Gearing Up for Winter Riding
Happy Thanksgiving All! You know what that means. It’s that time of year again. It’s starting to cool down, you donning the arm warmers and maybe that extra layer before venturing out for your weekend ride. Autumn is turning with snow and rain on their way. As bike touring and commuting cyclists one common question we get is how to stay warm and dry while cycling. Well, years of commuting and thousands of miles of bike touring have taught us a thing or two about staying comfortable on a bike whatever the weather.
The best clothing will depend on the length of your ride. If your ride is very short you may want to take Kyle’s old strategy and just get a good waterproof jacket with a big hood and some waterproof pants. This will keep you dry but with extended riding will result in a tent-like, greenhouse environment inside your rain gear and may leave you drenched when you get to work….just not with rain.
What rain gear to get is up to your personal preference and willingness to pay. On the high end you can get a cycling specific Gore-Tex jacket and pants or go on the low end pick up some cheap waterproof gear. Proponents of Gore-Tex will tell you it makes a huge difference.
In my experience the difference between breathable waterproof material and non breathable is noticeable, but you will inevitably be wet on the inside as perspiration builds. No amount of wicking, breathable material will be able to keep up with your ability to sweat.
I am a sucker for high performance outdoor gear so I usually go for the cycling specific Gore-Tex product. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best for everyone. Ultimately what you choose will be based on your budget and specific conditions on your ride.
If you don’t mind getting wet and changing your clothes then in most cases a better strategy will be to allow yourself to get wet wearing proper clothing that will dry quickly. If you are going to work you will want to bring your work clothes in a waterproof pannier like the Ortlieb back roller classic. Make sure you account for dry underwear and socks. If it is really raining you may need them when you get where you’re going.
We both like having a light jacket and layering underneath as necessary. The most important thing for comfort is that the jacket is designed to block the wind – keeping you from getting chilled while riding. My favorite jacket by far is the Cannondale Morphis jacket. They make a version both for men and for women. What makes this jacket great is that it converts to a vest that snaps on and off using magnets. This allows you to easily remove the sleeves while riding if the rain stops and you start to get too hot. It’s not the most waterproof but you’re going to be wet one way or the other so as long as it keeps you warm you’ll be fine.
Under the jacket I like to layer with merino long sleeve shirts and sweaters if necessary. If you haven’t discovered the virtues of merino wool you have been missing out. Merino is something I can’t talk enough about. If you have been on tour you notice immediately the difference between merino and polyester based cycling clothes.
They both perform well at keeping you cool in the heat and warm in the cold, but one day of riding in the polyester will leave a lingering stench so bad you’ll need to quarantine it from the rest of your clothes lest it infects onto your other clothes. The merino on the other hand can be worn for days of sweating profusely before even a remote smell starts to build. It is a significantly noticeable difference and absolutely worth the money.
On the bottom I wear a pair of quick drying thermal cycling pants like these ones from Ascent Subway.
The most important thing about gearing up for the cold and rain is finding what works for you so there is no lapse in your riding due to inclement weather.