Article: Why ride in winter

Riding in the rain this morning got me thinking.  Firstly.  Why am I doing this?  Secondly after looking around.  What would make this situation a little better?  Being in bed would be great but otherwise I’m here so I should at least be as warm and dry as possible.  Clothing is your number one friend through winter.  Closely followed by good tyres and good coffee.

Look the part:

Dressing to look “pro” or cool is in vogue within the road cycling world.  Don’t get me wrong, cross and mountain-bikers are catching on but the debate about sock height, matching colours and stem-slamming exists within the road community and has for decades.  Rapha wrote an interesting piece which can be found here.  Love it or hate it, it’s hard to get street cred without looking the part – whatever that means.

In my opinion, Cipo can do no wrong in the style department.  I in no way condone smoking or smoking whilst riding but just look at that hair, matching shoes-gloves-frame-bibshorts.  No doubt that is the sprinters jersey so we can let that somewhat mismatched colour slide.  Maybe he just wanted it to match his blindingly white bar tape.  Sock height could possibly go up but I’d never say that to his face….

Can’t wait for those glasses to make a come back.

The key to enjoyable riding through winter is not only looking the part but feeling the part too.  It’s almost impossible to always get the right gear on every time but generally if you leave the house a little on the cold side, you’ll be near to perfect once you’ve ridden a few km’s and warmed up.  Severly under-dress and you’ll not only develop a distaste for riding your bike but you are in for a week of sniffles or worse yet the dreaded flu.  Overdress and you can remove items but there are only so many pockets in your jersey….  These are a few key elements that might help:



Cycling in cold weather starts with the right ‘under garments’.  Cycling undies if you will.  This usually consists of a tight singlet or shirt made of some uber-technical material or if you can afford it Merino wool.  These are designed to moderate your temperature and stop the chills on those freezing days.  I know people who wear base-layers even in 40 degree days (albeit they are basically a mesh vest) but most people will slide into one once the thermometer drops below 20 degrees.  Below 10 degrees and you’d better make sure you haven’t mixed up your summer and winter undershirts.. That’s right, they are very different in the material and thickness so separate them in “the draw”.

My favourites have come from Craft and Santini but i do like the look of the Rapha Merino base layer (never tried it).

Remember, under no circumstances wear a long-sleeve base layer under a short-sleeve jersey.  If you are a mountaineer that my fly but it certainly doesn’t on tarmac.  Undergarments are like your regular underwear.  You should wear some.  But no-one except your (“seen-it-all-before”) partner should ever see them.  If you decide to go without remember no-one wants to see your hairy chest.  The exception is if you are Thomas Voeckler and have battled for hours to hold the wheel of exceptional climbers and you have no energy to pull the zipper back up.  Even then…

(Take note: those a real hurt-faces)




Insulation layer:

This is the most obvious layer and starts with bib-shorts and a jersey.  Cyclists new to cycling might wonder why bibs?  One look at a triathlete and you’ll understand – sorry triathletes but no-one wants to look at the skin between your arse and lower back.  Bib-shorts quite simply keep everything in place.  Jerseys are getting advanced such as Craft’s “aero” BC Elite jersey which fits tighter than a regular jersey (is that even possible you ask?!).  There aren’t too many rules here and ultimately you want to be comfortable.

Bib-shorts should be comfortable.  It’s that simple.  The best ones are usually the most expensive.  Define best you say.  Gel chamois.  Seams don’t rub causing saddle-sores and they last more than 3-6 months.  Plus they generally look better.  Assos, Craft, Santini and Castelli are good places to start.

For winter long sleeve jerseys are essential.  They have a soft fleece lining with means they are comfortable and warm and better yet, some have a water-proofed outer layer for those wet days.  Armwarmers are annoying at the best of time but do offer some versatility in spring and autumn but are no substitute in the deep of winter.  Trust me, get a long sleeve jersey.  It just means less chance of falling over in the pitch black at 5am with one more item to pull on.  Looks better too and we all know now that’s important…

Protective layer:

Here is the important part.  Get a rain jacket and a gilet (vest).  If you race or ride at a high intensity most of the time, a regular rain jacket acts like a plastic bag / force-field and will cause you to sweat more than in a sauna.  It just needs to be thin or breathe a little.  The idea is to keep you dry and stop the chill going through you.  The idea is not to insulate and keep you warm – that’s the job of the previous two layers… HOWEVER depending on your level of ‘hardness’ or location, a full-blown rain jacket might be essential.  If it’s bucketing rain or below 10 degrees then you’ll need one of these too.

Vests are great for versatility.  Thin and packable (not a word), you can slip it on and off as needed.  Once again, it’s really just to keep the chill off your chest and (most) are not designed to be used in the heart of winter.


If you’re not interested in 3/4 or full length bibshorts get leg warmers.  Make sure they go up high and give added insulation to your full leg.  Knee warmers might do the trick but full legs will keep the rain and dirt off your legs (which are no doubt a little more hairy due to general shift in clothing choice).  Excellent accessory brands include: Craft, Hincapie and Santini.  Should you be racing or decide full leg warmers aren’t your thing then embrocation should be.

Embrocation is generally in oil form and acts like deep heat to warm the area but also stop the wind and rain from absorbing into your skin.  It’s like rubbing a combination of eucalyptus and butter on.  I’ve used both these brands for years and very happy about it – Morgan blue & Sportique.  I’m sure the Rapha stuff is good as is Goanna Oil.


There are loads of options out there and fit is the biggest issue.  Just because your mate loves a certain brand or model doesn’t mean it’ll fit your Andy Schleck arms or Manx Missle quads.  There might be some trial and error.  One thing though, if you love your cycling don’t waste your time buying online.  You need to try this stuff on as a medium leg warmer in one brand is a small or large in another.  Sure some repeat buys are fine but first time clothing purchases are different.

Get the good stuff, look the part and enjoy winter riding.





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