Stay warm, keep riding. As the daylight wanes and the weather gets colder, staying warm and comfortable is the key to cycling through the fall, winter and early spring seasons. Cycling is an activity that produces heat and sweat, and the challenge in cold weather is to hold in the heat you generate while staying as dry as possible. Layering your clothing is key, and you should plan to dress for the coldest part but with the options to tailor your comfort by adding or shedding clothes. You want to remain comfortable without overheating, adding a layer if you are too cold, and removing a layer if you are getting too warm.
Cycling can be enjoyed year around if you have the right clothing for colder temperatures. Since your reaction to the heat or cold varies depending on your personal biological makeup, where you live and your riding experience, the correct clothing for the temperature is whatever works for you. You may find that you prefer to wear arm warmers when the temperature dips into the 70's. Humidity and wind are additional factors to consider when dressing for comfort in colder weather, as an increase in either may warrant an extra layer of protection.
The Keys to Staying Warm
Protect your head, your neck and your Core. Keeping these vital areas warm will make it easier to keep your hands, legs and feet warm.
Protect your extremities--your hands, legs, and feet, and build in a bit of flexibility so that you can add or remove articles of clothing in order to keep your body comfortable as the weather warms up or cools down. Combining your existing cycling gear with a few new garments will extend your comfort range much later in the year.
Avoid cotton and opt for a wicking base layer made from polyester, lycra or wool to keep your trunk warm and dry. Cotton traps sweat next to your skin which robs you of the precious heat you need to trap. Damp and cold are a dangerous mix when you are miles from your home or car.
Start your ride dressed in slightly less clothing than you need. You'll warm up very quickly after you begin riding, and this minimizes sweat buildup. If you're in doubt, stash an extra garment like an extra jersey, vest or skull cap.
Building a Basic 4 Season Wardrobe
There are many options for all temperatures, but here are the essential clothing items you will need if you want to ride in most weather conditions.
Trunk and Arms: Sleeveless base layer, short sleeve jersey, arm warmers
Legs: Lycra shorts and knee or leg warmers
Hands: Fingerless gloves
Cold (49° - 59°)
Trunk and Arms: Add a wind jacket with zip-off sleeves
Head: Thin coolmax skull cap
Legs: Lycra shorts and thin lycra tights
Hands: Full finger wind resistant gloves
Coldest (39° - 49°)
Trunk and Arms: Sleeved base layer, long sleeve jersey, waterproof jacket
Legs: Tights with brushed fabric interiors
Hands: Full finger gloves with insulation
Feet: Shoe covers
Cool (59° - 70°)
Cool weather is the first transition stage from warm weather when shorts and a short sleeve jersey do not provide enough coverage for some or all of the ride. Cycling in cool or windy weather typically involves adding arm and knee warmers to warm weather apparel. Start out with the warmers, and remove as you get warmed up or the temperature rises. You can easily stash the warmers in your jersey pockets or in a pocket of your hydration pack.
Cold (49° - 59°)
When it gets cold enough that shorts and short sleeves are completely out of the question, you'll want to step up the warmth factor with tights, a long sleeve jersey, and warm, full finger gloves. Depending on the your personal preference and the outside temp, you may wish to add a wind and water resistant jacket, ear muffs, and toe covers to provide further protection.
Coldest (39° - 49°)
For the coldest temperatures, you will really need to protect your extremities in order to remain comfortable. Your core, if protected, will warm up as you ride, but you will be uncomfortable without a skull cap for your head, winter gloves, winter tights and booties for your feet. It's a good idea to layer jerseys so that you can adjust your core protection to your personal taste.
Planning to ride at temperatures below 39°?
You'll want to add insulation to your waterproof jacket and shoe covers. Add balm to exposed skin, and add wind and waterproof fronts to your insulated winter tights to keep your legs warm.