The Wet, the Cold and the Miserable
The priority when cycling in winter is to keep warm, not least becasue getting cold is very unpleasant. More to the point, it can mean the difference between finishing a spin with plenty of gas to spare and grovelling to the finish of or even having to abandon a ride. Last but not least is the need to keep important parts of the body, including head, knees and lower back, from getting chilled and at risk of injury.
Funnily enough, keeping warm starts with the bike. Unless the weather is consistently cold and dry, water flung up by the tyres is a hazard whether rain is falling or not. Standing water thrown onto the feet, legs and backside is very effective at cooling a cyclist, even when the extremities are well-covered. The answer, of course, is to fit mudguards. Keep water off legs and feet and it is much, much easier to stay warm.
Winter weather in Britain can be anything from mild and damp to cold and frosty. For the former, a getup suitable for autmun or spring will do the job; arm- and leg-warmers, lightweight gloves and overshoes and a light waterproof shell will keep the rider warm without overheating.
As the temperature drops, however, more clothing is required and with this comes the risk of overheating. Excess perspiration sitting on the skin can easily chill the body on, say a longish descent or at a stop, so a wicking undervest is essential. The layer that comes next is where the fun starts.
This is because the options are almost limitless, running from a lightweight long-sleeved jersey, topped with a showerproof shell when it rains, all the way through to the latest all-singing, all-dancing technical tops boasting a fabric that keeps wind and rain out while allowing moisture to escape.
Sometimes, however, a simple solution works just fine. Here we address two potentially tricky weather scenarios: cold and showery, and sub-zero frosty. In both cases a decent pair of overshoes is the foundation stone on which the clothing selection is built. Long tights continue the warm leg theme, but where thick ThermoLycra is an essential when the mercury drops below 0degC, ordinary Roubaix Lycra is more than adequate above that.
In both cases, shorts are worn underneath plain tights. Not only does this allow the tights to be worn over several days while the shorts get washed after each one, but it goes some way to avoiding the problem of cold 'privates', since there are two layers to keep the wind off.
Above the waist, a long-sleeved lightweight jersey with waterproof gilet worn over a short-sleeve undervest provides insulation and will keep light rain off without promoting excessive perspiration. Wear a long-sleeve waterproof shell in the event of steady rain for the same effect. Light gloves and a thin hat - or cloth road cap under a helmet - will give just the right amount or thermal protection.
When it comes to really cold conditions, the risk of sweat-induced chill is very real. One way to avoid this is to eschew a windproof shell in favour of layering that allows enough airflow to carry away moisture without losing much heat. Here we have a Solo part-woollen jersey worn over a thick wicking undervest to great effect. The same idea extends to headwear, where a ski-style woollen hat makes a stylish alternative to an underhelmet cap. This hat can be worn over a cloth road cap for really bitter conditions including snow and sleet. Needless to say, thicker gloves are needed as the temperature drops.
Of course, there are other tricks to staying warm. Fixed wheel is one; not only does it force the rider to keep working at all times, but it keeps top speed and therefore wind flow down. Add in the fine control offered on greasy or icy roads, and fixed is almost a no-brainer when it comes to the depths of winter. As for growing a beard...
And, remember the Golden Rule; if you are just right as you set off, you will be too warm very soon after.