Bike commuter basics: Layering clothing for colder weather

This topic has come up a few times recently so I figured I’ll write a blog post about it. You’ll find that I don’t talk about cycling specific clothing. There are two reasons for this. One, I consider myself a plain clothes cyclist. Aside from a few short sleeve jerseys and a pair of leg warmers I don’t own any cycling specific clothing. Two, cycling specific gear is not cheap and since I already had a lot of hiking/snow gear I simply┬áre-purposed┬ásome of it for cycling. The first thing you want to remember about layering is: NO COTTON. Cotton, while popular, does not dry quickly nor facilitate moisture transfer away from the skin to outer layers. Another important thing to remember is you should always be a bit cold at the start of your ride, your body will warm up quickly with activity and you want the temps to be “just right” instead of “too hot” 5-10 minutes into the ride. The components of layering are:

  • Base layer(s)
  • Insulating layer(s)
  • Protection layer
Base Layer

Base Layer

The ideal base layer is one that is form fitted (but not too tight) and wicks away moisture to the outer layers. You want either technical fabric (sold under many brand names) or wool. Your baselayer can be short sleeve, long sleeve or sleeveless. You can use multiple base layers such as a sleeveless shirt over a long sleeve shirt providing extra protection at your core. Base layer examples.

 

Fleece Vest

Fleece Vest

After the base layer comes one or more insulating layers. Fleece is a very popular insulating layer and is available in varying thickness and configuration. I often recommend a fleece vest (rather than long sleeves) as the vest keeps your core warm but allows some heat to escape from your armpits. Insulating layer examples.


Shell Jacket

Shell Jacket

The last layer is your outer layer that protects you from wind and water, often resistant or proof. A wind resistant outer layer on a bicycle is key, if you’ve ever watched bicycle racing events you may have witnessed riders stuffing newspaper up their jerseys as they hit a long descent after a long climb. The newspaper protects their core from wind chill on fast descents. A shell jacket is a popular choice and provides excellent protection from wind and water. Alternatively there are fleece technologies that also block wind such as Gore Windstopper. If you live in a warmer climate you may just want a windproof fleece/softshell as your outer layer. Features on an outer layer may include pit zips to allow heat to escape.

Other apparel that can be added into the mix are arm, leg or knee warmers which can be put on or stripped off quite quickly as things cool down or heat up. A thin helmet liner is an option for keeping your head warm, or simply taping your helmet vents closed can keep things warm. Gloves are important, and can be found with Gore Windstopper technology. There are also toe/shoe covers to keep your feet warm and protected from wind/water.

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