WINTER WONDERLAND TWO: DESTINATION SPRING
Michael Stenning's advice on how the best dressed cyclist might look this winter
Riding through winter needn’t mean being a slave to the indoor trainer, although I’m the first to admit there’s something strangely rewarding about spinning along to a favourite playlist in the dry, watching rain and snow roll off the garage door. With the right kit and some imagination, the darker months can be practical and fun.
Head, face & neck
As temperatures tumble, some form of headwear is imperative. The classic 3 panel racing cap will retain some warmth; a decent peak will shield eyes from strong sun and offers some defence from wind and dust. Though an indulgence, I’m very fond of those from the Gary Rothera https://rotheracycling.com/collections/caps range.
Alternatively, waterproof thermal hats such as this Seal Skinz can be really welcome when its bitterly cold but the membranes don’t breathe particularly efficiently, leading to a sweaty scalp especially after 90minutes, or should the temperature rise. The Buff is another, arguably iconic do-all that can be worn around the neck, face and of course, beneath a helmet. Buff also offer an adaptable cap.
Merino breathes and smells better but need a bit more care than their polyester counterparts and I personally, find the thermal versions a bit too toasty … Gore Tex helmet covers are another great idea for regular wet-weather riding, although check your intended purchase is a snug fit with your lids. More recent kids on this block are smaller businesses, such as Raval (review to follow).
My preference is for glasses with interchangeable (smoke, clear and amber) lenses, which cater for all conditions. Cheap but cheerful sets can be had for as little as £10, or less https://www.edinburghbicycle.com/revolution-blades-sunglasses-set-smoke-citrus-clear-lens.html
Amber is primarily to improve vision in low light but studies suggest they can also boost mood on dull days - a definite plus, even if we wouldn’t consider ourselves seasonally affected in the medical sense.
Improved materials and UV protection tend to come with each price increment but never overlook fit. I’ve had budget pairs that have caressed my nose and ears faultlessly on day rides/weekend tours, whereas some £100 plus designs haven’t so try a few before making financial commitment. Prescription wearers are increasingly well served but obviously, these command something of a premium.
While availability of wallet-friendly children’s versions has improved quite considerably in recent years, machinist goggles can be bought for the proverbial song and arguably a better bet for younger protégé’s, especially those on tandems/tagalongs where wind-blast and flying particles can ruin an otherwise pleasant outing.
Base Layers £10 upward
Long sleeve models are the obvious choice but many find short-sleeve designs such as the merino wool Smartwool NTS150 fine with heavier weight mid layers. Prices for wool have become increasingly competitive, closer to that of polyamide and more sophisticated polyesters, such as Altura's Thermocool. Whatever your preference, generally speaking look for a snug fit, flat locked seams to avoid unsightly branding and gender specific cut.
I will often extend a summer jersey by wearing a long sleeve base layer beneath. Even though you may welcome some additional warmth, ideally look for designs with a ¾ or full length zipper, so you can easily tweak climate control.
Some riders with broader shoulders find a one piece “raglan” cut offers optimal movement over longer distances. Three fairly deep pockets are useful for stuffing water bottles, additional snacks and other essentials. A fourth, zippered stash point, for segregating “valuables” from sticky energy bar wrappers is also increasingly popular.
“Racing snakes” second skin fits don’t flatter everyone. From an aesthetic point of view, looser cuts are a better match with mountain bike/technical longs. However, Altura NV2 Thermo jersey has performed very well.
Jersey cum jacket hybrids, such as this Btwin 300 warm cycling jacket www.decathlon.co.uk work well in cold, dry conditions and will usually shrug at a light shower. Remember to pack a waterproof, breathable micro-shell jacket in one of those generous pockets.
More basic polyester weaves start around £20 and can feel decidedly man-made but still comfortable enough for rides around the two hour mark. Regardless of budget or materials, ensure it’s long enough in the back and arms to prevent gathering and chill being blown inside.
Season Specific Systems
More sophisticated jerseys cum jackets offer specific seasonal systems, aiming to avoid too many layers. Amongst these, at the upper end of the market, is Stolen Goat's Deep Winter Grid Jacket. We've found it ideal in combination with their Climb & Conquer Bib Tights.
Jackets £35 upward
The humble race or “Condom Jacket” still has its place, not to mention fans, as do contingencies but are not what’s required of an everyday staple. Basic polyester designs sometimes have a curious, rubbery texture but fold remarkably small, offering decent protection from the elements when required.
However, Altura’s long-running Night Vision (Also available in red or black) sports superior refinements (fleece lined collars, breast and poacher’s pockets, drop tail) not to mention pit zips for climate control/weather resistance. www.zyro.co.uk With basic care (washing with proofing agents and drip drying) last several years, recouping their modest investment many times over. More sophisticated 2 layer laminates such as Polaris Hexon Jacket wick more efficiently and are a better choice for longer distance training.
Commuters seeking a more civilian look; or a jacket that can turn its hand to general outdoor duties are well catered for at various price points.
At £ 59.99, Altura’s Nevis iii is a nice budget option www.zyro.co.uk In common with the racier night vision, features include nelson pocket, fleece-lined collar and multiple pockets. Perfect for stashing stuff or just parking hands when mooching about.
Those needing to arrive at the office, restaurant or bar looking sharp are increasingly well catered for. I really like Foffa’s Men’s Harrington Jacket , which looks great, with trousers, or smarter messenger longs, on or off the bike.
Gore-Tex was once the holy-grail and remains justly popular at the top end, although other fabrics have challenged its hegemony, providing almost seamless wicking. This breed needs to remain (generally) clean - blocked pores restricts their technical prowess. Surprisingly, periodic tumble drying actually reinvigorates the fibres.
Legwear £10 upwards
This will depend on your style of riding and destination. Being a MAMIL I am usually spotted riding in Lycra bib longs/three quarter lengths, depending on just how chilly it is. Designs with elasticated waists are fine, though bibs improve protection to the kidneys and lower back. Roadside bladder stops were traditionally undignified. However, models including Altura Podium Elite Thermo Bib Tights have ample stretch engineered into the braces and crotch, making things that bit easier, as do Stolen Goat's Climb & Conquer Winter version.
Mountain biking’s less conservative flavour has given rise to a wealth of technically advanced, looser cut trousers boasting copious pockets and tapered legs, which can be drawn tight for riding and relaxed when mooching around. Expect to pay £40 and pop shorts/inserts beneath. While these are bang-on for smart casual scenarios, they might not foil the anti-bike contingent.
¾ lengths are a really versatile choice, plugging the gap between shorts and tights during autumn, winter and spring. I’ve been particularly impressed by the Primal Dawn Men Bib Knickers.
Shorter scoots, maybe a couple of miles are reasonable in civvies but even mudguards can’t eliminate all spray/spatter, so invest in a set of waterproof over trousers to keep smart trews and image intact. Look for designs that can be pulled on over footwear and pack down small when not required.
The brain shuts blood supply to these regions first once cold really strikes and keeping these temperate can mean the difference between enjoying and enduring a near freezing cross town commute or longer outing with the chain gang.
Each design has their advantages and limitations-sometimes this is down to materials, others construction methods and individual preference.
Price is a good indicator, although the purchase power of some superstores means budget models are better value than ever. We’ve been particularly impressed with Btwin 700 Cold Weather Glove. Phew Early Winter and the Phew Lobster are also decent pairings; although admittedly, their lack of tech compatible finger tips and reflective detailing could well prove deal-breakers.
Neoprene retains water and uses this to insulate the wearer against chill, which is really helpful when battling biblical rains in temperatures below 6 degrees. However, their soggy feel doesn’t suit everyone.
Similarly, some versions with TPU linings capable of resisting full-blown (to the cuff line) immersion sound ideal but breathability can be decidedly pedestrian. Cheaper models also tend to have linings, which aren’t tethered to the finger tips. This means they often pull inside-out and pushing them back in is a pain. Aftermarket liner gloves are another neat touch for additional warmth, when it’s bitterly cold. They are also useful during changeable spring rides when it’s too warm for winter duvet types but chill still lingers.
Gender specific cuts aren’t simply gimmick. Many women find men’s gloves too long in the fingers and broad around the cuffs. Gear changing/braking and indeed pocket rummaging dexterity suffers; Mother Nature can easily find her way inside.
Old school leather palms have been superseded by low maintenance faux/Amara with silicone detailing for optimal purchase/control. Some are better suited to contemporary road STI/ergo systems than others, which is another consideration for those who flit between flat and drop bars. Most of us use some sort of touch screen tech these days too. Most manufacturers are on board but don’t take this for granted.
Blobby palms designed to protect the ulnar nerve aren’t an exact science and can induce, rather than alleviate discomfort. Ridges can also put/accentuate pressure on the ulnar region, so check inside for flat seams. Thicker padding insulates against vibration, though this may necessitate their removal when doing fiddly tasks. Not what you want when you’ve flatted 10 miles from home and it’s minus 5!
Other features to look for include machine-washable, terry panel for dignified runny nose wipes, reflective detailing which accentuates hand signals (especially since manufacturers have realised day-glow yellow doesn’t necessarily float everyone’s boat).
Retro-reflective models such as the Chiba Pro Safety Reflector Gloves and Pro-Viz 360 are excellent options, with wider horizons than commuting. Grey by day, brilliant silvery white when graced by street and vehicle lighting.
More money buys greater refinement and better materials. Nonetheless, I’d suggest making a shortlist and physically trying a few before committing cash.
articular favourites of mine include Seal Skinz performance leather cycling gloves (£45) or for more budget conscious/loss prone general riding Pro-Viz winter.
£30ish buys a laminated exterior with medium density padding. Mid layer fleece lining avoids direct skin contact and prevents hands getting sweaty in temperatures ranging between 3 and 12 degrees.
These Optimum niterbrite waterproof winter gloves (above) http://www.optimumsport.com/ are another soft shell design with phenomenal bang-for buck (£17.99) and impervious in the fully submerged sense.
Gore-Tex over mitts are another useful addition for riders who favour something wind/chill blocking but want the option of remaining fully dry when it’s raining dogs. That said; in common with other “lobster mitt” designs, they’re not the most convenient choice with drop bar Sti/ bar cons.
Aside from warmth and comfort, closures should not be overlooked. To some extent, this is down to riding style and personal taste. I love the boa system pictured on the Lake Booties below. The boa is a dial type thumbwheel that adjusts a metallic chord for optimal fit and easy removal-wearing gloves and even mid ride. Ratchet and buckle closures offer more security, especially on a fixed when you might be exerting a lot of force, especially uphill.
At the other extreme, Velcro systems might seem a little low rent but are easily adjusted, don’t impair blood flow like laces can. Some say they’re also better suited to riders with collapsed arches.
One school of thought says carbon fibre soles, like full carbon bikes should be spared winter’s wrath. I’m inclined towards less exotic blends, which are still pretty stiff. Though a little dog eared in places after three years and 30,000 miles; these Shimano RT82 feature a full rubberised outer sole for improved grip on slippery surfaces. Lacking the outright efficiency of carbon/composites, I’ve felt a lot safer in icy weather.
That said, overshoes are a good precaution since the salt monster can taint them pretty quickly. Booties are still relatively expensive (£150 upwards) but ensure feet stay seriously comfy in bitter cold.
For the most part, standard cool-max weaves and run of the mill road/trail shoes are pretty much fine through to mid-November whereupon overshoes start becoming a regular sight. Cold, wet feet are a needless morale sapper, leading to illness and related misery. Winter specific road/mtb booties such as these Lake are perfect for when the temperatures dip to single and minus figures http://todayscyclist.co.uk/lake-mxz30-mens-winter-mtb-shoes-black.html
Longer socks, such as Smartwool's PHD offer greater defence against cold but when it turns really wet and temperatures tumble, my preference leans toward those with waterproof membranes. These allow feet to breathe, while keeping them dry-to the cuff-lines. Mid-lightweight weaves shouldn’t present any compatibility woes with sportier audax/mtb slippers, trainer type commu-tour or indeed street shoes for those hustling to the office. Whatever your choice, ensure they don’t compromise the snug fit of your cycling shoes.
Overshoes offer feet and expensive footwear excellent protection from winter’s slimy, corrosive cocktail. More sophisticated waterproof types such as these Seal Skinz Lightweight Overshoes cost around £30 www.sealskinz.com . However, basic polyester types can be bought for as little as £10. Neoprene models are warm but don’t breathe and absorb moisture. This warm, wet sensation isn’t for everyone.
Zippers are a weak-spot on cheaper models and look for beefy tags, since this makes getting them on/off a lot easier. Albeit a fashion faux pas, in emergencies, rolling plastic bags (with holes cut to accommodate cleats where appropriate) over shoes will work.
Visually check shoe-cleats too, ensuring mounting screws are installed with a healthy slathering of stiff grease. Inspect regularly for visible signs of wear and replace should entry/exit become less than precise.
Aside from observing care labels, avoid temptation to leave soiled and feted clothing festering in a laundry basket. Lycra jerseys, tights, shorts et al, can be machine washed at a low temperature programme. Mild, non-biological detergents are fine but steer clear of any containing integral softeners. These will destroy their technical properties. Avoid tumble drying at all costs.
Synthetic chamois pads are virtually maintenance free but genuine hides will need regular post wash applications of chamois cream to moisturise and prevent cracking. Similarly, nourish leather accessories (shoes, gloves etc) using a good quality preserve every six weeks to keep them in rude health.
Wash polyester jackets in soap flakes at (30/40 degrees) before leaving to drip dry. Add some proofing agent approximately every fourth tour de Zanussi to retain the water repelling, breathable nature.
Gore Tex and Event requires similar TLC but wash individually, not with other soiled garments. Conversely, once line dry; rejuvenate their technical prowess with a quick twenty minute tour de tumble drier. Even so, these eventually lose their magic, demanding re-proofing. Thankfully, dedicated additives are readily available online or at decent outdoor/camping shops.
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2016
UPDATED NOVEMBER 2017
FURTHER UPDATE DECEMBER 2018