Winter Cycling: What to Wear

February 5, 2014 Updated: February 5, 2014

Winter cycling is a great way to get out during the darker, colder time of year. With our weather in Ireland, however, you’ve got to be prepared for encountering those famous ‘four seasons in one day’ – sou you’ve got to be dressed for every eventuality…

The keys to keeping warm during winter cycling are to combat wind and moisture. Sweat and rain evaporate to cool your skin, and the wind whips the water vapour and warmth away from your body. Aim to keep your core warm, while wicking sweat away from the body with breathable fabric, and using water-repelling outer layers to keep the rain off. Always think multiple layers.

Below about 18 degrees, you’ll need to cover your elbow and knee joints, for example with leggings and sleeves. These pack up small if the day improves. If it’s a wet or very cold day, plan your ride beforehand to avoid long climbs (which make you sweat) and, thus, long descents, where wind-chill can really freeze you. 

The base layer is critical. Choose a modern material for your under-vest, which has to fit snugly to avoid air pockets. They come in various thicknesses and thermal values, but try to avoid cotton mixes – wool or polypropylene are good, but cotton holds moisture like a wet pair of jeans.

Weigh up the pros and cons of a winter cycling jacket: it will trap some sweat, but will also keep the rain off. A better solution is often a soft-shell jacket, coupled with a lightweight wind-and water-proof jacket. These wind-stopper fabric jackets are small enough to pack into a pocket, and can be pulled on quickly if it starts to rain. Ensure all over-jackets and tops have long zips (and maybe some zip-up vents) to regulate your body heat.

A long pair of tights over your shorts coupled with thin, waterproof overshoes (or thicker, neoprene overshoes for the really cold weather) provide extra layers to keep your feet and legs warm. Invest in a good pair of gloves, too, to keep your fingers alive, and find a compromise between warmth and bulk. A thin pair under a thicker pair is often best. However, keeping your core warm will keep your hands warm, so focus more on your core.

A lot of heat escapes through your head: wear a cap under your helmet, or a skullcap that can be pulled down over your ears, or a balaclava for extreme cold.

One word on safety: We recommend having at least one element of your kit (best of all, your jacket) in a fluorescent colour. Black is trendy now, but yellow makes you much more visible to other road users. 

So keep warm and keep safe on the road this winter!