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.
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.
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:
- dhb merino long sleeve base layer – £35
- Vulpine long sleeve merino t-shirt – £69 (currently on sale for £55)
- Svelt long sleeve heritage jersey – £110
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.
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.
- Jack Wolfskin Element II softshell – £80
- Arc’teryx A2B Commuter jacket – £160
- Huez softshell sweat hood – £185
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.
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.
- Altura Night Vision Evo jacket – £55.29 (on sale)
- Patagonia Torrentshell – £110
- Vulpine Waterproof Utility jacket – £229 (currently on sale for £160)
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.
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.
- Montane Prism jacket – £100
- The North Face Thermoball jacket – £150
- Vulpine Ultralight Quilted jacket – £169 (currently £118 on sale)
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.
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.