I often get asked for advice from fellow female road cyclists as to what to wear for cold weather cycling. In short, it’s all about the layers. I’m lucky enough to live in the lovely city of Sydney, where our weather is fairly temperate all year round, but it does get a little cold in the middle of winter.
That means I’m a big fan of layers for colder temperatures, and I vary my layers depending on just how cold it gets. In the past, I tended to overdress because I’d wake up early in the morning with a fear of being too cold which is easy to do when you’re still rugged up in bed. I’ve found from experience that if you’re already warm before you get on the bike (when you’re getting your bike ready – in my case in the garage), then you probably need to take off a layer. If you leave home with too much on you can always shed some of it and put it in your pockets but you don’t want to overload them.
Here are my favourite cold weather clothing and layers:
Arm warmers are the best cycling apparel you’ll ever own. You can buy them in different weights and colours. I own quite a few pairs and choose them based on colour and warmth level. If you get part the way into a ride and get too warm, they are easy to roll down to your wrists or remove completely and put in your pocket. I wear them in combination with a short-sleeved undershirt so I can overlap the arm warmers over the sleeve of the undershirt, then put my short sleeve jersey over the top. This means there are no gaps between the garments, keeping me nice and warm.
Through much of Autumn (Fall) and Spring I wear bib knicks with ¾ length legs. My current favourites are Velocio brand. They keep me nice and warm, but not too warm. In winter I revert to full-length bib knicks that are both fleecy and have a windproof layer. A lot of riders use knee or leg warmers with their short knicks but I’m not a fan, particularly of leg warmers. If I’m cold enough to completely cover my legs I should wear full-length knicks. I also find that as a short person leg warmers don’t fit me well. I do occasionally wear knee warmers because it allows me to keep wearing my short knicks when it turns cold. That way my cycling kit is nice and matching.
I also own a variety of undershirts of different weights and sleeve length. In summer I wear the light sleeveless variety, which helps keep me cool by wicking sweat away from my body. In cooler weather, the undershirt keeps me warm. It needs to be fairly fitted to work effectively in the warmth department – nice and close to your skin. In the middle of winter when it’s really cold (around 5 degrees Celcius) then I wear a long sleeve thermal top under my long sleeve cycling jacket.
The gilet or wind vest is also an excellent cooler weather garment. I have a number of them in different colours, some which match specific kit, and other plain ones. They have windproof material at the front and mesh or breathable fabric on the rear. This protects the front of my torso from the cool wind while riding but allows me to sweat and shed heat on my back. I once bought a gilet that was the same windproof material on the rear, and I had to stop wearing it because it made me hot and uncomfortable. Gilets should also be lightweight so you can take them off and put them in a rear pocket if you get too warm.
When the weather turns cold I wear a headband to keep my ears warm. I find that my ears actually ache in cold wind so keeping them covered is a must. You can also buy full head covers but I find that my hair keeps my head warm enough.
I’m a recent convert to the neckwarmer. I have a lovely warm merino wool one for really cold weather, and recently picked up a nylon fabric one for the not so cold weather. They work particularly well because I have short hair, so my neck is fairly exposed. I tuck it into the collar of my jersey and gilet and it covers most of my exposed neck. On really cold mornings I also tuck it under my helmet strap and cover my chin, particularly for those first few kilometres on the bike.
Long finger gloves
Long finger gloves of varying weights are also great for cooler weather. Most of the time I wear fairly lightweight ones because I find my hands get too hot, plus I feel like I have less control of my bike. In really cold weather (5 degrees Celsius or less for me) I wear thick gloves which keep my fingers from going numb.
Toe warmers/shoe covers
Toe warmers are great for covering the air vents at the front of my cycling shoes. The vents in my shoes do a great job of keeping my feet cool in summer but have the opposite effect in winter. A friend of mine also likes to put electrical tape over the holes during the cooler months but I haven’t tried that trick. I wear toe warmers when it’s cool and complete shoe covers when it gets really cold.
I find that lightweight wool socks help keep my feet warm when riding in cold weather. They still need to be relatively thin to fit in my cycling shoes, and in combination with shoe covers make a big difference to the temperature of my feet. My favourite wool socks come from Velocio.