Winter Cycling Clothes: What To Wear, and How To Choose The Right Gear for Biking in Winter

Winter cycling doesn't have to be miserable - it's just a matter of choosing the right winter cycling gear to keep warm, says ultra-endurance cyclist Robbie Ferri

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Many of us have the best intentions of committing to riding our bikes year-round – but when the winter cold sets in, it’s easy to lose the motivation to get out and ride.

In my hard-earned experience, the key to success in conquering cold weather rides is the right winter cycling clothes.

As a competitive ultra-endurance cyclist who lives in the UK and trains all year round, I am not shy of a cold winter ride, and have even grown to enjoy them over the years. Winter rides are vital for maintaining cycling fitness in the off-season, and really toughen you up as a cyclist.

To make winter cycling bearable – or even enjoyable – your winter cycling clothes not only have to be warm and comfortable, but it also has to be functional in many ways. This is true regardless of whether you’re on a road bike or mountain bike, or you’re commuting or riding for fun or fitness.

In this guide, I’ll not only run you through the different items of clothing that are essential for keeping you warm for cold weather cycling, but also the key features to look for when choosing which designs to buy. I’ll be covering:

A photo of me in my winter cycling clothes, pausing at the side of the road.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Understanding What Keeps You Warm Biking In The Winter

It’s not simply about having the thickest gloves and the most expensive bib tights when it comes to keeping warm while biking in the winter.

Gear for biking in the winter is about layering up, keeping dry, stopping the wind chill from getting to your skin, and ensuring the core and head stay warm.

This is why you will notice that experienced winter cyclists have many different layers they add together to hold the heat in, instead of just having a very thick jacket and gloves. It’s also to ensure that while riding, you have the option of removing layers too if necessary.

You will also notice a lot of these layers sit on the core. Keeping the core nice and hot will make the rest of the body feel warm. If your core gets cold, you will soon find everything else becoming a problem too!

A cyclist on a cycle path riding in high vis winter gear.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

What To Wear Cycling in Winter: 10 Essential Items

These are the 10 items that I think should be in the wardrobe of every cyclist intending to train throughout winter, based on what I’ve found has worked best for me down the years.

You won’t necessarily use all of them on every ride depending on the weather, and you might also want to opt for different designs (e.g. with more or less insulation) depending on how severe winters are in your climate.

For reference, the photos included here are all of my personal winter cycling clothes, which I most often use for winter here in the east of England where winter rides typically take place in temperatures of between -2 and 5 °C (28-41 °F).

Much of this winter cycling gear is unisex, but you may find that gender-specific items of cycling clothing offer a better fit.

1. Cycling Base Layers

A sleeveless base layer.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

The first place to start is with your cycling base layers.

In the coldest conditions, I like to wear a long sleeve upper base layer and thermal tights. In milder conditions, above 5 °C (41 °F) or so, I’d wear a sleeveless vest.

Thermal base layers for cycling are very important for layering and, although they might seem thin (and therefore unimportant), they’re vital.

When it comes to base layers, there are some very cheap options and very expensive options. I recommend opting for good-quality base layers made of Merino wool and avoiding those shiny, stretchy, cheaper options.

2. Thick Winter Cycling Socks

Thermal winter socks.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

For many, getting cold feet is a big problem when cycling in winter. (No, I don’t mean that as a pun).

With the feet further away from the core, they easily get cold. The best route to go down is thick cycling socks, or if you don’t have any thick socks, then wearing two pairs can work as well. 

It’s important to ensure they are not just thick socks but proper winter socks. An easy way to tell you are getting a pair that will work is by the material inside. It should be fleece-lined, and feel nice and warm. It shouldn’t feel the same as the outside. 

3. Winter Cycling Bib Tights

A set on winter cycling bibs.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Next, we have bib tights. These are cycling-specific garments with a chamois fitted in the crotch to reduce chafing and saddle sores, just like regular cycling shorts.

Unlike regular cycling bib shorts, however, bib tights go all the way to your ankles.

They are typically made of a thicker material, and many will also cover a lot of your torso as well. Some riders just wear regular cycling shorts paired with leg warmers, but in deep winter, they often are not enough.

Cycling bib tights are equally appropriate as either men’s or women’s winter cycling clothes.

Over many years of trying different brands of cycling kits, I have learned that when it comes to bib tights and shorts, you get what you pay for. Investing in a decent brand will pay off in so many ways, such as fit, longevity, style, and comfort. 

4. Winter Cycling Jersey

A winter cycling jersey.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

A winter cycling jersey will typically be long-sleeved and made of thick material, and some have a larger collar. You’ll know it’s a proper winter jersey because it will be thicker, and some even have reflective interior linings to hold the body heat in while you ride. 

If you don’t want to go down the route of a long-sleeved jersey, you might want to add a set of arm warmers to your base layer and a normal summer jersey. This setup can help when you get warmer later in the ride and you need to remove layers.

5. Cycling Gilet

A cycling gilet in high vis and reflective material.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

A cycling gilet is a small sleeveless windproof that you wear over your jersey. They are great for not only helping you stay dry but also being an extra layer on the core to keep you warm.

I own a few gilets, and my go-to winter gilet (above) is thick, bright, and very reflective. I often wear it under or over my windproof jacket, depending on the road or when I’m riding.

I love the fact it makes me so visible to other road users on those dark and dreary overcast winter days. 

6. Windproof and Waterproof Jacket

A high vis cycling jacket.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

You will also want a windproof and waterproof jacket. This will typically be used in the rain, or when it’s cold as another layer. This is the fourth layer on your core and will keep you surprisingly warm with everything underneath.

The best windproof jackets should also give some good protection from the rain. They are made of high-tech breathable materials such as Gore-Tex. If you can find a very packable windproof jacket, that’s a great bonus. 

7. Overshoes

Winter cycling overshoes.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Overshoes, also known as shoe covers, will be worn over your cycling shoes.

They are designed to stop ventilation and add a waterproof layer to your feet. These are often made from stretchy rubber or neoprene material, sometimes with a lining of wool inside. Dry-weather versions may be entirely woolen.

It’s really important to get the correct size overshoes. Too small and they can often break when you put them on, but too large and they just don’t fit properly. I highly recommend wool versions in the dry and rubber in the wet.

Overshoes can be paired with gaiters, but this is often unnecessary as many overshoes stretch up above the ankle themselves.

8. Gloves

High vis winter cycling gloves.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Cycling gloves are so important when it comes to not just keeping your hands warm but helping them function. Numb hands don’t work so well on gears and brakes, unfortunately. Having a thick pair of waterproof gloves goes a long way in winter.

If you are looking for winter gloves, the key to getting the perfect set is to find a glove that is well-padded but also offers mobility so you can change gear and operate the brakes easily.

Going to a shop and trying some on instead of ordering online can make it much easier for sizing and feel. Mobile phone-compatible fingertips can be a great advantage, but are not essential (and less common for winter cycling gloves than regular cycling gloves).

9. Cycling Cap

A cycling cap used for winter cycling.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

As mentioned earlier, keeping your head insulated is vital to staying warm and comfortable. Helmets are designed to ventilate and keep you cool, but in winter, we don’t want this, so we use the cap to stop wind from getting through.

The cycling cap doesn’t have to be winter-specific. I use a summer cap to take the edge off the wind, but many riders choose a proper winter skull cap, which helps insulate the head. Much of it comes down to how cold it is and what you find comfortable.

Some helmet brands also offer detachable winter linings instead if you’d prefer.

10. Neck Warmer or Balaclava

Finally, we have the neck warmer. This keeps the neck warm and stops the cold air from getting into the jersey. It can also cover your mouth on those cold mornings when you just need some warmer air and a bit less chill off the face.

Again, like the cycling cap, this doesn’t need to be a full-on winter neck warmer. I like to use a Buff or something similar, which when I do get a little warm, I can remove and put in my pocket, as they are not always very comfortable.

In extreme cold, a balaclava is a great option to keep your face and head protected from the elements.

A cyclist riding in winter cycling gear.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

3 Pro Hacks To Keep Warm While Biking in Winter

Now you know what you need to wear, what about some great hacks in case it’s really cold biking in the winter?

Alongside what to wear cycling in winter, here are some of the top tips I’ve picked up from other experienced cyclists over the years!

1. Put Tin Foil In Your Shoes

We have the perfect solution if you are struggling with very cold feet.

Putting a piece of tin foil (AKA aluminum foil) over each sock before putting your shoe on stops the wind chill and keeps all the heat in. The difference it makes is huge when biking in the winter.

2. Double Up Your Gloves

If you have proper winter gloves, you might find that after a while, if the day gets warmer, they can get uncomfortable and sweaty.

I carry a lighter pair of gloves for long winter days to ensure I have something a little cooler to switch to if necessary, without having to have bare hands.

I might even wear both when it is very cold!

3. Try To Stop Infrequently

When biking in the winter, you need to get the body working so it can fill the clothing you’re wearing with heat.

Stopping for too many coffees or just on the side of the road for a break lets the cold in. It’s much better to avoid any downtime as much as you can. Keep the blood pumping, complete the ride efficiently, then get home to warm up if you need to!

A cycling checking his bike in winter cycling gear.

Staying Safe: Winter Cycling Clothes Choices Matter

Although dark colors might look more fashionable, I’d suggest you avoid them in winter. There are so many more challenges for other road users to see you.

Darker days, misty windscreens, poorer weather, and fewer other cyclists keeping the drivers aware do put you at greater risk. 

When biking in the winter, I highly recommend always having lights on, wearing bright colors, having some reflective elements on your clothing, and picking good routes away from busy roads.

Safety when biking in the winter should always be a number one priority, and the correct gear for biking in winter matters.

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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