Cold weather cycling tips: The core is key


The secret to staying warm?


You knew that already didn’t you?

I’ll cover two different systems that work well for me into the low twenties.

System #1

Let’s start from the inside out. A good base layer will help keep you dry and comfortable. This will be the 4th season I’ve been using the some discontinued long sleeve 100% wool lightweight zip top from REI. It has been ideal for me, withstanding repeated commutes without stinking, and feeling very cozy next to the skin. Similar items are to be had from SmartWool, Ibex and Icebreaker and just to name a few.


As a bit of extra insulation I’ve added a short sleeve wool jersey. In even colder weather I go with a long sleeve wool jersey. I’ve had the same Bontrager wool jersey for years, when it wears out I’ll be getting one of these. A fleece vest would work well here, but a dog ate mine. Seriously.


On top this is an Endura Softshell. It really is that bright. Makes me feel safer during those gray winter days. It is incredibly wind proof and well insulated for something that is so thin. Initially I was disappointed that this shell wasn’t waterproof, but now after using it for a year I realize it isn’t needed. It’s needs to be below freezing for me to wear this jacket, and the water repellent finish is easily able to deal with snow and road spray.


System #2

This is a Pearl Izumi PolarTec base layer. It is old, they use Ultrasensor fabric now. Lots of options for this type of baselayer out there, much less expensive than wool, needs to be washed more often.


Next up is a pretty thick REI Power Stretch half zip top. Not cycling specific, but a nice multi-sport cut, with a longer back and longer sleeves for full coverage on the bike.


The outermost layer is a Novara Express jacket. Great for cold rainy days where staying dry is key to a pleasant ride.


So that’s two different ways to skin the cold weather cat, at least for me. I seem fall on the warm side of the equation and rarely need to wear much more than what I’ve listed above, even when it gets into the teens and single digits. I usually have an extra layer and some arm warmers in my bag, just in case.

Some things to look for in a riding jacket:

  • Pit zips: breathablity is all well and good, but nothing beats pit zips for ventilation when it is 38 degrees and raining. Back vents can work well also, providing your back isn’t covered by a bag. Pit zips can also help on those group rides in the woods that involve a lot of starting and stopping.
  • Windproof: Very important, particularly while on the road. It gets cold mighty quick when you create your own wind chill.
  • A Bright colors: Safety, safety, safety. Good on the road, good in the woods during hunting season.
  • Water resistant or water proof: Even on days when it isn’t precipitating, road spray from cars or back splash from puddles can end up soaking through. Waterproof is a bit more versatile, water resistant is often cheaper and more breathable.

It is pretty easy to develop a clothing system for riding given a few hundred dollars and a computer, a bike shop and/or outdoors store. Looking to stay warm for less? Here are a few ideas:

I’ve had a lot of luck at places that sell closeouts and seconds cheap. Real cheap. Like $5 for a silk base layer. $20 for a soft shell. You get the idea. Thrift stores are another great response for things like wool sweaters, and lately there is plenty of fleece. I found a waterproof mountaineering shell for less than $10 that I’ll wear when it is REALLY cold. If nothing else it offers a bit more padding when the inevitable crash on some unseen ice occurs. Bike shops often have end of season cold weather closeouts. I heard the interwebs is a good place to find sale items too, might be worth looking into. Although they seem to be disappearing, the Army/Navy store can be another good resource.

Keep that core warm and it will help keep everything else warm too. What do you wear when it’s below freezing?

Keep reading

Our complete series of cold-weather cycling tips:

Know thy enemy – Snot!

The core is the key

Keep your pants on

It’s all in your head

Keeping your feet happy

Physical ailments


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