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Buyers guide: What to wear cycling in winter

Emma Cole
19 Nov 2021

Determined to ride through the darker months? Our winter cycling gear checklist will help keep you warm and happy

Winter may still be the toughest time of year to ride a bike, but thanks to a revolution in winter cycling gear manufacture, it's about a million times easier than it used to be.

OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but things have definitely moved on from when cyclists used to use boil-in-the-bag throw-over jackets and repurposed diving gloves to fend off the weather. 

Covering everything from the socks on your feet up to the cap on your head, below is our latest winter cycling gear checklist to help stop grim weather from ruining your ride.

Plus if you scroll to the end you'll find additional tips on how to get through the winter in comfort...

Essential gear for winter cycling

1. Neck tube 

GripGrab multifunctional merino neck warmer

A much-overlooked item when it comes to a winter wardrobe is the neck tube or neckwarmer.

More than just a good way to add a dash of raffish elegance to your winter cycling look, neck tubes are great for keeping your neck warm and for providing a membrane through which to breath when the air outside starts hovering around the bit of the thermometer where brass monkeys get nervous.

As much as these things are pretty much all the same, we like this Gripgrab number. Stretchy, decently warm and made of merino wool, it'll go for a long time before needing a wash while it's also pleasingly soft. 

2. Cycling base layer

Isadore Merino Long Sleeve Base Layer

What helps keep you warm is the air your clothing traps, and the more layers you wear, the more air you'll trap.

Essential, then, is a high-quality base layer.

In winter, make sure it's long-sleeved and consider choosing merino wool which is ideal for keeping you warm but, because it's breathable, it allows sweat to evaporate. Better yet, it's a less stinky than synthetics.

Soft against the skin and coming in several pleasingly neutral shades, we find ourselves wearing this item for any number of activities from cycling to hiking, to general lounging.

3. Mid layer

Le Col Pro Aqua Zero long sleeve jersey

Depending on the weather, a mid-layer can also be used as an outer layer.

Ideally, you want a mid-weight winter jersey that'll keep you toasty when it's dry without causing you to overheat should you need to add a further layer of protection. 

Close-fitting and reasonably insulated, this style of jersey is likely to see plenty of use if you cycle year-round in the UK. This Le Col Aqua Zero long sleeve is an excellent option.

With hydrophobic rain protection, it can give you a little bit of protection if the heavens open while sublimated panelling will keep you warm.

With a full-length zip, three main pockets, a sleek race cut and reflective stripe, this jersey is function and fashion.

4. Bib tights

Rapha Pro Team winter bib tights

As with any clothing you want to last, it pays not to skimp when it comes to bibtights if you’re planning to ride through winter.

You want a pair that's fleece-lined ideally as chilly winds can pass through unlined ones too easily freezing your pins in the process. 

Rapha's Pro Team winter bib tights are warm and comfortable with  a high front and full length back which is good for keeping the chill out in winter. 

They are good for long rides in mixed conditions and have sturdy bib straps and reflective detailing too. 

5. Cycling gloves

GripGrab Hurricane Gloves

When the weather turns cold your extremities will feel it first – ie, your hands and feet – particularly if you're unlucky enough to have poor circulation.

With that in mind, it’s worth making sure you buy gloves that are a good fit as well, because if they're too tight they'll cut off blood flow.

Winter gloves tend to come in three categories: lightweight (ideal for dry autumn/spring rides), windproof (good for cold, dry days), and waterproof, which will keep the rain out.

Gloves are a personal thing, but we think these models from GripGrab strike a good balance between bulk and insulation. Highly dexterous, showerproof and adequately warm for conditions down to around freezing, their ‘Doctor Gel’ padding isn’t too obtrusive while seeming to prevent numb hands.

With silicone grippers and reflective strips to aid indicating, a microfibre wipe keeps your nose clean.

They range in size from small to extra-extra-large, too, so you’ll find a good fit. And you can have them in whatever colour you want – as long it’s black!

6. Cycling cap

Castelli Difesa 2 Cap

While a helmet is a good idea whatever the weather, it won't do much to keep your noggin warm and dry.

A skullcap or headband will do a decent enough job of keeping the wind off your head but ideally, a good-quality cold-weather cycling cap wants to find its way into your winter cycling wardrobe.

The peak will help keep the rain out of your eyes while the long sides and back help keep the top of your neck and your ears (another extremity, remember) warm. This Castelli cap isn’t cheap, but considering how toasty it'll keep your ears, we think it's money well spent.

With full windproof coverage on top of the head and ear flaps, it'll fend off the breeze, while keeping body heat trapped against your skin, meaning no more ice cream headaches.

With an interior composed of lightweight fleeced polyester, its peak will keep spray out of your eyes while ensuring this hat looks far sharper than an equivalent skullcap.

7. Waterproof jacket

Sportful Aqua Pro Jacket 

When the winter weather really kicks in, a softshell jacket isn't going to work. That's when you're going to need to splash out on a top-quality rainproof jacket.

Lots of jackets purport to be waterproof but in our experience they're more showerproof, often leaking at cuffs, zips or at seams.

Designed to keep the Bora-Hansgrohe team from going soggy, this Sportful jacket comes with Gore-Tex's famous 'keeps you dry' guarantee. Cut with racing in mind, it uses a unique stretchy Gore-Tex fabric around the shoulders and elbows to allow greater articulation and a slimline fit.

Letting you get onto the drops without feeling restricted, it should remain tight even as you sit more upright.

8. Overshoes

dhb Extreme Weather Neoprene Overshoe

Cold and wet toes can transform riding a bike from one of the greatest pleasures known to man into a grim grind. So let's hear a loud huzzah for the humble overshoe, which can keep out the worst of the winter elements.

These moderately priced Dhb overshoes are made from 3.5mm thick neoprene. Easily enough to keep your feet warm in even the most frigid of conditions, its exterior is also non-permeable.

With Kevlar reinforcement across the toe, heel and base areas, they should last a winter or two of stomping around.

Likely to outlive flimsier alternatives, when they do eventually wear through the replacement cost isn't too high, a good thing considering they're not the most glam item. However, it’s not the case that they do entirely without flair – as a decent stripe of reflective detailing adds both visibility and style

9. Socks

DeFeet Woolie Boolie 2 Cycling Socks

A pair of socks is a pair of socks right? Well, not if you’re on a bike where you might be spending hours – or even all day – out in the elements.

Once again you want to be looking for something that’s made with merino wool that'll trap warm air wrapping it around your trotters, while still being breathable enough to ensure that sweat doesn’t become an issue.

Fans of thin socks might be better off with the brand's Wooleator model, but if you like your socks thick and cushy, Defeet’s Woolie Boolies are hard to beat.

Made of 70% Merino wool, 27% Nylon and 3% Lycra, they're tough, yet possess excellent thermal properties along with the ability to be worn multiple times before stinking, perfect if you're heading off on tour.

10. Softshell jacket

Castelli Gabba Ros Jersey

Top layers tend to come in a couple of forms. When the weather is too cold for a winter-weight jersey, a good quality softshell jacket will provide that extra bit of warmth, as well as protection from wind and light rain.

For over a decade, the Castelli Gabba has been the benchmark softshell jacket. Mixing partial weather protection with a breathable, race fit – it's a combination of features that no other kit manufacturer offered at the time.

Recently rebranded the Gabba 'Rain or Shine', or 'RoS', this reflects its improved dry weather performance alongside the near-waterproof protection it has offered since its inception. To help achieve this the jacket now uses Gore-Tex Infinium fabric instead of Gore Windstopper.

11. Eyewear

Dhb Vector Photochromatic Sunglasses

Sunnies in a winter cycling gear guide? No, we haven't lost the plot. The sun hangs low in the sky in winter and can play havoc with visibility, especially if light bounces off of wet road surfaces or snow.

With plenty of muck on the roads, you'll also be protecting your eyes from spray, grit or salt.

A single pair of glasses that'll cope with everything from the low light of winter evenings to the full glare of high summer. With an ultra-wide field of vision and light-adaptive photochromic technology, these Vector glasses go big on both features and style.

With a lightweight 36g frame, this is held steady by an adjustable nose piece that provides a comfortable fit and keeps the glasses in position during intense activity.

From road racing to mountain biking, and even multi-sports use, their uninterrupted lens design and modern angles mean they'll see service all season round.

Quick kit tips

Dress your bike: Because the roads are wet in winter – whether due to rain or standing water – it’s a good idea to fit mudguards.

Yes, we know they supposedly spoil the elegant lines of your bike, but there's nothing elegant about a soggy backside, either.

Check the forecast: British weather can be notoriously unpredictable so it's worth giving yourself a heads up on what it might be doing.

Get a free weather app on your smartphone for up-to-date info that you can take with you.

Layer up: If you feel warm enough when you clip in, chances are you’re going to overheat when you start riding, so plan your kit and think in terms of layers that can be removed or added to suit changing conditions.

Avoid overdoing it: Although it can be an idea to wear thinner gloves under bigger ones, avoid the temptation to wear two pairs of socks.

This can restrict circulation if it makes your shoes too tight and that will make your feet colder in the long run.

For more winter wisdom read our full guide on how to prepare your bike for winter and our wet weather cycling guide.

This guide includes contributions from the wider Cyclist team.