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Foolproof your Winter Rides: A Guide to Winter Kit

Words by Cycle Solutions

on 14/12/2020 11:33:11

There are a few no-brainers when it comes to winter kit, but there are a few things that can take your riding to the next level and make it a more pleasant experience. We’ve put together a list of things that may not cross your mind when it comes to buying winter kit as well as the things you’d expect.

While there are items specific to certain disciplines, there are product crossovers and kit you can use when you’re riding any type of bike. Here are a few things that will help you ride through the worst of the weather, because let’s face it, no one likes cold hands, feet or ears and it’s surprising how much better a ride can be when you’re wearing the right kit. If you’re going to commute or want to keep riding through winter, here are a few things to invest in if you want to prevent the weather from helping you make those oh-so easy excuses.

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Layering

There is definitely a bit of a fine art when it comes to layering. It can be hard to know what to wear. Get too hot and you risk sweating and getting cold if you stop. A high-quality, breathable base layer should help prevent this as they are designed to wick sweat and keep you dry. Whilst gilets are typically for road riders, this can be a good option as they usually pack down pretty small so you can remove this or pop it back on when needed. The key here is breathable, having something that will allow your body to regulate heat without trapping it and turning it into sweat really is invaluable.

For cyclists, a great way to layer is:

  • Base layer

  • A jersey as a mid-layer

  • An outer layer such as a softshell jacket or gilet

  • Bib tights/shorts

  • In very cold conditions, winter gloves, head warmer and overshoes.

This isn’t too different for mountain bikers, a base layer, jersey and jacket are still a great way to go, however on certain days when it’s not too cold or not particularly wet, a waterproof jacket can make you overheat and sweat inside the jacket. On days like these softshell jackets are a good option. For mountain bikers, wearing bib tights can help keep you warmer and for bad weather, having waterproof shorts or trousers can help keep you dry. Again, a breathable waterproof jacket will be best if you’re heading out in the wet.

While it can be a bit of a faff, having several layers and adding and removing when needed is best. This will help you control your temperature whilst you climb and descend. Getting layering right will depend on you, what you have, and will take a few goes to get right, experiment a little and make sure you keep your core warm.

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Lights

If you’re riding between sunrise and sunset you need lights on your bike by law. It’s a good idea to have spare lights too, just pop them in a bag, or in your desk at work so you’ve got a backup.

For mountain bikers, getting lights for night riding is something we highly recommend (it’s great fun). For mountain biking, having a light mounted to your helmet and your bars is best. You’ll need to helmet light to react to things, and a fixed light on the bars to illuminate the trail ahead. We have a great guide to bike lights, this should help if you’re looking for new lights!

Overshoes

Keep your shoes clean and dry and your feet warm. Overshoes will help keep the chill from your toes and protect you from the elements. If you’re heading to the trails it can keep your shoes from getting muddy, simply put them on over your shoes and remove them after your ride. Overshoes save a lot of hassle and help you stay comfortable. Cold toes are no fun.

Look for winter specific overshoes for the best performance and make sure they are compatible with your shoes. However, windproof or waterproof options are available and can help.

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Glasses and Goggles

There’s nothing worse than getting something in your eye whilst you ride. Even with mudguards there’s a chance you can get some mud or spray in your eyes, plus a cold wind or driving rain can make it difficult to see. Glasses offer great protection and are a worthwhile investment for winter rides.

Goggles are great year-round but can really help you from getting things in your eyes on the trails. Whilst they can be tricky if it’s raining or super muddy, it’s good to protect your eyes from the elements.

Socks

A good pair of socks can make a world of change. You can even get waterproof socks to further protect your feet from the elements. Winter socks are designed to keep your feet warm and dry. Another great investment for winter riding! Wool socks are great for cold temperatures.

It’s good to make sure your feet have some room to move when in your shoes, if things get too cramped this can make your feet cold. You can likely get away with some good socks, your usual shoes and overshoes if you’re not going to be riding often, but if you are it’s worth investing in some winter-specific footwear.

Caps/Headwarmers

Having cold ears can ruin a ride completely, even if you’re layered up and have all the right gear, not protecting your head from the wind and rain can very quickly become something that will end a ride early. Caps and headwarmers are lifesavers and will help keep you from getting too cold.

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Base Layer

A high-quality base layer is perhaps one of the best things you can buy. There’s nothing worse than a layer that doesn’t breathe whilst you ride. Invest in a good base layer that is breathable and comfortable, that way sweat will dry and you won’t be left cold when you stop. Winter base layers are great for riding in cold temperatures.

Bib Tights

Bib tights can be worn all year, but there are a number of thermal or winter specific tights designed to keep you warm. Bib tights are full length and when worn over a long sleeve base layer should mean you will be covered entirely and not feel any drafts.

Gloves

For very cold temperatures lobster style mitten gloves are great! They allow you to be able to shift and brake (though this can be a little tricky to get used to at first) and help keep your fingers warmer by grouping them together. For cooler temperatures, winter gloves or windproof gloves should help you keep warm, especially once you get going and your core temperature heats up.

Women's Turbo LEvo, Trail Riding in the Snow, Annika Langvad

Jackets

When it comes to jackets, winter specific and windproof are your friend. Opt for waterproof if it’s raining, otherwise you could end up sweating and getting moisture inside it. If your waterproof jacket is breathable this would be ideal, otherwise pack a waterproof layer you can pop on over your layers if it does rain.

Mudguards

Not strictly kit, but definitely essential. No matter what bike you ride, mudguards will save you from the elements. Pop a front mudguard on your mountain bike to protect yourself from spray and mud, and both front and rear or your road bike to help keep you dry, and the worst of the spray away.

Top Tips from Cycle Solutions’ Staff:

“For me - 100% a winter jacket and gloves. They are essential. Probably won’t go out without them. Set of decent lights are a must too!,” - John Evans.

“Be very aware of your surroundings and pay close attention to what’s up ahead. It’s like with mountain biking – don’t focus on your front wheel but look way ahead so you can spot any obstacles or hazards like ice and then to adjust accordingly. If you’re riding over an icy patch try to stay as still as possible, and to try to not pedal. Otherwise the power put through your back wheel is likely to cause it to spin and slide out,” - Steven Sproat.

“I tend to wear three layers through the winter – a long sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey and then a windproof or softshell, depending on temperature. I’ll add a vest base layer if it’s freezing. Legs just tend to have tights or riding trousers over lycra shorts, with some decent quality winter socks and winter boots. (Or normal shoes and a second pair of thinner socks on milder, drier days.) I normally wear a neck tube, and often carry one as a spare in case my head gets cold. Decent gloves and socks are the things that I need most of all. My body will warm up through riding, but extremities don’t always,” - Jon Parker. 

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Extra Tips:

  1. Latex gloves under gloves can help keep your hands a little warmer (but good gloves are your best bet).

  2. Avoid cotton, it doesn’t wick moisture and will mean you stay wet and cold.

  3. Pop handwarmers in your gloves and shoes to help keep you toasty (you can also pop something inside your base layer to help keep your core warm).

  4. Zips are good! They give you flexibility to open and close to help control your temperature.

  5. Don’t be tempted to overdress, you may start out cold but will heat up pretty quickly.

  6. Look for temperature guidance on products to see if they are suitable for the temperature you’ll be riding in.

We appreciate it’s not always possible to afford everything you may need to cycle. If you are going to invest in something we’d recommend a base layer, good gloves and good socks. If you’re unable to get certain things, you can make use of what you might have such as thermal leggings or long johns and other outdoor gear. Did you know you’re also able to get just accessories through Cycle to Work? This can be a cost-effective way to afford new kit and enable you to keep cycling through the worst of the weather. What’s the saying, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes!

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