Now sure how to dress for winter cycling?
You’re not alone. I’ve seen plenty of people freeze their rear ends off while cycling in the middle of the city, and then just assume that it’s “not their season” to ride.
That’s not it at all. You just have to know how to dress. You can still be lightweight, aerodynamic, and insulated at the same time.
You don’t need a big puffy winter coat out of Snow Day or anything like that. This is what you need to know.
- 1 #1 Balaclava
- 2 #2 Cycling Gloves
- 3 #3 LED Helmet
- 4 #4 Three-Claw Gloves
- 5 #5 Road Beanies
- 6 #6 Reflective Strips
- 7 #7 Baselayers
- 8 #8 Long Johns (Long Underwear)
- 9 #9 Weatherproof Sneakers
- 10 Should You Get Extra Winter Cycling Attire?
- 11 How Much Should I Spend on Winter Cycling Attire?
- 12 Suit Up And Buckle Down-It’s Time To Ride
These not only help you to break up the wind, but they also provide enough tension on and around your face to help with blood flow and keeping you warm. Consider it like compression gear for your face.
A good balaclava will gently hug your face, but if it’s causing long red streaks that look bright and painful without even being introduced to the wind and cold outside, then it’s a bit too tight.
Sizing can be difficult, but you’ll be able to find a balaclava that fits you in no time.
These aren’t just recommended, they’re practically a staple. You can get a full-face balaclava with a mesh screen over the mouth (Gore Wear has a fantastic one, for example), so that you can still breathe without your lips being raw and red at the end of your trip.
The eye hole is also perfect to put on a pair of riding goggles or sunglasses, so you’re completely covered up and warm from head to neck.
#2 Cycling Gloves
Compression really is the name of the game here, because the more you can compress (within reason and specific ratings), the more you can protect and the warmer you will be underneath all those layers.
Cycling gloves offer great compression, but they also help you stay tactile while you’re riding your bike.
Winter can’t stop you. However, if you let the cold creep in, you’re going to have to call it quits early, and nobody wants to do that.
If your hands are so frigid that you can’t really move them properly, you’re losing heat while you ride, and that’s where compression can help.
Keep in mind that compression levels and materials are different, so you should feel comfortable flexing your hand in these gloves for an extended period of thirty to ninety minutes at a time.
There’s no real way to test this other than about three bike rides, one day at a time, back to back. Be sure that when you get your cycling gloves, you have a return policy just in case they’re too tight or they don’t accurately keep your hands warm.
#3 LED Helmet
Mountain biking, street biking, whatever the case may be, you need to be visible.
The winter is obstructive, and when there are snowbanks piled around the corners, snowfall, and there’s no light bouncing around at night, you need to be out of harm’s way.
There are a handful of high-end, ultra-bright helmets with built-in LED headlights and taillights in the back, and if you think these are overkill, I hate to tell you that they’re not.
The average speed of most roads in the United States that aren’t on or directly before a highway is around 30 MPH to 35 MPH, and in case you’re wondering, that’s more than enough to cause serious and potentially fatal damage if they hit you.
You need to be visible. You need some sort of light, and when all you have are reflector strips (which we’ll talk about later), you’re only halfway there.
Busy roads, winding off roads, it doesn’t matter; a little bit of light can go a long way in protecting you from unaware drivers around you.
#4 Three-Claw Gloves
You might know these as lobster claw gloves, but basically, you have your thumb, and then two separate compartments for your other fingers.
Your index and middle snuggle up together in the first, your ring and pinky in the second. Skin-on-skin contact, even when it’s from yourself, can help to maintain body temperature.
This lets you do that without losing functionality and grip on your bicycle.
We’ll admit, these are super weird to get used to. It’s like mittens… kind of. And it’s also like gloves… kind of.
It’s an acquired taste and it won’t be for everyone, but depending on the shape of your handlebars and what type of bike you’re riding, you’ll notice that these can actually help with your handling quite a bit.
#5 Road Beanies
You should always have one of these in your back pocket. Or, you know, the back pocket of your backpack. Whatever floats your boat. Road beanies offer some wind resistance, and they’re easy to pull over your ears.
They work well for those days that you misjudge. Let’s say you put on a balaclava and then realize you’re sweating in the thing, and the wind isn’t that bad. Swap it out for a road beanie.
These are inexpensive, help keep you warm, and cut down on wind hitting your earlobes and getting those red winter ears.
Overall, you’re going to find that these are your best friends while you’re winter riding your bike.
You can swap out of other headwear, but they’re also a stylish way to stay warm and go into a store without, you know, scaring the other customers by being in a full mask.
#6 Reflective Strips
I know you don’t want to put these on your favorite jacket or backpack. I don’t either, and I don’t blame you. That being said, these are critical to your safety in winter.
While it’s snowing, cars have limited visibility: the snow ahead of them, what’s being flung off by the windshield wipers, and so on and so forth. It’s obstructive, and a cyclist isn’t exactly easy to see in these conditions, even if it’s not a storm.
You can purchase reflective strips that adhere to materials like cotton, nylon, and other coated materials. You could put some on your bicycle as well, or reflector plates that connect to the bottom of your seat.
There are a few options, but basically you want to be visible enough that oncoming motorists see a flash of something and pay attention. This, of course, should be in addition to your light-up LED headlight helmet.
There are a few brands that do this, such as Santini, and the idea behind these base layers is that you’re going to have all the insulation you need to keep your vital organs protected and in perfect working order.
Because they don’t want to constrict your arms and become a nuisance, these base layers are usually similar to tank tops.
They’re tight, snug, and help with circulation while you’re riding your bicycle. The thing is, you have to gauge whether or not you’re going to need one of these depending on the day that you have ahead of you.
If it’s going to be frigid as can be, you’re probably going to need one. If it’s just a bit nippy, you can judge. It also depends on the rest of your gear.
As a word of caution, watch the wash instructions on base layers, no matter what brand you get them from.
Some details will be specific due to proprietary material being used in the insulation, and you don’t want to ruin a (somewhat expensive) piece of essential winter cycling gear after its first wash.
#8 Long Johns (Long Underwear)
I’m not going to pretend to know what your commute or travel path is like, but I can imagine that no matter what, some wind and a bit of cold is going to creep in underneath those layers.
Maybe it’s windier that night than you thought, or maybe you’re simply not covered up as much as you think. Either way, you can use long johns instead of a base layer for more comprehensive coverage.
I say comprehensive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better. It all depends on what you value. Long johns have more coverage, usually from your ankle to your wrists and neck and everywhere in between, while base layers are more focused around your vital organs.
If staying toasty and warm on your trek is important to you, but compression isn’t, then long johns might be a good option for you.
#9 Weatherproof Sneakers
Temperature and wind chill are beasts, but there’s another winter terror that we haven’t discussed yet, and one that can make that temp drop and wind chill factor feel three times worse.
When it’s still frigid, but there’s slush on the side of the road, you’re in a sticky predicament.
You only have so many viable areas to ride your bike thanks to the snow on the ground., so sometimes you’re forced to go into the slush on the edges.
Well, if that gets into your shoes, you’re going to feel like frostbite is creeping just around the corner. In fact, that moisture, low temperatures, and the oncoming wind might even cause frostbite.
Weatherproof sneakers, and for that matter, weatherproof socks are going to be your best friends. These keep the slosh from chilling your feet and causing that frigid feeling.
Also, who wants to ride with slush in their shoes? It’s just going to feel awful to ride and make it more difficult to focus on getting home.
Should You Get Extra Winter Cycling Attire?
How often do you really cycle during the winter? In my opinion, every cyclist should absolutely have one full outfit for the winter, but you really do need to gauge it based on your needs.
After a few weeks in the winter, some of us get down and don’t go on our bicycles as much, so if this is a once-a-month thing, you should try to keep one full outfit at-the-ready and you’ll be good there.
But if you’re someone who can’t stand going more than one or two days without cycling, like myself, then two full outfits should do.
You’ll always have one clean and ready to go, and the other can be in the wash or drying while you head out on your bicycle.
It’s also good to have spares in case you wipe out and land in the slush, so you can still be ready to go the next day even if you don’t have immediate laundry services available to you.
How Much Should I Spend on Winter Cycling Attire?
If you price match and shop around, you can usually find quality wool socks and sneakers, excellent jackets and balaclavas, and everything else you need for winter cycling attire for $175 up to about $250.
This seems like a lot now, but you have to remember that these clothes are specifically trying to keep you ventilated but warm, and protect you from the elements but help you stay flexible.
They’re very specific articles of clothing, so they’re definitely labeled as an investment.
Depending on your choice of brand (Champion vs. Under Armour, for example), you might find yourself in a mental war over what to pick.
Just go with whatever is more effective and flexible, and try not to get hung up on aesthetics when budgeting for winter cycling attire.
Suit Up And Buckle Down-It’s Time To Ride
Winter is no reason to stop cycling. Switch out your tires, lace up those shoes, keep your gloves handy, and be sure to maintain that core body temperature while cutting down on windchill.
There’s no reason to stop cycling during winter. Then again, if you’re reading this, you’re likely a hardcore cyclist like we are.
We should have known nothing was going to stop you. Now suit up and hit the road; there’s always another path to cycle.