As with most things in life, the art of layering up for your bike ride is about finding the right balance. The clothes you decide to wear or take with you on a ride can have a significant impact on your comfort while cycling. If you are too warm, you will end up getting too sweaty and dehydrated, leaving you feeling exhausted and fed up.Leave the house without enough layers and protection, and you can get cold very quickly, resulting in a foul mood, numb hands and a negative internal monologue (“What is the point? Why didn’t I dress better for the weather”). Here are a few tips about the art of layering that will help you to be as comfortable as possible during your winter training.
Check the weather and temperature
It may seem obvious, and hopefully, this is already on your checklist in your pre‑ride routine. Checking the weather the night before a ride will help you to get prepared. You can pull out all the layers you will need and not be left scrambling at the back of your wardrobe when you are getting ready to ride. Although it may sound silly, checking the temperature and weather conditions before your ride also helps you get prepared mentally. You know what to expect and if it starts to rain or there is a particularly chilly wind while you are out, you are already prepared and have already accepted your fate. Be prepared and stay in control of your own destiny and comfort.
How many Layers?
3 is the magic number! However, it does depend on the temperature and type/quality of the clothing you have at your disposal. For near arctic conditions, you will want an extra layer of protection (4 layers) to keep the freezing temperatures out. Let’s look at the main types of layers and give some guidance on what to buy if you do not already have them. Please bear in mind that we are all unique (which is what makes us beautiful), and although this is what I have picked up over the years and works for me, you may need to make some adjustments for your own body.
Layer one ‑ Next to your skin
Your base layer act as your second skin, it should be tight‑fitting and most importantly be able to wick away moisture. No matter how cold it is outside, your body will sweat while you are cycling. Unless your base layer works with you to wick the moisture away from your body, all the time and effort you have put into layering is wasted, as if you are left with a damp base layer you will start to get cold and grumpy very quickly. Merino wool has some remarkable properties for a natural material. It is a favourite for many athletes and bike packers. Due to its ability to wick away moisture, retain heat and its natural anti‑bacterial properties (less smelly even after a couple of uses). You can get some high‑quality synthetic blends that have similar properties, but check out reviews and do not scrimp on your base layer as it is your foundation to your meticulously thought out layering. Without a strong foundation, all your hard work will be worthless.
Layer two ‑ The filling of your cosy layer sandwich
As you know the filling of the sandwich can make or break your lunch! It is the same with layering up to cycle in cold weather. Depending on what you are most comfortable with you can choose short or long‑sleeved jersey. However, it should have a full zip to allow for easy adjustments if you do get too hot. On milder days, you could get away with these two layers. Depending on the thickness of the jersey you are wearing. For extra protection and peace of mind, get a third layer that can easily be packed in your jersey pocket.
Layer three ‑ The outer shell
The outer shell is the one that will change depending on your discoveries during step 1. If you are expecting rain, then you need to opt for a waterproof jacket. Purchasing a thin one that can be easily packed away in your jersey pocket is a great idea. It means that if the rain stops and you find your self getting too warm, you can easily take it off and pack it away. If no rain is forecast, but the temperature is low, then you should layer up with a wind‑resistant outer shell. This could be a softshell jacket, that is fleeced and wind‑resistant or just a quilted gilet if you have a nice cosy long‑sleeved jersey on already.
Do not sweat the small stuff
It can be tempting to prioritise the most exposed areas, including your fingers and toes. However, you must keep your core and shoulders warm. The human body is amazing, but it will prioritise keeping your core body and organs warm if left with no other option. So if you allow your core to get too cold, it does not matter how many pairs of gloves you have, your hands will still get chilly and numb. That being said be mindful about wind chill and invest in a good pair of gloves, a fleeced neckwarmer (and headband), overshoes and thick socks. You need full use of your hands and feet to maximise your training and stay safe while out cycling.
Final words of advice
Check the weather and be prepared for the day ahead of you. With a little preparation and know‑how, you can easily stay warm and comfortable no matter the weather. There we have it. There is no magic art to layering. However, you do need to be prepared with the right gear before you set off on your cycling adventure. Layer up correctly, and you can stay warm (without overheating) and look good effortlessly while maintaining your cycle training this winter. Happy cycling!