Winter riding causes a dilemma for cyclists – they need to dress in warm clothing to fend off the winter weather, while simultaneously keeping their body cool while it’s under the strain of constant cycling.
The answer to the problem is the use of a sophisticated system of layering that allows the riders to moderate their core temperature while keeping their extremities warm, so they can perform despite the challenging conditions.
But it’s easier said than done.
The system of layering is multi-facetted, and if you’re new to the concept then it can be easy to confuse your gilet from your jersey, and your soft shell from your waterproof jacket.
To help simplify your search for cold weather biking gear, The Hub has broken down the layers with explanations of their purpose, when to use, and good examples of each, including the warming accessories like gloves, socks, shoes, and caps.
Some of the layering applies equally for road and mountain bike, although there is some divergence and we’ll point these out as we go.
So, if you want to get the most out of your winter riding then read on…
Base layers are the foundation of your layered clobber. They are thin, form-fitting, and worn next to the skin to serve two key purposes: keeping you dry by transporting moisture away from the body to the outer surface of the cloth (a process known as wicking); and keeping you warm in cold conditions by trapping a layer of air to insulate you against the elements.
The type of base layer you choose will depend on the conditions in which you are active and how much coverage you prefer – a light, sleeveless mesh base layer, for example, will aid moisture management in hot weather, while the thermal properties of an insulated, long-sleeve base layer will retain a lot of heat in winter conditions.
Base layers are made from both natural and man-made fabrics, with Merino wool the most common natural fibre, while it can be blended with synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, polypropelene and Lycra to create different properties.
Here are three popular base layers for either mountain bike or road bike use.
A versatile mid-weight long sleeve base layer made from 100% superfine merino, this option from dhb provides a close – but not skin-tight – fit to ensure warmth is retained. Its irritation-free. flatlocked seams add to the comfort, making it easy to wear for extended periods.
Another 100% merino wool base layer, the Endura BaaBaa has been mercerised (treated with a caustic alkali to impart strength and lustre) for silky, itch-free comfort. It has a high warmth to weight ratio even when wet, and is naturally odour resistant.
The Castelli’s Prosecco Long Sleeve Base Layer has been designed for high-intensity cold rides where wicking moisture away from your skin is the priority. Made from 100% polyester, this base layer looks great and has a sharp Italian fit.
The thermal jersey is your next layer of protection against the piercing winds and precipitation. In the winter, they sit between your base layer (see above), and your outer waterproof layers (see below). In summer, they are often used as a top layer, which is why they have more detailing and design than a base layer garment.
Jerseys feature an ergonomic cut to reflect the rider’s position on the bike. Road and MTB race jerseys will be tighter-fitting, while gravity MTB jerseys will have a looser cut to reflect the different on-bike positioning and enable armour to be worn underneath.
Most jerseys will also feature rear pockets for your food stash and spare tubes in road/XC jerseys, and reinforced sleeves in trail MTB jerseys. Thermal versions will include heavier knits, giving you added protection in winter.
Ideal autumn and spring temperatures, the dhb MTB long sleeve zip thermal jersey makes use of a lightweight but warm fabric. It’s highly-stretchable knit provides comfort and freedom of movement, while it will also look great as a top layer come the summer.
Featuring a relaxed fit, this thermal jersey by dhb is made for comfort, Using a soft brushed fabric on the inside, he jersey traps air warmed by body heat to help keep out the cold. Sweat wicking properties also feature as well as rear silicone hem gripper to keep the jersey in place and three drop pockets in the rear.
This athletically cut Endura Roubaix thermal jersey features a full front zipper with sprung puller, triple rear pockets, a zipped rear security pocket, and discrete reflective trim.
The 100% polyester Pista Thermal Jersey from Sportful has racing-sleek looks and professional quality protection. Light and soft against the skin, the versatile jersey can either be used on its own on cool days or under a jacket for winter riding. Despite its thermal properties, due to the ThermoFlow material’s dimpled design, it’s also highly breathable, so you can comfortably clock up those winter training miles without overheating.
Windproof softshell jackets are a thin and lightweight outer layer fitted with a water and wind resistant fabric that keeps your base layer and jersey dry in a shower and keeps out the chill of strong winds. They offer extra protection in changeable weather, and can pack down tightly so they can be stowed in a jacket pocket or saddlebag. They are often loose fitting so you can add layers underneath.
Softshells are able to handle most light rain and wind conditions, and come in different styles for the MTB rider and the road cyclist.
The dhb MTB Trail Hooded Softshell Jacket is a must-have for any dedicated mountain-biker’s kit bag. The softshell construction utilises a windproof and breathable membrane to keep cold out and warmth in, while a thermal grid fleece backing is lightweight and warm. The jacket also has a special treatment to keep rain showers and drizzle at bay.
The Endura FS260-Pro Thermal Windproof Jacket is as packed with features as it is stylish. The stretchable, windproof fabric includes thermal lining on the front and sleeves with an extended cuff for glove integration. Using a blend of polyester, Thermolite and nylon, the jacket also comes with an external rear gripper with three handy rear pockets and an additional zipped security pocket.
The De Marchi Windproof Jacket is made from a windproof, fleece-lined material that provides exceptional warmth and protection from the elements. It features a full-length zip, rear pockets and reflective accents on the back for added visibility and safety.
Your last line of defence against the prevarications of the cold. Waterproof jackets can vary significantly in features, design, and appearance. From thick, highly water-repellent materials with warm inner linings, to thin lightweight packable jackets that can be stuffed in a jersey pocket, there is a wide range to suit your needs and the conditions.
Additional features include a high collar to protect from wind-chill, taped seams, a dropped tail to reduce the impact of splashing from the rear wheel, underarm zips to increase ventilation and breathability, and, of course, the classic hood.
MTB waterproof jackets ten to be larger, with a roomier fit, while road jackets will have a sleeker profile and a long tail to keep out rain while on the drops.
This jacket’s Storm Lite Fabric is made of three-ply, soft-hand polyester fabric. Laminated with a water-proof breathable membrane, it will keep you cool and dry while on the trail, while a lightweight mesh will help any seat evaporate away. The jacket comes fully seam-sealed to keep water out, with a full zip style jacket with helmet compatible attached hood.
Featuring the hugely-popular Gore-Tex material, Gore Bike Wear Power Trail GT AS is lightweight, breathable, durable, and looks sharp enough to wear all year-round.
The jacket is stuffed with concealed pockets, adjustable collars and hems, and reflective panelling, so you can be seen at night. Available in black, and black Iris, this jacket will make you look good while keeping you warm and dry.
Gore Bike Wear’s One GTX Active Bike Jacket features Gore-Tex’s latest technical innovation – Shakedry. The new permanent beading surface enables you to remain fast, snug and dry even on demanding rides, regardless of the weather. The light, breathable Gore-Tex innovation, meanwhile, sets a benchmark in road cycling jackets.
Probably one of the most stylish waterproof jackets available, the Endura Velo PTFE is built for performance. It’s stretch three-layer mapped-to-shoulder fabric and underarm sleeve also features ergonomic pre-shaped elbows, and reflective panelling to ensure you’re seen in the low light overcast conditions. Available in red or black, this jacket is a strong all-rounder, with excellent waterproofing and able to withstand temperatures deep into minus figures.
Your hands are the first part of your body to encounter the cold air, and will take a lot of punishment on any ride, especially winter. As one of your many extremities, the body has a tough time keeping them warm as it concentrates most of its efforts on maintaining your core temperature. They also have a lot of work to do at the fore of your steed – steering, braking, and operating gears – so they need to be protected.
This means you need to choose your gloves carefully and, again, the specific demands of road and MTB riding are reflected in the design. Take a look at some good examples of MTB and road riding gloves to get an idea of which features fit your requirements.
The 100% Brisker Cold Weather Glove are made from 88% nylon and 12% polyester, with a perforated single-layer palm to improve comfort and reduce bunching. Silicon printed palm graphics also improve grip and lever traction, while 3mm padding protects against blistering.
If water protection is a big concern, the GripGrab Ride Waterproof Winter Gloves will do much to alleviate your worries. These gloves are also stuffed with little bonuses to help you while on the trail. A built-in sweat wiper on the thumb, touch screen compatible digits, reflective graphics, and a silicone enhanced grip will all help immensely while on the ride.
Fleece-lined, with windproof fabric, dhb’s Windproof Cycling Gloves provide protection on cool and windy days with their comfort and quality. A silicone gripper on index and middle finger aids shifting and brake lever control, while microfibre fabric on thumb as nose wipe or to wipe away perspiration.
The Castelli Estremo Gloves are among the warmest cold weather glove available. Constructed from a windproof Windstopper X-Fast fabric, combined with a fleecy material on the palm, a silicone texture for a better grip and durability cold weather riding a joy.
The SealSkinz All Weather XPs are an all-weather cycle-specific glove that are protecting, comfortable and dexterous, with pressure point padding and box finger construction. Totally waterproof, breathable and windproof, your hands will be well protected against the elements.
Cycle-specific caps are designed to be worn under a helmet, so will be thin and low-profile to fit snugly on the head. While the idea that you lose most of your body heat through the head is a debunked myth, it’s still an important part of the body to keep warm.
Wicking is a major consideration during winter, as well as packability and breathability.
The GripGrab hi-viz Skull Cap provides an insulating and lightweight layer, which can be stowed away in a pocket. It’s also breathable to stop you from overheating. Additionally, this version of the cap features high-viz colouring and graphics to make extra sure you remain safe and seen on the roads.
dhb’s Windslam Cycling Skull Cap is also lightweight and breathable, with a fleece-lined interior and reflective insert at the rear. Available in black, this skull cap will stay concealed while keeping you snug while on the road.
Now for your southern-most extremities – your feet. Winter MTB and road shoes differ widely in design and features, but both serve the same important purpose – keeping those toes warm and dry enough to keep pedalling.
When ice and mud mix, it creates an abrasive and corrosive combination which can be devastating to high-performance shoes and no one wants their everyday summer shoes to be left in shreds come the end of a tough day in the dirt.
So, if you plan to mix it up in the mud or on the rain-washed roads this winter, it’s important to kit yourself out with a pair of winter shoes or boots.
Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex MTB SPD Winter Boots are ankle-high in features and tech, and your winter mountain bike riding will be a foot-stomping success with these rugged and dynamic warriors. Gore-Tex materials in the liner, provide waterproof, insulated comfort, while a torsional midsole – which Shimano has unfortunately named “Torbal” – allows natural rider motion during downhill descents, and protects those knees from overly stiff shoe position.
At the top of the range is Northwave’s GTX winter selection, which promises the world and largely delivers in terms of heat retention, water repelling tech, and high-performance components. Featuring Northwave’s X-Frame technology, these top-end boots hug tightly to your foot while avoiding any uncomfortable pinching. They also all come with a next-gen carbon reinforced sole with a stiffness index of at least 8.0, putting them in the same class as some quality road racing shoes in terms of power transfer.
The Northwave Flash GTX Winter Boots feature a waterproof and windproof Gore-Tex Pique membrane enhanced by additional protection at the toes and collar to keep the rain out. Designed to keep feet comfortable and warm even at -3°C, the ultra-snug fitting upper with BioMap Aero Overlap construction reduces aerodynamic drag and mixes performance and protection with a stiffness index of 8.0.
The Gaerne brand is trusted by cyclists across the world, which is important to note when opting for a mid-priced option in your winter road footwear. The brand has once again delivered with this budget friendly option that is stacked with features and quality materials, well beyond its modest pricing. Nylon construction in the sole has made it across from Gaerne’s top end offering, while anti-slip inserts at the rear provide a little bit of security while walking. And as you would expect, the sole is compatible with most available quick-release pedals, including SPD-SL and Speedplay style cleat engagements. With Italian flares and geometric styling, the shoes also look the part, and will be a welcome addition to your kit this winter.
Overshoes are covers designed to be worn over your cycling shoes or even winter boots, closing off the various holes, vents and openings, and insulating your feet from the cold, preventing wind and water from getting in. Unlike aero summer or spring overshoes, the winter varieties are made from thick (typically 3mm) neoprene – the same material as wetsuits are made of. It’s is water and wind proof, and offers excellent protection against the elements.
It is worth noting however, that while neoprene will offer excellent insulation and protection, it is not very breathable, so wearing winter overshoes in warmer conditions is likely to result in an excess build-up of heat and moisture.
dhb’s Extreme Weather Neoprene Overshoe combines a thicker 3.5mm neoprene with a tough TPU skin. This non-porous membrane prevents any rain from being absorbed into the surface and protects against knocks and grazes. The underside of the overshoe, meanwhile, features a robust Kevlar material, which is abrasion resistant.
SealSkinz Halo Overshoes offer award-winning protection with hard-wearing neoprene material and features such as a storm flap inside zip, silicone leg gripper, and a Kevlar heel and toe. The main attraction, however, is the ‘Halo’ feature – a bright light on the heel that is visible from over 500 metres, ensuring you are seen when out and about in low light.
GripGrab Hammerhead Overshoes may not be drowning in tech, but they’re dependable, well-priced, and have been tested to the limit. An adjustable Hook and Loop strap gives you the perfect fit, making this an attractive shoe cover for those predictably unpredictable winter days.