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Winter in the colder zones of our planet can be challenging for cyclists, but advances in cycling clothing mean that riding outdoors is possible and comfortable in all but sub-zero conditions. And I don’t recommend riding outdoors on the road when the temperature drops below zero, not because of the cold necessarily, but more because of the danger of skidding on ice.


Head Start

Ventilation in cycling helmets can be a disadvantage on cold days, but a thin cycling skull cap, or even a cotton cap under your helmet will help insulate your head. Skull caps have the
advantage of being made from breathable material, and they often cover your ears too, which is a good idea when it’s cold. Buffs are adaptable bits of kit, which can be used as a scarf,
a face mask or in place of a skull cap.

Long-sleeved tops are best for winter. They range from thin, simple ones for autumn days to thicker, quite technical tops for really cold weather. A long-sleeved undervest makes a great base layer, then if you have at least one thin and one thick long-sleeved top, you’ll learn by trial and error which one to wear over your base layer to match the weather conditions. Sometimes it might even be necessary to wear a thin mid layer, but the thicker tops, often called outer layers, are so good nowadays it doesn’t happen very often.

You can dress in layers when it’s cold to trap a layer of warm air near the skin. However, modern materials trap warmth within their fabric, which is why we don’t need to wear as many layers of clothing as we did.

You can buy rainproof outer layers, but the thin rain and windproof top you have for summer will probably work just as well worn over your winter ensemble if the weather is wet. Gilets are very useful. They are perfect to wear over thinner long-sleeved tops on days when it’s cold but not quite so cold that you need a thick winter top. They also work if you set off riding early in the morning, when it’s colder, because you can take the gilet off and carry it in your pocket when the day warms up. Gilets fill in the gaps between your other clothing.


Look after your legs

Protect your legs with leg warmers, just like the ones you use on cooler summer days, or bib-tights when it’s colder. Bib-tights are like bib-shorts, but have long legs and are usually made from slightly thicker material than leg warmers. A lot of people are tempted to ride in shorts when it’s cold, but it’s not a good idea. Your muscles work best when they are warm, and cold muscles are prone to injury. It’s the same with ligaments and tendons. Knees are particularly vulnerable in cold weather, as tightness in the muscles around them can alter the way your kneecap tracks within the knee joint, and that can irritate both the kneecap and the tissue around it.


Feet & Hands

Cold feet are bad news. Start with some cycling-specific winter socks that have thermal characteristics. Normal cycling shoes are okay, although you can buy winter shoes. Most riders use overshoes. They are usually waterproof or water resistant, and they stretch over your cycling shoes. Neoprene overshoes work well, although they wear out quickly if you walk about in them too much. Neoprene is also a good material for cycling gloves, especially if you are riding in wet conditions. Neoprene traps warmth coming from your hands, and although it lets some water in, that water heats up and forms a protective warm layer. Waterproof gloves are also available, as are thermal ones. Wool gloves are good too. It’s a matter of choice, but unless you ride a lot in a very cold climate, avoid bulky gloves because they make braking and shifting gear more difficult.


Be seen

In the dark winter days, it’s especially important to be visible on your bike. A lot of bike kit comes in black these days, so make sure your clothes have lots of reflective bits on them to
alert people to your presence.


Longer Bike Rides

On longer bike rides you want to strike the right balance between making sure you have the kit to be self-sufficient and not weighing yourself and the bike down. I take all my kit in my back pockets but a saddlebag would be another option. For a long bike ride make sure you have:

  • Tyre levers
  • Phone
  • Multi-tool
  • Food/gel
  • Pump/CO2 canister
  • Inner tube
  • Money


Top Tips

• Neoprene traps warmth but is still breathable.

• Multiple layers trap warm air near to the skin.

• Overshoes will keep your feet dry.


How to Ride a Bike by Sir Chris Hoy published by Hamlyn 20 September 2018 –

Photo credit: Chris Terry

Written By

Sir Chris Hoy