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Our guide to winter cycle clothing and layering for MTB, road, and commuting

Monday, January 7th, 2019 5:13pm
Category: Latest News

Winter riding means understanding things like cycling base layers, knowing how to choose winter cycling jackets, bib shorts, winter jerseys, and more. If these are things you’d like to know more about, then read on… 

[We’ve just reviewed the latest winter kit from dhb – watch our video here]

We must first turn your attention, however, to Rule #9 as outlined by the Velominati: “If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a bad*ss. Period.”

Whether roadie, mountain biker, or commuter, blasting through wind and rain is the preserve of the dedicated cyclist and taking to two wheels when others shy away has its rewards. OK, the nature of those rewards isn’t always clear when you’re out there, but they remain very real.

If you’ve ever seen one of these hardened cyclists braced in elemental combat from the comfort of a car or train and thought to yourself, ‘what have they got, that I haven’t got?’, well the answer is, a solid layering strategy.

So, to help your promotion to the esteemed rank of pedal-powered rough neck, The Hub has put together this extensive guide on getting to grips with winter clothing and layering o help you secure your bad*ss credentials.

Want to skip the intro? Click straight to your cycling discipline here:

MTB layering
Road layering
Commuter layering


Here is some further reading on getting winter proofed: 

Our guide to layering your cycle clothing in the cold winter months

Commuter checklist – bikes, clothes and kit

10 Winter clothing essentials every cyclist needs


What is the layering system for cyclists?

There are two issues the winter-going cyclist must overcome – how to stay warm and how to stay cool. 

First you need clothing warm enough to fend off the winter weather, yet simultaneously you need to keep the body cool with breathable fabrics.

The answer to the problem is layering, a system allowing riders to moderate their core temperature, avoid the clamminess of thick fabrics, while keeping their extremities warm so they can perform despite the challenging conditions.

Using a combination of modern base layers, bib shorts, gilets, jerseys, leg warmers, soft shells, waterproofs and more, you’ll be able to stay toasty in the cold, yet cool enough to cycle hard and get the most out of your ride. 


Layering glossary

New to winter clothing and the layering system? Here’s an at a glance guide for understanding the various terms.
Bib shorts: Bib shorts have shoulder straps to stop your shorts from sliding down when you’re shifting position on the bike. They also commonly feature a chamois; a pad for your sit bones and associated soft flesh, to keep you comfortable on long rides. They’re worn next to the skin – yes, that means you don’t wear underwear. 
Base layers: Base layers are those worn next to the skin. Effective base layers have sweat-wicking technology to move sweat away from your epidermis helping you stave off clamminess and chaffing. 
Mid layers: Mid layers sit between your base and outer layers, such as a jersey or gilet. 
Outer layer: This is your final defence against the cold and rain. Look for waterproofing and windproof materials.
Gilet: A gilet (prounounced ‘jil-ey’) is a simple sleeveless jacket that protects your torso from wind chill and sometimes from the rain. 
Soft shell jacket: Soft shell jackets are a super-light layers that provide wind-proofing and water resistance. They are typically more breathable, softer and more flexible than a full waterproof jacket but, obviously, not quite as resistant to the elements. 
Arm/leg warmers: These cut-off pieces allow you to quickly add and subtract a layer from those typically exposed regions as required while on your ride.


Below we take a look at winter cycling clothing options for mountain bikers, roadies, and commuters, so you can feel good, look great, and be one of the honoured few Rule #9 describes so well.

Winter cycling clothing for mountain bikers

Winter mountain biking means preparing for the worst. At this time of year, the mountain or off-road trail is muddy, wet, and unforgiving, so you need serious protection. 

Up top

Base layers

If the temperature calls for it, then a long sleeve base layer is a good step along the path to comfortable trail riding. Look for merino wool, which is warm, breathable, and comfortable – exactly what you’re looking for. 

Nukeproof Merino Long Sleeve Baselayer

Nukeproof’s Merino Long Sleeve Baselayer uses Australian Merino Wool to keep you at the perfect temperature when mountain biking. It owes it’s versatility to the Merino wool fibres, which are warm when cold, yet, as temperatures rise, it wicks away sweat to leave you dry and comfortable.

Shop mountain bike base layers at Chain Reaction Cycles

Mid layers

For the mountain biker, mid layers range from hooded tops to insulating gilets. Warmth should be your main consideration as your outer will provide most protection from the rain. 

Fox Racing Attack Fire Vest 2018

A hybrid of the traditional gilet and jacket, the Fox Racing Attack Fire Vest offers a three layer construction to keep out the wind and the cold on chillier rides while allowing excess heat and water vapour to escape, keeping you dry and comfortable as your intensity rises.

Shop mountain bike gilets at Chain Reaction Cycles

Outer layer

Your typical outer layer takes the brunt of the cold weather and should be capable of defending you from the blitzkrieg of wind and rain trying to forge their way to your vulnerable bits. Good waterproofing, durability, and wind-proofing are a must. 

Gore Wear C5 Windstopper Thermo Trail Jacket

Complete with Gore’s lauded Windstopper technology, the C5 Thermo Trail Jacket will mean even arctic blasts of winter and light rain will not penetrate, while not sacrificing an ounce of breathability to prevent you from overheating.

Shop mountain bike jackets at Chain Reaction Cycles


Buff / Neck warmer

Buff Merino Wool

A buff will keep that nasty neck draught out from under your helmet. 

Shop buffs and headwear at Chain Reaction Cycles


SealSkinz Extreme Cold Weather Gloves AW18

Your hands can get extremely cold on the trail, especially when wet. Gloves like these Extreme Cold Weather Gloves from Sealskinz use high-tech Primaloft insulation for its light weight, warming properties and agility.

Shop mountain bike gloves at Chain Reaction Cycles


Base layer

Your typical sub-waist base layer is a quality bib short. For the mountain biker, these are typically worn under baggy shorts or full length trousers or pants. Keeping you comfortable throughout long days on the saddle and with sweat-wicking and breathable fabrics, a good set of bibs will make a big difference to your enjoyment on the trail.

dhb Classic Bib Shorts

Designed for rides of up to five hours, these dhb bibs feature a technically advanced Giro Super Air chamois from Italian cycling pad specialists Elastic Interface®. The thermomoulded pad offers a great level of comfort with its anatomical shaping and the use of advanced, high-density foam.

Shop cycling shorts at Chain Reaction Cycles

Outer layer 

Troy Lee Designs Sprint Pants

Providing protection without slowing you down with bulk, the Sprint Pants from Troy Lee Designs are all about speed. The combination of durable 600D polyester and poly mesh allows the trousers to wick away sweat from the skin quickly, as well as providing breathability for when the going gets tough.

Shop mountain bike pants at Chain Reaction Cycles


Defeet Thermeator 6″ Socks

Keeping your extremities warm is a priority for winter riding. Riding around with cold feet can be painful and ruin a great day on the bike. A pair of thermal socks, such as these Defeet Thermeators are a great way to keep the toes toasty. 

Shop MTB socks at Chain Reaction Cycles

Northwave Fast Winter Overshoes

An outer layer of protection for your feet is vital for the winter trail. These Northwave models will keep your feet at a decent heat and let you perform at your best. 

Shop MTB overshoes at Chain Reaction Cycles

Winter cycling clothing for roadies

Embodying Rule #9 is a serious challenge for any road-going cyclist. Minimising bulk while maximising heat is no easy ask and takes some very nifty fabrics to do the job. Materials like Polartec, merino wools, and GoreTex are the go-to solutions, providing sweat-wicking, warming, and breathable properties that are hard to come-by otherwise. 

Up top

Base layers

For the road cyclist, lightweight and snug fitting base layers are a must, with bonus points for breathable yet warm fabrics.  

dhb Aeron Merino Base Layer

The dhb Aeron Merino Base Layer’s use of merino wool means you remain warm when it’s cold and cooler when warm. This super soft base layer has natural odour resistance that will keep you fresh all day and a snug fit for a performance profile.

Shop road base layers at Chain Reaction Cycles

Mid layers

Just like mountain bikers, roadies need warm mid layers. However, unlike their trail-going brethren, roadies require lighter materials with sleeker profiles for outright speed. A common mid layer is the gilet.

Castelli Thermal Pro Vest

An excellent choice of mid layer is this Thermal Pro Vest from Castelli. Its focus on warmth is welcome for the winter, meaning you can pedal your heart out while enjoying a balmy core temperature in testing weather.

Shop road gilets at Chain Reaction Cycles

Outer layers 

dhb Aeron Lab All Winter Polartec Jacket

To maximise warmth and minimise weight and clamminess, dhb’s Aeron soft shell jacket combines three advanced Polartec® fabrics, creating one of the most advanced soft shell jackets available.

Here’s Matt giving the jacket and the dhb Aeron Lab  winter kit a run for their money: 

Gore Wear C7 Gore-Tex Shakedry™ Stretch Jacket

While soft shells offer better breathability over hard shell waterproof jackets, this C7 Gore-Tex® Shakedry™ Stretch Jacket uses technologically advanced material to create a breathable fabric that is also impermeable. It’s special skill means water beads on the surface instead of absorbing into the fabric and can be shaken dry.

Shop winter road jackets at Chain Reaction Cycles


Sportful Fiandre Light NoRain Arm Warmers

Arm warmers are great for changeable conditions, when it may be sunny one minute and raining the next. The Sportful Fiandre Light NoRain Arm Warmers provide protection from the vagaries of the weather.

Shop arm warmers at Chain Reaction Cycles


Bib tights

A road cyclist’s bib tights are often their last line of defence against the weather, so investing in a serious pair of winter resistant bibs is spending you’re unlikely to regret. 

dhb Aeron Lab All Winter Bib Tight

dhb’s Aeron Lab All Winter Bib Tights are stuffed with winter-proofing tech, like Polartec® and Windbloc®, balancing warmth and breathability for a great performance even in close-to-zero temperatures. The lightweight construction, quality chamois, and technical fabrics provide pedalling mobility and comfort, even on all day winter epics.

Shop bib tights at Chain Reaction Cycles


dhb Extreme Weather Neoprene Overshoe

By pairing a thicker 3.5mm neoprene with a tough TPU skin, the Extreme Weather Neoprene Overshoe is waterproof, windproof, and warm.

Winter cycling clothing for commuters

Nothing will dampen your appetite for a long or even a short commute like the thought of arriving at work dripping wet and freezing.

And just because the skies are clear when you leave the house, it doesn’t mean things won’t change a few miles in.

Our suggestion is to go with high-standard base layers, arm/leg warmers, a gilet, and a packable jacket.

This should cover most, if not all, bases and get you to the grindstone in style. 

Up top

Base layers

Craft Active Extreme Base Layer

This Craft Active Extreme Base Layer uses lightweight polyester construction and Coolmax Air Fabric to trap warm air close to the body to help regulate your temperature on those cold winter morning commutes.

Shop base layers for commuters at Chain Reaction Cycles

Mid layers

Endura Hummvee Gilet

The water and windproof Hummvee Gilet from Endura keeps you dry and warm through the worst weather. It’s small, light, and easy to stuff in a backpack or pocket, making it ideal for those unpredictable days.

Morvelo Women’s Huricane Gilet

Easily packed into a jersey pocket, the Morvelo Women’s Hurricane Gilet provides reliable protection against cold winds and light rain showers when out cycling.

Shop gilets for commuters at Chain Reaction Cycles

Outer layers

dhb Aeron Packable Jacket

This packable, convenient, yet high performing jacket from dhb is a sound choice for the commuter. Its breathable windproof fabric and DWR coating will shrug off the worst of the weather, while its lightweight design means you can take it anywhere.

Shop winter jackets for commuters at Chain Reaction Cycles


Gore Wear C3 Windstopper Helmet Cap

The Gore Wear cap fits snugly under your helmet keeping your head warm and dry in the rain. Especially handy if you’ve got an early morning meeting. 

Shop caps and headwear for the commuter at Chain Reaction Cycles

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