How To Dress For Winter Commuting

 

I like to ride my bike every day but sometimes it’s a challenge, staying warm, dry and not looking like crazy cycling flouro person, although if looking like crazy cycling flouro person is your bag, then go ahead.  It’s just not mine. I only wear that stuff when I’m cycling for sport, but never flouro!

When I first started commuting by bike I wore layers, as I’d always been told to.  Thin layers, and layer upon layer, depending on the temperature.  After I had been cycling through a winter and spring dawned, I realised I’d been wearing them all the wrong way round.  I used to wear a thermal vest under a long sleeved top and a cashmere polo neck, with black skinny jeans, a down jacket or long down coat and normal fashion boots.  I kept a skirt at the office to change into.  My gloves were never warm enough and my feet were always cold.  When I got to the office, my smartest layer was my cashmere polo neck, which I couldn’t take off, nor did I want to divest myself of my underlayers because….well I don’t know why….I just didn’t.

When riding, I was always too hot or too cold, my feet and hands were always cold and the tops of my thighs were too.  It was a wonder I kept going.  And jeans aren’t very confotable to cycle in.

When spring dawned, I bought myself a windproof cycling jacket and that was the start of my clever layering.  I realised that if I wore the windproof either over or under my regular clothes, it would stop the windchill,  it would be light and I could just take it off when I got to the office.  I could the wear my regular clothes instead of all of those layers that I couldn’t take off.

I also started wearing skirts again and I realised that if I wore skirts and dresses that were jersey or wrap around, a-line or had a deep split up the back, then I could wear my regular clothes and just layer up with another pair of tights if it was too cold and then pop the windproof on top and then my regular coat, I was good to go.  I realised that jeans are just too cold for the winter.  The thick cotton seems to hold the freezing air and they don’t provide any warmth at all.

Fur-lined Boots, Boden dress and Bspoke Jacket

Leg wear I’ve already dealt with in my Winter Leg Wear post, and gloves here

Here are my top tips for winter dressing:

  • Wear normal clothing on the bike if you want to.  Start with a thermal or heat-tech vest, a shirt, and a dress or skirt.  Wear a cardigan or jumper over that.  I wear merino or cashmere.  They are warm, don’t hug the odour and look good even though you may have been riding and sitting on a train for an hour or so.  I’ve bought cashmere cardigans from Sainsbury’sthis winter for £25 so it’s not an expensive option anymore.  Then you can take the cardigan off in the office if it get’s too hot, or just put it around your shoulders.  Sometimes I wear a sleeveless Merino Baselayer from Rapha and the polo neck but I don’t layer up like I used to.
  • Wear tights and if it’s too cold for one layer, wear two, or three or even leggings on top.  Falke cashmere/merino blend are fantastic and very warm as are Icebreaker merino leggings.  I wear socks and boots over so nobody can tell that I have two pairs or whether they’re leggings or tights.  I take them off when I get to the office and just wear the one pair, putting them all back on to go home again.
  • I find that a windjacket is essential.  I have a couple of them.  A Gore Bike Wear jacket which is supposed to pack own into it’s own pouch, and does, just, but the fabric is heavy, noisy, and it doesn’t stow into the pouch very well.  It’s ok if you have a big bag and don’t mind the noise it makes while riding but at the moment, nothing beats my Rapha Wind Jacket.  It’s light, the fabric is very soft, it’s cut close to the body so no excessive bulk under the coat and it looks amazing.  The jacket has black cuffs which fit really snugly and stop the wind going up your arms and you can tuck them in or keep them out, depending on how it feels and what you’re wearing on top.  And it stops the wind getting to your body.  I’ve taken it up onto the South Downs on my road bike in the howling wind and it performed well so my commute is a cinch.   I wear the wind jacket under my coat.  Sometimes I combine outerwear and the windproof and wear my Bspoke Angel jacket which is fantastic, waterproof and windproof but only really looks good with jeans or trousers.  So that’s for milder days.

    Jaeger Coat, Rapha Wind Jacket and cashmere scarf

  • A thin cashmere scarf from M&S or Rapha’s merino winter collar tops the whole thing off.  Enough length to pull up over your face if it’s really freezing or just keep the chill off your neck by keeping it on the neck.
  • I wear my normal fashion boots (but no heels) unless the temperature dips below 2c or 3c.  Then I wear a pair of fur-lined boots with thick soles and an extra pair of Smartwool socks.  When choosing boots these days I try a pick ones with a welted sole or at least a ridged rubber sole that gives me some grip on the pedals.  Clipless pedals and cleated shoes don’t do it for me on the commute, nor do heels.  I like a thick sole to grip.  I did have some toe clips with straps but they annoyed me because my shoes are all very different so I took them off.  I bought some Powergrips to put on instead, but they’re still in my bikeshed.  Hey ho.

    Zara Mac, LK Bennett skirt and long leather boots

  • On top of all of this, I wear my normal coats.  I have a great, and very cheap mac from Zara for rainy days and a wool coat from Jaeger for when I want to look smart.  The Bspoke jacket fits loads underneath so I can layer without going mad and it’s windproof.  I don’t wear down anymore.  It’s just too hot.  I have a great pea-coat that I wear sometimes too.  Whatever coat I wear, I wear a windproof underneath.

So there it is.  Winter cycling wear chez moi.  Normal clothes, more tights and leggings, good winter boots with grippy soles, big gloves (and somedays, chemical hand and foot warmers), a wind jacket and a coat and scarf.

Jaeger coat and Rapha Windjacket

You’ll notice I don’t mention helmets or hats.  And you’ll notice that my clothing is mostly black.  I happen to think that reflectivity and visibility is best left on the bike, and I’ll do a post about that shortly.  As for the helmet debate, unlike bad cycling or bad visibility, it doesn’t affect anybody but me.  My choice varies depending on my whim.  And I’ll do a post about that too. 

In the meantime, you can add your top tips for winter dressing below.

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32 Responses to How To Dress For Winter Commuting

  1. egggman 25/01/2011 at 12:53 am #

    Great post! My take on the subject… Oh I added a layer today… :)

    http://oldsinglespeed.blogspot.com/2010/12/i-am-warm.html

  2. Kevin Campbell's Blog 25/01/2011 at 8:46 am #

    quite a good article, i think i will be doing one for spring clothing soon on my blog

  3. Chris 25/01/2011 at 10:02 am #

    Everyone is entitled to dress as they wish, and I don’t want to get into a debate on helmets, but I feel that when indicating at a junction, and only wearing black, then you arm is invisible to motorists. Because of this I feel that high vis is a necessity even if it is just a reflective clip on the arm to make your indications clear to other road users.

  4. Mike Smith 25/01/2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Wow!
    It’s very confusing to start reading an article you think is by Andreas, and then come across the line ” I kept a skirt at the office to change into.”
    Note to self: read the byline, read the byline!!
    Mike

  5. Angi 25/01/2011 at 6:50 pm #

    I almost always cycle in a skirt/dress. So much more comfortable than jeans or trousers.
    The tights and legging layering is also brilliant…much warmer than trousers again. Also, if you get caught out in the rain, tights tend to dry much faster.

    But the best part of my winter cycling attire has been the double layer merino hat…so thin, yet very warm…no painful ears this year :)

  6. John90 25/01/2011 at 8:47 pm #

    I’m undecided on the high-viz versus black issue. Where I think the former may come in handy is when approaching junctions that cars are turning out of – a dangerous scenario at the best of times but with some yellow on me I reckon I stand a better chance of being seen before they pull out across my path. I could be wrong tho.

  7. Mouseboks 25/01/2011 at 9:55 pm #

    Do you have hi-viz elements on your bike as well as reflectors? And at a high enough level that a truck driver directly behind you could see it? I agree about feeling sartorially uncomfortable while wearing high visibility clothing, but it’s worth thinking about the other road users. Someone who ends up unintentionally killing a road user because the were simply unable to see them is likely to spend the rest of their life thinking about the person they killed through no fault of their own.

  8. Nicole 25/01/2011 at 10:45 pm #

    I simply don’t agree that hi-vis is the solution. If road users aren’t looking, then they won’t see you and no amount of hi-vis is going to change that. Drivers get away with the old ‘I didn’t see him’ defence because cyclists assume responsibility for the omissions of other road users by gearing up in this way.

    I cycle almost every other weekend in Antwerp where my partner lives and nobody, I repeat nobody, wears hi-vis or any kind of reflective clothing at all. They wear their normal clothes. They don’t wear helmets either. There is no need because all road users are courteous to each other and respect one and other’s right to go about their business.

    What characterises London cycling, and cycling in the South East, is a fundamental lack of respect for the rights of all road users, which translates into aggression, mealy-mindedeness and the propensity to hi-vis as a solution. I don’t buy into that. Nor do I take responsibility for drivers who ‘can’t see me’. If they can’t see me they aren’t looking. If I’m in a spot that is invisible to them because I am too low down or too close then that is either my fault, or not as the case maybe, and no amount of neon will save me. I don’t get that
    close. I prefer to hang back and let them go their way, I don’t undertake and I don’t get myself in a position where I might not be visible. I make eye contact and I make sure that drivers see me and know what my intentions are, not just by my hand signals but by turning my head, looking, making eye contact, my prepearedness to manoevre and my changing road position. I don’t just stick my hand out and hope for the best. I don’t cycle in the pitch black. Do you? I cycle along well lit streets in the full glare of everybody’s headlights.

    I will do a post shortly about how I pimp my ride.

    These are my own personal views and my own choices. I feel as strongly about the antics of all those out there who cycle aggressively, jump red lights and generally cycle like they have a fire to put out (and there are many of them) as some people seem to about the
    issue of hi-vis. I don’t really want to get into a discussion about it. These are my views and I respect the views of those who feel differently. I just don’t happen to agree.

  9. juleslostinlondon 25/01/2011 at 11:17 pm #

    I agree about not high viz-ing. it’s partly vanity – my commute is too long to get away with wearing the same clothes at work (even on the coldest days 13 miles results in a sweat!) so i do get changed so i could wear horrible cycling stuff. but i don’t. i wear vaguely sporty. i have various jackets of various colours, and i tend to go for bright colours, but i think i do that on the clothes i don’t wear on the bike – so i have a turquoise waterproof and quite a lot of red tee-shirts that i tend to layer over a black base. i’m on a road bike so skirts don’t really work – that or i’m too thigh conscious to do it, but i’m gently breaking into shorter shirts/dresses over thicker leggings, but only very gently!

    i’ve seen the highest viz of cyclists get hit – if people aren’t looking they won’t see you – eye contact is the most important thing – i make a point of making sure i get acknowledgement from drivers at junctions – i find cabs and lorries tend to nod back and appreciate that you’re an aware cyclist.

    on prettier attire – recently finally succumbed to a cyclodelic dress and love it!

    Jules

    • Nicole 25/01/2011 at 11:45 pm #

      I’m dying to try one of those dresses on my road bike. Thanks for the tip. And colour are good too. Your combos sound really nice. I do have some things that aren’t black. My Rapha windjacket is cream with lots of reflective stuff.

      I used to be thigh aware but now I don’t care. At least they’re looking, if they are, and that means they’ve seen me! Maybe that’s the answer, although I do find that traffic behaves very differently around me when I’m pootling about on a Boris bike in regular clothes than when I’m in full Lycra on my Wilier.

  10. Dave Escandell 26/01/2011 at 9:23 am #

    I too dont generally go for hi viz, and completely agree with Nicole on the blame game, so much so that it’s a big reason that I work in the area that I do. SMIDSY incidents are unaceptable, although probably inevitable too. That’s not to say that one who is at fault for any incident should look to pass any blame on…man up and take it on the chin.

    As cyclists we can of course help ourselves by being assertive yet courteous on the road and try to predict what could be ahead. If you’re seen and somebody alters their line of travel or waits for you, acknowledge them. If you cycle this way and are still not seen, then it’s llikely not to be your fault.

    Back to the clothing, I generally wear tights for 6 months of the year and shotrts for the remaing 6 months. I rarely have an issue with cold legs. My winter issue is always cold ears, or winf hitting my ears. It’ll give me a headache for hours.

    Completely by fluke, I wear a hi viz helmet. Not because it’s hi viz, but because I was lucky enough to win it. I planned on passing it on, but I tried it on one day and found that it had a better fit than any other helmet i’ve ever tried!

    I wear a helmet on week days for professional and political reasons. I just hope that I dont add to the general and irrational ‘fear of cycling’ by wearing it.

    • Nicole 26/01/2011 at 9:42 am #

      Dave

      a cycling cap that fits under your helmet would do the trick. I’m wearing a Rapha Winter Hat which is made to pull down over the ears. Mine really keeps them warm. Another possibility is a headband, the likes of which are made by Icebreaker, in merino wool, or other versions in fleece. Try Snow and Rock for one because they’re mostly for skiers. But they fit over the ears under the helmet.

      I wear the winter hat because it doesn’t interfere with my hearing, which a headband might, I haven’t tried one. I did have a Gore Windstopper headband which I used to run in but I stopped because all I could hear was the rustle of the fabric. But an Icebreaker one would be perfect. Lightweight, warm, breathable and you can heat through it.

      Unless you’ve already tried these options, in which case, feel free to ignore me!

      • Dave Escandell 26/01/2011 at 3:00 pm #

        Thnaks Nicole – I’ll look into these options. Either that or i’ll just choose to remove my helmet when very cold or windy and pop a bobble hat on!

        • Nicole 26/01/2011 at 5:14 pm #

          Or see Simon’s comment at 2.43. That heat-tech stuff from Uniqlo is good and really cheap. I have a couple of their vests. I don’t know how they work but they do.

          Bobble hats add to the comedy value, esp those with ear-flaps as well. Way to go!

  11. Jon 26/01/2011 at 10:37 am #

    It seems trendy these days to bash those who choose to wear hi-viz or those “looking like a crazy cycling flouro person”.

    If you ride a bike you are a cyclist. It doesn’t matter what you choose to wear. Wear whatever you feel comfortable with. You certainly shouldn’t be made to feel a lesser person because you are not wearing the latest Rapha cycling-clothes-that-make-you-look-like-you-are-not-a-cyclist!! :-)

  12. el-gordo 26/01/2011 at 10:58 am #

    RE: The high-vis debate, I am actually in the high-vis camp.

    There are actually a number of reasons for this. Firstly I commute too far to stay in one set of clothes and due to the muck off the road I have to have bike only clothes – anything else gets ruined. Therefore, if I am buying bike only clothes I may as well bike clothes that I think may make me a little more visible, no matter how little that may be, every little counts.

    Secondly, I actually think it does help make you stand out. If high-vis didn’t make you stand out why is it a legal requirement for people to have to wear it on construction sites, when working on the motorway etc?

    In the dark it doesn’t matter a jot, you may as well be in black as yellow (although the reflects obviously help), but it is the low light of morning and evening, when I do most of my cycling at this time of year, that the bright colours really make you stand out. I pass literally hundreds of cyclists on my way to work in the morning (going both ways I mean, not just me overtaking!) and it was the fact that I always caught sight of those in brighter clothing first that was one of the reasons that made me switch.

    I will ride up the inside of traffic (cycle lanes) or on the outside of traffic (staitionary) and if you are wearing something bright how are you not going to be more visible to someone briefly checking their mirror? Also as you come up to side roads etc, when drivers are looking left, right, ahead, left, right, ahead – if you stand out from further away they will have more time to see you/react/act approriately.

    Thirdly, I had a couple of close shaves with cars pulling out of junctions and doors opening on me as the nights drew in. This convinced me to make sure my winter cycle jacket was high-visibility and, touch wood, I have had nothing at all over winter. Maybe luck, but as I said, I believe every little helps!

    Finally, to be brutally honest, I actually quite like wearing awful colour clothing on my bike. I wear dull black, grey and blue most of my life as I don’t really like to stand out from the crowd. So why not wear something a bit brighter, where it is at least slightly socially acceptable, once in a while and if it helps even 1% with being seen, well happy days.

    As other posters have said it is each to their own on this stuff and people are free to draw their own conclusions.If people don’t want to wear it then absoloutely fine but I think to dismiss it on the basis that “they will see you if they see you and the won’t if they don’t” is a little bit naive.

    • Will 29/01/2011 at 5:08 pm #

      Great post, el-gordo. I agree with everything you’ve written!

    • Andreas 31/01/2011 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks for adding your two cents. In the end its everyone’s personal choice. What I would be interested in knowing is what gives me a 30-80% more chance of being seen. If I find that reflective clothing is only a small gain then I’d rather spend my money on a brighter bike light or one of those Fibre flares to attach to my frame or backpack. The final thing I’ll add to the discussion is that a more assertive riding position is likely to make a greater impact to visibility.

      Totally agree on your points of wearing whatever you want and thing you phrased it beautifully!

  13. Simon 26/01/2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Re keeping ears warm under a helmet:

    I use a neck warmer from Uniqlo, pulled up into a headband. It is made from Heattech, whatever mystery material that is, and does the trick unless temperatures are below zero.
    Because it is only a headband, it doesn’t distort the fit of my helmet too much, and it was only about 7 quid.

  14. robbie craig 26/01/2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Biggest challenge for me is if it is wet. My breathable waterproofs keep the rain out and in spite of reducing the layers below, still seem to leave me bathed in sweat. It is always a compromise – wetter with or wetter without.

  15. Phil 27/01/2011 at 1:37 pm #

    October to March=Buffalo Special 6 jacket,which keeps me warm down to -14 ( as I found out in December ) even when wet from rain or ‘glowing’. A fluorescent orange/green vest with 2″ Scotchlite strips, front and rear lights and a red blinky on my right hand helmet strap invalidates any excuse a poor driver can come up with. SMIDSY= ” I wasn’t paying attention to anything but myself “. I will not cycle on the inside of vehicles; I keep to the left hand tyre lane on main roads, so that anyone who wants to pass must overtake as they would motorised road users. I wear a reflective Sam Browne and carry a flashing front light when walking to the nearest pub- it’s down a road without lights, and drivers do love to use full beams wherever possible.

  16. Phil 27/01/2011 at 1:39 pm #

    And as for Rapha, their gear looks very nice and well designed- but not for real people who aren’t built like whippets.

  17. Patrick 27/01/2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Just a quick word or two on the hi viz debate – For a long time I did not wear it on my commute but having spoken to my brother, a keen cyclist and a lorry driver (yes they do exist), I do so now everyday. He explained that as a lorry driver very often the hi viz colour will catch a driver’s eye at the last moment when perhaps his concentration was not all it should have been. Therefore i always comute with a hi viz vest and actually in winter time its another layer as well.

  18. Middle aged cyclist in a skirt 28/01/2011 at 10:13 am #

    Great post and the double tights / leggings tip is one I’ll definitely be trying (under my skirt!). On the hi–viz issue, I’m with Patrick – as a driver as well as a cyclist, I think anything that aids visibility really helps. You can be the most sensitive, aware driver in the world, but miss the cyclist on the left because you’re busy keeping an eye on the one on the right….a quick flash of fluoro does help.

  19. Kirses 28/01/2011 at 10:47 am #

    I recommend madsion ladies softshell which is very windproof, surprisingly waterproof, nicely cut and very reasonably priced in comparison to Rapha. I love mine and it doesnt look too cyclist when I go out at lunchtimes.

    http://www.evanscycles.com/products/madison/trail-womens-jacket-ec022961?query=madison

  20. Derrick 28/01/2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Am 62 and started in March last year Southfields to Black Friers. Now on 3800Km. Started in flipflops,T shirt and Shorts. Next came Breathable windbreaker £50 and old trainers. Next Marino longsleve tight Tshirt Decathlon £25.Next old tracksuit pants.Next very thin benie under helmet (ALWAYS HELMET), scarf and gloves and that is it snow and rain. Coldes was -4.5 degrees. Never been cold and top half always dry in heaviest rain.Most time cold finger tips and coolish against strong Atlantic wind. ALWAYS ALWAYS AS VISIBLE AS POSSIBLE.i always use a high vis vest. I have seen people in BLACK and NO lights. £19 get you A set of UNO lights. 1Watt led front lights up signs 3-4 blocks away. Tail light flashing 6 LED very bright. In South Africa we used “Defensive Driving Tactics” ie think like the approaching driver. Remember you as cyclist are very small and with windscreen dirty and blinding oncoming head lights you MUST BE AS VISIBLE AS POSSIBLE

  21. Hannah 28/01/2011 at 9:40 pm #

    I cannot understand why people don’t have high viz / lights in dark weather. If you saw a car without lights on, you would be so annoyed, yet some cyclists think it’s ok?! I walk over London bridge every evening and am always watching cyclists. People don’t understand how hard it is to see them when they wear all black!

    I’m also a horse rider, and always think of this poster when I think of the high viz debate.

    https://www.bhs.org.uk/About_Us/Campaigns/Safety/Be_Seen_and_Be_Safe.aspx

  22. Nicki 28/01/2011 at 10:43 pm #

    I try to wear normal clothes – with a windproof cycling jacket (very thin) on top which only works in current icy conditions if I wear a base layer bought for me by my (serious cyclist) partner from Decathlon. I used to wear his leggings which were too small for him, and didn’t fit me terribly well, but I deeply regret giving them back to him. The cord has now come out of the waistband as I discovered when I reclaimed them recently, and they won’t stay up without it! They were very warm and I would love to find something similar that fitted. Gloves – a whole other problem. I also have numerous pairs, including cashmere fingerless mitts that I’m typing this in – they’re wonderful for warmth for a computer but my fingers need more protection outside! I’ve got some ski gloves that are just too small to be comfortable, and various others that I rotate, nothing really working. My office is now less than 2 miles away and I still arrive with numb fingers when it’s under 3C. I decided I should walk when it’s really cold but I don’t often leave enough time for that!

    On a related topic, what is the point of a cycling cape? I bought a bright red one from cycle chic a couple of years ago and have worn it occasionally – yes, I suppose I stay drier on the bike while I’m cycling along with a pool of water in front of me, but this all immediately spills on to my feet when I get off the bike, and I think it’s also quite a dangerous item of clothing!

  23. Chris Hendrie 29/01/2011 at 10:51 am #

    I’ve been an all-seasons motorcyclist for a long time, so I’m used to dressing for the cold and wet. On the bicycle, it’s a bit different, though. I use my Cold Killers motorcycle base layer – a very thin, yet very warm layer; overshoes (cold feet were my worst problem until I got overshoes) and two pairs of socks; skinny jeans; a long-sleeved T-shirt; a cycling jersey (need the back pockets); a Campagnolo training jacket and, finally, a clear nylon waterproof jacket. I haven’t found a bearable solution for waterproofing my bottom half yet.

  24. Red22 31/01/2011 at 12:36 pm #

    My wife spent some time in Copenhagen last winter. She remarked on the “chicness” of the cyclists’ clothes, no specialised cycling wear was noticeable. However, the cycling lanes/ cycling paths in Denmark and Copenhagen in particular were of a standard and quality not seen in the UK.

    Keeping your hands warm in the winter? Try silk or merino wool gloves inside your winter gloves. Superb..!

  25. AJ 01/02/2011 at 11:55 am #

    My main issue with high viz is simply that it introduces another barrier to cycling being seen as an activity for normal people.

    I have a good high viz waterproof jacket but I only wear it when I think it’s going to rain (and I hate wearing it, to be honest)

    I’m quite sure that it’s safer to cycle in high viz than in normal clothes, but for me it’s not worth the trade-off. It would also be safer to add twenty flashing lights but I don’t do that either.

    I do use lights at night obviously! I don’t think it’s right to lump lights and high viz together in the same discussion.

  26. Samanantha 01/02/2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Great post on cycling clothes and layering, and lights. I too wear multiple layers of tights/leggings and/or over-the-knee socks. I prefer wearing dresses and boots so it works well with my wardrobe. A waterproof or windproof outer layer is helpful too. I do wear a helmet here in Chicago, and mine has a winter insert that comes down over my ears and keeps me warm. My boyfriend wears a neck warmer under his helmet as someone in a previous comment mentioned. Front and rear lights are required on bikes here in Chicago and I would not ride at night without them. In the winter it is dark by 4:30pm, so it’s difficult to avoid riding in the dark. I have generator lights front and back on my Dutch bike and an additional ‘blinkie’ light on my front handlebars, and a few reflectors. I will say that my winter coat is black and I tend to wear darker colors. My helmet is white.

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