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A Cyclist's Guide to Layering

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A Cyclist's Guide to Layering

A Cyclist's Guide to Layering

The cold doesn't have to keep you from pedaling down the road, though it may if you lack the proper clothing. We certainly wouldn't recommend jaunting through traffic on your road bike in sub-zero temperatures in little else than pair of zebra print underwear, a la cultural icons of Austin or Portland. Even they are sure to wear base layers and mitts (zebra pattern optional) during such hostile temps.

Our friends at Pez Cycling broke down the proper gear one should don depending on the temperature. It's a good reference for those who wish to avoid the stationary bikes and keep in shape for the spring season.

Side note: Temperatures are in Celsius, so we recommend looking up a conversion or gaining a small understanding of how the rest of the world reads temperatures.

19°C-21°C
Base layer; short-sleeved jersey; shorts; racing mitts; socks

17°C-19°C
Add arm warmers

15°C-17°C
Add knee warmers or 3/4 length tights; swap for thicker socks; swap mitts for thin full-finger gloves

13°C-15°C
Swap knee warmers for leg warmers; add gilet

11°C-13°C
Swap warmers for full medium-weight tights, thicker full-finger gloves; add long-sleeved jersey; toe covers or over-socks; head-band

9°C-11°C
Swap to long-sleeved base layer; thin hat, add race-cape/packable water-proof for changeable conditions

7°C-9°C
Swap to full over-shoes or winter shoes; thicker hat

5°C-7°C
Swap for heavier-weight tights; lobster gloves or mittens

3°C-5°C
Add a second long-sleeved jersey; a midlayer sock

1°C-3°C
Add additional base-layer; knee warmers under tights

0°C and below
High-risk of ice on the road so consider an indoor session! (unless you are a hardy, well-equipped and highly-skilled resident of the Northern Hemisphere)

Handle whatever Nature throws at you when you layer right.

Unless you ride long only on perfectly sunny summer days when there's no threat of "weather" in the sky, you'll need to learn how to layer. I've been on rides, especially in early spring, when the weather was capricious and unpredictable, where we rolled out under overcast 50°F skies and ended in 78°F sunshine.

On the flip side, I've headed out in 70°F sunshine and ended up hauling arse out of the woods in 45°F degree pouring rain (I highly advise against that). In both cases, layering is essential.

Why is layering so important? Because layers trap your body heat between them, so you stay warmer during cool-weather rides. You can also remove a layer should the temperature rise unexpectedly. When done properly, your layers will also pull moisture away from your skin, as well as keep outside moisture from reaching your skin in damp conditions, to keep you dry and comfortable on a ride.

RELATED: How to Ride Through the Worst Weather

I often liken layering for a ride to a layered wedding cake—perfectly sweet when done right. Let's start with the foundation. A good base layer is a must. A high-tech fabric like a polypropylene-polyester blend will wick moisture away from your body. The problem is, many of these garments can trap odor and get pretty rank.

You can go the natural route and choose a base layer crafted from merino wool. Unlike the itchy wool of the past, merino wool fabrics are soft on the skin, don't stink, and can keep your core warm on even the chilliest days. Whatever you do, do not wear cotton. It soaks up moisture without wicking, so you just have a heavy, cold shirt against your skin. Your base layer can be long- or short-sleeved depending on how chilly you expect it to be. Generally, once it hits the low 40s, I'm going with sleeves.

Next up is the midlayer. The role of a midlayer is to work with your base layer to wick away sweat and insulate your torso to provide warmth. For more mild conditions, a jersey and arm warmers will work just fine over a short-sleeved base layer. Again, when the mercury drops below 45°F (my personal threshold), I go with a long-sleeved jersey. An important point to watch for here is that your midlayer shouldn't be too tight. While cycling clothes are naturally snug, you need breathing room—literally—for layering to work because there needs to be some space to trap air and retain warmth.


Finally, top it all off with a little wind- and weatherproofing in the form of an outer shell. In milder weather, a vest is all you need. As it gets colder, a thin waterproof, wind-resistant jacket is the way to go. On cold-temperature starts, you can wear it out of the gate, then roll it up and stash it in your jersey pocket when the day warms up. Or, if you suspect you'll be out when the temperature starts to drop or you're going into the mountains where it might be very warm on a long climb and cold on the way back down, stash it in your pocket before you go just in case.

Pulling it all together
Layering for a 40° F ride might look something like the following:

•Base layer: A long- or short-sleeved undershirt (e.g., polypropylene-polyester blend or merino wool).
•Midlayer: A long- or short-sleeved cycling jersey, depending on the weight of your top layer.
•Top layer: A shell or jacket that's made from material that provides wind and water protection.

 

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  • Christine Jiang
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