In my line of work, I’m often asked what the secret is to dressing warm when you head out to log those long, slow miles in cool and colder weather, so a few years back I penned a little document that I’ve been sharing with friends, co-workers, and customers who are vexed by this dilemma.  It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s served as a great resource for many a cyclist. So, whether it’s your first or tenth year of slogging through cold weather rides, I sure hope you find this helpful.


My recommendations start with the most important layer – the base layer.  As the layer closest to your skin, it’s most responsible for wicking moisture away from your skin, thus keeping you warm and dry.   A wet, loose fitting base layer (no matter how well covered up) will chill you to the bone, even as the temperature reaches into the 50’s. The obvious conclusion here is that you need to buy the best base layers you can afford. Craft is the best at any price, period.


The combination of base layer / jacket or jersey you wear is going to vary according to the temp and your tolerance for cold…some days you’ll be able to wear a sleeveless base layer with a long sleeve jersey and vest, some you’ll need the wool base plus a long sleeve jersey and jacket.  If you’re just starting out, you have to experiment with this…some days you’ll overheat, some days you’ll freeze.  Overheating is better because you can always strip a layer or unzip – that is, if you’ve thought ahead, checked, and picked gear that gives you the ability to do it.  I never, never, ever leave for a cold weather ride without checking like an autistic kid with OCD – the hour by hour forecast is always best.


A good wind-blocking vest is perfect over a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers on 50-60 degree days.  And, it can serve double duty as a wind-stopper on 40 degree days if you wear it over an insulated long sleeve jersey or jacket.


The Rapha Softshell jacket and Giordana Forma Lightweight Jacket are both extremely versatile pieces for cool and cold weather.  These jackets with a base layer (short, long, sleeveless, heavy duty) will cover most of your bases.  You can also wear a base layer and jersey underneath it to keep your core warm.  I’ve even put mine on over a sleeveless base, jersey, and arm warmers on 40 degree mornings that heat up to 50.  That way, when I shed the jacket, I’m still pretty cozy with the arm warmers.  And, a Rapha sportwool jersey is also a killer piece for winter. It locks in heat quite well, so wear it under either jacket, wear it for 3 straight rides without washing it, or wear it over a windproof base layer to avoid carrying/shedding/stuffing a jacket.

The right pair of tights can also make a difference.  Just about any pair of leg warmers will keep you warm in the 50-60 degree range.  However, when the temp goes below 40, you won’t want to be caught dead outside in just leg warmers and shorts.  Your legs might be OK, but the area between the tops of the leg warmers and the bottom of your upper body might get a bit chilly.


My personal preference is a pair of tights or knickers with a built-in chamois.  It makes layering up for the daily commute or ride much easier!  However, my secret weapon for sub-30 degree rides and commutes are the SWOBO CAF Tights over my knickers.  Windproof stuff is nice, too but it feels like summer in my pants when I wear the Swobo’s over my knicks.  Buy yourself a pair at


Lastly, the old wives’ tale is true:  most of your body heat escapes through your head, so to keep warm on a cool day a cycling cap under your helmet is a miracle worker.  When it’s really chilly, a nice skull cap over your regular cycling cap will lock in heat, and keep your ears warm.  Try the Assos Robocap or Giordana Thermo Plus Skullcap, or my favorite- the Rapha Winter Hat.


So, how do you put this all together?  First, you follow these rules of thumb:


  • you must acclimate and learn what your body can tolerate.  You can have the best stuff on the planet, but still freeze if you don’t figure out what works for you – it’s different for everyone.  And,


  • if you never ride when it’s cold, you’ll always be cold when you do.  After a week or 2 of riding at 45 or so it’ll start to feel like home.


  • always cover your knees under 60 degrees


  • always check before you leave.


  • You can expect to warm up a bit if it’s sunny, and thus you’ll shed some layers – but…


  • if it’s cloudy then dress to be hot and expect to keep your layers on.


  • Overheating is better than freezing, and


  • don’t forget to hydrate all the same.


  • Oh, and I’ll reiterate this below:  cover your head – especially if you don’t have much hair to insulate your dome.


If you’re the type that needs a checklist, and not a bunch of narrative prose, then here’s an inventory of the general items I’d recommend for serious cool weather and winter cycling.  This should have you covered in just about every scenario, and let you do laundry once a week:


  • 2 short sleeve base layers (Craft is best in class, period)


  • 4 Long Sleeve Base Layers (2 medium weight, 2 heavy – wool,  perhaps; again, CRAFT)


  • 1 Pair Arm Warmers (always black, and I hear The Lance loves the new Giordana Dryarns:


  • 1 Pair Leg Warmers (again, try the Giordana Dryarns)




  • 1 Insulated Jacket with Wind Stop Material (The Assos FuguJack is King, but the Gore Phantom is a much more affordable and lighter option)

  • 1 Pair Wind Stopping Tights (Look no further than these)

  • 1-3 Pair Roubaix Knickers (Giordana Silverline or Rapha)


  • 1 winter hat (the Rapha Winter hat rules the roost) – You can also get away with a regular cycling cap and ipod headphones if it’s above 50.


  • 2 Cycling Caps


  • 1 Pair Heavy Wind Stop Gloves (Capo makes the best I’ve used)


  • 1 Pair Full Fingered Lightweight Gloves. You can wear these over or under other gloves


  • 1 Pair Booties – the Capo wind booties are the best!


–                           Slather it from your ankles all the way up to your lower back. Use it on the backs of your hands to help stave off the initial chill of a winter ride.

–                           DO NOT touch any sensitive areas (eyes, nether regions) during or after application

I sure hope you find this helpful as you venture out on the road or trail this winter.  If you need any help, or have any questions give me a call at 888-276-7130 or drop me a line at





  1. Great document for any cyclist. I used this to build up a winter wardrobe and with a few exceptions (which are part of the “what’s right for you” experimenting, granted) I was set to go on any ride last winter. Without a doubt, the single most important article of winter clothing for me is a thermal vest. A happy winter cyclist must have a few things, and a warm core is chief among them.

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