How To

How to layer clothing for winter cycling

The art of layering for cold days, dry and wet


One of the most surprising sights to an experienced cyclist is seeing a rider clearly new to the sport riding in shorts in single-digit temperatures. Everyone’s personal thermostat is different, of course, but 10 degrees might be considered “a line in the sand”. Exposing the knees, in particular, to very low temperatures is likely to be an uncomfortable experience, during the ride and afterwards. Legwear with a Roubaix-style fabric – one whose lining is brushed to a fleece, offering a pile to trap air and so provide insulation – comes in many shapes and sizes.

Fleece-lined bib-shorts and warmers and full-length tights represent two ways of protecting the knees in cold conditions

Covering the entire leg can be done either with a full-length tight, usually a bib-tight with braces, although those that end at the waist are still readily available (we’d advise against this style: the elasticated waist band can be uncomfortable, and it’s a design that forgoes the coverage to the kidneys offered by bib-tights). A further permutation is an offering of padded or unpadded: those with a synthetic insert or not (the recently tested Rapha Classic Winter Tights are an example of an unpadded tight; the LOOK Excellence of a padded tight). Those without are intended to be worn over padded shorts, but this can be an unsatisfactory compromise, sacrificing fit, particularly at the seat.

A second method of ensuring full-leg coverage with the insulation of a tight is a combination of Roubaix-lined bib-short (an increasingly popular garment) and an accompanying Roubaix-lined knee warmer. You can find examples of both in our recently tested selection of Rapha’s winter kit: the Pro Team Thermal Short and leg warmer, respectively. The combination provides greater versatility (the short can be paired alternatively with knee warmers or with no additional leg cover – the latter likely to be an option only for early starts and long days in much warmer climes than those of a British winter).

Wet weather needn’t mean wet and freezing ‘guns’. An increasing number of manufacturers are producing tights designed so see off the rain, with Endura’s Stealth and Sportful’s aptly-named No Rain among them. For riders eager to pursue the winter shorts and warmers route, Castelli are among the brands producing water resistant leg and knee warmers in its Nanoflex fabric.

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