Guide to layering for cyclists

Ever started a bike ride feeling freezing cold and by the end being hot and sweaty?

To have a comfortable ride throughout and keep cycling no matter the weather – layering is the secret.

The great news is, layering is really very adaptable and a few key pieces can take you through every type of weather a year on the road will throw at you. You can also really benefit from clothing that is adjustable mid ride – when you warm up undoing a zip or loosening a scarf is wonderful.

As with all our posts a small caveat – you can definitely ride in any clothes you want – a tshirt, that Christmas jumper you got off your nan or a mankini if that’s what your heart desires. However, if you’d like to go down the more technical route, we think you’ll enjoy our suggestions.

Merino

Base layers are vital and a merino one will be your friend pretty much all year round. In the summer it keeps you cool and in the winter it does a good job at warming you up. Merino doesn’t dry very quickly but it is still warm when wet. The benefit of this being that on longer/faster rides when you get sweaty even when your nose is about to fall off, you still stay warm when you stop.

dhb merino base layer

It generally wicks well, meaning it draws the moisture off your skin. If you combine a wicking base layer with wicking, quick drying outer layers then you will stay comfortable and not get too cold when you stop peddling at your destination. A final benefit of merino for all cycling purposes is that it doesn’t get stinky. Therefore, it is great when you have a long commute to work or go out for a day ride and want to be social straight after.

Some suggestions – all available in men’s and women’s:

Soft shells

We have previously professed our love of soft shells. In most London weather they are perfect – more breathable than a waterproof, windproof, pretty water repellent…. the list goes on.  There is no standard soft shell material which means that there are a lot of variables and you can pick one suitable for your uses.

Huez hood

For example, some are very water-repellent but fairly stiff and heavy. Others are more of a windshell that dries quickly if it gets wet and are pretty light. The other benefit of many soft shells for layering purposes is that they can be put under a shell as a mid layer without impacting breathability. Because of this soft shells make a great layering piece to chuck a waterproof on top of if the weather gets worse while you are at work.

Some suggestions:

Waterproofs

There are of course days when you just can’t beat a waterproof. Those days when the rain is persistent and the roads are saturated and there is just water everywhere. And its so damn cold. On those days you really don’t want to turn up at work or the pub looking like a drowned rat who sits shivering for hours. Waterproofs also block wind, so if you want one jacket to rule them all, a waterproof is probably your best bet.

A jacket with vents

Cycling specific waterproofs often have a removable hood and a dropped back for on bike comfort. However, regular hiking waterproofs work well also. They are generally long enough to cover your back in even the most aggressive dropped bar position and give you a good range of features so you can decide what you want to do in it off bike as well. Jackets with large vents work particularly well so look for features such as it-zips or venting pockets.

Some suggestions:

Synthetic insulation

For something a lot warmer, get your hands on an insulated jacket. Insulation comes in two main types: down and synthetic. Synthetic insulation is probably better for wearing on a bike in London, and the UK generally. Whilst not always as compressible as down insulation, it is a much more practical option for wearing on and off the bike and shoving into a bag.

Synthetic insulation has many benefits on a bike in a city, the main ones being that it stays warm when wet and is easy to machine wash. This means that if you sweat in it, it won’t be cold at the other end, and you can easily give it a good clean to stop it getting too grimy.

Synthetic insulation jacket

There are some synthetic jackets now that pack almost as small as down ones, if space is an issue. There are also jackets with cycling specific features that aim to make you even more comfortable on the bike. The benefit of a good piece of synthetic insulation is you can use it on its own on the bike, or just carry it with you to put on if you are standing around waiting for friends etc.

Suggestions:

Extremities

It is of course important to protect your legs, hands and feet. Waterproof trousers work well as they protect your legs from the wind and rain. Thick socks are great for feet, or even overshoes if you want to be waterproof but without off-bike stylistic downsides.

Gloves can be layered too – thin liner gloves allow you to do stuff like lock or fold your bike etc, while over gloves provide warmth. Gloves are very personal and varied so it will be the focus of its whole own post. Cold hands can make you completely miserable so it is worth spending some time thinking about how to keep those digits warm without impacting bike handling.

Finally…

Don’t let the fear of what to wear damage your enjoyment of riding. Winter does have its own unique challenges but there are so many benefits of cycling through the winter that you shouldn’t let technical aspects of wardrobe selection put you off.  However, hopefully as we have showed, with a few key pieces it is easy to happily and warmly get through winter rides.

What are your favourite layering options for on bike comfort this time of year?

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

13 Responses to Guide to layering for cyclists

  1. TOM 14/01/2016 at 6:33 pm #

    I’m a 365 rider in Oregon USA. It rains here sometimes 🙂 and isn’t super cold.

    Layering is critical to me. A long sleeve t-shirt is one of my tools , a great start. Then usually a light fleece jacket , and covered with a light Gore-Tex waterproof parka.

    I wear lycra bike shorts under bluejeans and rain pants.

    usually carry 2 pairs of gloves. heavy & very light. If things get cold enough, can put the light ones inside the heavier like liners.

    My eyes water badly in cold air so I use Snowboarding goggles & helmet.

    Just wear sneakers and carry plastic bags to cover my socks in case of downpour rain.

    Can layer up or down depending on conditions. Oh, on the parka … pit zips are a necessity. 🙂

  2. TOM 14/01/2016 at 7:02 pm #

    Also mention that if the weather is very cold, I take out the dedicated bandanna , fold it in half (making a triangle) and tie behind my head (like a cowboy or bandit) and cover my nose , tuck in the bottom flap.

    Keeps face warm and it’s breathable.

  3. Beth 15/01/2016 at 11:02 am #

    It’s all a bit pricey innit?! I’ve got a nice fleece gilet that cost me £10 and some winter gloves that I double up with silk liners if it’s really cold. I have a lovely neck warmer buff in merino – its become a bit stretched over the years though. I have lots and lots of thin layers (my granny’s advice) and polo necks are especially good. Does anybody know what are the best socks – thin so they’ll fit into my normal shoes but super warm – merino?

    • Opynyinated 21/01/2016 at 2:45 am #

      Hi Beth, agree about priciness. I’ve built up a collection of ancient to modern bikewear in mostly technical fabrics (including ropey fleeces for mid-layer) at reasonable to miser-friendly cost to take me through the year but the go to item is an old long-sleeve GoreTex base layer picked up for peanuts in a sale in a bike shop. Much more robust than merino IMO.

      Re. socks the best I’ve found are Hind running socks. Used to use those dinky little cotton bike socks, Cinelli and the like, but now swear by Hind. Wash well, dry fast with excellent design & colour options.

  4. Dave 15/01/2016 at 12:27 pm #

    I’m the ride in any clothes sort of guy. Usually shorts Tshirt and zip up fleece. Start the ride and when I warm up open the zip proportionally to my body temp. If it starts raining I take the fleece off and put it in my pannier to keep it dry. Because I’m wearing light clothing I dry quickly when the rain stops. If it starts getting cooler as the day ends I will put the fleece back on gain.

  5. Albert 15/01/2016 at 12:36 pm #

    I am a year-round cyclist who has contended with Philadelphia’s seasonal weather extremes for the past 50 years. And while others yet to reply will no doubt share my commonly used approaches to layering, I will with comments brought on by the aghast and sense of repulsion caused by your pricey selections, say to you shame that you’ve failed to consider those of us who are budget-minded!

  6. Peter 15/01/2016 at 3:48 pm #

    I have some fairly ridiculous US airforce mitts that I bought on ebay – they are like gauntlets. They’re nice and warm. I suffer from Raynauds, so even with them on on occasion my fingers will go white, the solution is to keep the core warm. I use thermal undies for that – long johns and a thermal vest.

  7. Dave 15/01/2016 at 3:50 pm #

    For Budget minded people I would recommend http://www.mountainwarehouse.com/ as they sell good windproof/waterproof kit

  8. Richard 15/01/2016 at 11:08 pm #

    Any suggestions on face masks? Ways to stop the chilly air being too painful to breathe?

    • Domas 17/01/2016 at 8:57 am #

      I personally use a neck warmer instead of the face mask. dhb merino neck warmer serves the purpose just fine. It doesn’t hurt when you breath through your mouth and when the fabric gets too wet you can always turn it round.

  9. Domas 17/01/2016 at 8:35 am #

    In colder weather like now, in January, for my 10 mile commute I use two synthetic base layers for better moisture wicking and extra warmth followed up by windproof yet breathable dhb Windslam blade jersey which serves like a jacket autumn/winter/spring. I’ve been using this this jersey/jacket for nearly three years now and I can hardly see any wear and tear. Extremely high quality garment, cannot recommend enough!

  10. AndyZE 02/12/2016 at 7:05 pm #

    A Buff is a good thing to carry, light, doesn’t take up much space, relatively warm, fairly cheap and can be worn in a number of ways.

  11. Kie 03/12/2016 at 7:31 pm #

    Feet: Sealskins thick waterproof + 2 more pairs thick socks!!

    Two pairs cycle tights, 3x underwear.

    2 merino wool base layer, 1 cycle top, 1 thin cycle jacket, 1 thicker cycle jacket.

    Snood, Woolly hat, gloves.

    = Fast and warm in below freezing temps.

Leave a Reply