It’s that time of year again when the inevitable happens; it turns cold, it rains a lot, and is dark most of the time. Keeping motivation levels high when the roads are frosting over or rain is pounding on the windows is difficult, and unless you’re fortunate enough to own a second home in the Caribbean or packing the bike away for the winter, taking a few steps to prepare for the winter are vital.
Luckily, conditions don’t usually get that extreme in most of the UK, but still, you can never underestimate how seriously cold it can get. Getting cold is not pleasant so it’s crucial to be ready for the change in temperatures when you’re riding. The weather can easily change in the time you’re out – the day may start fine and clear but if it turns while you’re in the middle of nowhere, adequate clothing is a good step to preventing, in the worst case scenario, hypothermia.
Something easily forgotten but which can make a huge difference, the wind-chill factor needs to be taken into account. It may only be 5 degrees outside, but travel at 20mph and you’re looking at a temperature in the region of -15 degrees. Yikes!
To help you prepare for the winter, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite cold weather gear, with advice on layering and other essential items to keep the cold at bay.
This is perhaps the most essential item in your arsenal, a lightweight shell that can small is ideal for most conditions. Rapha’s Stowaway jacket is one such lightweight shell. It packs easily into a jersey pocket and offers incredible water-proofing, and copes with a range of conditions. We’re currently testing Gore Bike Wear’s new Xenon jacket, which is equally lightweight and packable, but offers good value for money, plus the sleeves are lined for cooler days.
We’ve been impressed with Nike clothing before, and the Clima-Fit jacket didn’t disappoint. Made from Pertex (the same stuff they use for Parachutes), it’s well cut for a close fit, with skinny arms, short front, long back, fleece collar and a rear pocket. But the USP is the arms, which zip off leaving you with a gillet – this versatility is perfect for many occasions.
It may not rain all that much, but when its not you can guarantee it’ll be windy. On days like these a dedicated wind shell is an ideal accompaniment, and they are usually slightly waterproof if you do get caught in a shower. Specialized’s Windjacket Pro is so light you won’t notice you’re wearing it, and with no frills or pockets it packs down very small. It will struggle with persistent rainfall, so make sure to carefully study the forecast before leaving the house.
Layering can be a fine art; you can never be entirely sure how much you need to wear, what with the frequently changeable conditions only adding to the problem. Mystic Meg’s crystal ball would certainly come in handy here. But get your layering sorted and you shouldn’t have any issues again. Experience counts a lot, so getting out on your bike and trying different clothing combinations until you find the right balance is our top tip.
The beauty of layering is it allows you to adjust what you’re wearing should you get too cold or warm mid-ride. Start with a baselayer, a long-sleeve being preferable in the winter, and add thick layers depending on the temperature. We’re partial to the Merino wool variety; the natural wool is hard to beat for comfort next to the skin, and if it gets wet you’ll still stay warm. It’s also odour resistant which is nice. On the other hand, man-made fabrics boast of high wicking and temperature control, and usually come with a more attractive price tag. Two favourites among the RCUK crew are the Rapha Undervest and USE X-Zone baselayers.
Depending on how cold it is, you’ll want a mid-layer. This can really vary from your normal short sleeve jersey to a thick fleece, so choose for the conditions. For extremely cold weather fuguJack from Assos will guarantee snugness, or a thin Merino layer like Rapha’s Fixed jersey is suitable if it’s warmer. Look for ventilation options, and windproofing too so you can use as a top-layer.
Three quarter bibs or knee-warmers are ok until it gets really cold. Until it does we prefer to use bibs and knee-warmers as they’re versatile. Endura’s three-quarter bibs offer a good balance between price, fit and technology, and being a UK based company they know very well the demands of the average UK cyclist. For full length bib tights Giordano’s Technical Windscreen’s offer the quality, high performance and value for money we’ve come to expect from the Giordana, plus full wind proofing from a three-layer construction.
Full-finger gloves are a must when it’s cold, but the level of protection you want directly affects the level of control. A more thickly constructed glove can compromise grip on the bars and controls, so try them on before you buy to make sure you’re happy with the grip.
SealSkinz are experienced in making waterproof products, the Winter Race gloves fail to disappoint. 100% waterproof plus a nice leather palm for better grip.
With modern helmets being so well ventilated, a head-warmer can be a necessary addition to your attire, if you want to keep your ears from falling off. Vanguards range of winter products impressed us before, so we’ve picked the Ear Warmers and Skull Cap for the price and comfort levels. Wanting something a little more traditional, then Rapha’s new Winter training hat, styled on the classic Belgian hat, is for you. Made from Sportwool fabric, the seven panel design gives a good fit, the low rib covers ears and neck well, and a mesh lining means you don’t get too sweaty.
Getting cold fingers is no fun, but getting wet and cold toes is even worse, so Overshoes are mandatory when puddles are abound. Our favourites are Pro-vision’s Aqua-Repels. They’re totally waterproof and windproof thanks to the thick neoprene material, and two sizes cover most shoes. A large reflective strip on the back is a nice nod towards safety through the dark winter months.
We’re the first to admit that riding in the winter is tough. We’d much rather pack our bikes, bags and sunscreen and jet off to sunnier climes. That’s not going to happen though, so as sure as it will probably rain tomorrow, the right clothing can make the difference to you getting through the winter. You don’t need much to get started, but spend wisely and you’ll be able to enjoy (as much as you can when it’s cold and wet) putting the miles in through the winter. A couple of baselayers and midlayers, a quality waterproof and some tights are the basics you need, with full finger gloves, headwarmers and overshoes also worthy purchases. Remember the importance of layering, there’s no right or wrong, but you’ll find the right combination after a couple of rides. But remember, enjoy your riding, and think of next Spring as inspiration to keep you riding.