While most dread the forecast of rain, sleet and snow I look forward to it. There is something about a good ice bath that refreshes the soul!
You don’t need a lot of layers to navigate the cold, you just need the right ones. Here is how my kit looks:
1) Base Layer
The exact type doesn’t matter. It can be a sport base layer or simply a summer jersey. You just want something tight-fitting in lycra that will wick moisture away from your skin.
2) Insulation Layer
This is the layer that does the work of keeping you warm. I go with an inexpensive fleece-lined long-sleeve jersey.
3) Waterproof outer shell
You’ll be surprised how much heat you start to generate after about 15 minutes of grinding. You’ll want a good high-tech outer shell that is cycling-specific such as the Gore Bikewear Oxygen. Your ideal jacket will have these qualities:
- Waterproof and breathable. Gore Tex is the gold standard though competing brands have developed similar tech.
- “Pit zips”. These are great because you can get some cooling happening on the bottom side of your arms where rain won’t get in.
- Articulated arms that wont ride up and a longer back that won’t expose your belt on the backside
- A hood! This one doesn’t seem obvious until you start to think about your riding position. When you reach out to your handlebars you bend over exposing your neck. A hood provides a seamless ramp for the water to run down off your back. Hoods on cycling jackets will allow you a good range of motion with a helmet strapped on over it.
4) Thin high-performance long underwear
You don’t need much on your legs since they’ll be working and generating heat, but wearing only a thin plastic-y outer shell won’t feel like enough when the temperature gets close to freezing. As with all things athletic: avoid cotton at all costs. I’m currently running a pair of Patagonia Capilenes.
5) Waterproof Pants
Like your upper shell you want something that is waterproof, windproof and cycling specific. These pants will be more form-fitting and not flap in the wind or pool water. Gore Bike Wear Ultra Bike Rain Pants are excellent.
6) Wool Socks
I’m a big fan of Smartwool socks for their temperature regulation even when wet. Don’t go too thick otherwise you’ll end up waterlogged on the inside from sweat.
7) Waterproof Shoes
A proper pair of waterproof cycling shoes are both hard to find and are very expensive (You’ll safely be in $300 territory) but it won’t take many rides where freezing water gets shot up through the cleat holes to change your mind about their value. Shimano, Specialized and Sidi all offer a high-top all-weather shoe. My commuter is set up with SPD pedals so I can use the Sidi Diablo GTX shoes. The mountain bike tread makes it easier to walk, especially when the snow starts to accumulate.
If there is a good cycling glove for wet winter riding I have yet to find it. I have been using a two-layer Burton snowboarding glove (inner of fleece and outer of waterproof nylon). Barring that you can also bring two sets of normal winter gloves: one to get wet on the way to work and one to get wet on your return. :-/
Under your hood you’ll want something to keep your head warm. I run hot so I rarely need more than a bandana but if you don’t you may go for something heavier like a fleece balaclava or similar.
Obviously! If you get a helmet with quick adjustment such as a Giro Atmos you’ll be able to ratchet it looser to fit over your hood and tighter to fit your naked head dry conditions.