Winter riding how to stay warm on the bike

Hello everyone

It's that time of year when the temperature is getting closer to zero and you may be wondering how to get out and enjoy riding your bike while staying warm during winter rides. 

Lots of members have shared tips and recommendations on WhatsApp over recent weeks, so I thought it would be helpful to collate as much as that information in one place for everyone. This isn't a definitive guide to winter kit, just what some club members find useful. Please comment with further recommendations. And we're not paid to endorse any particular brand! 

Top tips:

  • Check the weather the night before your ride and again in morning
  • Layer up. Lots of thin layers trap the warmth better and allow you to move comfortably on the bike. 
  • Protect your core. Although you may feel the cold on your extremities, this is where your main heat source is, once you lose it there you'll really start to feel cold.  
  • Your extremities will often feel the cold more on the bike (compared to say, running) due to wind chill. 
  • If you've not done much winter riding before, start out with shorter rides to see how many layers you need.
  • Hills help you warm up! And are good training ;-)

Base layers:

Merino wool is a really warm material for base layers. I wear an Endura long sleeved merino wool base layer and then layer a summer jersey over the top (with a jacket on top of that, see below), and if it's really cold (e.g. only a few degrees) I'll add in another layer, such a long sleeved lycra running top, or just a regular cotton t-shirt or vest top. 

Jackets:

Broadly speaking there are two types of cycling jackets - ones to keep you warm and ones to keep you dry. Ok, I suppose there is a third category of jackets that claim to do both, but as lots of members have noted, keeping you warm and dry are different things that require a different type of material, so we'd recommend separating them out to get the best cold and wet protection. Your waterproof jacket can also be used all year round to protect you from the rain in the warmer months, when you don't need the warmth. 

  • Warmth - (sometimes referred to as 'softshell') a jacket such as the Rapha core is a popular choice among club members. I recently bought a Sundried thermal jacket which I'm really pleased with. Some jackets have fleece lining - they usually zip right up to the chin and have pockets on the back to store valuables, snacks and your packable waterproof. 
  • Wet - Gore are the leading brand for wet weather protection, although there are other brands of course. You want a completely waterproof outer layer that packs down small to keep in your back pocket or on your bike for when it rains. Lots of club members (including head coach Becky) swear by the Gore Shakedry jacket, which although pricey, is incredibly light weight, and very breathable. Top tip - check when it's on sale! Sometimes cheaper waterproof jackets tend not to be as breathable (or pack down as easily) and can trap sweat underneath, meaning you actually feel wet... However, a cheaper recommended option to get you started is the Decathlon waterproof top for £15 there's no excuse not to get out in the rain!

During the winter, you may find you want to take your waterproof layer in your backpocket regardless, because the weather can take a turn, and once you're wet then you will really feel the cold. I also pop it on for coffee stops, as you start to feel the cold much more when you stop. A cheape

Legs:

As with everything, it's a personal choice, but I take the pros approach of only wearing shorts when it's above 15 degrees C. Between 10-15 I might wear 3/4 length leggings, and anything below 10 I wear long leggings. 

Often I wear summer shorts (such as my favourite Assos uma shorts) to benefit from the great padding, and simply put some cheaper running leggings over the top for warmth (to save some £!)

Otherwise popular choices for long winter leggings include Castelli, Rapha, Assos. You're mostly paying for the quality of the padding, rather than warmth, although you can also buy warm fleeced lined tights as a base layer. 

Feet:

Again merino wool is a great material for socks to keep you warm. I have some DHB ones, if it's particularly cold I'll layer up with another cotton pair. 

Overshoes are a popular choice to keep your feet warm - they're usually made from Neoprene (wetsuit) material and although not waterproof, they're designed to keep you warm even if you get a bit wet (like a wetsuit does). I always wear overshoes if its below 5 degrees, sometimes between 5-10 as I get particularly cold toes. (They are a bit of a faff to take on and off). I have some fairly cheap Castelli ones which are popular, but come up quite small on the calves!

Toe covers also offer a touch more warmth for those cold tootsies!

If you definitely want to keep your feet dry, then waterproof socks are your answer. Something like these Sealskinz ones. They're very breathable and comfortable. 

And for the ultimate waterproofing and warmth feet and calves,  head coach Becky says 'if you buy one thing this winter' make it the Spatz overshoe which are "worth every penny"

Gloves:

Again there are different gloves for different purposes. Most cyclists wear fingerless gloves all year round to protect against sores and offer a strong grip on the handlebars. Personally, I find fingerless are good enough for warmth until it drops below 5 degrees (I must have good circulation), IF I'm wearing enough layers on my core.  

However, most recommend wearing waterproof/windproof gloves, e.g. AssosCastelli. or Grip grab, with silk or merino wool liners underneath, e.g Decathlon liners . Former head coach Lucy opts for  surgical gloves over her warm gloves for rain protection, and switching to the 'lobster claw' style ones when it's very cold, with silk liners underneath. You can even buy heated gloves such as these Savior ones that come recommended (I should add, they're not strictly for cycling.) 

Head:

As winter swimmers will especially know, you lose a lot of heat from your head. Members have recommended skull caps or even balaclavas (e.g. see Decathlon) or you can wrap a neck buff around your ears and head (like a thick sweatband) which I do. I then stick my Windrush cycling cap on top (from the Myclubhouse shop)

Neck buffs or tubes are a really great, versatile little bit of clothing, like a scarf on the bike, and they also double up as a face mask! If it's really cold I'll ride with mine over my nose. 

Right I think this is enough information to get you out on a bike over the winter months. A final top tip is to take a small thermos of coffee or tea in one of your bottle cages (the other with your water bottle) for improvised cafe stops. 

Do add your favourite winter kit that I've missed in the comments below. And if you're now kitted out and looking for someone to ride with, just ask on WhatsApp. Winter miles = summer smiles!


Fran, co-bike captain

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