Staying warm but not hot on your bike

When you are pedalling in to work, you want to feel warm on the bike but you don’t want to get so hot that you start sweating.

Here’s how I achieve that.

The buff

The first item in my arsenal against the cold is the buff.

Man wearing a buff

A favourite amongst protesters in Athens and cyclists in London. If it is really cold, I can pull it up to cover my mouth, but in most scenarios I’ll just wear it to keep my neck warm.

This is one of those items, that as your body temperature climbs, you can quickly remove at the traffic light and shove in your pocket.

I personally chose this Merino one for £18.

Gloves under your gloves

After a reader suggested these £10 EDZ Merino Gloves, I ordered a pair. I’m glad I did. They are so warm and comfortable, on even the coldest of days!

EDZ merino gloves are great for the cold weather

You can wear these either under your normal gloves or simply wear them on their own. As I get particularly cold hands, I tend to start my ride with another pair of gloves on top. I then remove the top pair when I get warm.

Hat with ear flaps

A picked up a “christmassy” hat with ear flaps in Copenhagen, when I couldn’t take the cold any longer and I was already wearing every single layer I’d taken with me! I’m glad I did. This hat is now hung up by my front door, ready for every outing!

Winter hat on a kitchen counter

As I get warm, I put the hat in my pocket or tie it with the pigtails.

For those looking for something a little more professional, the Berghaus Men’s AQ2 Mountain Hat is a good option. It is especially waterproof. For those with a helmet, you may wish to pickup some kind of cap, such as this one from DHB, to fit underneath.

Keeping your feet warm

Are you spotting a theme with all the references to Merino? Well, that isn’t going to stop now that we get to my personal bugbear. Cold feet!

I’ve got a couple of pairs of Sealskinz Thermal Liner Socks that I bring out when the thermometer is showing 0 degrees!

Sealskinz thermal liner socks

These add an additional thermal layer, that prevents cold toes.

Warm legs

For warm legs I recommend tights beneath your trousers or shorts. You can go professional with these and splash out £80, or you can pickup a pair for £15 that will do much the same job.

Alternatively, these DHB Knee warmers are a great solution.

For the rest of the body

I personally find that by keeping my extremities warm, the rest takes care of itself. I’ll wear my normal clothes to cycle in, with a winter cycling jacket on top.

What solutions do you use? Leave a comment below.

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40 Responses to Staying warm but not hot on your bike

  1. Fabi 11/12/2012 at 10:32 am #

    I was tempted to get one of these today

    So cold! my ears nearly fell off – add earmuff to the list 🙂

    • Andreas 11/12/2012 at 12:09 pm #

      Added benefit of being able to rob a bank whenever you wish!

      • Fabi 11/12/2012 at 10:17 pm #

        and ride off on your bike 🙂

    • Dominic 12/12/2012 at 10:14 am #

      I’ve been using a balaclava now since late September when the temperature started to drop. Back then it kept me warm without making things too hot, and now in these colder temperatures it still makes a massive difference, I don’t have to worry about a scarf, or chapstick, or hat, it’s does the job of all three, and really cheap. I got this one

  2. Gabe 11/12/2012 at 10:50 am #

    A fleece snood. A fiver from amazon. Keeps neck and ears warm. Can wear under helmet, works really well!

    • Andreas 11/12/2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Nice! Plus you get to say the word snood which sounds funny!

  3. james 11/12/2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Agree on keeping the hands a feet warm… As a general rule, i think Windproof is key for staying warm, but waterproof will generally mean I overheat.

    Versatile kit with with vents is a great way to regulate temperature too.

    Thanks Andreas. I have just moved to London from Melbourne. Your Blog has been a great starting point to get me on the road quickly!

    • Andreas 11/12/2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Happy to help! Congrats on your move 🙂

  4. Eddie Tomlinson 11/12/2012 at 1:44 pm #

    I also use a buff (actually two). One I have round my neck to pull up over my chin/ mouth and one I use as a hat under my helmet – they work great.

    Other than that I have some cheap Ronhill track bottoms and a base layer, e.g. Helly Hansen stripe ones or Under armour also work well. Then I usually just have my gore windstopper top over that with a waterproof in my bag if it rains – I don’t like wearing a waterproof jacket unless I have to.

    @Andreas – the link to the £15 tights just goes to an amazon search for “tights” was this intentional, or are you recommending one pair in particular?

    • Andreas 11/12/2012 at 1:58 pm #

      Nice setup Eddie.

      Yep – there’s no specific product I’m recommending here.

    • barton 11/12/2012 at 8:45 pm #

      I do the same with two buffs. I tried one worn balaclava style and I couldn’t see.

      Of course, last Friday the buff over my nose/mouth actually froze to my face (time to wax the upper lip, I guess) b/c it was so cold and my breath was that humid. Good times.

  5. Dexey 11/12/2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Much the same as you but with an Icebreaker merino beany under my helmet.
    Top coat is an Altura Pocket Rocket over my usual Marmot Windshirt, or a Keela Odin jacket instead of the two items.

  6. Sue 11/12/2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I’m allergic to wool, so can’t use half of these lovely things. Even merino makes me itch and is hell.

    Currently I am wearing opaque tights with thick black (non cycling, just M&S) leggings over the top (which I did last year when walking instead of cycling), but I picked up a Gore Thermal padded Primaloft jacket in the Evans sale a few weeks ago, and its wonderful. I run warm, but with this I can wear only a vest and a scarf underneath on top. I like the idea of buffs (I have a standard fabric one with skulls and roses on) but if I pull it up over my mouth and or nose, my glasses steam up.

    Where it has got a bit colder, I have a t-shirt on as well, but overheat quickly.#

    For the inbetween temperatures, the best things I bought all year were thermal arm warmers.

    I have to wear my cycling glasses now (reactolite sporty shades from Optilabs) as the wind blowing in my eyes wearing my normal specs is painful, makes my eyes water, and makes them puffy.

    Only problem then is when I get on the heated train, I instantly fog over!

  7. Cafewanda 11/12/2012 at 7:02 pm #

    My current winter gear is as mentioned in the OP: a buff or two and two merino longsleeve tops as I run hot. I carry a rain jacket just in case and can also use it as a windjacket if I get colder. Fortunately my commute is about 35 mins long otherwise I’d wear more layers! For my hands I’ve started using my heated gloves with silk liners when the temp drops below 4 degrees, as I have Raynaud’s condition.

    On my feet I wear my Shimano cycling boots with long thick socks over regular cycling socks. My boots are a size bigger than I would normally wear, so I have plenty of wiggle room.

    • barton 11/12/2012 at 8:58 pm #

      are these actual Shimano boots? or, do you mean “boots” in the same way football/soccer cleats are referred to as “boots,” even though they are more like trainers? I ask b/c I’d love to find an actual pair of cycling boots (thicker, coming up above my ankles, etc) versus my Shimano shoes.

      • Cafewanda 13/12/2012 at 9:53 pm #

        Sorry, I should have myself clear. I have the Shimano MW81 boots.

  8. barton 11/12/2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I’ll share what I did until this Sunday (when we received 13 inches of snow, and Monday sprang w/ -7 Celsius – I’m done for the season, thank you).

    I wore a cheap Canari windbreaker, with two merino base layers in the morning (and only one on the way home). I bought some Craft X-country ski lobster claw gloves at the end of last season, so they only cost about 15 pounds. I wear lycra in while commuting (and change to skirt suits when at work), so I found a pair of cold weather, windproof tighst on wiggle at the end of the season for under 40. They aren’t padded, so I wear a regular pair of lycra shorts over the top. (My commute is 15 miles). For shoes, I wear mid-weight merino socks, and use toe warmer packets (again, picked up in bulk, for under 20p each, at the end of last season) on the to of my toes where the vents are on my shoes, plus toe covers.

    for temps around freezing, I continue to wear straight glasses, for temps below -5, I put on goggles to help keep the cold from the eyes. I also have two merino wool buffs – one for the neck/face, and one that I double to wear under the helmet as a hat.

  9. Adrian 11/12/2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I would pick the sealskinz glove liners over the EDZ ones, they are thinner but warmer.
    I’ve been promising myself a pair of thermal sock liners for the past 3 years but not got round to it, will get there eventually though. I would highly recommend the specialized sub zero gloves, they come in two parts- a windproof inner and waterproof outer and are fabulously warm with both, the only problem people may have is that the gauntlet style is difficult to get inside your sleeves when it’s raining but in the dry they are fine over the top.

  10. Eve 11/12/2012 at 9:51 pm #

    I tend to get my cycling get up on the cheap,as atm I’m on a tight budget. So far, so good, I’m surprised how effective it is in keeping me warm (even today when it was -3 and foggy when I got back). When it’s not that cold I stick on my ski baselayer picked of ebay (not merino one though), Lidl winter cycling tights (a revelation – windproof softshell, padded, plenty of reflective bits front and back, very comfy), Altura Night Vision jacket (bought two years ago at end of season sale really cheap), normal socks, and cheap woolly gloves, a scarf (of a square variety, not a winter one), woolly hat. When it’s really cold (around freezing and below) I add a pair of thick ordinary thighs under the Lidl cycling ones, a thick pair of normal socks, a thin zip through jumper with collar, swap the woolly gloves for Lidl winter softshell, windproof ones (my fingers are cold to begin with, but warm up pretty soon as I ride) and the scarf for a buff, plus add cycling glasses (as cold wind makes my eyes water) and I’m all set! I suppose if there are any unconvinced winter cyclists, I’m a good example of being able to stick at it without having to spend a fortune on expensive cycling gear.

  11. Angie 11/12/2012 at 10:52 pm #

    Keep nicely regulated with a good merino base layer – urbanfrog rock!

  12. David 11/12/2012 at 11:02 pm #

    I use a scarf over my ears, nose and mouth and thick tights under my trousers.

  13. Steve A 12/12/2012 at 12:07 am #

    Proper balaclava for us bald types…

  14. PaulR 12/12/2012 at 2:45 pm #

    I find it much easier to dress for the weather when I am in full roadie lycra mode. Roubaix backed bib shorts with roubaix lycra tights, winter weight socks with either oversocks or overshoes over my cycling shoes, good base layer, mid layer and jacket (or base layer and rapha winter jersey – my favourite bit of kit by far but horrendously expensive – with a rain jacket in the back pocket). My hands freeze so liner gloves in addition to good windproof water resistant goves are a must. My head never gets that bad, so a cycling cap under the helmet tends to be enough.

    Where i really struggle is the short distance inner city journeys that i want to do in ‘normal’ clothes (like going to meet friends where the main activity is not going to be cycling – lycra may be awesome but it looks out of place at the theatre). Jeans are never as comfortable and warm as lycra, but if i wear tights under the jeans my legs end up boiling as soon as i’m off the bike. Same issue with upper body – i just can’t seem to get the balance right.

  15. Adamus 13/12/2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I prefer Endura gloves for winter riding.

    (hey ! that ain’t advertisement, we dont have Endura brand in our Shop :):) )

    I really do like what this Scottish company is doing. Also their clothes lines are for bikers and for other sports also , that is I think very nice combination.

    Kind Regards!

  16. Sue 13/12/2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Someone on another forum pointed me in the direction of Airhole scarves – essentially a buff type material (some are tubular, some tie like a bandit scarf), but they have a little grommet and hole right where you would breath out of the mouth.

    If this redirects my breath away from my specs and I don’t fog up as much, I’ll let you know.

  17. nilling 14/12/2012 at 10:42 am #

    I bought a couple of cheap lycra skull caps off eBay

  18. Elaine 14/12/2012 at 11:36 am #

    Ski suit and ski mitts, yes may be a tad sweaty when get to work but feel really well protected on the way and also raise a smile to passers by – it is a dark grey with cream fake fur trimmings on hood so matches my cath kidston waterproof spotty bag…..

  19. Paul B. 14/12/2012 at 2:31 pm #

    As a base layer I use the Marks & Spencer long sleeve thermal top. 34% merino wool PLUS it’s long enough to completely cover my back, even when down on the drops. An absolute steal at £19 compared with ‘proper’ cycling kit. Added bonus is the sizing. XL means just that!

  20. Steven 14/12/2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Snood – like a buff but with a hood – acts as a scarf, mouth cover and hat. I wear my all the time in winter.

  21. Andy ZE2 14/12/2012 at 8:53 pm #

    If you do end up with a balaclava just avoid the black ones if you have an Irish accent!!

  22. Narayani 15/12/2012 at 9:15 am #

    Any have tips for keeping your face warm whilst avoiding steaming up glasses? Perennial problem for me.

    • Andy ZE2 15/12/2012 at 9:35 am #

      As a motorcyclist I used to rub Fairy Liquid into my visor onto the inside and this works well. Many other de-fogging preparations are available. I use a tube and make sure that there is now way for the air to escape from the mouth upwards. Look at motorcyclist’s gear. They have these sort of problems, just at higher speeds and there fore worse.

  23. Big Softy 16/12/2012 at 3:49 am #

    I’ve been using those UniQlo thermals as a base layer for a couple of years now, and they work out fine. Topped with a 15 quid vintage merino jersey. winter cruisers, and a windbreaker.
    M&S wool socks, or Sealskinz in the wet.
    I picked up a £6 pair of gloves in Lidl over the summer that I’ve just started using, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how warm they keep my fingers. I was looking to get a decent pair, i.e. more expensive, but don’t think I’ll bother now.
    Plus an ear-warmer headband that I’ve had for about 10 years, and a buff when I’ve just had a haircut and my neck gets cold.
    Not forgetting a liberal application of Chapstick!

  24. goonz 17/12/2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I use a nike combat base layer with turtle neck followed by my long sleeved castelli fleece jersey. This is topped off by a Rapha winter gilet which is a good long necked combo.

    I wear Campag windproof/waterproof gloves and winter tights. I have a cheap balaclava which I use as a snood and can cover my ears and nose if need be, which I tend to begin with and half way through the cycle undo a couple of zips and the balaclava just acts as a snood keeping the neck warm.

    On my noggin I wear a rapha cap but am planning on getting a winter cap that can protect my ears too.

    My next treat to myself will be the warm thermal socks though. I am tired of walking into the shower at work with frozen toes.

    • goonz 17/12/2012 at 2:01 pm #

      Oh and before anyone coughs or suggests snobbery, apart from the rapha cap everything was bought on ebay…

      • Andy ZE2 17/12/2012 at 3:27 pm #

        Ah ha! Ebay. Reverse snobbery!!

  25. Pontylad 17/12/2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Snood with the pullover hood attachment is a good suggestion mine has a fleecy neck section and a pull over hood of thinner stuff, picked it up in a Millets remainder bin I think .If it’s really cold you can swap them round so the fleecy bit goes under your helmet .Lycra joggers skull cap is a good back-up as it takes up minimal space and can be shoved in a pocket or bum-bag.

    In emergencies I’ve been known to stick the plastic bag my lunch came in under my helmet when caught in a rain storm .Similar boy-scout type trick is to shove a magazine or newspaper down your jacket to cut wind -chill particularly on a long downhill .

    My commute is unusual for the UK being only about 4 miles but with about 1100 feet of climbing being a steep up to start then a long down of about a mile , a flat bit and finally half mile climb to work .Balancing hot sweaty bits of up hill work with wind-blasted downhills can be a challenge . Layers are the way I go usually .Thermal breathable top ,biking jacket of lycra type material again breathable ,thin water-proof and a back-up gilet top shoved into a bum-bag. I wear winter grade tights and thick hikers socks which are lined with an inner layer .

    I hate arriving at work too sweaty as there are no shower facilities so that little lot are worn with different variations as the final uphill does get the blood thumping most of the layers I take off I can shove into a bag or pocket .

    Ski-gloves which are breathable finish the job off . Cold extremities are a biking nightmare and hands are the worst particularly if you do a lot of braking as I do . I agree with the comment that you can shop around Marks and Spencers, Lidl ,Aldi and Millets may not be as fashionable as the usual cycling suppliers but you can usually find stuff that does the trick at about a third of the cost.

  26. dexey 19/12/2012 at 7:49 am #

    You can buy merino at very reasonable prices from the women’s clothing racks in charity shops.
    I find Trekmates merino very effective and reasonably priced, as well.

  27. Julene Barlett 13/01/2013 at 8:34 am #

    earmuffs are really handy specially in cold snowy weather in the winter. we use them a lot even we are at home since it is very cold out here.’

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  28. Rider 19/12/2013 at 3:59 pm #

    I see this thread is quite old but it really did ring true with me! While I am an ex para and have suffered plenty int he past, I ride a fair old distance into London most days and have no appetite at all for being cold, wet, miserable or uncomfortable these days.

    There is a huge difference between 20 minutes on the bike and 2 hours – I ride for around 1 hour 50 early doors if I come in on the bike, and this time of year it can be very cold when I leave.

    The trick is layering and I tend to add thin (wicking) layers as the temperature drops. I must confess I dislike the ‘Lycra’ look and tend to go for ‘looser’ clothing on top but do stick to close fitting stuff below the waist for obvious reasons.

    The basic ‘all seasons’ gear is padded shorts and a ‘non Lycra’ loose-fitting type cycling jersey/top, with a high-viz water/windproof over the top. I do tend to wear close fitting cycling/sports leggings over the shorts most of the time. When the warm weather comes the water/windproof either comes off or is replaced with a much lighter wight one, the leggings generally remain unless it’s very warm.

    Gloves vary from fingerless to thin ‘full fingered’ to gortex fleecey things which keep you warm and dry. I do get cold hands from time-to-time so I suspect some further investigation is needed.

    As temperatures cool I add a base layer on top – a compression type top which can be got in Lidl these days and a thin hat under the helmet – one which covers the ears is ideal. I use an old ski hat which, while polyester, is thin, fits and wicks well.

    I tend to use regular ‘sports’ socks and when it’s wet/cold add an over sock which is waterproof – again these are widely available these days in most outdoor/sports shops and even in places like Lidl. Make sure you don’t tuck your leggings into the socks: when it’s wet the leggings ‘catch’ rain and spray water and then fill the socks up – nice! Been there before…

    I did suffer a bit with cold legs (knees and lower legs) last year and investigated thicker cycling leggings which I thought a bit heavy and ungainly. The revelation came when my wife suggested wearing a pair of her thick tights under my leggings – bingo. Chose the material carefully and don’t go for woollen or ‘cloth type’ tights but those with a higher Lycra content – they serve as an ideal base layer which readily wicks sweat away. I dislike stirrups in sports leggings (Ron Hill style) and the ‘foot’ prevents the tights from rucking up under the leggings.

    Any ‘glove’ suggestions warmly (!!) received!

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