When the weather gets colder, wetter and darker you can either opt to take your bike inside and smash out your rides on the turbo trainer, or if the conditions are safe, you can ride through the cold and wet and embrace all that winter riding has to offer. Or secret option number three you can do a bit of both (but this does take some patience and confidence taking your bike on and off the trainer). It is entirely your choice, and the decision to turbo or to head outside doesn’t determine your worth as a cyclist, it is about doing what makes you happy, is safe and keeps you comfortable- its ok to hate the cold or be a fairweather cyclist, there is no shame!
If you are heading out in winter, here are some of my top essentials, from kit to keep you warm and dry to bits for your bike.
Winter Kit for you
Tights or bib tights are a great solution to keep you riding through winter and prevent your legs from becoming cold, wet or covered in spray from the road. Tights fit like cycling shorts whilst bib tights feature the bib which sits over your base layer but under your jersey. I use both depending on what kind of riding I’m doing that day or the weather. For longer rides with café stops I prefer to opt for tights. These come off much easier if you need a toilet stop and save you getting cold taking layers off. For shorter rides or very cold/wet days I opt for thermal bib tights- I feel that the bib gives me an extra layer and keeps my back warm (or dry depending on the bibs) and I don’t have to worry about my jersey or jacket moving/riding up. My two favourite pairs are:
The Gore C3 Thermo Bib Tights in yellow and black. These are exceptionally warm and comfortable with excellent chamois and I love the yellow details which help improve visibility on the road. I wear a M (UK 10/12).
For cold and wet weather I love the Le Col Women’s Hors Categorie bib tights. These feature some water resistant panelling on the thighs and the lower back which is perfect for any splash off your backwheel. Whist these won’t stand up to torrential rain, these are great for cycling in light rain showers.
Leg Warmers are a great option if full thermal bib tights aren’t for you, or you’re unsure about the weather (especially on warmer autumn days). These fit under your shorts (put them on first then shorts over) and can be quickly taken off if you warm up or thrown back on if the temperatures cool. I use the Liv Flara thermal leg warmers in autumn and early spring and find these very comfortable. I wear an L because of my height- on the size guide check your height not just your clothes size.
A baselayer or thermal baselayer is a great piece of kit to invest in for winter cycling (although you can get ones to help keep you cool during summer cycling). Baselayers are breathable, wick moisture away from your skin, and provide thermal insulation. I use a Megmeister baselayer (previously gifted), but there are a range of brands and styles from a variety of retailers (I’ve heard great things about Liv and DHB).
A winter cycling jacket is a key piece of winter kit, but when it comes to choosing one there is a lot of choice on the market and it can be a little overwhelming. You need to consider the type of cycling you do in winter and what your winter comfort level is- are you out in all weathers, are you out before/after dark, is breathability a key feature for you, do you avoid the wind and rain but don’t mind going out in the cold or do you feel the cold easier than your cycling buddies? Ultimately the answers to these questions will determine what jacket you opt for.
If you’re a rainy day cyclist or head out even when there is a threat of rain then I highly recommend investing in a waterproof jacket. My absolute favourite is the Gore Shakedry Jacket. These are an investment piece, they certainly aren’t cheap but in my option nothing else I have used compares to this jacket in terms of ability to keep me dry even in the wettest of conditions. The shakedry is lightweight and can easily pack away into a jersey pocket to be used in any season. The main drawbacks are it won’t keep you warm on a cold day, but this isn’t what it markets itself as and the zipped pocket is extremely small- but lets face it if it is raining THAT badly you’re not going to want anything in a back pocket. I highly recommend shopping around- try Sportpursuit, Blacks, Sigma Sports to find a good deal. I wear a M (I’m a UK 10-12)
For great value and to avoid breaking the bank, I recommend the Liv Delphin Women’s Rain Jacket as a good alternative. This boasts waterproof ProTextura fabric construction with fully taped seams and a zipped pocket. This doesn’t pack down as small as the Gore Jacket so its one you need to wear from the off rather than being able to store just in case, it also isn’t exceptionally breathable. In terms of keeping me dry I’ve tested it frequently in light (but not heavy rain) and wind and I’m pleased with the level of protection. I also love the bright pink colour as it helps make you exceptionally visible.
If you ride in the dry but easily feel the cold than a windstopper jacket is a great option. I have a Shimano fleece lined wind stopper for really cool winter days. You can purchase windstopper jackets from a range of retailers.
If visibility at night is crucial then I highly recommend a ProViz jacket. You might have seen these out and about, they often look quite low key, but when the light hits them you’ll be lit up like Blackpool Illuminations (if you know you know). If you want to use the jacket during the day and after dark I highly recommend opting for one of their brighter coloured jackets- I have the original grey Reflect360 (previously gifted) and whilst its fantastic at night, I don’t think its always the most noticeable on a grey day. A friend recently purchased the Reflect360 CRS plus in purple and I think it is fantastic- bright both during the day and at night. A lot of the ProVis range is also waterproof, or there are thermal options available- make sure to check out their website as these are ideal all rounders for winter cycling. I’m a UK 10-12 and wear a 12 in ProViz.
A gilet/wind vest is another option if you need some core heat but find a jacket too warm. These are great for protecting your back from spray, maintaining core heat and protecting from the wind on chilly descents.
A long sleeved/thermal jersey is another advisable piece of winter cycling kit. These are great for days when it is cool but dry, for those who aren’t keen on thicker cycling jackets or for autumn/spring cycling. In the depths of winter I wear mine beneath a jacket to stay warm. My two favourites are:
The Liv Flara Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey, retailing at £79.99 which I think is great value compared to competitors. This offers a snug fit which embraces a woman’s frame and features the Liv ThermTextura fabric. There are also three rear pockets and reflective detail for those who wish to wear without a jacket. I wear a L- I’m a UK10-12 and 5ft11
I’m also a fan of the Primal heavyweight long sleeve jerseys. These aren’t quite as thick as the Liv Flara, but are great for autumn/spring or again under a jacket. What I love about these is a lot of the designs are very in your face which helps you stand out on the road. The fit is quite relaxed- I wear a M.
Gloves are another winter essential to prevent numb icy fingers. Whilst gloves do reduce some of your dexterity, this is a compromise as opposed to having numb fingers which can’t fully utilise the breaks. For wet and very cold conditions I use the SealSkinz Waterproof all weather cycling glove with Fusion control (gifted and thoroughly tested during a previous press event). For general winter cycling I use the SealSkinz Women’s Galibier cycling gloves which are exceptionally thin and keep your hands warm on cooler days. I also really like the short cut of these (they stop below your palm rather than going up your wrist) as it means I can comfortably wear and see my Garmin watch. I actually opted to buy mine in white/coral and whilst these are much more prone to attracting dirt and I kind of look like a magician, my hands are very visible to other road users when I am signalling.
A Helmet is a must have regardless of the season, but in winter you can add a thermal hat or casquette (cycling cap) to keep your head warm when you’re whizzing downhill.
Clear lenses: gone are the days of summer and unless you’re catching a rare bit of winter sunshine the chances are you’re better kitting yourself out with some clear glasses. These will help prevent your eyes streaming in the cold air, stop rogue raindrops from pelting you in the eye and protect your eyes from water and grit thrown up from the road. You can either opt for a new pair of glasses specifically made with clear lenses or if your pair allows save a bit of money by swapping the lenses (although check out both options as sometimes there isn’t much difference in the price).
Overshoes will help keep your feet warm and dry as well as protecting your (often very expensive!) cycling shoes from splash and debris thrown up by the road. I use the SealSkinz leightweight open sole Halo overshoes as not only are these waterproof, but they also feature a rear facing red light on each shoe helping you be even more visible. Overshoes fit by shoe size, but in my experience can often be small fitting so if possible order two adjacent sizes and see which one fits best and is most comfortable on your ankle. If overshoes aren’t for you then waterproof socks are a great alternative.
A buff will help keep your neck warm and avoid feeling a chill from wind creeping down the back of your jersey/jacket. For winter specifically you can even get fleecier Buffs- take a look here.
And finally given that it’s 2020- make sure you’re carrying a mask in your jersey pocket for café stops and if you need to bail and get a train home!
Essential Kit for your bike during winter
Don’t forget your beloved bike needs to winter TLC and care! Here are my top recommendations for helping get your bike winter ride ready.
Lights: these are a necessity all year round, it is always good practice to use a red light on the back of your bike when out on the road to ensure cars can see you and if you’re riding after sunset you must have working lights. In winter these become even more essential as grey, overcast or wet conditions can impair visibility. In order to be safe and seen invest in a red rear light and white front light- I use cateye, but there are a range of lights on the market, including USB rechargeable ones.
A puncture repair kit and pump: consisting of a patch kit, spare inner tube/s, tyre levers, tool and a mini hand pump or CO2 cartridge is essential for any ride regardless of season, but an absolute must have in winter when roads are often covered in debris from trees or washed into the road by heavy rain. You can carry these in a little bag below your saddle. Having a practice of repairing a puncture at home when you’re feeling calmer and under less pressure is advisable as you don’t want to be lingering on the side of the road in the cold/wet any longer than you need to. If you’re still a little daunted at the thought of changing a tyre, the Global Cycling Network YouTube has some excellent videos you can watch and learn from. If riding at night I also carry a headtorch as this makes changing a puncture MUCH easier.
Wet weather lube: there are a variety of lubes on the market- both in terms of brands and conditions suitable for. Wet weather lube, also known as wet lube is a chain lubricant designed for wet/muddy conditions and ideal for winter cycling (as opposed to dry lube which is better in dry/summer conditions). I use Muc Off products as their wet lube is biodegradable. You can shop their products here, including ones for even colder conditions. Always make sure you clean your chain before applying as you’ll pick up a lot of grit from the road during winter.
Winter tyres: changing to a thicker (eg 28mm or 32mm tyre) during winter can help riding on wet/debris covered roads a bit easier, also opting for more puncture resistant tyres can save you time faffing about fixing punctures and really help with your confidence. I swear by the Schwable Marathon plus tyres- they’ve got me through a lot of puncture free miles.
Mudguards: especially on the back during wet conditions to prevent a soggy bottom! You can opt for a more fitted over wheel mudguard which feels a tad studier or opt for an ‘ass saver’ guard which attaches below the saddle. Whilst the coverage isn’t as thorough I find the latter easier to install and remove.