Cycling Clothing Guide
Autumn and Winter
Choosing the right kit for the right season is essential, never more so than when the mercury drops and the conditions become increasingly unpredictable. There’s a huge amount of cycling clothing designed specifically to tackle cold, wet and windy conditions, allowing you to continue riding and training comfortably outdoors from autumn through to spring. Read on for tips on what to look out for in your autumn and winter kit, and ensure you survive the colder months on your bike.
How to decide what cycling clothing you need
The type of winter riding you undertake will determine the winter kit you require. For some riders, comfort and warmth are the most important factors, simply to get them through the coldest days of commuting and training, and prevent them retreating onto the turbo trainer at every given opportunity, with performance taking a back seat in terms of priorities. These two features are obviously essential for everyone, however, for cyclists that have specific goals in mind, or want to continue racing, weight and even aerodynamics may be as much of a consideration as they are when choosing summer garments.
How do I choose what layers to wear?
The first rule of riding in cold weather is to layer up on top. Several layers of thin, technical fabric are far more efficient at holding in heat and expelling moisture than one thick garment, while giving you the opportunity to peel something off if the temperature rises. There are three main items, all with different purposes; a base layer, worn tight against the skin, draws moisture away, a mid-layer - such as a long-sleeved jersey - traps warm air, and finally an outer jacket works as your main defence against the elements, be that a barrier to the wind, rain or both. On milder days you may wish to wear just two of these items.
What is a Cycling Base Layer?
Constructed from synthetic fibres, Merino wool or a mixture of the two, a base layer is designed to be worn tight against the skin and will wick moisture while adding insulation. An important feature of base layer fabric is the ability to insulate even once damp, and your decision on how warm this layer is should be based on both riding conditions and other kit choices.
Choosing a winter cycling jersey
When the reality hits that there’s no chance you’ll be taking your arm warmers off mid-ride, it’s time to switch to a long sleeve jersey. A good quality garment will keep the chill off without causing you to overheat, so fabrics that are both insulated and breathable are key. How you decide to layer, and how deep into winter you are going to ride will heavily influence your choice of jersey, and there are a whole host of options out there, from lightweight and breathable long-sleeved versions of a summer jersey for the autumn months, through to heavily insulated pieces for the coldest winter days.
Fit and features of a long-sleeved winter jersey often sit alongside those of summer garments, but with more thought going into insulation, additional storage, extra coverage over the neck and lower back and improved reflectivity for riding in low light conditions. The need for pairing the jersey with winter gloves and heavier base layers will also require the fit to be particularly versatile and accommodating.
Most long sleeve jerseys are constructed from synthetic fabrics, and the warmer options are likely to use a brushed Roubaix-type fleece. Synthetics allow your skin to breathe, so excess moisture can escape fast and you don’t get wet and cold as your heart rate increases. Merino wool is another popular option. It’s soft, warm, moisture-wicking and antibacterial, and often blended with synthetics so you get the best of both fabric types.
Windproofing is important, especially at the front where you’re most exposed to the elements, and windstopper materials will not only block the wind but will also reduce heat loss. Frequently, windproof front and sleeve panels will be paired with more breathable, flexible materials to the back. Although more in the realms of a jacket or gilet, you’ll get light water resistance from some windproof materials, and some jerseys additionally use water-resistant fabrics or treatments.
Should I have a Cycling Gilet in my kit drawer?
Gilets are one of the most versatile garments to have in your kit drawer. They range from lightweight and packable to heavily insulated. Practical details can be similar to a jersey or jacket. All gilets have a full zip, with many featuring reflective detailing. In addition to this, some will have rear pockets, airflow vents or access points, so you can reach your jersey pockets below without unzipping.
A lightweight gilet is ideal for unpredictable days in autumn and spring - you can stuff one into a jersey pocket ready for a windy descent or sudden downpour. In fact, it can be a pretty useful item to carry in your pocket year-round. The lack of sleeves means airflow is never compromised and an excellent barrier is created over your core.
How should I choose a Winter Cycling Jacket?
Choose the right cycling jacket, and it’ll protect you from the elements while managing moisture and keeping you comfortable. What conditions will you be using the jacket in? Is the temperature going to be baltic? Is it likely to be extremely windy or pouring with rain? Or do you need a garment that offers functionality across all winter conditions?
Jackets come in many different iterations, from light windproofs and waterproofs that can be carried in a jersey pocket, to heavily insulated pieces designed to be worn all ride long. To delve deeper and explore the technologies and options available, take a look at our Waterproof, Windproof and Warm Jackets Guides.
For unpredictable days having a cycling jacket to hand is a must. We would recommend choosing one that packs down small so it can always be to hand in case of a sudden downpour. Pull it on over a jersey or warm jacket for full waterproof protection that remains breathable. On a wet race day, you can wear a cycling jacket over a jersey without covering up your number if you opt for a jacket made from translucent fabric.
What are Cycling Bib Tights?
A bib short paired with leg warmers will only carry you so far into the colder seasons. Unlike your upper body, which remains fairly still and is therefore far more easily affected by the windchill, your legs are constantly turning so you require materials that offer even more flexibility alongside insulation to keep your muscles warm and your joints well protected. A good quality bib tight will feature everything that a bib short does, including a protective seat pad, lightweight upper and reflective finishings. Some riders prefer to continue wearing their favourite shorts through winter and will pair them with a seat pad-free tight, although this is becoming less common.
As the temperatures initially drop, the preference may be to transition first into a warmer short. This will provide you with increased warmth and protection over the upper legs against both wind and rain, but also allows you to still choose between knee and leg warmers. If the weather improves mid-ride, you then still have the option to take the warmers off.
Eventually, it’ll be time to turn to bib tights. In the transitional seasons, full coverage of the legs without too much insulation will be the preference, and this is where bib tights come in. Look for fabrics that create a barrier against light rain while retaining heat, and are stretchy and breathable so you can pedal unimpeded.
When the freezing temperatures of a northern hemisphere winter arrive more protection is required, so the most technical fabrics are utilised in deep winter bib tights to keep you comfortable and your muscles working as efficiently as possible.
For cold, wet days, look for a bib tight that positions fabrics strategically to offer the best blend of properties. A heavier fleece with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment is a good choice for exposed areas, alongside a lighter, antimicrobial fleece behind the knees and across the hips and hamstrings for freedom of movement in places that require more flex.