Many people choose not to ride at all during the winter months, but we believe that there's some great riding to be had between November and February, and getting your kit right so that you're comfortable even in cold, wet weather is the key.
The basic principle is layering. Don't spend a fortune on a padded, windproof, waterproof jacket that you'll only be able to wear 4 times a year. Instead, buy an assortment of garments which when combined can cover a greater range of weather. Look for ways to economise: Many people avoid buying tights and long-sleeved jerseys and instead invest in a good set of thermal leg-warmers and arm-warmers which turn your usual shorts and jerseys into cold weather gear.
Plan to build a little versatility into your riding kit so that you can adapt to changing weather conditions by rolling down arm warmers or donning a windproof gilet.
Here are our top 10 tips on winter clothing
Everyone agrees that the place NOT to economise is shorts. You may be spending a long time on that saddle and it's not known to be the most comfortable place on Earth. To avoid the perils of chafing, bruising and numbness, invest as much as you can in a pair of really well-fitting shorts. Look for a snug fit so the material won't move around as you ride, a good-quality hygienic pad (thicker is not necessarily better), and waist/leg elastics that won't dig in. Bib-shorts can ensure that your waist is not restricted, that your shorts won't fall down, and that you'll never feel chilly around your midriff (but they can be a pain if you need a quick pee when you're layered-up for winter)! The same shorts (washed after each ride of course!) can be worn year-round when teamed with knee- or leg-warmers, or invest in a good pair of winter tights if you have the budget.
Look out for: Flat-locked seams that won't chafe. Good quality pads that don't feel too thick. Fabric that's thick enough to be opaque even when stretched.
Great brands: Castelli, Assos.
2. Wicking base-layer
Even in the heat of summer many riders wear a thin base-layer under their jersey to wick away sweat and give a small amount of protection on cooling descents. In winter, a good base-layer is paramount. The best material to go for is merino wool which will keep you warm and not feel damp even when you're sweating. An added benefit is the natural hygienic property of merino which prevents against odour. Merino is expensive though, so there are synthetic alternatives available. Add a second base-layer in really cold conditions.
Look out for: Adequately long sleeves and body to prevent cold wrists and kidneys when you're on the drops. Zip necks can give you options on warmer days.
Great brands: Craft, Helly Hansen, Icebreaker
Whether you choose a short-sleeved jersey with arm-warmers or a long-sleeved jersey, you're always going to need one layer that has those inimitable jersey pockets. Where else are you going to stash your rain jacket, your spare tube and snacks? You don't have to spend a fortune on a cycling jersey; like most cycling gear it just needs to fit well.
Look out for: Full-length zips are more versatile than half zips, especially if you're wearing bib-shorts.
4. Windproof Layer
Windchill can be a serious consideration in the colder months, especially if you've worked up a sweat on the ascents. A gilet is a really good windproof option which will work from cool summer days to colder climes when teamed with thermal arm-warmers. If you want to economise, use your rainproof shell for windproofing instead of buying an additional garment.
Look out for: A slim fit to avoid flapping material. A zip-guard to prevent the zip from chafing your chin. Brighter colours or reflective strips for dull British winter weather.
5. Rainproof Shell
The British weather is notoriously unpredictable so even when the forecast is good, it's worth stashing a rain jacket in your jersey pocket on longer rides to prevent against the dangerous situation of wind-chill on a wet body. Rainproof jackets are a difficult proposition though: The cheaper ones are less breathable and so can leave you feeling as wet inside as out. Their resistance to a downpour is also less than perfect. However a good quality shell to keep you dry in proper rain is not only pricey, but also unlikely to roll down small enough to fit in your jersey pocket, so you may be stuck baking in it for the whole of an unexpectedly dry ride. The choice is up to you and your budget!
Look out for: The maximum breathability you can afford. Brighter colours or reflective strips for dull British winter weather. Stashability.
Hands are very exposed to the elements and cold hands (and feet) make for miserable riding. You're likely to need a few options to cover you for an entire year; a pair of fingerless gloves for protection and padding during summer can be worn with thin full-finger gloves underneath during autumn and spring. In winter you'll need to invest in something thermal and windproof, and these can be worn with thin liners in ultra-cold conditions (the silk ones used for skiing are particularly good). If you suffer from really cold hands, it may be worth investing in a pair of lobster mitts.
Look out for: Gloves that aren't so thick that they restrict your ability to feel your brakes or gear levers. Breathability.
7. Shoe covers
Like fingers, toes need to be protected from the cold and wet in winter. Most cycling shoes provide little protection from the weather, and shoes for clipless pedals will usually be exposed to water ingress from below. A pair of merino socks (or two) go some way to keeping the chill from your feet, but the best preventative is a good pair of winter shoe covers. These can be neoprene or Goretex (or similar) and slip over your shoes like a large pair of socks, providing weather protection and an insulating layer.
Look out for: A good tight fit, good-quality closures (cheap zips break), hardwearing fabric on the bottom to prevent them wearing through too quickly.
8. Arm-, knee- and leg-warmers
Arm-, knee- and leg-warmers are some of the most invaluable garments in a cyclist's wardrobe. They are a cheap and easy way to keep using standard cycling shorts and jerseys well into the winter seasons. They can range from a single lycra layer to windproof, waterproof and thermal options, and can be removed and shoved into a jersey pocket or (in the case of arm-warmers) rolled down if the weather becomes warmer.
Look out for: Good grips to prevent them falling down. Elastic that won't dig in.
Everyone should wear a cycling helmet year round, but in winter months it's worth adding a thin thermal layer underneath to keep off the chill. From built-for-purpose liners, thin thermal beanies or simply a buff worn as a hat (though you might need another for your neck), some kind of layer is vital for keeping off the chill on those cold winter mornings.
Great brands: Buff
While not strictly clothing, mudguards have such an impact on winter comfort they earn a mention here. Clip-on mudguards can be attached to your bike in a couple of minutes and are stable enough to stay in place over the bumpiest of Surrey winter roads, keeping your backside and shins relatively dry and mud-free (the café will thank you!). Of course if you want to keep your face free of grit and spray, you'll either have to ride permanently on the front of the group or persuade all your riding mates to buy mudguards too!
Look out for: Long profile mudguards - short ones aren't worth the money. And don't fall for the ones that claim to clean your rims as they'll just squeak.
Great brands: SKS