Morning temperatures have been consistently hovering below 30 degrees these days, which means it’s time to clean up your bike and store it for the winter, right? Wrong. Cold weather cycling has it’s own beauty to it, and can be equally refreshing if you’re layered up properly. My biggest issue has been remembering which layers to use at which temperatures, so this year I’ve started a gear chart. The more experience I get cycling in the cold, the more accurate my chart will become.
Plan your layers based on the forecast temperatures, and dress so you can remove one layer at a time if you get too warm. Below are the types of gear I used as temperatures drop. As a point of reference, I’m a 120lb female, just over 5 feet tall, and have low blood circulation. I get cold very easily, so you can start with my advice then adapt to fit your own body’s needs!
In the summertime, one of cycling’s highlights is that you generate your own breeze to keep you cool. This is a major downside in the winter; your hands, feet, knees, and face suffer the most as temperatures drop.
- Fingerless Gloves: Best for warmer weather riding. They minimize road vibration from your handlebars and protect your palms if you fall.
- Fingered Gloves: Best in the Spring/Fall when temperatures range from the mid-40s to high 50s. The thin material shields your hands from the wind, and the palms are padded.
- Winter Gloves: For low-40s and below. A really good pair of winter cycling gloves can also be used on your next ski trip, so think multi-purpose!
- Hand Warmers: Add these to the tops of your hands, inside your gloves, when temperatures dip below freezing.
Most cycling shoes are well ventilated to keep your feet feeling great on hot rides… but this isn’t so great in the winter!
- Wool Socks: Switch from your breathable moisture-wicking cycling socks to some well-padded wool socks when temperatures dip below the mid-50s.
- Toe Covers: For mid-50s and lower. You don’t have to buy new cycling shoes for winter riding. Instead buy some cleat covers (or neoprene shoe covers, if you don’t use clipless pedals). These will block your shoe vents and keep your feet warmer.
- Vent Tape: For sub-40s. Add some black electrical tape over your shoe vents, then put on your shoe covers for added protection from drafts!
- Foot Warmers: For mid-30s and lower. Place them on the tops of your feet, above your sock, inside your shoe to provide some extra warmth for your toes.
- Leg Warmers: Yeah, I’m talking about the 1980s fashion that keeps coming back! Add a pair of these when temperatures fall below freezing to keep your ankles warm. You don’t want the fabric to snag on your gears, so choose your fabric wisely.
If you’re only riding a few miles, you really don’t need padded cycling shorts, but if you’re riding 10 or more miles each way, your tush will thank you! If you’re not down with the spandex, you can now find padded cycling underwear to go under cargo pants or jeans. Below are some layers to add on:
- Knee Warmers: For low-60s to mid-50s. Knee covers go on first, then your cycling shorts, so the knee warmers don’t slide down. Knee covers start mid-thigh and extend to your ankles. If you get too warm, you can slip your knee covers off and stick them in a jersey pocket.
- Running Leggings: Sure, you can buy some leggings with cycling padding inside, but why bother when you already have the shorts? I’m a runner and a cyclist, so I can save money by wearing my long running leggings over my cycling shorts. I’ll typically go this route when temperatures are sub-50s
- If I know temperatures will be sub-30s, I’ll combine my knee warmers and leggings for extra knee warmth.
NECK & FACE
Think about your neck, nose, and especially your ears when it comes to cold weather cycling.
- Ear Plugs: If you’re a safety guru like me, you’re probably thinking “Are you nuts?! You need to be able to hear traffic!” That’s 100% correct, which is why I found some swimming earplugs. They’re designed for competitive swimmers who need to hear race commands. To prevent ear aches, I use these on windy rides, or when temperatures approach freezing.
- Sunglasses: They don’t just protect you from the sun. They protect your eyes from bugs, debris, rain and cold wind. If it’s a cloudy day, you can use protective eye goggles instead (they’re shaped just like sunglasses these days!)
- Skull Cap: For sub-60s. Like the cycling shoes, helmets are well-ventilated. A skull cap is typically made of thin enough material to keep your head toasty without overheating. Make sure you find a skull cap with ear flaps to protect your ear lobes.
- Knit Beanie: I wear my favorite Lightning 100/Team Green beanie cap under my helmet when temperatures are sub-40s.
- Neck Gaiter: For mid-30s and lower. In addition to keeping your neck warm, they’re usually long enough you can pull over your nose/mouth and hold in place with the chin strap of your helmet.
- Balaclava: I don’t ride with one of these, but my husband swears by his when the temperatures are below freezing.
ARMS & CORE
Cycling is an intense cardio workout, even when it doesn’t seem that way. Your core isn’t the main issue; your arms are!
- Short Sleeve Bike Jersey: The main benefit of bike jerseys? The jersey pockets! You can store your keys, phone, snacks, and extra layers in them. Great for temperatures above mid-60s.
- Arm Warmers: Removable sleeves you can wear under your short-sleeve jersey in the low-60s to mid-50s, or combine them with your long sleeve jersey in the low-50s to high-40s. Slide them down to your wrists when you get too warm.
- Long Sleeve Jersey: Throw this on for temperatures in the mid-50s and below.
- Under Armor Long Sleeve: As temperatures get cooler, I replace my short sleeve jersey/arm warmer combo for an Under Armor (or other brand) shirt. The tighter fitting material wicks moisture away and provides a thicker protection from the cold air. I’ll still wear my long sleeve jersey on top.
- Windbreaker: Cycling wind breakers are ultra-thin and über-warm! I often find myself overheating when I wear one, which is why I paid extra for the kind with removable sleeves. I’ll add this to my outfit in the high-40s, high-30s and sub-freezing attire.
- Fleece Sweatshirt: Toss this on under the windbreaker or coat when temperatures are sub-freezing.
- Cycling Coat: I love my Novara Edgewater Bike Jacket… even as an everyday winter coat. The decorative white trim is made of reflective material, the sleeves roll out extra-long to keep your wrists warm, and the double zipper gives your legs room to move on the bike. It provides warmth equivalent to the fleece+windbreaker combo, and is more stylish if you’re cycling to a meeting or social event.
Team Green doesn’t host winter-time bike rides, but there are plenty of local bike clubs that do, like Harpeth Bike Club, Veloteers Bike Club, Nashville Bike Party, and some bike shops like RB’s Cyclery! In the meantime, be on the lookout for upcoming Cycling Workshops on the Team Green calendar. The more you know about cycling, the more confident you’ll feel on the roads!
– Keeley (Team Green’s Director)