Cold Weather Cycling Essentials 101

Be sure to scroll to the bottom to save the graphic for what to wear during different temperatures.

I’ve had a lot of friends ask me lately what I wear for cycling in cold weather. The answer is- it varies, depending on the temperature. Also, what works for one person might not work for another. For example, I run hotter than my husband, so while he’s all bundled up, I’m already stripping off layers.

Admittedly, I live in Florida, so I’m not a cold weather “expert.” But no matter where you live, if you train outdoors you have to be prepared with a variety of clothing choices to suit any given temperature.

There are a few basic rules when it comes to dressing for cycling in cold weather. Most of these I’ve learned from my coaches, friends, and through personal experience.

male cyclist putting on glovesRule #1- If you’re warm when you start, you’re wearing too many clothes. If you’re all warm and cozy when you start a ride, you will definitely be too hot once you get moving. It’s much better to start out the ride feeling a bit cold, instead of overdressing and risk sweating.

Rule #2- Layers are your friend. This might look like a lightweight base layer topped with a jersey, a vest, and some arm warmers. The benefit of layering is that you stay warm, but it also helps you avoid sweating. The worst thing you can do in cold weather is sweat underneath your layers, so pick lightweight, breathable pieces, instead of thick, fleecy apparel. Wearing damp clothes in cold weather isn’t fun. During some point in the ride, you’re going to want to shed some of those layers, which leads to the next rule…

Rule #3- Wear packable pieces. Before you put on a piece of clothing for a bike ride, think about what you’re going to do with it once you warm up. There isn’t a lot of storage on a bike, so anything you wear will need to be rolled up and stuffed inside a jersey pocket. Don’t tie anything around your waist; that’s a recipe for disaster.

Rule #4- Look at wind chill. Before we head out for a bike ride, we look at what the temperature is going to be at the start, middle, and end of the ride. We also consider whether it’s sunny outside and if there’s any wind. 40 degrees and sunny with no wind is going to feel a lot different than 40 degrees and cloudy with a 10 mph wind.

a cycling couple standing under pretty treesRule #5- Wear the correct fabric. Lightweight, breathable fabric is great for a base layer, but you will also need a wind resistant layer to wear over top, like a vest or jacket. Also, wool socks are essential. They help keep you warm and wick away sweat.

Rule #6- Cover your toes, ears, and hands. As long as I wear toe-covers on my cycling shoes, ear-warmers, and wind resistant gloves, I can ride in just about any temperature. Your core is going to stay warmer than your extremities, and there’s nothing worse than not being able to feel your feet or having numb fingers on the bike. Another great tip is to wear a buff. My husband always wears one for cold weather rides. You can start out with it pulled up over your nose and mouth and, as you warm up, pull it down to serve as a neck-warmer. It’s also helpful for dealing with runny noes…

Here are my cold weather essentials:

  • Base layer– I wear this short-sleeve version from Eliel Cyclingand Matt likes this one from Under Armor. Also, we both wear this 32 degree Heat long sleeve shirt and leggings. (If you don’t have long bibs, you can wear the leggings over regular cycling bibs and pull them off when you warm up.)
  • Arm warmers– These are a must, because they’re cheap and you can turn a short-sleeve jersey into a long sleeved jersey in a pinch. They’re also easy to roll up and stuff inside your jersey pocket when you warm up. Matt uses these from Le Col. 
  • Vest– A vest is a great option if you get too cold with just a jersey, but feel too warm with a jacket. Get one with back pockets, just like a jersey, so you still have access to storage. I like mine from Eliel Cycling, but I also have one from Voler Cycling. Here’s one from Louis Garneau and another from Le Col.
  • Jacket– It has to be pretty cold for me to wear a jacket, but I do have a lightweight one from Eliel Cycling that I like, because it’s easy to roll up and put in my jersey pocket. Here’s one from Castelli, and my husband loves his jacket from Pearl Izumi.
  • Wool socks are necessary. The thicker fabric helps keep your feet warm and provides temperature regulation. We wear these socks from Smartwool.  We also love these from Swiftwick, because they come in National Park designs. I have Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches, because that’s where we went on our honeymoon.
  • Toe-covers are a pretty cheap addition to your cold weather kit. We leave them on our cycling shoes all winter long. Matt wears this kind from Rock Bros and here’s a different type from Pearl Izumi.
  • Ear-warmers If it’s 50 degrees or below, you’d better believe I’m wearing ear-warmers. I have this exact headband from Smartwool. It’s thin, warm, and double-sided. I also have this one from SmartWool, because I love bright colors!
  • Wind resistant gloves– I have a bit of Raynaud’s, so my hands get very cold. I have two different gloves. If it’s 50-55 degrees, I wear this pair from Head. If it’s in the 40s, I wear my favorite pair from Assos.
  • If it’s really cold, Matt loves his long-sleeved jersey and long bibs from Le Col because they’re fleece inside!

The Ultimate Cold Weather Cycling Hack

I have one more great tip for cycling in cold weather. Buy a pack of adhesive toe-warmers from Wal-mart or Amazon. A few common brands include Hot Hands or Grabbers. Put your socks on, peel off the adhesive backing, and stick the toe-warmer on top of your toes. Then, put your cycling shoes on. Your toes will stay warm for up to eight hours!

Save this graphic to your phone so you remember what to wear while cycling in cold weather!

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