Think back to your PE teacher. The one who truly loved the outdoors, their weather-beaten face grinning broadly as they usher the class outside in sub-zero temperatures for a kick-around on the astroturf? “No bad weather, just bad clothing!” they’d repeat, over and over again – in such an incontestable way that the phrase still sends shivers down your spine today. They didn’t quite manage to turn you into a football fan, and now you’re finally free of the military drills of a teacher with a Napoleon complex, but still… maybe there was some truth in their words?
Let’s cover the basics before we pop the corks on the fashion show. Over our years of commuting in all weather, we’ve learned a fair bit about dress codes for snowstorms on skinny tyres. To make sure you won’t make the same mistakes as us – and in the hope that you’ll crack a grin on each and every ride (or at least, not freeze in a grimace) – we’ve compiled a list of do’s and do not’s.
That same breeze that you so appreciate come summer as it takes the edge off the heat has the opposite effect in winter. While the market doesn’t have any dedicated brainfreeze-preventing winter helmets, it’s worth looking for a model with fewer air vents. On paper, aero helmets tick many of the boxes here, but you can also look at brands that offer additional inserts that cover up vents. Top tip: neon helmet coveralls that swell into mushrooms in the wind will not win any style points.
Clear lenses are a key piece of your winter arsenal. They prevent your eyes from drying out and welling up with cold-induced tears. When faced with rain or snow, it’s hard to keep your eyes open so glasses help here too. Avoid dramatic coloured lenses in winter as they’ll make your life hard in low-light conditions. Good winter glasses come with an anti-fog coating and provide efficient air circulation, so they won’t mist up when worn with a neck warmer pulled up high.
Our editorial team was divided on the question of headwear, with almost as many different options thrown out as there are models on the market. From 12-degrees-is-my-absolute-limit-to-bare-my-head right through to no-way-I-like-to-feel-the-wind-whatever-the-weather, the only definite advice here is that a choice of headwear has to fit optimally under your helmet without causing any pressure. On particularly cold days, a model that covers your ears is recommended. But the jury is still out on peak up or peak down.
Whether it’s an ultra-practical Buff, a paisley-print bandana or a silky model emblazoned with horses to keep your neck cosy, it is imperative to protect your throat and neck from the oncoming headwind and pull up over your mouth and nose when the temperature really drops. We’re prone to tensing our neck and upper back when faced with cool draughts on the bike, so keep it covered to minimize the risk. Plus, your choice of face covering can mark you out as a style icon.
Unpredictable weather conditions in autumn and winter demand a good baselayer. Depending on the temperature, choose between short or long sleeves, in varying weights and thicknesses – this decision alone can extend the life of a simple summer jersey throughout the seasons. Prioritise a fabric that’s good at moisture management, quick-drying and close-fitting. For those who run hot, we recommend sticking to synthetics that will deftly wick your sweat to the outer layers, whereas temperature-sensitive riders will benefit from either windproof paneling or a merino wool option, which is both super thermal and less likely to retain odors.
Autumn and winter fall firmly into the long-sleeve category. Windproof front panels won’t go amiss, nor will double zips that let you control your temperature. Material choices depend largely on how sensitive you are to the cold, how intense you’re going to be riding, and if there’s a lot of climbing and descending in your routes – either way, blended fabrics with natural fibres like merino are a safe bet.
Is it going to rain? Probably one of the hardest questions to answer in winter. As such, it pays to be prepared and we never leave the house without a waterproof. Even if the droplets don’t start falling from the sky, having a shell will block out the cold. Visibility is something to think about here – but you don’t need to go full traffic-warden fluoro. Most jackets are constructed with reflective elements in the right places.
Depending on the conditions and your personal choice, legwear in winter falls into two main camps: those who transition straight from summer shorts into long tights or those who transition first to heavier-weight, thermal shorts with knee or leg warmers. The latter is our choice, largely because of the versatility and economics of saving money on winter bibs. However, it is not uncommon that the mercury falls so low that full-length tights are truly necessary, no matter how tight you are. On damp, cold days, water-repellent tights are a bonus, and windproof panels on the front-facing parts and your crotch are truly advantageous. Winter bibs don’t strictly have to fit as tightly as summer shorts on your legs – you still want a thin layer of air to circulate, and you don’t want to stretch the material to the extent its protective qualities are reduced. Windproof fabrics often have less stretch which could feel restrictive around your knees. Note: the fit around the chamois still needs to be perfect! Insulation is needed, but comfort is, as ever, paramount.
Winter Rides – Summer Smiles. Expect your rides to get a little bit grubby this season, so it’s best to leave your pristine white socks at home and grab some darker shades. More and more brands have cottoned onto the idea of reflective elements which elevate visibility in low light. Merino models add extra insulation when it’s cold while decent waterproof socks are worth every penny on wet days.
Oversocks to keep your shoes clean or thick neoprene booties – only the day’s conditions can decide what works best. A good fit is important; too big and baggy and any heat that builds up will escape straightaway, leaving your toes to face the frigid chill alone. Look out for models with abrasion-resistant undersides to prolong their lifespan and prevent heat loss from below. That neoprene is only going to work effectively if it is in one piece! Pro tip: a layer of foil under your insole minimizes the usually welcome heat loss through the sole.
Key takeaway here: never get gloves that are too small. As soon as your fingertips get into contact with the glove’s material, a sort of heat bridge is formed and you’ll lose the inside heat. Our top tip: try them on, flex your fingers, envisage your handlebar position. When you’re on the hoods, the material is compressed between your thumb and index finger, which means anything that’s vaguely too small will be exaggerated.
Exhausted all of the above tips and still not able to reach a satisfying temperature for winter rides? Check out heat-generating equipment on the market – we’re talking shoes, insoles, gloves, gilets and jackets that can raise your core temperature electronically.
What’s the best kit for winter?
Having read thus far, you’ll have guessed as much: the perfect winter kit doesn’t exist. Everyone has a different appreciation and sensitivity to the conditions, and no bodies run the same temperature. Always test-run your equipment somewhere close to home before heading out on a long ride. You don’t want to get caught out with kit that leaves you cold, just because your mate said it was so good it gave them a hot flush.
- Stick to the onion theory here and use layers. This will mean you’ll be able to respond to any changes in conditions and allow yourself a quick breather in the fresh air without worrying. Each piece of your kit has a specific function: your baselayer is responsible for wicking moisture away from your skin, the mid-layer to trap the heat, and a hard or soft-shell outer layer to block out the elements. This 3-layer approach is flexible – by this, we mean selecting thicker or thinner layers depending on the day. The main thing is to retain a moderate core temperature throughout.
- Frame bags to stow any extra clothing or emergency layers are a strong move in the cold seasons. If your hands are so numb that they don’t even thaw out after the first sixth minutes on the bike, there’s no shame in climbing aboard a warm train or another form of bike-friendly public transport to get you back to your starting point.
- Brands have worked out how to add stylish reflective accents to kit without screaming traffic beacon, including the more understated bike apparel brands like Rapha, PEdALED and Isadore. In bright daylight, they won’t make much difference, but as soon as the light drops, these elements will ensure you’re visible amongst road traffic. Car drivers are most likely to spot a cyclist when the reflective features are on moving joints.
- To ensure your winter kit lasts for multiple seasons, make sure you look after it. Sure, we’re all somewhat broken after a cold ride at the mercy of the elements and there’s nothing we want more than a cup of tea on the sofa, but your kit (and your bank account) will thank you for a quick rinse. Expensive cycling kit will repay you in kind; items like delicate hard or soft-shells or merino wool clothing should be washed in a designated sports detergent, separate from heavy jeans or zipped items.
- To daily commuters, a word of advice: adapt your kit choices to suit your route. If you have a hilly, sweat-inducing commute, dress lighter – you don’t want to overheat in the first few minutes. Use your own effort on the uphill sections to bring your core temperature up. Pro tip: prone to heavy sweating? Functional kit made with synthetic fibres tends to perform better at moisture management, which makes them a stellar choice for more athletic commuters.
For those of you out there who consider a winter indoors as a winter wasted, unwilling to forsake the feeling of the wind in your face and the tarmac under your tyres, we’ve got just the thing. Look sharp, we’ve curated four of the hottest styles for the 2020/2021 winter season that could even convince fully-fledged Zwift fans and not just those who are left colder by the thought of a virtual ride.
Editor’s note: To those in the Southern Hemisphere, don’t forget to use sunscreen – not only on the bike but also while basking in its rays as you flick through this magazine. (No, not jealous).
PEdALED Mirai collection –
Style for ambitious cycling fans
Intended for tough, long road rides in temperatures ranging from 0–10°C, the PEdALED Mirai collection consists of the Mirai Thermo Bib Tights with laser-cut bibs, safety-ensuring reflective accents and a Cytech Performance chamois for comfort. The Mirai long-sleeve jersey and all-weather jacket epitomize the onion theory–swapping an onion’s typical stench for a series of smart features. The jersey has the requisite pockets, and the jacket adds effective windproofing and a low weight to the mix. Breathable and fast-quicking, the jersey can hold its own throughout hard, winter efforts. Additional insulation comes from the sleeveless, merino-based PEdALED Essential baselayer and the Yuki Thermo gloves. To complete this winter get-up in style, we’ve added the recently launched MET Rivale MIPS helmet, KOO Demos glasses and Fizik Infinito R1 shoes – all in gleaming white, of course. Before questioning the sense behind this colour choice: it’s just one of those welcomed reminders that better days in short/short will be back at some point.
The ultimate performance in a savvy style. Perfect for those who run hot in winter, or for extra warmth during the shoulder seasons.
Isadore Winter Kit –
All the merino for all your adventures
This Isadore curated outfit isn’t necessarily the one to don for Strava segment hunting; instead, it’s more suited to indulgence in any ride between 4–12°C. The standout piece is the Isadore Marsala Merino Membrane Softshell gilet with integrated lights from OSRAM built into the rear seams – a seriously effective measure for visibility while keeping premium style. You need to ride with the Isadore Power Bank with a 4,000 mAh capacity, which doubles as a smartphone charger when needed and fits smartly into the gilet’s pocket. The majority merino construction of the Long Sleeve Shield Jersey and 100% Merino Long Sleeve Baselayer will ensure you stay warm, even if you work up a sweat or the conditions turn clammy. For your lower half, the watertight membrane on the Medio Themoroubaix Tights will protect the most vulnerable parts of your legs and aid visibility with large reflective accents. The seamless construction of the Isadore Merino Gloves does a solid job; the silicon inserts on the palms ensure grip, and there’s additional fingertip smartphone compatibility with special yarns used. The HJC VALECO helmet teams with the Electric California glasses to add a touch of speedy rock’n’roll to your ride.
Merino at its most beautiful and innovative. Isadore introduces wearable technology to the asphalt with a safe outfit designed for all road riders.
GORE road riding apparel for winter –
ultimate function in the shittiest weather
Perhaps not the most eloquent way to describe the grimmest days in winter, but shit (weather) happens. The answer on those days is GORE. The long-time outdoor specialists have developed the GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY 1985 jacket with a totally waterproof SHAKEDRY exterior and a thermal Polartec Alpha lining. Add in the adjustable collar with Velcro closure, partially elasticated hemline, and you’ve got an item that unites beautifully with the C5 Thermo bibs. These have pre-shaped WINDSTOPPER panels on the front-facing parts to block out the wind, and a DWR treatment to repel water deftly. So far we can’t confirm that, but it did a sterling job against some sparkling Spumante for the Franciacorta region. While the C5 GORE WINDSTOPPED overshoes and C3 GORE-TEX INFINIUM Stretch Mid-gloves both fit the bill as warmth-trapper against headwinds, the neon yellow gloves break up the predominantly black outfit and ensure your hand signals cannot be ignored by other road users. With such an effectively insulating jacket, this one can cope with a medium-paced ride and temperatures between 0–7°C when worn with the Base Layer Thermo Long Sleeve Shirt as your first layer, directly beneath the jacket. The Fizik Vento Stabilita Carbon shoes contribute to this minimalist look with refined neon accents, nicely complemented by the 100% Speedcraft glasses and brand new Giro Helios helmet with Spherical MIPS.
Full gas in the wind, the rain, and icy temperatures? With this monochrome GORE kit, you’ll be the most hardcore all-weather stealth rider out there.
Rapha Explore Winter-Kit –
Noble style for real gravaliers
Whether you love the outdoors or are just a committed commuter – those whose ride strays off the tarmac will get to enjoy the full spectrum of the season. Our interpretation of the ultimate gravel, all-terrain kits for dry conditions and temperatures between -2 and 10°C is built around the water-resistant Rapha Men’s Cargo Winter tights with practical pockets and a comfy chamois. These thermal beauties team with the cosy Explore Down jacket, which is super compact and even packs down into a small bar bag when not needed. Add in a long-sleeved merino baselayer and the Explore Long Sleeve Pullover with windproof inserts on the front, and there’s little risk of running cold. To up your layering game, the Pro Team Lightweight Gilet works as a second mid-layer under the jacket. The Rapha Explore SPD shoes display beautiful craftsmanship, a timeless style and won’t see you walking like a duck when you get off the bike. The Rapha Pro Team Winter gloves and socks add warmth to your hands and feet, while the Winter Collar takes care of your neck and throat against the wind. Doubling as a face mask, you can pull it up for a quick dash into a petrol station or burger joint. This highly functional and retro-inspired outfit is rounded off with the understated POC Omne Air SPIN helmet and POC Aspire Clarity glasses in tortoise brown. As we said, a noble look for the true gravel connoisseur.
To experience the change in the seasons on the front line, follow a dress code like this for entry. Functional feel-good with style!
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Words: Benjamin Topf Photos: Benjamin Topf, Phillip Schwab