The cool and dark season is upon us here in Europe. Once the thermometer dips below 10°C, it’s time to think about all those extra layers of cycling clothing. And also, don’t forget to stay visible — be seen, be safe!
Here at The Prologue we divide our outfits for the colder days into three categories: below 10°C, below 5°C and below freezing. No, we’re not like super-organised, with sets of cycling clothing for all three circumstances neatly arranged. That would be weird. But when the weather app shows icy cross-winds and we are preparing for a longer training ride, we like to be locked and loaded in the clothing department.
You can always spot pro and semi-pro riders out on the roads during the winter season: they are always somewhat over-dressed. While us amateurs are desperate to preserve our tanned arms and legs, and so keep them exposed in the final rays of autumnal sunlight, the pros tend to cover up. The pros know that keeping their muscles warm is the most important thing, not vanity. And their rule is: under 10°C, arm warmers and leg warmers are obligatory.
This is not a race
A race and a training session are not the same thing. Obvious, right? You get so much hotter racing than you ever do during a training ride or touring around. So, when training, it’s best to be prepared for that chill factor. You can’t put on what you haven’t got with you, though you can always take a layer off. Also, have the worst case scenario in mind: standing on the roadside fixing a bad puncture for 20mins. That’s when serious sh-shivering can start.
So, under 10°C usually means at least normal lycra knee/leg warmers and arm warmers. Plus perhaps two base layers: one thin, one medium. We love merino wool for base layers. It wicks the sweat away so you never feel wet on your skin; it stays warm even if wet; and it doesn’t stink as much as artificial fibres can.
If the weather’s dry, it’s a good idea to keep a compact rain jacket or gilet in your back pocket to give you extra warmth if you or your comrades get a flat. Overshoes are a matter of choice at this temperature, but we recommend wearing them as soon as the mercury descends below 5°C. Overshoes come in a huge range of textiles and sizes, but for this temperature something mildly fleecy and waterproof should do it.
So now there’s a snap in the air. As long as it’s dry, you can still ride comfortably, but you need to dig deeper into the winter clothes drawer and start looking for logos: Windstopper, No Rain, Roubaix Thermal and Buff are just a few of the brands we like to have available when the cold hits. Windstopper is Gore’s windproof textile layer and is simply excellent. No wind gets through this material, so the benefits for keeping warm are obvious, especially in the Low Countries.
No Rain is Sportful’s rain-resistant textile used for thicker arm- and leg-warmers. While not 100% rainproof, it’s warmer than normal fabric and lasts a long time. The material is fleecy, a bit like Roubaix, but according to the makers the water-resistance comes from nano filaments of silicone that are embedded in the fabric.
Roubaix Thermal is a textile used for winter tights. It’s fleece-lined and will keep you toasty-warm during this season, but if you have hill intervals on your programme, then this stuff can get hot.
Buff invented the often-copied neck-warmer. This is a highly-versatile gadget that can serve variously as a hat, an ear/neck/face-warmer or balaclava. Great to stuff in your pocket and forget about, until you start feeling the cold. Once you pull it over your helmet and cover your face like a bandit, a Buff can feel like a great luxury when the going gets tough.
Overshoes and gloves are essential when the going gets chilly and wet. Most overshoes will get soaked in hard rain — if not through the sides, then often through the bottom or top. But the extra warmth provided by neoprene, or soft shell textiles, can really help against that dead toe feeling. Another innovation worth considering is waterproof socks. Yes, strange idea, but they do work. Not by not getting wet — they do get wet — but somehow they allow your feet to stay feeling dry.
Gloves are a really personal choice. Some riders really don’t seem to feel the cold in their hands (see Tiesj Benoot above) whereas others need ski-style mittens to fight off the chill. One thing is for sure: what you gain in warmth you will lose in hand flexibility, which can be annoying when braking and changing gear. This writer has four seasonal variations: summer fingerless, MTB long-fingers for autumn/spring, waterproof thermal Thinsulate gloves for above freezing and lastly ski-style mittens for below zero. There is a huge amount of choice, and price.
You will always be too hot/cold
Even the professionals agree: achieving the temperature that is right for you is virtually impossible. If you are heavily-dressed then as soon as you speed up you will get too hot. If you are just at the right temperature when you hit the high zones, then you will inevitably be too cold when the going is slow. But there is one golden rule here at The Prologue: if you are comfortable during the first 10mins of a ride, you are over-dressed, and will get too hot.
Don’t forget your head
We recommend you try out windproof under-helmets, fleece headbands and fleece balaclavas when the going gets super-cold. Again, you will always be too hot/cold, but the level of heat is very personal. Fleece headbands can be really pleasant as they protect your ears from the icy wind, but leave the crown of your head ventilated. Therefore, they can let the heat out if you go hard or start climbing, for example.
Whatever your choice of clothing, remember as you strive through tough weather conditions that you are a real hardcore rider. And if you ride outside all year round, treating yourself by buying a good winter set of cycling clothing that suits you is all part of the reward. Happy shopping.