What to wear? Am I going to be warm enough? Am I going to overheat? Dressing for cycling is one of the hardest parts of cycling. It’s easy during summer and the dead of winter because of the extreme temperatures but we are now in fall, as with spring, the temperatures are wavering in the middle and I am always a tad bit anxious if I’m wearing the right gear or not.
If for some reason you need to stop for a long period of time (waiting for others, coffee breaks, etc), the thought of the first 10 minutes of riding again will make you want to cab home. Unfortunately there’s no solution and something we have to suck up, but the right gear makes ALL the difference in a ride. I ride in the sun, rain [and when the snow has melted off the roads]— weather doesn’t phase me as long as I am dressed for the right conditions. There really isn’t anything like riding in the crisp winter air …after your body has warmed up!!
I’ve been taking notes for this women’s guide to dressing for cycling for a couple years and it saved me earlier this season before my first true “fall” ride when I forgot how I should be dressing for the 6°C weather! I’m still working on getting my layering-game but these notes are what works for me and I think I’ve almost got it to a tee. Remember everyone is different so you need to experiment with what works the best for you.
-10°C (19°F) and under
- I wear my snowboarding jacket + face mask
- + the warmest + thickest gloves I own that doesn’t interfere with gearing
- + wind-blocking & thermal everything
-5°C (23°F) and under
- Base layer, long-sleeve thermal jersey, windbreaker, outer-shell, thermal tights, thick wool socks (I double it up if the ride is super long), heavy-duty shoe covers, skull cap, balaclava, winter windproof gloves
- My toes + fingers get REALLY cold so I double up on the socks + gloves.
- For cold weather, it’s ALL about layering so you can peel of layers if you need to.
0°C (32°F) and under
- Base layer, long-sleeve thermal jersey, windbreaker, thermal tights, wool socks, shoe covers, skull cap, balaclava, full-fingered windproof gloves
- Everything should be thermal + wind-blocking
- I roll up a waterproof outer-shell in my extra water-bottle cage
- This is when the piercing cold feels like it’s slicing into you!!
5°C – 0°C (41°F – 32°F)
- Base layer, long-sleeve thermal jersey, windbreaker, thermal tights, wool socks, shoe covers, thermal headband, thin neck warmer, full-fingered gloves
- I keep a windbreaker in my pocket / for beginning of rides.
- This is when it starts to feel really cold but not cold enough for an outershell because I always warm up.
10°C – 5°C (50°F – 41°F)
- Base layer, long-sleeve thermal jersey, thermal tights, wool socks, shoe covers, thermal headband, full-fingered gloves
- Full shoe covers a must if doing longer rides
- Toe covers are fine for short rides
- Windbreaker (in jersey pocket)
- Sometimes I’ll wear a thin neck warmer in the beginning of a ride (especially at night) but I always take it off because I tend to overheat.
15°C – 10°C (59°F – 50°F)
- Base layer, short sleeve jersey + arm warmers OR thermal jacket (depends on the look I want), capris OR shorts + leg warmers, full-fingered gloves for long rides, finger-less gloves for short, head band, toe covers
- Windbreaker (in jersey pocket)
- This range is the worst because I never know what to wear!
20°C – 15°C (68°F – 59°F)
- Short sleeve jersey, capris, arm warmers, bike capris, headband, finger-less gloves.
- Windbreaker or vest for descents (in jersey pocket)
20°C (68°F) +
- Short sleeve jersey, bike shorts, finger-less gloves
- I wear sunscreens to cover up as much as possible to avoid the sun
- Layering can be complicated but will keep your core warm. It’s personal preference and something you will learn over-time. Here are the basics:
- Base-Layer: Invest in a good quality base layer which will keep you warm and dry and you should always wear one under your jersey when it’s below 10°C. Don’t cheap out! It will also prevent you from smelling like a wet dog when you arrive at your destination.
- Mid-layer: Over your base layer, you should be wearing a jersey with polyester/merino wool or some type of technical fabric that will keep you warm. On super cold days, you can double up this layer (or bring arm warmers you can take off).
- Outer-Shell: The most outer layer should be wind-proof and water-resistant. You can get light-weight jackets that have both properties or either one, which may also be stuffed into jersey pockets when not needed. *On colder and wet days, you will need a heavy-duty jacket that is for example, completely waterproof (when it’s raining).
- +7°C: they are overkill!
- 8°C – 0°C: Look for thin, breathable fabrics. Depending how hard the ride is, overheating is still an issue but you can always take it off.
- 0°C to -5°C: Depends on how hard the ride is, wind conditions, or if it’s just a commute but I normally wear a thin neck warmer that can be “bunched” up.
- Below -5°C: I will wear my thicker, fleece ski mask. You NEED a mask or your lungs will feel like it’s freezing!
- *Tip for vain-lady-cyclists like me: wear a pretty scarf on cooler spring/fall days!
- Below 10°C: Wear a thermal cap.
- I always wear headbands in the summer to soak up sweat and keep my hair in place. Nothing cycling specific but I just find cute and cheap headbands from stores like F21.
- My fingers and toes are always the first to get cold.
- When it goes below 5°C, I always bring an extra pair of gloves and double up because my fingers get super cold. Merino glove liners are the best.
- Toe covers are fine for over 8°C but anything below, go for full booties.
- I’ve never had a problem with lower-body temperatures even in the freezing cold with my trusty Sugoi thermal tights that I own 4 pairs of!
- 10-15°C: Capri or shorts with leg warmers
- 15°C+: Shorts
- Overcast days will obviously require extra warmth compared to sunny days of the same temperature.
- If it’s windy, wear wind-blocking gear. I always stuff a windbreaker in my jersey pockets.
- The first 10 minutes of a winter ride may feel like hell but you will eventually warm up. No matter how much it sucks, you just need to keep on reminding yourself that!
- For anything -20°C and under, I’ll be curled up at home!