As a year-round cyclist in a four-season state, I have suffered through many a cold ride with inadequate gear, or worse, overdressed and pouring sweat once the ride got started due to oppressive layers. Thankfully, there is an abundance of new gear available for riding in the cold- be that your morning commute or a proper kitted ride.
The easiest and most affordable addition to your cycling wardrobe (and to ensure a more enjoyable ride) is toe warmers. Toe warmers are a small piece of fabric that fits over the toe of your cycling shoes to block the wind and provide a thermal wrap. They will keep your toes toasty even in low temps. I find that the remainder of your foot will stay warm if you take care of the toes. Lizard Skin’s Dryfiant Toe Covers are an excellent addition to any cyclist’s gear closet. The thick fabric, beefy seams, and well-built covers keep the wind out, and the toes insulated. Such a simple and affordable item ($25.99) will greatly improve the riding experience. Pro-tip, to get out the door faster, buy a couple pairs and leave them on your multiple cycling shoes once the temps drop over winter.
Having a warm foundational layer makes all the difference in cold and/or wet weather riding and wool is the go-to material if the budget allows. Wool is unbelievably warm, breathable and naturally odor-resistant. For a universal base layer that can be used on the coldest cycling days, or for fat biking or any other cold-weather sport, the Smart Wool Merino 250 Baselayer ($110) wins best in class. This incredibly warm, 100% wool crew necked shirt is an essential undergarment to keep you warm in the toughest of outdoor conditions. Smartwool’s base layers are substantial with reinforced seams and can be layered under your cycling-specific items to ensure you stay warm and comfortable even if it’s wet and snowy out.
I’ve done a lot of riding using a down puffer or another piece of non-cycling specific apparel and I’ve learned that having a cycling-specific outer layer is the essential component for staying warm and comfortable in winter weather. The Pearl Izumi Versa Quilted Hoodie ($225 – 25% off at the time of writing on Pearl’s website) is my favorite outer layer this year. With quilting (Primaloft Gold) insulation covering your core, and light stretchable fabric on the arms, the Versa Hoodie keeps the wind off your chest, while allowing you freedom of movement to make riding comfortable. A dropped back makes for butt protection from the tire backsplash, slush, and grit, and also provides a bit of warmth. You can count on Pearl for remembering the subtleties, like the much-appreciated reflective materials attached in strategic locations to make the cyclist visible to other travelers in the dark. Having a substantial hood helps keep you warm when stopped for a few minutes, or before or after the ride.
Every cyclist that rides in cold weather has a pile of gloves, some of us still using the crustacean style gloves we originally purchased in 1995. Keeping hands warm while gripping a cold piece of carbon or metal with cold air jetting over and into them is a challenge. This is made more difficult by the need to maintain high levels of dexterity. Cyclists have to manage delicate operations for brakes, shift and grip the bar, and once in a while, grab and hold on to a water bottle without losing focus on the road ahead. The POC Thermal Gloves ($90) balance all of these needs perfectly. Reflective material dominates the front of the glove, lighting them up in the darkness when hit with lights right where you want it – across the front of the bike. Primaloft Gold keeps hands toasty, while goat leather (your hands are truly in kid gloves) protects the paws from wind and abrasion. Turns out the finger and thumb are screen compatible, so you won’t have to remove your gloves to check in on IG and awe your friends with your snow riding skills.
Cold weather riding need not be uncomfortable. Year-round cycling is possible, and can actually be really fun. Though your Grandma may never understand it, there is something about being outside when the weather is frightful that can turn an otherwise ordinary ride into one that you’ll be telling your kids about for years to come. The trick is to have the proper clothing, and these four items or similar pieces of gear will ensure you have an enjoyable experience.