13 March 2015

Dressing for the Weather in Cycling

What to wear on the bike when it is hot or cold

Today I thought I would recycle an old post I wrote back in February 2011 about how to dress for varying temperatures in road cycling. I recently had a reader ask me about cycling in the rain in Colorado, my response was - embrocation. The warming temperatures of spring, and that conversation, reminded me that it is time to sort through my own cycling drawer of gear for those key layers that keep me safe and warm during springtime riding.

Here again is my advice for dressing in layers for cycling:

You don't need that much gear for cycling but you will need a variety of cold to warm weather gear to be ready for any riding conditions. Buying smart, while collecting good gear, will allow you to get out on your bike no matter what the temperature. I admit I am a traditionalist when it comes to road apparel - I believe in sleeved jerseys with three pockets. Everything I carry either goes on me, in my jersey pockets, or in a small under saddle bag. Still quality, comfort, safety, and usability reign supreme.

How to buy gear:
  • Buy quality, wear quality, ride quality.
  • Take care of your gear. Pack it and wash it with care.
  • Build your own unique cycling style.
  • Mix brands to collect the best gear. Not every brand makes every item well.
  • Go for matchy-matchy - you will look so Pro.
  • Pick a color scheme - it just adds to the fun.
  • Don't buy gear unless you need the item for the temperature, and it works with your other gear.
  • Buy on sale. Yes a $200 pair of shorts is totally worth it, but even more so when you buy the item for 50% off.
  • Buy the best shorts/bibs for you. Don't go cheap! Everyone is different when it comes to what chamois or fit they like best. A bad pair of shorts will ruin your ride. Shorts are like socks - there are pairs that will be fine for 30-miles, but only a few brands that are fine for 100+ miles.
  • Socks matter, don't buy cheap socks (or seamed or patterned where you want to avoid irritation). Own a good pair of wool socks.
  • Know your clothing: practice what works best for you in different climates and stick to it.
  • I prefer a couple of good layers versus layering on a bunch of clothing.
  • Dress warm, warm muscles function better and recover better.
  • Spend your money on a very good cycling jacket that wicks moisture and fits well.  
  • Sunglasses help keep debris out of your eyes and protect from sunlight.  
  • Buy an excellent helmet.
  • Wear sunscreen! 
  • I bring a bag of extra layers in my car just in case the weather is different at my ride starting point. 
  • I have a habit of stacking everything I intend to bring with me on the ride inside my helmet: wallet, phone, sunglasses, gloves, food.
  • I wear a Road ID bracelet because I like riding alone.
  • In Colorado, a jacket is almost always in my rear pocket, just in case. The temperature at the top of the mountain is different than the temperature at the bottom. And descents can be cold.

Bundled up all warm, I can't find a reason not to get out and ride!  CX in Frisco, Colorado - Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer


Basic apparel layering guide for road cycling by temperature - what you should wear while riding your bike in temperatures from hot to cold:

Temperature 100-105°
  • Short Sleeve or Sleeveless Jersey
  • Shorts
  • Light summer Socks
  • ½ gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
Temperature 80-100°
  • Short Sleeve Jersey
  • Shorts
  • Socks
  • ½ gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
Temperature; 72-80°
  • Arm Warmers (until warmed up)
  • Vest until warmed up
  • Short Sleeve Jersey
  • Shorts / bibs
  • Socks
  • ½ gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
Temperature 65-72°
  • Vest (until warmed up then put in your back jersey pocket)
  • Arm warmers (on and off as needed)
  • Knee warmers (until warmed up)
  • Short Sleeve Jersey
  • Shorts / bibs
  • Warm Socks
  • ½ gloves to full gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
Temperature 55-65°
  • Light Jacket or Vest combo
  • Long Sleeve Jersey or SS Jersey with Lycra Arm Warmers
  • Leg Warmers or knee warmers
  • Shorts / bibs
  • Wool Socks / shoe covers optional
  • Full finger gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Ear band (optional)
  • Helmet
Temperature 40-55°
  • Jacket or Long Sleeve wind jersey
  • Long Sleeve Jersey
  • Long Lycra tights over shorts or bibs, or Long thicker tights
  • Wool Socks / shoe covers (optional)
  • Full finger gloves (might prefer a thicker windproof glove)
  • Sunglasses
  • Ear band or skull cap
  • Helmet
Temperature 25-40°
  • Warm Thermal Winter Cycling Jacket
  • Long Sleeve Jersey
  • Thermal singlet (if below 32°)
  • Long Lycra tights over bibs / shorts, or Long thicker tights
  • Wool or thermal Socks
  • Full Winter Shoe Covers
  • Full finger thick Winter gloves (possibly 2 layers)
  • Clear lens sunglasses or rose lens sunglasses
  • Skull Cap
  • Helmet

When riding in temperatures under freezing:

Be sure to keep your toes, upper legs and hips warm. You'll need 1-2 layers of gloves, wind proof garment on your upper body, thicker full tights, a warm hat, wool socks, and full winter booties. Fenders for winter training are also helpful (yes even the pros use them).

When riding in rain:

Carry a rain jacket (rain cape) in your back jersey pocket in case of rain. Put it on before you get wet. Buy a good breathable rain jacket, one that will not allow your sweat to build up on the inside of the jacket. In cold rain, use lycra arm warmers and leg warmers for some protective warmth.

Embrocation products do a good job of creating a barrier between your skin and the wet rain. Also wear water proof gloves and shoe covers if the weather forecast is for cold rain all day. In Colorado it is best to find shelter and sit out a heavy rain storm, clear skies will most likely reappear within an hour or so.

When riding long descents:

Put your arm warmers & vest or jacket back ON at the top of the descent to stay warm in the wind while descending.

Only you know your gear:

I admit, one of my biggest pet peeves is when someone asks me what to wear. I fear the accusation being hurled back at me, "You said I didn't a long sleeve jersey, now my ride is ruined because of you!" Only you know the interaction of fabrics and layers of your gear. Knowing your own gear and coming prepared is the nicest thing you can do for your riding partners.

"I was so cold my bike was shaking"

My bet is most Colorado cyclists have said this at some point on an unsuspecting day when the weather turned bad. It's not good when you shiver so bad you shake the bike underneath you. No matter how well we plan, weather rules all in Colorado!

It is a pleasure having good gear I can trust outside in the elements. My Top 10 Favorite pieces of gear, totally worth the purchase (now this is a variety of brand names):
  • Giro MIPS helmet
  • Assos Evo long sleeve wind jersey
  • Specialized gloves - any and all, summer to winter!
  • Castelli Shorts (the reliable 100-mile+ shorts)
  • Sugoi RS Zero winter cycle jacket
  • Pearl Izumi rain proof/wind proof jacket
  • Mavic cool socks, and Defeet warm wool socks
  • Specialized Adaptalite sunglasses (light changing lenses, road or mountain specific), (I also like Oakley, and Maui Jim for casual wear)
  • DeFeet knit arm warmers for dry days, breathable and comfortable
  • Specialized knee and arm warmers
For anyone curious, the weather in the French Pyrenees is very similar to the weather in the Colorado Rocky Mountains: cold, dry, hot, windy, afternoon rains.