Winter riding doesn’t have to be miserable. With the right gear and clothing you can escape the trainer and enjoy a ride outdoors without sacrificing comfort.
I’ve been riding in Colorado for many years, here temperature extremes can range from 100-degrees plus in the summer to well below zero in the winter and conditions can change by 30+ degrees in a matter of hours. During that time I’ve developed some personal guidelines for what to wear and what to pack along for cold weather riding.
There are a few things I’ve learned over the years that guide my decision making. Feet and hands are a weakness, frozen digits or toes will end a ride prematurely as they’re not only painful but can be dangerous as you lose the ability to control your bicycle. Here’s what you should put on to escape the trainer (or couch) and get out on your bike comfortably:
What to Wear for Cold Weather Cycling
- 70 Degrees: This is the temperature at which my standard summer kit becomes all I need. A pair of bib shorts and short-sleeve jersey will do it. Throw a lightweight rain jacket in the back pocket if there’s any chance of precipitation.
- 60 Degrees: Bib shorts and a short sleeve jersey with a sleeveless undershirt. I might pack along some arm warmers if riding in the afternoon.
- 50 Degrees: Full length tights or bib shorts and leg warmers, a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers or long-sleeve jersey with a sleeveless undershirt.
- 45 Degrees: For me this is when it starts to actually feel cold. Tights or shorts with leg warmers, long-sleeve undershirt and lined cycling jacket or heavy long sleeve jersey, thin full-fingered gloves, headband covering ears; heavy wool socks and shoe toe covers.
- 40 Degrees: Tights or shorts with leg warmers, long-sleeve jersey and lined cycling jacket, medium-weight gloves, headband covering ears, heavy wool socks, shoe covers.
- 35 Degrees: Heavyweight tights, long-sleeve jersey, undershirt and heavy cycling jacket, heavyweight gloves, headband covering ears, heavy wool socks, shoe covers, and charcoal toe warmers.
- 25 Degrees: Winter bib tights, long-sleeve undershirt, long-sleeve jersey and winter cycling jacket, lobster claw gloves, balaclava, winter cycling shoes, heavy wool socks, shoe covers, charcoal toe warmers.
- 20 Degrees and below: Winter bib tights, long-sleeve undershirt, long-sleeve jersey and heavy winter cycling jacket, wind blocking bar mitts, lobster claw gloves, balaclava, winter cycling shoes, heavy wool socks, shoe covers, charcoal toe warmers.
The charcoal toe warmers listed above can easily add a half-hour to an hour of comfortable ride time in really cold weather and they’re pretty darn cheap. Overall, though, riding comfortably in all temperatures requires a pretty extensive wardrobe. Leg and arm warmers will get you into late fall and early spring for relatively little investment beyond a standard summer kit, while true winter cycling will require a fairly spendy winter-specific cycling jacket and other items.