Rapha’s Guide to Riding in Winter
If winter is the hardest time to ride, it’s also the most rewarding. Cold, crisp starts into low sun are worth getting out for, but challenging weather, short days and seasonal merriment can mean the bike is easily neglected. Here’s our comprehensive guide to keeping the pedals turning right through winter.
Prepare for the chill
Layering is key to temperature management. Each extra garment helps to trap a layer of warm air next to your body, insulating you against the cold and allowing you to ride in comfort for much longer.
The other key benefit of layering your clothing is adaptability. Should the weather get warmer, lightweight layers can be removed and stowed in a pocket, ready to be redeployed if the temperature falls.
In winter, it’s always recommended to have a jacket or gilet folded away in your pockets, along with added extras like gloves, a hat, or even a spare base layer which can really help to maintain your core body temperature after a cafe stop.
Ready for rain
It goes without saying, but a cyclist should never be without a waterproof jacket in winter. If you’re lucky enough not to need it from the start, stow your jacket in a rear pocket so that it’s ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice.
Packability is key so choosing a lightweight jacket or gilet that packs down into a pocket is a wise move. We also recommend waterproof jackets with a double zip. This allows you to open the zip up from the bottom, providing easy access to rear pockets without the need to remove your jacket altogether.
Stay bright in low light
The other defining factor on many winter rides is low light. Even during the middle of the day, visibility can be low. To ensure you stay seen on the roads, using bright lights and wearing garments with reflective detailing are highly recommended.
Some of the latest waterproof fabrics are often available only in dark colours. In spite of this, almost all winter clothing features reflective decals. For maximum visibility, choose items with reflective detailing throughout.
We find it can be particularly effective to wear clothing that features reflective detailing on the lower leg. An oversock with a reflective yarn or winter tights with reflective lower leg panels accentuate the movement of this part of your body to help you stand out in low light.
When it comes to choosing your winter clothing, the myriad conditions you may face boil back to these key considerations.
Winter weather tends to be wet. To help you shrug off the storms, waterproof or water-repellent garments are essential. Winter tights treated with a durable water-repellent (DWR) coating will keep your legs dry, while waterproof jackets now offer complete protection for rain and road spray without compromise on breathability. Then there’s the extremities, the first parts of your body to get cold. To insulate them, consider adding waterproof accessories such as overshoes, hats and gloves to your outfit.
As the temperature falls, staying wrapped up becomes more important. Before the advent of insulated garments, cyclists would simply wear more clothing to ward off the weather. Insulated garments provide superb warmth without that extra weight. The insulation within these jackets and gilets is treated with a hydrophobic coating to maintain a layer of warm air around the body. Insulated jackets and gilets work particularly well in cold, dry conditions.
Visibility is crucial all day at this time of year. Lights are the most vital piece of equipment here, but clothing can make a significant impact on visibility. Wearing garments with reflective details is highly recommended. Winter tights with reflective panels positioned on the lower legs are particularly helpful in accentuating body movement to improve visibility whilst carrying a lightweight, hi-vis layer such as a gilet or wind jacket can also help you adapt to changing light conditions.
What to wear
The foundation of any outfit, a winter base layer insulates against the elements and efficiently wicks sweat away from the skin to keep you from catching a cold.
Made with highly insulating fabrics, a warm jacket is the cornerstone of a winter wardrobe. Large pockets are vital for stowing food, tools and extra layers.
In addition to the winter jacket, a lightweight, waterproof layer is required to keep you warm and dry on the worst days. Stow it in a pocket, ready for deployment in a downpour.
Thicker than summer bibs and treated with a DWR coating to keep the worst of the weather at bay, winter tights are vital for comfort on winter rides of any length.
Wool socks are often the order of the day in winter. They don’t need to be as thick as you might think, just choose a dark colour – they’ll only get dirty.
Keeping your feet warm is notoriously difficult on cold winter days. Though most riders’ feet catch a chill anyway, overshoes help to mitigate the chilling effect.