Posted by Richard Sault on 16th Mar 2016
As the cooler months approach, it is important to consider adaptable clothing accessories that will keep you warm but are also easily removed due to the interchangeability of the weather; you could start a ride in the morning to glorious sunshine only to have the rain and wind by the afternoon – being prepared is key.
The cooler weather means that is important you have different accessories to wear over your summer clothing that will protect you from the wind and rain when needed.
A vest is perhaps one of the most important items of clothing for riders adapting to the weather and best used as a windproof layer on those blustery days.
They go over your jersey and work well in mild but changeable conditions, effectively keeping the wind and occasional rain shower out while leaving your arms exposed to help keep your overall temperature down. They are not necessarily a solution for long, wet rides however they are perfectly placed for short showers.
Vests are lightweight and compact meaning that they can easily be packed away in a Jersey pocket or backpack. They are typically made from windproof / shower proof fabric (with ventilation on the back).
These are an essential clothing accessory for the cooler months when it’s too warm to wear a long sleeved jersey but you still need something to take the chill off your arms. They can easily be rolled down and removed mid ride when you’re too warm.
The best arm warmers have an anatomic cut to reflect the shape of your arm and articulate at the elbow. One thing to look for is an elasticated top to ensure they’re snug and don’t fall down.
Arm warmers are typically made from either merino wool or Roubaix fabric. Roubaix is a close fitting, thermal stretch fabric, with a soft brushed lining – it is extremely warm, and its high wicking properties help to maintain a comfortable microclimate close to the body.
As with arm warmers, these are an essential part of your winter clothing ensemble. You can either have a knee warmer or a full leg warmer. These are not as easy to remove mid ride as arm warmers but effectively do the same job.
The best knee and leg warmers are shaped to your leg and bend at the knee, thus increasing comfort and making for a much better fit. Reflective tabs for visibility are also an added bonus.
Leg warmers are typically made from either merino wool or Roubaix fabric.
The small air vents on your riding shoes that are extremely welcome in the warm summer months can become problematic as the cold and rain sets in. For insulation in really cold weather, you want to keep the soles of your shoes covered as a lot of heat can escape there.
Waterproof overshoes are worn over cycling shoes in order to keep your feet warm and dry. A good pair of overshoes can help protect your feet from the bitter winter chill and the wet – they should be snug and are secured by zips or Velcro. Reflective strips can help with visibility in low light and at night.
Overshoes are typically made from neoprene, nylon and polyurethane. Neoprene is a popular material for waterproof overshoes, and has the advantage that, when water does finally breach them, your feet don’t freeze.
Modern helmets are incredibly well ventilated, this is perfect to keep you cool in the summer but does mean that your head is exposed to the elements in the winter months. A traditional cycling cap is easily slipped under a helmet and will provide a surprising level of insulation on the nippy days. A peaked cap will help keep the rain and low sun out of your eyes. They are lightweight and therefore are easily stowed in a jersey pocket when not in use.
The cycling cap is usually made from cotton or a lightweight wool. There are specific winter cycling hats available that are designed to keep both your head and ears warm.
Waterproof jackets (or hard shells as they are also known) are the final protective layer; the most important aspects are that they are waterproof, breathable, lightweight and packable (fitting easily in your jersey back pocket). Most can be divided into the following categories, depending on the materials they are made of:
Coated Fabrics: the fabric used for water resistant jackets is treated with a Durable Water Repellency coating, or a similar water repellent coating. A water repellent coating will allow water to bead up on the surface of the fabric and run off. This is also a great way to test that the water repellent coating hasn’t worn off. The biggest advantage of water resistant jackets is price, they tend to be cheaper than fully waterproof styles. However, they won’t usually be breathable and are often less durable needing reproofing more regularly than a waterproof jacket.
Waterproof Membrane: this is a thin layer that has lots of microscopic pores which are big enough to allow sweat to escape but small enough to stop water getting in.
The membrane is also what makes a jacket breathable.
The most common material for a lightweight jacket is nylon; heavier jackets tend to be made from hydrophobic materials that draw moisture away from the body and through the fabric.
A good quality cycling jacket is breathable and can be waterproof, windproof or both and, unlike synthetic materials such as nylon, quality materials stop the rain getting in and let the perspiration out. You’ll also want to look out for taped seams, often a weak point in cheaper jackets, that can let water in.
Glasses should be used all year round to protect your eyes from the onslaught of debris and insects, however, they are also a must in the winter months to protect from the low sun or low light. The glasses need to be comfortable but versatility is also important – there are a wide range of lenses to choose from, such as:
Interchangeable Coloured Lenses – allow you to choose the best lens for the specific ride. Yellow / orange lenses are better for low light as they filter out more of the blue wavelengths of light, allowing you to see contrast better. This tint guarantees cyclists better vision with less light; in other words, in darker light conditions with less sunshine.
Prescription Lenses – allows those of us with not so perfect vision to protect our eyes while riding with the added bonus of being able to see!
Photochromic Lenses – give a clear view indoors, and darken automatically when exposed to sunlight.
Polycarbonate Lenses – have impact resistance and extraordinary lightness: polycarbonate lenses also have a low refraction index and are solvent and scratch resistant.
Water Repellent Lenses – ensure perfect visibility even when it’s raining or the lenses are wet – drops of water simply slide off, leaving the surface dry and free from water prisms.
Off-center Lenses – the axis of the focal centre is aligned with the focal centre of the eye so your eyes don’t get tired and the curvature, which provides essential protection from sunlight and insects, won’t cause any image distortion.
Hydrophobic Coating – repel dust and help to maintain a smudge resistant barrier against skin oils, lotions and fingerprints while preventing water from leaving streaks and sheens.
Good gloves are a winter essential; they should protect from the cold and wet whilst retaining the warmth within. They generally fall into three categories, lightweight (ideal for dry and milder winter days), windproof (provides protection against winter temperatures and are ideal for cold and dry days – they will also have an element of water proofing so can be used for riding in light rain) and waterproof (essential in prolonged heavy rain to keep your hands both dry and warm).
Thicker gloves will keep you warmer however the compromise is the lack of feeling on the handlebars. Sometimes thicker, more insulated gloves are needed – you just need to watch they don’t get too warm and sweat. A good grip on the palm and fingertips of the glove will allow for plenty of control over the brakes.
Cycling gloves are made from the usual range of wind- and waterproof fabric such as hydrophobic or nylon. They often have reinforced areas of heavier-duty fabric at key points – between thumb and forefinger, on the palm, at the fingertips. On the inside of the glove you will find some form of synthetic insulating fabric or natural materials such as Merino wool and silk. In wet weather, neoprene is good.