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How should you dress for winter cycling? Here are our best tips for layering up

From base layers to waterproof shells, we cover all the layers

Riding in the shoulder seasons and winter is really the time when your cycling clothing matters a lot. In the summer, you can get away with throwing things on and heading out for a ride with just one layer. In the winter it’s a whole other story.

Winter cycling conditions are often very changeable, which means you need to prepare for everything on your ride: rain, wind, snow and occasionally, the odd heatwave. 

A while ago we talked to CAMS-Basso rider Megan Barker about her best tips, and some of the most useful are included in this article. You can watch the video with Becca and Megan here and read our tips below. 

Keep your hands and feet warm

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"Once your toes get cold that's when your whole body starts to feel really cold, so keep your fingers and toes warm with nice gloves, socks and overshoes, and keep that emergency waterproof in your pocket at all times," Barker says, and she is very right. 

> How to keep your feet warm cycling — fend off cold feet on the bike with these toasty tips

Your body tries to hang on to warmth as best as it can, and when things get cold the heat in your body is centred around your essential organs, most of which are around your core and in your torso. This means that your limbs are left to their own, and quickly turn icy if you haven’t wrapped them up properly. 

There are plenty of ways to keep your feet warm, from overshoes to home hacks with tin foil. Invest in a good set of overshoes, and layer up socks or pull on dedicated winter cycling socks with warming merino wool knit into them. 

> Winter cycling — 6 top tips to help you keep riding through the colder months

The same applies to hands. The first thing to invest in is a good set of winter cycling gloves - and if you are nowhere near a bike shop, you can also resort to some good ski gloves, but those might make your shifting ability worse with the added bulk. 

Layering up your gloves is an excellent way to add warmth and a reason to size up slightly in gloves. You can pair your winter cycling gloves with merino or technical liner gloves, which can really change a winter ride experience. 

Layer up the upper body

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Wrapping up your core in several layers is the key to winter cycling comfort. Start off with a base layer, add a long-sleeve jersey and top up with a jacket or a gilet and you'll be loving it outside. Layering up allows you to easily adjust your clothing on the ride: if you're too warm, you can zip open your jersey, or take off your gilet, and vice versa if you get too chilly. 

You can of course layer up your bottoms, too, by pulling non-padded tights over your bib tights, for example. The lower body affects how cold you feel less, though, and your legs keep moving the whole time when you cycle, so it does not need quite as much attention as the upper body. 

Winter cycling base layers come in all shapes and sizes, and it is somewhat down to your personal preference what suits you best. Merino base layers are very warm and odour-resistant, but some might find the wool material slightly itchy. 
Base layers come in designs that can have wind-blocking materials built into them, ensuring that the front of your torso - taking on most of the wind - will stay covered even if you have just a jersey on top. 

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You can also find base layers with tall (polo) collars, that are very handy as they save you from wearing a separate buff tube. ​

On top of the base layer, you can wear your winter cycling jersey. These, much like base layers, come in multiple colours and designs, and it depends on your typical riding conditions which option is the best for you. 

> Top cycling hacks to save money this winter

On milder days you can get away with a light long-sleeve jersey, but on the proper chilly and damp days you are better off with a softshell-like, thicker winter jersey. These can resemble a jacket in their design, and indeed many winter cycling jerseys offer some kind of weather-proofing properties, either blocking off wind or rain, or both. 

The less waterproof the garment is, the better it is likely to breathe. If you are a heavy sweater, having very thick and waterproof layers might leave you feeling like you’re boiled in a bag. 

A base layer and jersey might be enough for some days, as Barker says, as well:

"I think when it's a fresh day you just need to have layers, you might be fine setting off in just a base layer and your long sleeve, but if you've got your gloves and gilet and your waterproofs in your pocket, so if you stop and go to set off again you can just layer up. 

2022 Pas Normal Essential Collection AW insulated gilet

“They [gilets] fold away quite nicely so you can always have that in your back pocket, I also quite like using a handlebar bag now." 

As Barker implies, carrying extra layers with you is necessary especially if you stop for a coffee on your winter ride. Once the sweat you’ve worked up cools down, it’s harder to get warmed up again, which means that a light gilet or even your emergency rain jacket is great to throw on for the first part of the ride.

If it is really windy out, having a third layer on straight from the start of your ride is helpful. Most of the wind will affect your core, so if you top your base layer and jersey with a winter gilet, you’re going to stay toasty without the danger of overheating. 

Invest in a good rainproof jacket

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Rainy rides are a story of their own. When it’s cold and wet, it is quite difficult to stay warm. A good quality waterproof jacket is a lifesaver when it is pouring it down. 

Ideally, your waterproof top layer is also breathable so that it lets the moisture from the inside out - although once things are wet everywhere, it is hard for even the best waterproof jackets to shift the moisture from the inside. 

> 37 of the best pieces of waterproof cycling clothing

Packable rain jackets are very handy for changing conditions so that you can store them away in your back pocket or frame bag when the rain pauses. 

Gore-Tex Shakedry is one of the most praised options for stashable cycling jackets, but because of the environmental impact Gore-Tex technologies cause, the Shakedry is a garment that is being phased out and replaced by more environmentally friendly options. 

Waterproof jackets have specific waterproof ratings, but it’s not necessarily always the best to go for the one that offers the highest waterproof rating. Look at both breathability and waterproof ratings in conjunction, and you can find a garment that keeps you dry both inside and out. 

Of course, you can also protect your lower body with waterproof cycling trousers. These are best for more leisurely rides or commuting because of the relaxed fit, but you can also find DWR bib tights that keep your lower body warmer. 

Prepare your kit and check the forecast

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Motivation to ride outside in the winter ride is perhaps harder to muster than ever before, with indoor cycling options such as Zwift seeming so much more appealing. 

> Best indoor cycling apps 2023 — push your fitness to new levels with immersive virtual cycling experiences

Riding outside is refreshing, though, and a sunny, crisp day outside beats a turbo trainer ride every time! To make heading outside a bit easier, it’s worth checking your kit and bike out on the evening before the ride, and perhaps even putting your base layer on the radiator so that it’s nice and warm when you’re getting dressed. When everything is laid out and ready you won't be wasting riding time searching for the lost winter sock or overshoe on the riding day. 

Check the forecast as well, so that you know what to prepare for - although in the winter it’s usually best to prepare for everything instead of relying on the meteorologists too much. 

Let us know your best layering tips below in the comments! 

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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