The Ultimate Survival Guide to Cycling in the Cold and Wet
As another page on the calendar is turned, there’s no more kidding: summer is over.
The days draw shorter, the air a little chillier, the ground damper and the sun no longer an occasional visitor, but a hazy memory. Alas, we’ve been through all this before. The seasons are nothing new. That doesn’t, however, mean you have to lock your bike away in the shed until April
There’s no more important time for a cyclist to get their outfit right than the cooler autumn and winter months. Overshoot it and you’ll overheat to become a stinky, sweaty/wet mess. Underestimate the climate and you’ll be an icicle by the time you arrive at your destination.
Cycling Clothing Considerations for Autumn/Winter:
- Keeping fresh without getting cold
- Being prepared for wet weather at any given moment
- Being visible to traffic
Even in the winter months, I stand by the Discerning Cyclist philosophy of stylish clothes you can cycle in, although there will undoubtedly come a few days were you need to baton down the hatches to ensure you don’t drown in the waves of rain.
Winter Cycling Jackets
Most days, a water resistant jacket that keeps you warm and looks good will more than suffice for your rides.
The jacket I’ll primarily be wearing this winter is the Helly Hansen Universal Moto Jacket which I reviewed a while back.
There are plenty of options for you out there, though.
Be wary about wearing a big woolly coat on your rides, particularly if you have a lengthy commute as, although the coat may be snug when you’re walking about town, a long ride will probably see you overheat, which is pretty uncomfortable.
A hood is totally your call. On the downside it can reduce your peripheral vision and make looking behind you a bit more challenging. However, on the plus side, if you’re looking to keep as dry as possible, it’s pretty much essential. I never buy a waterproof jacket that doesn’t boast a decent hood. Even if you don’t want to use it while cycling, it’s still a good option to have off the bike.
One jacket that has recently come out and caught my attention is the Lull Lined Jacket from Howies. Available for a reasonable £59, this minimally designed jacket is extremely lightweight, windproof and uses a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish to keep you protected from most showers. It’s also a micro-fleece lined jacket, and so will aid you in the pursuit of keeping warm on your rides without getting to hot. Additionally, it boasts some reflective features on the back, as well as adjustable cuffs. Basically, it’s a great example of a cold weather cycling jacket.
Another jacket that I’m fond of is the Endura FlipJak Jacket which you can get from Evans Cycles for £95.
As you may have gather from its name, this Endura jacket is reversible between black and hi-viz. The black side looks cool and sleek and doesn’t stand out as a cycle jacket making it perfect for day-to-day use, while the hi-viz side is a great option when cycling in poor light or conditions.
Similarly to the Howies jacket, the design is minimal and is both wind proof and water resistant. The jacket is also nicely insulated to keep you warm and boasts plenty of secure pockets.
Other Jackets of Note
If you’re willing to splash the cash a bit more, there are also a great range of Vulpine winter cycling jackets available that are of an excellent standard (Cycle Surgery often also have discounted Vulpine products available) as well as at the kings of stylish cycling, Rapha. Meanwhile Café du Cycliste also have a very fetching urban jacket (pictured below), although it is made of Merino wool and so, while it will conserve your warmth, it will do little in terms of rain protection.
While the aforementioned jackets are all very good and will protect you from all but the most severe downpours, there may – and let’s face it, probably will – come a time when you need the sturdiest of waterproof jackets to look after you. At this time I’d recommend you carrying around a packable lightweight jacket and over trousers as the last form of protection. I recently wrote a post highlight some of the best waterproof ‘kag in a bag’ style jackets available.
Waterproof Over Trousers
If you get caught in a serious downpour, you’re definitely going to need some waterproof trousers. One problem in this area is that there are essentially no waterproof trousers that look good in day-to-day wear. Sure there are some good water resistant ones, but nothing that does the full shebang. Therefore, an essential item in your winter cycling artillery needs to be a robust pair of lightweight waterproof over trousers. You don’t need anything too fancy here. An elastic waist and ankle zips are a big bonus in making the quick change as stress-free as possible, but that aside there’s not much need to be breaking the bank here. Something like the Regatta Pack-It over trousers will do just the job and shouldn’t cost you more than £10 on Amazon. When you roll into work soaking wet in the middle of January with the prospect of sitting down in your soaking pants for the next eight hours, you’ll regret not having invested that tenner (speaking from personal experience).
Waterproof Bag Cover
Some bags and backpack are waterproof, many are not. But there’s no desperate need to rush out in an expensive new bag. You can get a waterproof rain cover for your backpack for just £2.49 on Amazon. Considerably cheaper than replacing your wet laptop inside.
They might look pretty ridiculous, something more appropriate for a deep sea dive even. But waterproof overshoes for your commute are what separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of wise cyclists.
No doubt you could fashion some waterproof numbers from an old plastic bag, but let’s face it: you’re going to look like a muppet. Sorry about that.
One of the most popular overshoe products on the market (and rightly so) is the dhb Neoprene Nylon Overshoe, available from Wiggle for £20. A heel zip makes putting these overshoes on pretty easy, while discreet reflective features are also welcome. In short, they’ll keep your feet dry.
The Castelli Toe Thingy (great, appropriate name) is also a good option as it is very easy to put on and cover the part of your foot that is most likely to get wet, and is available for £14.99.
Keeping Warm on Your Ride
Keeping warm on your rides, without overheating, can be a bit of a challenge that requires a bit of trial and error.
Generally speaking, multiple thin layers are the best way to stay at a comfortable temperature. Merino wool base layers are especially useful for regulating body temperature, and can help wick sweat away from the torso.
Ste did a great post on merino tops for cycling nearly three years ago now, but it remains very relevant, with the link below.
In terms of the best merino base layers for cycling out there at the moment, Icebreaker offer some of the very top quality stuff out there, although this tends to be pretty costly with prices around the £70/80 mark. A slightly cheaper, but still very good alternative, is with Howies who offer a good range of merino base layers for under £50.
Other Useful Winter Cycling Accessories
Gloves – Keep your paws warm and dry.
Saddle Cover – Keep your seat – and therefore your bum – dry. Can also use a plastic bag or a shower cap as a cheap alternative.
Mud Guards – Back spray doesn’t look good, and those people cycling behind you will also appreciate it if you invest in some splash guards (get the full cover if you don’t want to splash others).
Muc-Off Bicycle Maintenance – Managing rust and lubrication takes a lot more effort in the winter months, but a good bicycle maintenance kit will provide you with everything you need to keep your bike in top working order.
5 Top Tips for Cycling in Wet Conditions
- Avoid standing water: It will get you wet, and you don’t know how deep that puddle is or what’s in it. Pointlessly risking a puncture or worse. Where possible, cycle around standing water.
- See and be seen: When riding in bad weather conditions always ensure you have a good set of front and rear lights as a minimum. Also try and wear nice bright colours if possible.
- Spare socks: Always pack some if you think there’s a chance of rain. Your feet will thank you later.
- Don some sunglasses: Huh? Sunglasses in the winter, what is this madness? While it might seem counter-intuitive, wearing sun glasses can keep rain and other bits of debris out of your eyes.
- Lower tyre pressure: If you bike seems more susceptible to skidding in wet conditions, you might want to lower your tyre pressure a touch to increase your grip on the road. Opting for wider tyres will also help.
And there we have it. Have I missed anything? Feel free to comment below with your top tips for cycling in wet weather.