Dressing for the Season - Essential Layering Tips

When it comes to riding during the winter, achieving the right clothing combination of warmth, breathability and comfort is tricky. More often than not, cyclists head out with too much clothing or not enough. That means you either end up overheated and covered in sweat, or so cold you have to cut your ride short. The key to avoiding either outcome is layering.

Here’s a run down of the most common layering mistakes, as well as keys to making sure you’re comfortable no matter what the thermometer reads:

Base Layer: Winter baselayers are designed to be a next-to-skin garment that goes under you mid and outer layers. The baselayers primary purpose is to pull moisture away from the skin and move it to the mid layer where it can evaporate more effectively. This serves two purposes: 1) it keeps your clothing from becoming wet, and cold, and 2) helps to regulate your body temperature to keep you from getting too cold or two hot.

There are two basic types of base layers, insulating and non-insulating. Both are moisture-wicking; insulating layers offer the added winter-time benefit of extra warmth. Insulating base layers are typically made from polypropylene, fleece or a thin wool blend, and are available in both tops and bottoms. They function by holding in heated air created by your body, while at the same time moving moisture away from your skin. Just remember that no matter which type of insulating fabric you choose, make sure you have a full-length zipper up front so you can regulate temperature during your ride.


Mid Layer: The mid layer is arguably the most important element of the cyclist’s layering system, because it’s the one that allows you to fine tune how warm you feel while riding. The mid layer primarily acts as an insulating layer between the base and the outer garment. By creating two pockets of warm air (one between the base and mid, and the mid and outer layers), the mid layer makes it easier to more effectively regulate your body temperature and comfort level during cold weather riding. The mid layer also makes your baselayer more effective by helping to move moisture even further away from your body.

Which kind of mid layer you use will depend on the temperature, wind, how long you plan on riding, and how you like to feel when you ride. You can use a second baselayer as a mid layer on relatively milder days, or a light-,mid-, or heavyweight long sleeve jersey to help keep you warmer and more comfortable on colder days.


Outer Layer Shell: Say you’re traveling down the road at a moderate 18 miles per hour, and there is a 10mph head wind. Well, even though the thermometer reads 45 degrees, due to wind chill factor it’s going to feel a lot colder. Now add a little rain and, well you get the idea. It can get cold quick out on your bike. To avoiding coming home hypothermic, make sure to always stuff a wind-resistant, waterproof shell or vest in your jersey pocket before you head out the door—even if you’re already wearing a thermal jacket.

Whether you’re seeking wind protection, or complete all-weather outerwear, there’s a material designed to do the job. Just make sure the material you choose is breathable. Otherwise you’ll hinder the ability of your base layer to wick moisture away from your skin.


Now that you understand a little about the fundamentals of layering, here are some suggested combinations to keep you comfortable in a variety of weather conditions. Just remember that everyone is a little different, so you may need to experiment a little to find the combination that works best for you.

From 50°-60°

This combination allows for on-the-bike adjustment. You may start out wearing everything, but as you warm up, and the day heats up, you’ll be able to remove the arm warmers, knee warmers and your vest and stuff them into your jersey pockets. If things cool back down, just pull out what you need and put it back on.

From 40°-50°

At these temperatures, wind chill factor becomes a bigger concern. To stay warm throughout your ride, you need to keep your core temperature up, and your trunk and extremities warm. That’s why items such as cold weather gloves and a beanie for you head are critical.

From 30°-40°

Now wind chill is a major concern. That means moving to heavier weight gear across the board, and most likely adding a wind-resistant jacket or vest.

Below 30°

Sure your friends think you’re nuts, but if dressed properly, even a brisk winter day can be a great day to ride. Just remember that 32 degrees is freezing, so you’ll need to keep every bit of skin covered. And depending on how cold it gets, you may even need to double up on some layers. But with the right clothes and preparation you can ride all winter long. Who says there has to be an off-season?


Cycling Clothing