How to Dress for Cycling Year-Round

Rain or shine, blazing heat or bone-chilling cold, the weather’s no reason to pass on a two-wheeled ticket to open-aired adventure. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather—only bad clothing. As long as you’re prepared, you can enjoy a day on the bike no matter the conditions outside. These tips on dressing for success will keep you cycling through all 12 months of the year.

Three Basic Tips

  1. If it’s cool outside and you’re already warm (or the perfect temperature) before you hit the road, you’ll get overheated as the ride goes on. The best strategy is to start off just a little cooler than you’d like, and let the heat produced by your body as you pedal warm you up.
  2. Combine layers that are easy to add and remove so that you’re warm enough when the conditions may be cooler—say on the descent from a climb—but not melting while you’re working your way to the top. The ability to regulate your body temperature will keep you comfortable and can affect your performance.
  3. Check the weather forecast and prepare for sudden changes, especially on long rides that leave more populous areas. It may be sunny and hot when you set out, but rain or wind can roll in quickly. Make sure you’re equipped to adapt.

Warm to Hot

When the sun is out and the temperature is anywhere above 60°F, all you should need is a short sleeve jersey, chamois biking shorts, cycling gloves, and sunglasses. If it’s a little nippy at the start of a ride, consider wearing a thin, sleeveless base layer, a sleeveless vest, or a pair of arm warmers that you can peel off as you warm up. In terms of sun protection, a short-brimmed cycling cap might be another good addition. CamelBak backpacks can help keep you hydrated on long rides in the heat—and the most important thing to wear is sunscreen.

Brisk to Chilly

Once temperatures near the 50s, it might be necessary to add a long-sleeve base layer or a pair of arm warmers, long cycling pants or leg warmers, and a pair of long-fingered gloves to keep the feeling in your fingers. This kind of weather is when you’ll find yourself benefitting the most from removable layers, as your body temperature regulates back and forth throughout the ride.

As the temperature dips to 40°F, don a warmer cap like a beanie or skull cap as well as mid-weight gloves. Consider wearing warmer socks or using a pair of shoe covers to shield your feet from the wind.

Cold to Frigid

There are two essentials when cycling in low temperatures: first, keep your core and head dry and warm. Second, don’t neglect your fingers and toes.

Layers are essential: two to three on top and one to two on the bottom. Start with a tight, sweat-wicking base layer like a long-sleeve compression shirt. If it’s really cold, choose a base layer with a polar neck. Don a breathable fleece as a middle layer, and top it all off with a waterproof, windproof outer jacket or shell. Make sure your jacket has a high neck with high insulation and breathability. Look for jackets with underarm zips or removable sleeves, enabling you to release body heat.

On your legs, wear long bib tights with straps that loop over the shoulders to keep your bum and lower torso covered. If you prefer thermal tights or long johns instead, don’t forget to wear a chamois pad underneath. If you’re expecting some more extreme weather, you may opt for wind and water-proof pants as an outer layer.

To keep your neck, face, and head warm, your best bet is a balaclava. Not so into balaclavas? Try a neck gaiter and a thermal skull cap under your helmet instead. Keep your eyes safe from icy winds and cut down on the glare from snow with cycling glasses or goggles.

On your hands, wear lobster-style gloves or mittens. Your fingers will be much warmer if they’re together. If you wear non-cycling mittens, make sure that your fingers still have the dexterity to shift and safely grip the handlebars. If you are adamant about wearing gloves, don silk glove liners as a base layer to add warmth and make it easier to take your outer gloves on and off. For riding in frigid temperatures, cycling pogies (bar mitts) are an excellent choice to seal out the elements.

As the weather dips below freezing, forget about your 2 oz. designer cycling shoes. You’ll need a strong, waterproof pair of boots. If you prefer to wear cycling shoes, opt for winterized bike shoes and add insulation with neoprene shoe covers. Wear moisture-wicking thermal socks, but make sure they don’t cut off blood flow to your feet.

Rain or Shine

In warmer months, dealing with precipitation is as easy as throwing a rain jacket over your jersey. Make sure your jacket has a dropped skirt in the back so it doesn’t bulk up with air, and a hood to keep your head dry. If it’s clear when you begin your ride but may rain later on, a rain jacket can be stashed surprisingly well in your jersey pocket (or DuVine’s support van).

When it’s wet and cold, waterproof neoprene gloves, helmet covers, and shoe covers will go a long way. If you’re in a pinch or caught unprepared, keep your toes dry by covering your feet in plastic bags before slipping them inside your cycling shoes. Some cyclists like to throw on a pair of water-proof pants for wet rides, but these can have the disadvantage of being bulky.

Remember that your body sweats when it’s working hard, even if it’s freezing cold outside. For this reason, GORE-TEX or ventilated outer garments (such as rain jackets with underarm zips) are ideal because they remain breathable. Ultimately, it’s however you feel most comfortable, since cycling gear can be mixed and matched to your needs and sensitivities.

In low light (dawn, dusk, or overcast days), clear or yellow glasses are critical to protect your eyes without obscuring your vision. If you’re still having trouble seeing, use a cycling cap under your helmet to shield some of the rain and ward off road spray.

One last tip: it may not always be the most stylish, but high-visibility gear is highly recommended—especially in rainy or foggy conditions and on roads with significant traffic. Embrace it and wear brightly colored gear as a part of your personal flair!

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