Cold Weather Cycling—Clothing Check List
Are you ready for the wintry weather yet? If you’ve got your cold weather cycling clothing lined up, you have no excuse to reduce your training or mileage simply because it’s a bit nippy outside.
So we decided to help you ready your gear and clothing preparations with our Ten Top Cold Weather Cycling Gotta-Haves. These, plus other tips you may picked up regarding cold weather riding, will keep you from hibernating indoors from now to April.
1. First Gotta-Have: Windbreaker
You probably wouldn’t want a windbreaker for most mountain biking unless the temps drop down below freezing. However, as mornings get more and more chilly, a good windbreaker is a clothing must have, especially if your pace is a bit slower and less strenuous. They’re also nice with the more frequent rains that come with Fall weather, especially here in the Southwest. Don’t go for one of those insulated versions yet—still too hot, in my experience. Find a style with lots of ventilation, light weight, and as an added bonus, with mesh or zippers on the back or arm pits for additional air flow. You can also find styles with zip-off sleeves, which makes them all the more versatile as you heat up during your ride.
2 . Wind Vest
The wind vest is what you’ll want to wear when it’s just not cool enough for a windbreaker. It keeps your core body protected from frontal winds, but vents in the rear to prevent overheating. I add my vest to different clothing combinations, using it with regular jerseys, winter jerseys, arm warmers, etc. It’s easily stowable, and helps me cover all my options when the weather is unpredictable. Primal (pictured above) has a really slick line of wind vests out right now.
3. Insulated Jerseys
These come in handy at near or sub freezing temperatures. They not only keep your upper body warm, but because they tend to be longer and lap over your waist, keep your lower/middle trunk area warmer, too. As you heat up, you can usually pull them up or down to adjust the air flow and body temperature. After November, I rarely start a ride without one of these in my pack or on my back. You can find a nice selection of moderately priced Pearl Izumi jerseys (my personal choice) over on eBay.
4. Arm Warmers
While the temps are still pretty reasonable but maybe unpredictable, I’ve found it a good idea to have arm warmers with me. They’re light weight, very adjustable, and easily stowable. Besides, I like the kinds with loud graphics that help my visibility on the road. But they come in all kinds of colors and patterns.
5. Skull Caps and Head Bands
Don’t forget to keep your head warm, even if you have an enclosed helmet. The cold wind always finds its way into your helmet and will quickly steal away your body heat. A head band keeps your forehead and ear area warm while still venting the heat out the top of your head. A skull cap, on the other hand, is warmer all around for those rides when it gets really, really cold.
6. Winterized Cycling Gloves
Now’s the time to start looking into a full fingered pair of waterproofed cycling gloves if you don’t already have them. God help you if you’re wearing a half glove in a Fall or Winter rain storm and pointing into a headwind! Your fingers will be like ice cycles and your hands will be numb in minutes. Winterized gloves absolutely have to be part of your cold weather gear. (I know this is drop-dead basic stuff, but how many times have you seen guys/gals show up wearing the wrong kind of glove for cold or even freezing weather? Don’t hold back the group because you don’t know about the right kind of glove to wear!)
7. Wool Socks
Now more than ever it will be important that you pay extra attention to keeping your feet warm. That cold Fall or Winter wind will frost your toes in a hurry if you are not wearing the right gear. And the “right gear” in this case is a good pair of warm woolen socks. Wool does what cotton cannot: it insults even when wet, absorbing sweat and moisture to keep the dampness away from your skin. Personally, I prefer the longer or taller sock. I like the way it keeps drafts from pouring in the bottom of my pantleg. Again, Pearl Zumi has a great selection of both short and tall socks over on eBay.
Tip: Be aware as you shop that wools socks are thicker than cotton or other warm weather socks. Don’t buy something so thick that your shoes no longer fit comfortably.
8. Shoe Covers
The colder it gets, the more you’ll notice the cooler air flowing into your shoes through the built-in air vents. The solution is a shoe cover. You’ll find a good variety online, from full cover to partial. Some just slip over the toe area without covering the entire foot, and in some weather, that’s about all you will need. Most shoe covers have openings for your clipless pedals, but those models don’t seem to work as well if you’re wearing a flat pedal shoe. Serfas has a nice shoe cover that has worked pretty well for me over the years. You hardly know you have them on, but your feet know!
9. Knickers, Knee Warmers, and Pants
Cooler weather also means you’ll want to start protecting your knees and lower legs from the cold. You can find a nice selection of loose fitting tights or pants that come with windstopper, or even pick up a pair of rain pants and wear them over your regular pants. Knickers work well in the “still warm but getting cooler” days of October through early December, depending upon where you ride. In Arizona, the knicker season is pretty short, especially if you live in the high country. Somebody asked me about knee warmers—I never use them, but other cyclists swear by them. (Go figure.) If you can get them to stay in place and not rub or irritate, I suppose I’d use them more. They’re always improving these products, so it might pay to check out the newest on the market.
10. Lights & Reflectors
OK, lights and reflectors are not clothing, strickly speaking. Nonetheless you should be thinking about what kind of light your bike has these days as daylight hours shrink more and more. I suggest you get a good headlight that does more than just make you visible to oncoming cars, but one that also properly lights the path ahead. As you purchase your windbreakers, shoes or other clothing, look for styles the come in bright, even fluorescent colors or brilliant reflecting material.
Bottom line, with more darkness these days, it’s as important to be visible as it is to be warm.