Key Secrets to Winter Cycling Gear


winter cycling gear

We have received a very interesting question from one our readers about winter cycling gear. Now normally we would put this in our FAQ section, but it is such an important subject for those of us who live in countries that will have wintry weather. So we have included the article in our main page

Question: Dear BCR,I only started cycling in the spring this year and would like to thank you all for your help on Bike Cycling Reviews as you have covered a lot of ground for me and I have enjoyed my cycling more and known what do to with my equipment.

My question is that now fall will soon be on us, what clothes should I wear? When I started I only needed shorts and short-sleeved jerseys, but now it’s getting colder I need to know what I should wear to keep warm and dry. Thanks for your help.

Thank you for your question! It’s a very important subject because we will all probably need to do some cycling in either cold or wet conditions at some time. The other options are: – stop cycling for the winter and stay in doors, buy an indoor trainer or get some warm and water proof clothes.

Fist Things First

winter cycling gear vests

We will start from the closest to your skin, get some good under-vests, long sleeves are a good idea as extra layers always keep you warm, good quality under-vests take the sweat away from the skin so that the sweat doesn’t get cold against your body causing chills and colds.

For the lower half you can wear your racing shorts or bib-shorts combining them with leg warmers if its not too cold or thermal tights over the shorts, we will come back to tights later.

The Top Half Clothes

So you’ve got your thermal under vest on, you can now put on your short sleeved race jersey as another layer against the cold and wind.

Arm warmers can be worn if its just a little chilly but if its a bit colder, but not freezing then wear a long sleeved racing jersey over the top, one with pockets so you can carry a water proof jacket like my Santini Kines.

A water proof jacket is always a good idea even if its not raining it can be used to keep a cold wind from going through your clothes, be careful as most water proofs cause excessive sweating.

If its very cold (freezing) then wear a thermal long sleeved jersey or one made of ” wind-stopper” material.

Thermal is a synthetic material that is thicker than a race jersey, not water proof or wind proof, but does take the sweat away from your body and makes a pocket of air which stays warm and insulates you from the cold air.

Wind stopper” is similar but also has a layer for wind protection. If you are on a budget then a tracksuit top over the top will do, but if it’s too big it will flap in the wind and annoy you, close fitting clothing is always best.

The Bottom Half

You’ve got your race shorts on, so what else do you need? As with arm warmers there are leg warmers if its not too cold, in colder weather you will need tights, these can either be Lycra, which wont keep you very warm, or Thermal which comes in two weights for cold or very cold conditions, also tight are available in ” Wind stopper” material.

Tights are also available with a built in chamois insert so you don’t have to wear shorts underneath and also bib tights are more comfortable than elastic round your waist. Read the review on my Santini H2O tights here. Deifnitely my best thermal clothing!

Feet, Hands and Heads

Your extremities are the first bits to feel the cold and usually the last to warm up; you have to look after them because cold feet or hand will ruin your bike ride. Your head loses the most amount of heat from you’re body, so it is very important to wear a hat, a racing helmet does offer protection from the weather as well as from accidents, but when its very cold you should wear something under the helmet.

A racing cap is a good start; if that’s not enough then a wooly hat will be needed.For the hands race mitts will not be enough, a good pair of gloves that are shower proof and have strengthening and padding on the palm or a good pair of wool gloves will do, but probably wont last long and will soak up the rain.

You must look after you’re feet, if they get cold they feel sore and you cant pedal properly, if you only have one pair of shoes then you will have to wear things over your shoes instead of under.If you can afford it buy a bigger pair of shoes so you can wear an extra pair of socks. Other wise wear an old pair of socks over your shoes cutting a hole for your shoe plates or buy some over shoes that are pre-made for the shoe plates and come in either water proof or thermal to keep your feet warm.

Any Extras

As I mentioned earlier you should carry a water proof jacket in your back pocket incase of a weather change or an unexpected stop for a puncture, if your not sure what the weather will do then also take gloves and hat with you. One of the best things to get is a wind and waterproof gillet, this is a sleeveless jacket that’s easy to carry and will keep your chest warm and the rain off your shoulders and back.What Should I Buy

As with many things its best to buy the best you can afford, higher quality garments fit better and usually last longer and also have that pose-ability factor.

Assos, Bio-Racer, Santini, Nalini and Descente are all well known International brands, but there are also very good National and Local manufacturers that are well worth looking at for quality and price, your bike shop or sports shop are the first places to look, when you know what you want, then maybe you will find a bargain on the web.

I hope this helps and anyone else who is planning on doing some winter riding, remember wrap up warm and don’t forget to check out the weather forecast before you go out. Good luck, but remember if your not enjoying your ride; go home!

top image credit: Matei Domnita

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  1. TimK

    I’ve found that breaking the wind first (Goretex, Rain Gear, Nylon, ect.) before it reaches your clothing is the first line of defense against the cold. Put on Base layers to pull away the sweat from your skin. Then put on layers for warmth (wool, synthetic, ect.)
    For my Head: I wear goretex helmet cover. Head band to cover my ears, If it’s colder a light Baclava, and even colder a polarfleece baclava.
    For my feet: I wear wool socks along with Rain Booties.
    For my Hands: I wear Thinsulate gloves along with Rain Gloves.
    One final note is that I don’t ride if it’s freezing. But hopefully this will still apply.
    . Good Luck and Keep Riding.

  2. Daniel

    I´m having some trouble deciding what to get for my winter cycling. I will be doing my usual 20 miles / day to and from work, and as well 3 times / week 40 Miles training.

    But here in Norway the temperatures is very seldom over -8 in the “prime” winter. Last winter i went with Undervest,longsleeve and a windstopper winter cycling jacket on the upperbody. On the lower i had my summer Bibshorts and Winter Bib´s. To go with that a helmethat + helmet, short summer and long winter gloves, double socks + shoe cover. But i still was freezing a bit, specially at thoose -20-25 days! Now i wonder what can i do differently this year to make it more comfortable and warm?

    I dont like to wear 5 layers of clothing,but perhaps that is what it takes to keep u warm at theese extreme temperatures?!

  3. Robert

    I’m a somewhat avid rider, 54 years old and had a heart attack about 8 years ago. I have no real restrictions on my activity and would like to continue riding into the cooler months. I know the article was supposed to explain this, but I’m afraid I need even more basic information. What’s a thermal undervest and where would you get one? Also, what exactly are the arm warmers and leg warmers, and where would they be found? I have a couple small bike shops in my area, but I’ve never seen anything like an undervest or arm and leg warmers. Thanks.

  4. John

    I would like to hear advice on keeping feet warm. That’s my biggest winter cycling problem. I use a wicking liner, wool socks, and neoprene booties but after about an hour the cold works in and within another 30 minutes the toes are hurting.

  5. Hamish

    Cold hands were my only real problem with winter cycling. I could not use mitts because of my shifters and even lobster mitts were not warm enough at -10. Last yearI got a
    It covers the whole bar area and keeps the cold wind off my hands and wrists. Everything is covered including the gear shifters and brake levers so they don’t get slush and salt in them. It is great in the winter at -15 and even in the rain it keeps my gloves dry.

  6. paula

    as a respiratory therapist, i can relate that cold air tends to increase difficulties in breathing, but especially for asthmatics. emerdeen has the solution for outdoor activities in the cold.

  7. Larry

    Remember – in cold weather your arteries and blood vessels contract – an added heart attack danger for snow shovelers and I would imagine bicyclists too, regardless of condition. Though no doctor, I would also speculate that the contraction of the arteries, veins and blood vessels in 20 degree F weather would result in an increase in blood pressure and heart rate at the same cadence rate and on the same terrain than say at 85 degrees F.

  8. emberdeen

    Hi…I have severe asthma and whenever I bike ride I wear a mask (even if it’s 90 degrees)…Keeps my breath warm and junk out of my lungs 🙂

  9. Alastair Hamilton

    Hi Robert,it could be asthma, for this you must go to a doctor for tests. When it is cold your body works harder to keep warm, this is why you must wear enough clothes. Get it checked out, it makes sense.

  10. Robert Smith

    Riding in the cold I get very short of breath and my heart go up to the 160’s and we are only going 20 to 21. Is this an athletic induced asthma. I believe I have never had asthma.

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