When Shrek stated that Ogres are like Onions, I would never have known he meant to say cyclists are like onions. It is all about having Layers.
Like most of us when we were first introduced to cycling, there was one oversized jersey, set of borderline ‘see though’ padded shorts and some clip in shoes that were gifted by a cycling buddy. This was my only outfit for the first 12 months, it did not matter if it was 5 degrees in July or 30 degrees in the middle of summer. I didn’t know any better and learnt that I was suffering more from the elements than lack of fitness as I was hooked on cycling. Over the years of test and trial, I have learnt it’s all about comfort which is driven by dressing appropriately and layering garments. From those early days of teeth chattering descents in the Nongs only wearing that one short sleeve jersey, I have now built up a wardrobe of cycling clothing to match any element where I can pick and choose how I layer up. Coming into winter you may be looking at getting a few new items to keep you cycling through the season, but more importantly comfortably cycling through. So where should you start? Currently my wardrobe is built around having a few core staples of practical garments that usually last for a couple of seasons. These are rotated in and out of use depending on the weather, and are used in conjunction with my existing set of bib’s, a jersey, and possibly a rain jacket.
You cannot build a house without first building solid foundations, and it’s the same when dressing for winter cycling; it all starts with a decent base layer. What is even better about this overlooked item is its one of the most affordable value for money garments you will invest in. The job of a base layer is quite simply to keep your dry when you are sweating, by pulling sweat moisture away from your skin. A base layer also provides a layer of insulation, and you can tailor how much insulation by the base layer you choose. As the base layer sits next to the skin, comfort is vital, so it is worth investing in a high-quality base layer. You do not want any irritation when you are riding.
Conditions often change on a ride from when the sun’s out, rain is coming, it’s going to be cold up the mountain and at the vital café park up for a coffee. The ability to add and subtract layers whilst riding is very important, plus you also have to take the items with you on the bike and fit them into your pockets. Instead of carrying a big heavy warm jacket that you will most likely overheat in up the first climb, look into a nice set of arm and leg warmers. For me I prefer knee warmers over full legs, as it keeps the wind off the skin and adds a little bit of extra warmth during the start of the ride or on the colder days. Often these warmers have a reflective tag that makes you a little bit more visible on those darker days.
Do not forget your feet here too, cold feet can be dangerous and end your ride early. On the market there are toe covers for cold mornings, rain covers and insulated booties for the dead of winter, all designed to stop your extremities having the chill set in. Another trick I have found useful is to put a layer of tin foil under the souls of your cycling shoes to stop the water coming in through the cleat holes.
The next staple garment for my wardrobe is a Vest or Gilet. Unlike the pro cyclists trying to stuff newspaper down the front of their jersey after they reach the summit in the Tour de France, a vest is perfect for those cooler rides! Keep the wind from chilling your core and ruining the ride by investing in a quality vest. These garments are made from a windproof fabric on the front panels, however the back is designed with small holes which helps to ventilate and stop you from overheating. If it gets a little warm, you can unzip for airflow or store it in your back jersey pocket.
There are many choices when it comes to cycling clothing, many brands with different price points for your budget, each with different properties, intended usage, waterproof ratings, item thickness etc. It is difficult to know where to start when looking at the wall of lycra in your local bike shop. You don’t need to spend a fortune on clothing - simply start with key core items that allow you to mix and match depending on the elements and the ride ahead. Remember to layer up and down with a quality kit to keep the elements away in order to stay comfortable on the bike for years ahead.
Author: Phil Wood