10 winter road cycling kit essentials to beat the cold weather
© Le Col
Do wet or cold conditions see you reaching for the turbo trainer? Layer up with the best winter road cycling gear and you'll be spinning throughout the winter season in no time at all.
Winter miles equal summer smiles, as the saying goes. Logging valuable distance during the winter months can be difficult if you're not kitted out properly though. After all, who wants to spend hours in the saddle, freezing cold, when they could be in the warm on an indoor turbo trainer? Or, even better, the sofa.
Fortunately, winter cycling clothing is rapidly evolving in its temperature-regulating and waterproofing abilities. The key to staying warm is layering and waterproofing. By building up layers from a base layer up, you can add or remove extra jerseys and jackets as required during your ride.
Not sure where to start in your search for winter cycling gear? These warm and protective items of kit will stop you from being tempted to turn for home when the weather stops playing ball.
1. Waterproof jacket
A waterproof cycling jacket that can be depended on to keep you dry in the heaviest of downpours is an absolute must. Not all shells are made equal though, and while waterproof, some can have the airflow of a bin bag. To make sure you stay dry both inside and out, look for features such as taped seams, breathable membranes and a dropped tail to protect you from spray from your rear wheel.
Le Col’s Pro Rain jacket keeps water out thanks to the external membrane built from Italian ITTTAI waterproof fabric, while the three-layer material works hard to remove moisture from the inside. Not only that, Le Col worked with professional riders from Team Bahrain McLaren, who tested the product throughout its design phase and provided valuable feedback on how to improve it. It’s also super-stretchy, feeling more like a snug-fitting jersey than a bulky waterproof.
A mid-layer should build insulation, keeping the chill off but also remaining svelte enough to be able to whip a lightweight rain shell over the top if the black clouds roll in.
Endura’s latest version of its Pro SL Primaloft Jacket features extra PrimaLoft Gold filling on the front section to keep you warm when you’re pedalling into the mother of all headwinds. The back and underarm panels, meanwhile, feature less insulation, allowing heat to ventilate through and regulate your core temperature. It’s also water-resistant (so can withstand sustained drizzle), packs down small enough to stuff into a jersey pocket and is available in a striking pumpkin colourway that adds to your visibility in thick fog.
3. Thermal long-sleeve jersey
Next layer down and it's the turn of the humble cycling jersey. But as it’s winter, it’s time to add some thermal technology and sleeves into the equation.
Café du Cycliste’s Marguerite Merino Cycling Jersey uses Merino as the key yarn; the wonder sheep’s wool helps regulate your temperature, wick sweat away from your body, and is breathable while remaining surprisingly soft. It’s also naturally odor-resistant, meaning you can probably get away with a few rides before it needs to go in the wash.
The French brand’s fabric also features a distinctive technical knit that creatures a textured effect, adding warmth when you need it when the temperature drops. A trio of pockets on the back and discreet reflective tags mean that, if a warmer day, you can wear it on its own as an outer layer, too.
4. Base layer
Cyclists generally fall into two camps when it comes to riding with a base layer – there are those who swear by them, and there are those who haven’t tried one yet (and when they do they instantly become a member of the first camp). Although it might seem frivolous, that extra layer helps to regulate heat, wicking sweat away from your skin and keeping you dry – an important consideration when a blast of wind can easily cause a chill.
Three things make Isadore’s Ovada Deep Winter Merino Baselayer stand out from competitors though: the chest is covered with a thin, elastic membrane to add protection when you’re cycling into a freezing wind; its turtleneck design negates the need for a Buff-style neck warmer and stops icy chills from blowing down your neckline; and it includes handy wrist loops to put your thumbs through – keeping the sleeves stretched into your palms means warmer wrists.
5. Bib tights
While you will see some brave souls cycling year-round in bib shorts, a set of bib tights is a worthwhile investment. Not only will they help keep your legs warm on those days when the thermostat reading is in the single digits, but their fabrics are often better at keeping out water and wind, offering more protection than a summer-specific set.
Your legs will thank you for strapping on Sportful’s Fiandre Pro thermal bib tights. A new construction for 2020, the tights have been redesigned with a particular emphasis on protecting you from rain and spray. Seams have been repositioned so they don’t soak up water from the road, and the ankle zippers are coated to keep out rain. They are also highly breathable, so you won’t overheat when you’re pushing your heart rate up, and a double-layered front adds more crucial wind protection to your core.
Keeping your extremities covered is crucial when cycling during the winter, and nothing is more likely to make you turn back home than cold hands. The obvious answer is a pair of cycling gloves, but it’s worth investing in a set that can keep you comfortable in a range of conditions you’re likely to face in the UK.
The Sealskinz All Weather gloves with Fusion Control are the protection you need for your digits during the absolute worst conditions. They keep your hands warm while crucially not bathing them in sweat due to the advanced Fusion Control breathability, which lets moisture vapour escape while the exterior remains completely waterproof. Another key point is that they are surprisingly dexterous, meaning you can move your fingers freely to brake, a feature other thick winter gloves sometimes struggle with.
Other appendages (or 10) that are worth keeping warm are you toes. We’ve talked about Merino – aka the king of yarns – a lot here, but what if you combine it with super-soft cashmere? Pongo’s XMerino Winter Cycling Socks are half merino with an added touch of cashmere (and silk) for a truly warm and comfortable foot-warmer. As well as the cashmere and silk boosting the Merino’s heat-regulating abilities, these are so soft and warm you’ll be extremely reluctant to remove them at the end of the ride.
All cyclists will agree that cycling with cold feet is an unavoidable downside to cycling in winter. Spatz’s Pro 2 overshoes will change that forever. They are designed by ex-pro cyclist Tom Barras and tested in the worst weather Yorkshire has to throw at them. The Pro 2’s go further up the leg than most overshoes, using Aero-Armour Neoprene to protect against the weather and abrasions. They’re heat-welded with taped seams, so no water is getting in, and the Thermo interior lining wicks sweat in the right direction.
Sure, they're quite a statement, but will see you riding long after others would have turned home.
Sticking a warm hat on under your helmet is a game-changer in the winter. You need something waterproof and breathable, though, which is where Rapha’s Pro Team Winter Hat comes into its own. The headwear lets your skull breathe instead of drenching it in sweat, which often occurs with thermal hats. It also features a reflective trim for added visibility (with a distinctive back panel that reveals the word ‘Rapha’ when illuminated) and an essential flap that covers your ears to keep them warm. Available in black or a subtle dark green, you'll find that you won't want to leave home without it on colder starts.
Winter riding requires bike lights, whatever time of day you’re on the roads. It's important to remember that they're not just for night riding, and anything that aids your visibility in fog or heavy rain is essential.
The Blinder X front and rear set from Knog is lightweight and powerful, fully USB-chargeable, 100% waterproof and you can easily take them on and off the bike. The front light emits 200 lumens, and the rear 100, which is enough to keep you highly visible, especially with the range of eight flash patterns you can choose from, including a skull pattern if you really want to stand out.