"There's no such thing as bad weather; only unsuitable clothes."
Alfred Wainwright was 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 (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 new thing that you love all winter, then that's pretty great!
Over the many years we've been cycling we've bought some truly terrible bits of kit. So this guide is to help you to buy the right bits of kit that you will actually use over and over again. And to stop you buying the novelty winter balaclava that's really only reserved for riding in the Arctic Circle - that was a sweaty day!
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 one who wears shorts in November - everyone's different. 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 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 you can peel off and put back on as you need to. Our glorious UK climate is so charming and surprising that you can experience 3 types 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, starting from the feet up, to the kit that's really helped us out over the years. 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'll 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' from most options 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...
Dirty Pick - Altura Etape 2 - £29.99 - View Product
Dirty Tip - Toe Thingys. Sound really weird, but great for autumn/spring rides.
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 us, 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.
Dirty Pick - Sportful No Rain is our choice for arm/leg warmers. They repel rain in all but a heavy downpour, the fit is good and they're not constricting as, some are.
Dirty Tip - if you do really feel the cold, then a full pair of bib tights is a good idea. They're much warmer and will help keep your core temperature up on colder days. Sportful No Rain Tights are also great, or the Queen of the Mountains winter tights are pretty faultless too.
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 windroof/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.
Forget about the gloves that come with the 'smart phone' finger tips - they don't work and they've ususally scrimped on the insulation, so even if your glove does let you use your phone, your fingers will be too cold anyway! Stay away from gimmicks.
Dirty Pick - Altura Progel 2 £39.99 - Click Here
Dirty Tip - double glove! A cheap pair of woollen gloves under your main gloves works wonders. Alternatively, if you get really cold hands - a good pair of leather gloves are the best defence. They just don't breathe very well, so prepare to have clammy hands if it's not arctic outside.
The beginning and the end of your winter kit selection! Get your base layer wrong and the rest doesn't matter. 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.
Whatever your view on the biggest brand in the world, It's hard for us to look past Rapha when it comes to base layers. We've worn a lot of normal 'sports base layers' in the past, and the difference between them and the Rapha range is huge. Keeping you warm when you need it, but not overheating and always wicking sweat away is quite a challenge, but it seems to stand up to it every time. We use the mesh merino short sleeve most of the year, and the winter merino long sleeve on really cold days
Dirty Pick - Rapha base layer £45 - £75 - Click Here
There are two types of cycling jacket, and to be honest you probably need both. The slightly heavier duty cycling jacket works for harsher conditions and rain, and won't be small enough to fit in your pocket - so if you're bringing it on a ride you're going to be wearing it. As explained early on, you will probably have a rain jacket that will suffice, but it won't be as close fitting as a specific cycling jacket (got to keep them aero gains) so investing in a proper jacket is a good idea. It's also something you will use for commuting too, so it's worth shelling out a few quid. Have a look at the Proviz 360+ Reflective Jacket.
A more versatile top layer is the shell (or rain cape) - small enough to pack in your pocket and windproof/water resistant, this garment will keep you warm and dry in most conditions. It won't stand up to really heavy rain, but then neither will the most expensive jacket out there, so in our opinion a shell/cape is a more worthwhile purchase. If you've got the rest of your layering right, then a shell is more than enough. Check out our very own lightweight jacket as a great option - Click Here
Dirty Tip - We haven't mentioned Gilet's here, but that's mostly because a gilet is a given - get a gilet ASAP!
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!
Dirty Pick - Dirty Wknd cycling cap - Click Here
Dirty Tip - Don't bother with a 'winter cap' unless your usual body temperature is below zero. A normal cycling cap combined with an ear covering headband (the sort that runners wear) will keep you very warm. This way, if the temperature goes up, you can remove either the cap or the headband and you're not stuck with a heavy hat! Don't ever, ever, wear ear muffs!
The eagle eyed will have noticed that most of the links above are from Cycle Republic. This is simply because Dirty Wknd members get 20% off all kit in store. However we would always recommend that you read reviews, do your research and ask questions. Make use of our awesome community and ask - either on the next group ride or on our social media (@dirtywknd). Please also comment below with your best/worst winter kit purchases and any questions you've got!