I bike year-round, including the sub-freezing days of winter. Before I head out for a ride, I always check the outdoor thermometer—and then dress accordingly for conditions. Here is my clothing system for several common winter temperature ranges.
First of all, I always wear certain items once temperatures drop below 40º Fahrenheit—my base system, if you will. They are:
Padded cycling briefs: I prefer the underwear-style padding (as opposed to padded winter tights), which gives me the versatility to use them in summer.
Windproof winter tights: My go-to is the Mountain Hardwear Transition Super Power Tights. A lot of other options are available out there. The key here is windproof, especially on the front (specialized winter biking tights and cross-country ski tights often feature more breathable panels on the back).
Powerstretch top: Best all-around base layer. Ever. Available from a variety of manufacturers. I prefer the styles with a significant half-zip on the chest to allow for venting as you ride. Make sure that the lower back still provides sufficient coverage, even when leaning forward.
High-visibility breathable cycling jacket: My current cycling jacket is an ultralight, bright yellow model. (Check out my recent article Now You See Me for more info on the best high visibility clothing.) Breathability is key to prevent sweat build-up, which means opting for a water-resistant style as opposed to a waterproof version (which I only wear if it’s actually raining).
Wind-resistant beanie: I have a form-fitting, wind-resistant fleece hat that fits easily under my helmet and extends down far enough to cover my ears.
Wind-proof shoes and warm socks: I prefer to wear regular street shoes with pedal toe clips and haven’t yet embraced clip-in cycling shoes. The key thing here is that the shoes be completely windproof—anything that’s all leather or lined with Gore-Tex or the equivalent works. And I always wear the warmest socks I’ve got, since my toes are usually the first things to get cold and the last to warm up.
Sunglasses: For eye protection from the wind.
30º – 40º Accessories
For this temperature range, I use the above items plus a pair of Black Diamond Midweight Powerstretch Gloves (which I just profiled in this recent post). Though not windproof, they provide my hands with adequate warmth and protection.
25º – 30º AccessoriesOnce temperatures drop much below freezing, I add a windproof facemask. Otherwise my cheeks and face start to become unpleasantly chilled. I have a Seirus Neofleece Comfort Masque, which is the best face mask I’ve used and fits comfortably underneath the helmet straps. (For more on face protection, check out my post Above Treeline in Winter: Face Protection.)
15º – 25º Accessories
Once temps drop into the low 20s, I swap out my Powerstretch gloves for a heavier pair of windproof fleece. (I use the Black Diamond Windweight.) I also add an insulated vest under my cycling jacket to help maintain core body temperatures and a pair of liner socks—long underwear for your feet, really—under my thick socks.
0º – 15º Accessories
As temperatures approach the single digits, I again upgrade my handwear to a heavyweight pair of winter gloves, with liner gloves (same Black Diamond Midweight pair) underneath. You have to be careful here that your winter gloves do not impede your ability to brake or shift gears as you ride. As you heat up on your ride—and your hands start to sweat—you can strip down your hands for short periods.
I also upgrade my footwear to a pair of insulated winter boots and add more insulation in the torso, typically a full fleece jacket. I keep the vest on underneath as temps drop below 10º.
Rarely do I have the opportunity to ride in such frigid cold. The few times I have I wore heavy winter overmitts, warm fleece jacket, and vest.
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.