When the weather turns bitter you’ve got two options: lose to Mother Nature and move your training inside, or arm yourself against the elements with a stockpile of gear. The latter grants you sweeping snow-covered vistas and the vitality of fresh winter air. The former gives you basement time slogging it out to reruns of Le Tour (or playing video games). So it’s a choice that’s not a choice: You’re going to get out and ride. The question then becomes, how happy will you be that you did?
That answer comes down to layers and proper wind/wetness protection. You do things right, and you’ll be well protected and toasty. You go awry, and it becomes a long loop back home. We’ve outlined three levels of cold protection: Cold (45-55 degrees), Colder (35-45 degrees), and Coldest (20-35 degrees). At all levels, concern yourself with fit; make sure wind can’t seep down the neckline and that you’re not flapping along like you’ve donned a garbage bag. And remember to layer to your own contentment; the right cold-weather gear is not determined by a thermometer, but by the feel of each individual rider.
Keep Warm on the Commute
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your morning commute went caput. You can still ride in warmth and style, with merino base layers and jackets that give you heat without bulk. Pair these essentials with the jeans or boots of your choice, and get out there to ride.
Icebreaker Tech T Lite Shirt ($85) | Giro High Neck Zip Up ($140) | Giro New Road Mechanic Jacket ($250) | Café du Cyclist Belgian Winter Hat ($42) | Café du Cyclist Lou Neck Warmer ($18) | Giro Westerly Wool Glove ($13)
A base layer offers two benefits: it wicks away sweat to keep you dry, and it offers a layer of insulation from the cold. It should come up to your neckline and fit snugly. There are great options from non-cycling specific retailers like Terramar and Icebreaker, but the cycling options tend to offer lightweight materials that are body mapped to increase breathability in hot spots and warmth in cold zones.
Jacket: Wet Conditions
Usually, it’s not just the cold you’re battling against. Rain, sleet, snow — beating it to stay dry is vital in all conditions (even for warmer weather, a waterproof vest or featherweight rain jacket is a must). These jackets fend off the wetness and also give you a layer of warmth. In addition, a jacket like the reflective Zap gives you additional visibility in the winter, when the dark creeps in at the beginning and end of rides.
Jacket: Dry Conditions
In most cold-weather conditions, the jacket is also the jersey (extra layers aren’t necessary), so it’s essential the jacket fits close to the body and covers the vulnerable spots (like the wrists). These options give you all the perks and performance of your favorite fair-weather jersey, with the added benefit of warmth.
Lower Half: Legwarmers and Tights
There are a few ways to achieve warmth on the legs. Legwarmers allow you to wear your favorite bib shorts, while extending coverage to the ankles. Thermal bib shorts give warmth throughout the crotch, thighs and leg. Or, for ultimate comfort and warmth, there’s the option of wearing your favorite bib shorts and then throwing on a chamois-less long-leg bib on top. The last option’s popular in Europe, and it’s about time it started to catch on in the States.
Extremities: Head, Hands, Feet
The places farthest from the heart are those that need warmth most desperately. Your head loses the most heat, your hands are at the mercy of fierce winds, and the feet get cold quick and stay that way. Quick advice: go under the helmet for warmth on the noggin, go warmer with your gloves than you’d think (no one likes cold hands), and keep the socks simple and the outer layers (over the shoe) warm.