Layering Tricks for Cold-Weather Cycling

The biggest mistake that cyclists make when dressing for a cold-weather ride is going straight for a jacket when proper layering may be a better solution. There are times when a jacket is the ticket, but if the temperature is above freezing, and you're not going downhill fast, layering is usually the better choice.

Layering means wearing enough clothes to do two things: wick moisture away from your body and block the wind.

The reason you want to wick moisture is simple: water conducts heat, or rather pulls heat away from your body more quickly than if you were dry. So the wetter you are, the more quickly you can become chilled. Wind is similar in that moving air also conducts heat away from the body.

So, why can't you wear wicking clothing under your jacket and that way you have the best of both worlds? Well, unless you are going about 2 mph on your bike, most people sweat too much during exercise for a jacket, even one made of a waterproof/breathable fabric, to release all the water/water vapor their bodies produce. With proper layering you can create a significant wind barrier and still allow your wicking layers to do their job.

My Tricks for Layering

  1. Use a good wicking base layer against my skin. 
  2. Over the top of that I pull on one of my normal short sleeve jerseys
  3. Add arm warmers.
  4. On top of that I put on a long sleeve, fleece-lined, jersey.  If you buy this jersey one size larger than your normal short sleeve jersey size it should fit just about right.

One nice thing about this setup is that you have two sets of rear pockets, which increases the amount of food, gloves and other cold-weather supplies you can carry. 

Layering is especially handy if you start your ride early in the morning and anticipate having to shed a few clothes as the weather warms. By the way, you don't need a big bike bag to hold that long sleeve jersey. If you have to peel it off, just fold it up into a medium-sized square and stuff it under your short sleeve jersey on the back side: That's what the pros do and it works like a charm.

So, when dressing for cold-weather riding resist the temptation to reach for your jacket and consider layering instead.

Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.

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