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Layering 101: How To Dress for Winter Riding

jeudi, janvier 7th, 2010 at 16:17

It’s a new year and as many parts of the world are being gripped by the worst winter conditions in decades it seems like a slim chance that many of us will get out on our bicycles anytime soon. But trying to view the glass as half full I thought I would bring a quick and optimistic guide on how to dress for cold weather on your bicycle. You never know, you might get out for a ride sooner than you think. Here are some things to think about when you are getting ready to ride.

Three layers are better than one

Let’s talk upper body first.  Most recommendations will have you looking for three layers – base layer, middle or insulating layer and outer layer- to protect you from the elements.  Layering will get moisture away from your skin and let you keep the warmth that cool air tries to pillage. And when you get into your ride, if you find that clothing decisions trended towards the warm side, it’s easy to lose a layer.  Here’s what to look for when planning your layers.

Base Layer:

Said layer has two goals: the first is to provide warmth. The second is to get any moisture you produce away from your skin so you can keep your valuable warmth.  Base layers come in different thicknesses and materials offering you a lot of choice. Wool is an exceptional material and will keep you both warm and dry but comes at a premium. There are also synthetic materials, mainly polyester based, that will get the job done. Thin base layers are usually best but if you tend to get cold easily opt for a thicker start.

Middle Layer:

The middle layer helps moisture continue its travels away from your body while providing vital insulation. You can vary the thickness of your mid-layer to fine tune your warmth depending on the weather. When looking for a mid layer, though it’s not a necessity, try finding cycling specific garments, they will offer you an unrestricted fit and good coverage when you are in a cycling position. You may also find that during a ride you no longer need your third layer so having a mid layer you can wear on its own, such as a softshell that offers some protection from the elements, is a great idea.

Outer Layer:

Your first defense against the elements and the last barrier for escaping moisture the outer layer is arguably the most important and certainly the most technical. Shells work best in the layer system. Look for jackets that are waterproof, breathable and have taped seams and you’ll have a shell that you can wear for all weather riding. There are some amazing jackets available that are lightweight and packable while offering all the features you need to accommodate riding in a variety of conditions. To learn more about the outer layers click here to read an older post that explains it all.

Keeping Warm Down Below

While you are cycling your legs will most likely be doing the majority of the work so depending on the temperature wearing windproof thermal tights may be all you need to keep them warm during winter riding. If the weather gets wet you can layer up with a waterproof, breathable shell over your tights. Other clothing pieces to consider are leg warmers which were covered in an earlier post (click here to read), and can be combined to keep you toasty.

Hands, Feet and Your Cranium


If you are going to go hard core and ride every chance you get during the dark winter months then you can get winter specific shoes. If this solution doesn’t fit your budget or just seems excessive then shoe covers will be your best friend. For winter get yourself thermal shoe covers that are waterproof and windproof.


Winter cycling gloves will provide you with good grip, padded palms and reflective highlights to make sure you are warm, comfortable and safe. If you get cold easily you can find lobster style gloves that keep your index and middle fingers free to operate the controls while keeping your fingers extra warm. Stray away from mittens as they will restrict your mobility in a dangerous way.


For performance the best options are often thin thermal beanies or head bands and a neck warmer or balaclava. If warmth is your primary concern then you can add a helmet cover to keep the wind out. With helmets being built mainly for warmer weather and your head ditching a lot of your heat, making sure you have the right head coverage can make a big difference on how comfortable you are in winter temperatures.

We know that winter makes for an easy excuse to stay off your bicycle, but with a little bit of planning and the right clothes winter doesn’t have to keep you inside.  Stick it to winter and get out there for a ride.

Read more: Layering 102: How To Dress for a Winter Riding photo shoot

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