How to Dress for Cycling in Cold Weather

How to Dress for Cycling in Cold Weather

If you are a four-season bicycler, you’re likely aware that summer cycling garments are not even close to being suitable for winter. Your favorite bike shorts won’t cut it when you’re cycling in freezing weather. If you’re new to winter bicycling, be aware that you’ll want to avoid exposure to cold or risk of frostbite.

Read on for some tips on how to dress for cycling in cold weather!

Start With the Base-ics

Here’s looking at you, base layers. Wait, unfamiliar with the term? “Base layers” is just another way of referring to men’s and women’s long underwear. We’re not talking about those waffle-knit styles that got uncomfortably bunched up under your clothes, but rather performance wear. Look for thermals made of a material such as Thermaskin™, which wicks away sweat to keep your body from getting cold while trapping body heat to keep you warm. Long john layers that are damp from sweat will quickly chill your body, removing warmth and making you more vulnerable to the cold weather.

Add a Fleece

There’s a saying in hiking and backpacking culture: “cotton kills.” If you’re heading out for a bike ride on a frozen day, you should heed that advice by choosing fleece instead of cotton. A fleece jacket or pullover will shake off light rain better than a cotton sweatshirt. Moreover, fleece layers easily under a heavier winter coat should the wind kick up, and it cruises right into late spring as a go-it-alone layer. Fleece is great at wicking moisture, too, so the draw from your long underwear isn’t trapped; instead, it’s lifted to the outside. You’ll also notice the work of fleece when you wear it under a windproof shell.

Don’t Forget Pants

Tempting as it may be, you don’t want to wear just long underwear and call it a day. Now that you know the benefits of fleece, if you’re biking to work or going for a brief ride, consider a pair of fleece-lined pants. For more active bike rides, give active joggers or fleece pants a go. Remember, base layers are made to keep your sweat from cooling you down, so you want to ensure that your added pants layer can supply the extra warmth as you’re pedaling through a windy winter landscape. Also check that your pants fit close to the body; having to pause your ride to untangle your pants leg from your bike gears will just leave you annoyed and exposed to the cold. If you’re going to biking in cold weather that is also wet, opt for a pair of waterproof pants.

Remember Some Outer Layers

You’ll want a final layer or two to ensure that the wind and precipitation will have a tough time taking you down. Depending on how cold it is, you may want to add a packable down jacket for extra warmth. Packable jackets are lightweight but provide needed warmth without bulk, so your movements won’t be hindered. In addition, even if it’s not windy or rainy, top everything off with a windbreaker to help keep the cold from cutting through to your other layers.

Take Care of Your Extremities

You don’t want your fingers and toes—or nose or ears—to freeze, so make sure you’ve got the right winter accessories for your ride. A good pair of insulated gloves is a must, and it’s not a bad idea to first don a pair of glove liners for extra warmth; the liners serve the same function as thermal underwear. For your ears, throw on a snug winter hat that won’t blow off during your ride, or even a full-face ski mask or balaclava, which will also help keep your nose from freezing.

Wool is known for its warmth and ability to remain dry, which makes it perfect for your toes. Look for a good pair of socks in a wool blend. A pair of sock liners may also come in handy. In addition, consider investing in a pair of winter cycling shoes, which are designed from insulated and waterproof materials; just check that the holes in the base of the shoes are compatible with your existing cleats. You and your extremities will stay warm even if you decide to stop and watch the ice skaters or have a brief winter picnic.

Winter cold can be harsh on the skin, so apply a good moisturizer to your face to protect it—and remember the sunscreen. Also sport some cycling glasses to ward off glare from the sun, which occurs even during the winter. Reflective glare can be particularly harsh when there’s snow or ice on the ground.

With the right clothing and accessories, cycling can be a four-season sport. By ensuring you have the proper cold-weather items, you’ll remain warm and dry even during the wintriest of days.


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