Beginner's Guide To Winter Cycling Kit
"There's no such thing as bad weather; only unsuitable clothes."
Alfred Wainwright might have been talking about walking, but the above statement couldn't be more true of cycling either.
As long as you have the right kit there aren't many weathers you can't cycle in (of course, please be careful/stay indoors during really heavy rain/snow/ice). And yes, we know; more kit to buy! This burgeoning cycling addiction is really crippling your bank account.
But think of it as an investment - winter kit is hard wearing so should last you a few seasons, and if it means you can keep doing the thing that you love all winter, then that's pretty great!
Over the many years I've been cycling I've bought some truly terrible bits of kit. This guide will hopefully help you to avoid those mistakes, and buy the 'right' bits of kit that you will actually use over and over again.
One important aspect to understand is that not all cyclists are the same. We've all got that one ride buddy who is freezing even when it's 30 degrees, and the other one who wears shorts in January - everyone's different (and some people are just weird!)
You have to find out how your body reacts to the cold before you start stocking up so you get the kit that works best for you.
If you're a runner or outdoor adventurer who's just getting into cycling then chances are you've got plenty of winter and wet weather gear already. Will that work?
Try it out and find out, and if it isn't up to the job use the below guide to buy what you do need. Unfortunately it means you might have to endure a couple of cold/wet rides, but it's better than wasting a load of cash on kit you'll never wear!
Firstly a quick note about layering! Layering is the key to winning in winter.
Just like skiing or hiking, you really want multiple layers that trap the air, but that you can also peel off and put back on as you need to.
Our glorious Northern European climate is so charming that you can experience 3 seasons of weather in one ride, so you need a few different layers to cope with all eventualities.
Layers work exactly as you would imagine - start with the thing you won't take off at all closest to your skin (usually a base layer/jersey combo) and then build on top of that. Arm warmers, gilet, jacket etc.
Then if you get hotter throughout the day you can whip off a layer and store it in your pockets. This is particularly great if you're stopping for coffee, as you can put the layers back on as you leave the cafe for maximum warmth.
So exactly what layers do you need? Below is our guide to the kit that's really helped us out over the years, starting from the feet up. Hopefully it'll help you too.
Overshoes shouldn't be left at home during winter riding, even if it's not raining or particularly cold when you set out.
The weather can change quickly, and they will help to stop the wind and road surface water from making your toes cold.
Once they go cold - that's it, no return.
Overshoes will also help to keep your sparkly white cycling shoes nice and clean!
There are varying levels of 'deep winterness' shoe covers on the market, depending on how warm you want your toes to, in theory, remain.
As with a lot of winter kit, we're yet to find a pair that work in really really heavy rain, but if it's cold and dry or you're riding in light rain, then these little neoprene booties will do wonders.
For an extra pro tip, why not wrap your shoes in tin foil before putting the overshoes on. Will you feel silly? Yes. Does it work? Sort of...
What would we do without arm and leg warmers? Seriously - a more versatile bit of kit doesn't exist. Ever sweated your way up a long climb, boiling hot, only to cool down at the top and really feel the cold on the descent?
With a set of arm warmers in your back pocket, you can quickly chuck them on at the top of the hill, and then peel them off at the bottom (or when you've warmed up again).
Arm warmers instantly turn your short sleeve jersey into a long sleeve one saving you a bit of cash too.
Likewise with leg warmers, worn under your bib shorts; you've got a ready made pair of tights without the extra expense.
If, like me, you get warm legs when out riding then a set of knee warmers are a really good idea.
They offer a bit of warmth around your knees without getting too hot and if the sun miraculously comes out on a winter ride, you can whip off the warmers and stick them in your pocket.
Check out our friends Attacus' range of sweet arm, leg and knee warmers (20% off for members).
As with overshoes, trying to keep your fingers warm on a ride can sometimes be impossible, but a good pair of gloves can certainly help.
Whilst you don't have to break the bank here, a cheap pair won't cut it on really cold days. You're looking for windproof/wind stopper, full finger gloves with a long cuff to stop the cold getting in. Ideally with grippy fingers to help you with the brakes.
If you've got a pair of heavy duty ski gloves, why not try them? As long as you can use the brakes properly, then give them a go. Do they keep your hands warm? If yes then that's good enough for me.
When you're starting out, you'll hear loads about 'cycling specific kit'. Sometimes it's true, but often the multi sport kit you have will work just fine. I personally still wear my Dad's old leather motorcycle gloves on really cold days. They work brilliantly!
The beginning and the end of your winter kit selection!
Now this really is something I would recommend spending money on. The most important thing to staying warm on a ride is keeping your core temperature up - and a good base layer is the best option for this.
Whether long sleeve or short, wearing a base layer is a necessity around 364 days of the year, and especially in winter.
It used to be that Rapha made the only good baselayer on the market, but thankfully that's changed now. DHB do an equally good offering now, for a fraction of the price.
Again, you don't necessarily need a cycling specific baselayer. I've got a few from old rugby days that I often use, and they're great. But I do tend to opt for my Rapha or DHB merino base layers for most rides, especially in winter.
Back in the day cycling jackets used to be one of two things: either a very thin, bin bag like layer that neither kept you warm or dry, or a thick, baggy overcoat that made you sweat profusely, but also, somehow, didn't keep you dry either.
Technology has come on heaps since I started out, and there are loads of great options for close fitting, warm and waterproof cycling jackets on the market.
As with any 'super-good' technology (that's the technical term, FYI), the price tag tends to be sky high. You can pay some truly eye watering amounts for a cycling jacket these days, so have a good shop around before making your choice.
I would recommend Attacus' Shield Jacket as a great performer in most conditions, and it's very reasonable for a great piece of kit.
Don't overlook the humble rain cape/shell jacket either (the old, bin bag type layer).
It will easily fit in your pocket/frame bag and works brilliantly as a last layer of defence. It's a great thing to start out wearing (or leave the cafe wearing) and then peel off 10 mins into the ride when you're starting to heat up.
Similar to a good gilet (the best piece of cycling kit there is, hands down) it's so versatile and will get you out of a spot of bother - you'd be surprised how much warmth you can get from that thin layer!
Not just for hipsters, the trusty cycling cap is a great friend especially in winter.
Having a thin layer of fabric under your helmet makes a huge difference, especially as most modern lids are so well vented. If it rains you've also got an extra layer of protection.
However once it stops raining take it off - the wind and wet cap combo will make your head freezing! A cap also helps to stop the sweat from running down your face - sweat on skin in a cold wind can be bone-chilling!
Thermal skull cap type headgear is also great in really cold weather, and you can even get a special type of balaclava. Just don't be surprised if no one sits with you at the cafe!
Another great tip is to combine a normal cycling cap with an ear covering headband (the sort that runners/80's skiers wear). Loads of extra warmth that you can adjust if the temperature goes up; just remove either the cap or the headband.
Plus looking like an 80s skier is so hot right now!
Finally, the biggest tip I can give you when shopping for winter kit is to ask around. Speak to friends, read reviews and make use of your cycling community.
If you've got any questions about what kit you need then get in touch for a chat, or drop us a message on the socials (@dirtywknd).
Thanks to Attacus, Tom Austin and Unsplash for the images.