We’d gone from sunny, short sleeve and bibs weather to sunny and digging out the winter cycling clothes in a few short days – less than a week. A 40° drop in temperature is quite a shock on a bicycle inside a week. The muscles simply don’t work the same, cold.
Getting the clothing right for such cycling adventures has always been difficult for me. There’s a razor-thin difference between too cold and too warm, which leads to sweating – and back to being too cold, eventually.
The first couple of weeks of cold weather cycling are always the worst for me because I tend to go too far because I HATE riding whilst cold. I don’t hate riding in the cold, just being cold doing it.
Here’s what I can’t do without when cycling when the temps dip below 55° (12 C).
50 – 60 F (10 to 14 C): Knee warmers, arm warmers, cycling cap, maybe some light wool socks, either light full finger or normal cycling gloves depending on whether or not the temp will be rising.
40 – 50 F (4 to 10 C): Leg warmers, a thin pair of tights over leg warmers and bibs (especially for the lower end of that scale), arm warmers, full finger cold weather gloves, ear muffs (because they can be removed when the temp rises above 50 and easily wrapped around an upper arm for storage), wool socks, toe covers, cycling cap. Finally, I found a pro quality cycling jacket and vest at a swap meet two February’s ago that I can’t live without in the cold. They were insanely expensive new, but I paid $40 or $50 for both. Having experienced “the good stuff”, I can’t live without it in the cold anymore. For the upper end, I’ll wear the vest. Lower end is the jacket. I love Degrees wrap around ear muffs. They allow you to hear while keeping your ears warm. I also love neck gaiters for anything below 45° – a cold neck can wreck a ride.
30 to 40 F (-1 to 4 C): Now we’re getting into gravel bike temps. I start layering for the 30’s. One or two layers beneath the pro jacket, maybe a base layer, jersey, arm warmers, jacket… something like that. I graduate to a full cap under my helmet and some winter gloves. Again, with the neck gaiter (a necessity). The tights are upgraded to a fleece-lined set made for the cold. I also jump from toe covers to full foot covers. At the low end of that spectrum and below, I’ve got a Specialized fleece-lined high-tech jacket I’ve worn for years. It blocks the cold well but doesn’t allow much vapor to escape.
20° and below (-6 C): That’s why I have an indoor trainer (CycleOps Magneto). My desire to ride outside goes out the window. I could, but don’t, use Zwift. I’m happier with a movie, riding next to my wife in the living room.
The one simple rule I always live by is this: You can take it off but you can’t put it on if you don’t have it.