you warm even in sub-freezing temperatures when bicycling. A pair of full coverage glasses can prevent watery eyes from cold air.  For extreme days, ski goggles can be worn, however it can be a challenge to prevent them from fogging during high exertion.

4.2 How to Keep Your Face Warm Biking

Keeping your face warm and dry when cycling can be a challenge, but I have a few tricks.  Wear a high collar jacket that you can hide behind works well to block cold air up to your mouth. Full face covers often trap moisture and are difficult to breath during high output.

4.3 How to Keep Your Body Warm Biking

Keeping your core temperature up while riding in cold weather is essential to keeping your overall body warm. Once your core temperature drops it’s hard to recover. Use layers as described above to ensure that your body stays warm. On extremely cold days think about bringing hand warmers or body warmers just in case a chill starts to set in.

4.4 How to Keep Your Arms Warm Biking

Arms extended in the cold wind can quickly cool with cold air continually moving over them. Stopping the cold air from penetrating, keeping them dry, and insulating your arms will help them stay warm.

There are many different types of clothing to keep your arms warm. There are insulated arm warmers, regular arm warmers, and wool breathable arm warmers. You may have felt the sensation of your arms burning or tingling after a long cold ride. Arm warmer are the perfect solution to prevent this.

4.5 How to Keep Your Hands Warm When Biking

There is a lot of talk and even more options on what style of glove, handwarmers, and heating elements should be used when cycling. While a heated glove is not going to be needed for all of us, it is an option.

A pro-tip is to keep a pair of rubber gloves stashed on your bike in a seat tube, or handlebar. If your glove get wet, or you need some added warmth. They can be used in a pinch for a short period of time to warm up your hands. Just slip them on as a liner for other gloves. They keep your hands dry and warm when layered with other gloves.

Keep extra pair of rubber gloves stashed on your bike for an emergency. They can save your hands

4.6 How to Keep Your Legs Warm Biking

Much like arm warmers, leg warmers and tights are your best option for keeping your legs warm in cold weather.

When mountain biking you can get away with wearing a tapered pant, or larger knee pads to help keep you warm.

When commuting choosing a bike specific pant or a loose layered option can be best for keeping clothing clean and dry, while adding warmth.

4.7 How to Keep Your Feet Warm Biking

Your feet are likely to be the second body part to become cold. Keeping them warm can be difficult. It’s likely too hard to wear multiple socks in an already tight fitting cycling shoe.

Start with a heavy weight wool sock inside your shoe. Don’t try to cram multiple layers in there as it will be uncomfortable and likely won’t offer any additional warmth. Next a shoe cover over you shoe to block wind and water. For extreme days add an additional boot glove or water cover. With these three to four layer outside your shoe provides more comfort and warmth overall.

Pro Tip: Using an antiperspirant deodorant on your feet helps reduce the perspiration and keep your feet dry and warm.

4.8 How to Protect Your Eyes in Cold Weather Biking

Keeping cold air off your eyes is often overlooked. Cold dry air can quickly cause irritation and annoyance. A full ski goggle may be necessary for extreme conditions, but for most a full cover wide and tall glass will provide adequate protection.

We were recently given the opportunity by ROKA to build our own APEX sunglasses through their website. I wanted to put together a pair of glasses that would work great on winter rides where the sun is often less bright, and something that would work adequately well for night riding as I do a lot of road and mounting biking via bike light.

I choose the CP-1X a 56 mm tall lens that offers full eye coverage and is large enough to block too much air flow. The APEX system allows you to select a top rocker, bottom rocker, and GEKO ear piece colors. I went with a stealth Matte and gloss black look to mix with a yellow lens. The Yellow lens has a very high light transmission (V.L.T) and also enhances what light is available. It’s a great sun glass for cold overcast days and night riding.

I understand that not everyone can spend $245 on a pair of sunglasses. ROKA is currently running $20 off for you and a friend. For something on the cheaper side that will not cover your face as well check out some of the inexpensive safety glasses on amazon to use as a pair of cycling glasses.

4.9 What Type of Chamois or Cycling Shorts for Cold Weather

Chamois or your padded cycling short should provide you with a couple benefits. It should offer a cushion for your backside. It should also provide some warmth and possibly wind blocking. Be careful, not all chamois or spandex is created equal, and some is designed to keep you cooler. Feel the different weights in fabric on chamois.

Look for a thick possibly fleece lined cycle short with a pad for comfort. These can often be layered under or over cycling tights. So try them on with additional layers you may plan on riding in.

5.0 The Conclusion of Bike Riding in Cold Weather

When the cold ride is over and you have come to an end, it’s time to keep your cycling gear clean, dry, and stink free. Mid-layers, Insulating layers, and protective layers can often be worn numerous times without needing to be cleaned. However, first layers, and jerseys usually need laundry after each ride or two. Clean bike clothing not only looks great, but allows the fabric to breath well, and function better.

Some cycling clothing has specific washing instructions. Be sure to read your tags. Most advise against dryers, and it can deteriorate elastic quickly. I like to wash on a warm gentle cycle with mild detergent. Then hang dry my attire.

We have covered almost everything you need to think about when preparing, riding, and finishing up a cold weather bike ride. We covered the general ideas of how to prepare and dress for cold weather cycling. We also covered different garments that are great for layering. We looked a various temperature ranges and how you should layer for each of them as well as prepare for change.

Further we looked at the some of the best ways to protect and warm different parts of your body, from head, neck and face all the way down to your toes.

Just because the weather turns cold, doesn’t mean you have start riding your bike inside on a bike trainer machine. Simply dressing appropriate for the weather can make any day on a bike an enjoyable one.

6.0 Cycling Clothing Term Definitions

  • Balaclava: A thin hood head cover that also covers neck and face. The eyes are typically the only open portion of a balaclava.
  • Bib: A tight or short that includes suspenders design. Usually made of Lycra or mesh and designed to be breathable and lightweight. Bibs offer additional comfort over standard cycle shorts.
  • Body mapping: Some clothing has different stiching, panels, or ventalations built right into the garment. This is know as body mapping. It is meant to provide more/less warmth or cooling to different areas of clothing. For example under arms could have a well vented mesh where a the chest may have a heavier core material for warming.
  • Breathability: The amount if air permeation through a garment from the inside out. A breathable garment should protect you from the elements outside while keeping you dry inside. This term usually describes a protective hard shell.
  • Cap: Can refer to a beanie style head cover, or a cycling hat designed to be worn under a helmet.
  • Chamois: Sometimes referred to as the entire bike short, it’s the pad found inside a cycling short that cushions the butt as well as wicks away moisture and allows airflow. Typically made from synthetic material with a medium density foam.
  • Coolmax: A breathable fiber to add a bit more comfort. It is designed to provide a bit more cooling and warmth when needed.
  • Fleece: A soft usually fuzzy and fluffy insulating layer. Designed to be soft to the touch and warm. They are well at trapping heat and are breathable.
  • GORE-TEX®: A waterproof breathable fabric membrane that allows air to pass out of the jacket, but keeps moisture from getting in. Often used on breathable garments.
  • Jersey: A biking shirt made to fit specifically for cycling. Typically made of fabric that wicks moisture well. Usually has pockets in the lower back with a long full length or 3/4 zipper.
  • Kit: A cycling jersey and short that match artwork, color or branding.
  • Meraklon: The first polyelfin fibre ever developed, winning its creator a Nobel prize! Now it’s a brand name fibre that’s common in base layers.
  • Merino: A fine soft wool from merino sheep. It is the standard for wool garments. It is softer than standard wool, doesn’t stink like synthetics and is an excellent insulating layer.
  • Nickers: A 3/4 pant or bib usually ending in the middle of the calf or just below the knee. Sometimes called Bloomer or Knickerbockers.
  • Storm flap: Strip or flap of fabric usually behind or in front of a zip designed to stop rain and wind penetrating. Can also be a flap on the back of a jacket to stop mud or rain.
  • Synthetic: Man-made fibre such as polyester, as opposed to natural fabric like wool or cotton.
  • Wicking: When a garment pulls moisture or perspiration off of the skin in an effor to evaporate it and stay dry.
  • Windstopper®Proprietary Gore fabric, similar to Gore-Tex but with increased breathability/wicking properties and a softer outer shell. This material comes with or without a fleecy inner face.

7.0 Cycling Clothing Manufactures

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