It is true, as the saying goes, that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes – though that will provide little comfort in the freezing cold of a Monday morning as you struggle to thaw your hands to open your D-lock.
With a little planning, you can stay snug and safe riding through even the worst Arctic blast. The trick with winter cycling is to make sure you’re wearing enough to stop you scurrying back inside the moment you hit the cold, but not so much you’re perspiring by the end of the street.
The key concepts are layering – both to trap warm air close to your body and to enable you to enthusiastically rip clothes off when you stop at traffic lights – and breathability. And, if you’re going to be cycling in the dark or the fog (which is hard to avoid if you’re commuting at this time of year) the kind of antisocially neon visibility that will stop traffic. Don’t forget to light up, either – check out our list of the best bike lights.
It’s worth investing in good winter gear – you’ll pay it off quickly commuting by bike – but one of the best things you can do right now is free, or at least no more than 5p: Stick a plastic bag over your saddle at night. Take it from one who knows, the only thing worse than a wet saddle is a wet saddle that’s frozen overnight.
1. Rab Continuum Jacket: £220, Rab
There are some mornings when the only way to coax yourself out of the house and onto the bike is by wearing what is, effectively, a duvet. While Rab’s Continuum down jacket is so well-insulated it’s like being ensconced in a little cloud of warmth, it’s also amazingly breathable and feather-light at 240g. Well-thought out features like elasticated cuffs and an insulated internal baffle mean you stay blissfully warm: pair with a good baselayer for the coldest days. Men’s and hooded versions also available.
2. Merino Wool Buff: From £22, Cotswold Outdoor
These versatile fabric tubes can be worn as a balaclava under your helmet or around the neck like a scarf and are tight enough not to obscure your view over your shoulder. Buffs come in a variety of styles but choose one made from Merino wool for maximum warmth and breathability while riding.
3. Schwalbe Marathon GT 365 Tyres: From £35.99, Chain Reaction
Schwalbe is the granddaddy of puncture-resistant tyres and its 2017 Marathon 365s are perfect for wintery conditions, with a lamella tread, grooves, studs and a super-grippy compound that’s been tested to perform in sub-zero temperatures. Famously you can ride over drawing pins on Schwalbe Marathons without getting a puncture – which is good news for anyone who’s ever tried to operate tyre levers with frozen fingers. For seriously harsh conditions, like snow and ice, go for the Marathon Winter. Covered with spikes, they should only be used when there’s ice on the ground, and need a 40km break in on tarmac.
4. Sealskinz Waterproof Socks: £39, Sealskinz
Unwittingly plunging your feet into an ice cold puddle might be annoying, but the subsequent ride as your toes freeze into place is what really grates. Waterproof wizards Sealskinz’s socks are incredibly warm and breathable. Yes, it’s a lot to pay for a pair of socks, but this is a good option if you need to cycle in work shoes and can save you in the summer if you’re not allergic to a trendy socks/sandals combo. A slightly thinner, road version is also available.
5. Endura MT500 MTB Overshoes: £25.64, Evans
Offering an extra layer of warmth and dryness, overshoes slip on over your normal shoes to form a rain and dirt-proof protective shield. The toe provides extra grip – good for staying on the pedals in slippery conditions – and the Kevlar (used to make bullet-proof vests)-enforced sole has a hole for cleats. While these ones only fit mountain bike cleats, a road bike version is also available. They don’t survive an absolute deluge, but are a light, snug option for short rides or drizzle.
6. Rapha Winter Gloves: £85, Rapha
As anyone whose hands have frozen, claw-like, to their handlebars will attest, good gloves are essential for winter cycling. Rapha’s winter gloves are water resistant and cosy, with a sleek, snug cut that doesn’t catch on your jacket while you’re riding. Touchscreen compatible, foam-padded and wind resistant, these gloves are highly technical, and because they are from Rapha, they’re stylish to boot.
7. Altura women’s night vision waterproof overtrousers: £41.99, Wiggle
Whether you’re low to the ground on a road bike or upright on a shopper, it’s amazing how quickly trousers can get rain-soaked and chill you to the bone. Yorkshire-based Altura’s waterproof overtrousers, paired with a breathable baselayer, will keep you warm and dry, and they’re cut well enough not to feel tight around the knees when you’ve layered up. They’re also covered in reflective flashes – great for nighttime riding in heavy rain.
8. Icebreaker Vertex Long Sleeve Baselayer: £84.41, Wiggle
Layering is key to comfortable winter riding, and Merino wool – a soft wool with seemingly magical properties – has long been the baselayer fabric of choice for skiiers and snowboarders. Warm without being itchy or uncomfortable, this jumper has got plenty of cycle-friendly features: a deep half zip for ventilation when you’ve worked up a sweat, a dropped tail hem if you ride low, and thumb loops for extra snugness. It’s also odour resistant, which means you can get a good week’s worth of commuting out of it before it needs a wash.
9. Gore Bike Wear Element Lady Active Jacket: £149.99, Gore
Those winter days when it’s not freezing cold and crystal clear, it’s liable to be slightly cold and threatening rain. Gore-tex is the go-to for waterproofing: this nifty cycling jacket will keep you dry even in a serious downpour and the zip-port means you can safely stow your phone in your pocket while you ride. It’s also very breathable – a godsend, because a sweaty ride in cheap waterproofs can leave you soggier than if you’d ridden through the rain. Go for the hi-vis option for dark nights and foggy mornings. Men’s and separate hood available.
10. Patagonia women’s Merino leggings: £100, Patagonia
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your padded shorts. Pair them with these leggings – trusty Merino wool again – which are blended with recycled polyester for breathability and warmth. All this means that as well as being sustainable, they’re seamless, soft and stretchy enough to avoid any awkward chafing. Price-wise they are at the higher end for a base layer, but that shows in the impressive warmth-to-weight ratio: full-on cosiness for a shade over 100g. Men’s available.
The Verdict: Winter cycling gear
The first time you put it on, Rab’s Continuum Jacket feels futuristic. Nothing this light should be this warm. Its little square down pockets fluff up quickly to keep you toasty, but – paired with the right base layer – never make you sweat. There have been sub-zero mornings when this jacket has been the only reason I’ve been able to face climbing into the saddle. If it’s safety rather than comfort you want to invest in, a set of Schwalbe tyres will set you up for winter and beyond.
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