How To Dress For Cold Weather Riding

How To Dress For Cold Weather Riding - Pursue the Podium

All the best gear in the world won't keep you warm if you don't know how to use it. The simple truth about cold weather riding is that you can ride in any temperature. People race across the North Pole on fat bikes, and bike pack through Patagonia in the fiercest of winter conditions, so this really isn't about 20°F being "too cold" or the wind chill being sub zero. This is about finding the right gear and knowing when to wear it. 

I wrote about some of my favorite gear HERE, but when and at what temperatures to wear it, that is the key. This is my guide that I use every winter when things turn cold. I made myself a spreadsheet and keep my preferences written down there so that come November when I do my first 40°F ride in 8 months, I don't forget how to dress and shiver my way through! 

After several years of "I'll ride in any temperature" mentality, I've come to realize that even a 5 degree difference can be huge in what you should wear. Now, unless you are riding for a single hour at the peak temperature of the day (here that is typically around 1-3) then you will likely see a temperature swing either up, or down. This makes dressing even more challenging than it already is. Should you dress for what the temperature WILL be? Would it be better to dress for what it is NOW? The possibilities are endless. 

How To Dress For Cold Weather Riding - Pursue the Podium

I've heard that pro team buses before cold stages are like girls getting ready for the prom. Every rider is nervously analyzing their wardrobe choices, asking each other what they're wearing. The anxiety of over or underdressing is real! Even on local rides, guys will roll up and look each other over, moaning about how "I knew I should have worn a vest!" If you're overdressed you might sweat too much which can be uncomfortable initially and very cold if that sweat starts to freeze. But on the other hand, underdressing leaves you cold the whole time; also no good.

My rule of thumb over time has become to dress for slightly above the coolest temperature. My test is when I walk out the door, am I immediately cold? If so, I'm not wearing enough. I like to feel comfortable initially while standing still because the windchill of a road ride will make things colder but also be balanced by the heat I generate during the ride. If I'm comfortable standing still, I'll likely be ok during the ride. 

Temperature Ranges (including windchill) and Clothing Choices

60°F + 

  • Base: None
  • Top: SS Jersey
  • Bottom: Bibs
  • Hands: Summer Gloves
  • Feet: Thin Socks
  • Head: None

 

45-50°F  

  • Base: LS Wicking
  • Top: LS Jersey, Wind Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs, Leg Warmers
  • Hands: Medium Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Neoprene Covers
  • Head: Beanie

30-35°F 

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: Thermal Jacket
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Thickest Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots, Chemical Warmers
  • Head: Beanie, Neck Gaiter

55-60°F

  • Base: SS Wicking
  • Top: SS Jersey, Arm Warmers, Wind Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs
  • Hands: Thin Gloves
  • Feet: Thin Socks, Thin Covers
  • Head: None

40-45°F 

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: LS Jersey, Thermal Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs, Leg Warmers
  • Hands: Medium Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots
  • Head: Beanie

                                                                           25-30°F  

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: Thermal Jacket and Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Thickest Gloves, Chemical Warmers
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots, Chemical Warmers
  • Head: Beanie, Neck Gaiter

50-55°F

  • Base: SS Wicking
  • Top: LS Jersey
  • Bottom: Bibs, Knee Warmers
  • Hands: Thin Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Neoprene Covers
  • Head: Ear Warmer

                                                                                  35-40°F

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: Thermal Jacket
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Thickest Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots
  • Head: Beanie

                                                                          20-25°F 

  • Base: LS Wool, SS Wicking
  • Top: Thermal Jacket, Vest, LS Jersey
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Lobster Gloves, Chemical Warmers
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots, Chemical Warmers
  • Head: Beanie, Neck Gaiter, Balclava

55-60°F

  • Base: SS Wicking
  • Top: SS Jersey, Arm Warmers, Wind Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs
  • Hands: Thin Gloves
  • Feet: Thin Socks, Thin Covers
  • Head: None

40-45°F 

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: LS Jersey, Thermal Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs, Leg Warmers
  • Hands: Medium Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots
  • Head: Beanie

                                                                           25-30°F  

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: Thermal Jacket and Vest
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Thickest Gloves, Chemical Warmers
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots, Chemical Warmers
  • Head: Beanie, Neck Gaiter

50-55°F

  • Base: SS Wicking
  • Top: LS Jersey
  • Bottom: Bibs, Knee Warmers
  • Hands: Thin Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Neoprene Covers
  • Head: Ear Warmer

                                                                                  35-40°F

  • Base: LS Wool
  • Top: Thermal Jacket
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Thickest Gloves
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots
  • Head: Beanie

                                                                          20-25°F 

  • Base: LS Wool, SS Wicking
  • Top: Thermal Jacket, Vest, LS Jersey
  • Bottom: Bibs, Bib Tights
  • Hands: Lobster Gloves, Chemical Warmers
  • Feet: Wool Socks, Boots, Chemical Warmers
  • Head: Beanie, Neck Gaiter, Balclava

**NOTE: For mountain bike rides that are slower and thus have less wind chill, I typically slide the temperature scale 5°F down, and dress a bit lighter.**

How To Dress For Cold Weather Riding - Pursue the Podium

Now, I do ride below 20°F, but at that point, I simply wear everything. Including everything I wear at the 20-25° range, I add a thin, wicking sock under the wool socks, along with running tights under my riding bib tights for some extra warmth. And even with all of that, I still keep it under two hours just in case.

Clearly everyone's body is different, and I don't suggest that my various configurations will work perfectly for you. I would say that the combinations are a good starting point though, and simply refining your temperature ranges for those configurations will get you pretty comfortable in most temperatures. Maybe you run a bit warmer than I do, so perhaps sliding all the recommendations up 5°F is how you should start. 

Just make sure you have a plan, some sort of system in place so you don't misuse the great gear that is out there for the exact type of riding you want to do. Winter doesn't have to be miserable; just gear smart.

So what do you do? How do you dress for the colder rides? Let me know in the comments below. I'm always looking for new insights!