With the right equipment, you can enjoy – or at least tolerate – cycling to work whatever the weather you wake up to.
Winter weather in the UK is seldom bad enough to stop you from cycling. The hard part is finding the motivation to ride when it’s cold and wet. It’s much easier with the right accessories – and the knowledge that you’ll stay warm and dry. You don’t have to spend a fortune, as the following examples illustrate.
Mudguards are useful at any time of year but in winter they’re essential. Being sprayed with dirty water isn’t just messy, it makes you colder. Mudguards that sit near the tyre and cover a long arc of each wheel protect you best. The mudguards with the best warp-around are Bluemels Style (RRP £55/pair, various widths). These fit threaded eyelets on the bike’s frame and fork. If you commute on a road or gravel bike without them, fit specialist mudguards that don’t require eyelets such as Crud’s RoadRacer Mk3 (RRP £34.99/pair).
Crud Roadracer MK3
Your hands can become painfully cold even in temperatures above zero. This is mostly due to windchill, which is worse in wet conditions. For that reason, choose gloves that are waterproof or that still insulate when damp. Mittens are the warmest option but restrict dexterity, making it harder to brake or change gear. ‘Lobster claw’ gloves, which are like split mittens, are the best compromise for the coldest conditions. Sealskinz Waterproof Extreme Cold Weather Split Finger Gloves (RRP £75) are waterproof as well as warm. For less demanding conditions, or for riders who need separate fingers to operate their road bike shifters, neoprene gloves like the Endura FS260-Pro Nemo Glove II (RRP £32.99) are a good alternative. Neoprene is what wetsuits are made from: it retains warmth when wet.
Endura FS260 Pro Nemo Gloves
Do you use flat pedals or clipless? With flat pedals, any reasonably weatherproof boots or shoes you’d wear in winter should be fine. It helps if they’re slightly larger than your normal size to make room for thick socks. You can avoid soggy feet by using shoe covers. Get ones designed for normal footwear, such as the Agu Reflection Short Bike Boots Essential (RRP £35), not ones meant for cycling shoes. Waterproof socks are a useful last line of defence. DexShell Ultra Dri Sports Socks (RRP £34) are good: they have a seal at the cuff to help stop water from getting in that way.
DexShell Ultra Dri Sport Socks
Cycling shoes are generally less weatherproof than normal street shoes. Neoprene overshoes, which have cutouts for the cleat and the heel, add enough weatherproofing for most UK conditions. Don’t confuse them with aero shoe covers: you want bulkier, warmer ones, such as BBB HeavyDuty OSS shoe covers (RRP £26.95). If overshoes (and waterproof socks?) aren’t cosy enough for you, either because you feel the cold badly or you ride in sub-zero conditions, you’ll need winter cycling boots. They’re expensive – expect to spend around £200 – but are insulated and come with features such as neoprene cuffs and a waterproof membrane (e.g. Gore-Tex). Winter mountain bike boots like the Northwave Celsius XC GTX (RRP £201.59) are better than winter road boots for commuting as the recessed cleat makes walking easier – especially when it’s icy.
Head & neck
Ears are very vulnerable to the cold. Woolly hats keep them warm but won’t fit under a helmet if you wear one. The cheapest, simplest solution, in that case, is a stretchy snood or neck-gaiter, often known by the brand name Buff. Stretch it down over your ears and forehead before putting your helmet on. (If you have two Buffs, the second can be worn around your neck and pulled up as high as your chin.) The Sonder Excluder (RRP £5.99) is a good value option.
Traditional cycling caps can also be worn under helmets but don’t protect the ears. You need a winter version that has extra material to cover the ears, such as the Endura Pro SL Winter Cap (RRP £31.99). It’s better than a Buff when it’s raining or snowing as the peak will keep precipitation out of your eyes.
Endura Pro SL Winter Cap
You generate more heat cycling than walking, so you don’t need as much insulation for your body. Wear a thick coat or jumper and you may overheat. A few thinner layers will serve you better. You’ll generally have three in winter: a base layer, which is what you wear next to your skin; a mid-layer, for some insulation; and a wind and/or waterproof outer layer.
If you cycle in normal clothes, the base layer could be a vest – possibly a thermal or long-sleeved one – or a shirt. If you wear cycling gear for commuting, you’re likely to be riding more energetically so it’s best to have a base layer that’s breathable and wicks sweat away from your body, so you don’t get clammy. You don’t have to spend a lot on this: the Van Rysel Essential Cycling Base Layer from Decathlon has an RRP of just £9.99. It also comes in a women’s version.
The mid layer is your ‘warmth’ layer. In normal clothes, it might be a sweater or long-sleeved shirt/blouse – or even both if it’s extremely cold. A cycling-specific mid kayer will typically be a long-sleeved jersey with a soft or fleecy inner, such as the Madison Sportive long-sleeve thermal jersey (RRP £59.99 for this an the women’s version). In spring and autumn, this can be worn as an outer layer.
The outer layer in winter is your waterproof cycling jacket. Even if you cycle in normal clothes, it’s worth investing in a cycling-specific jacket. It’ll be breathable so you sweat less, may have vents for the same reason, and will be cut differently – longer in the arms and back to keep you covered better, and higher and closer at the neck so it won’t scoop cold air. While there are lots of great cycling jackets, the Altura Nightvision Storm Waterproof Cycling Jacket (RRP £100) ticks all the boxes for commuting. There’s a women’s version, too. On nicer winter days, a windproof gilet over your mid-layer may be sufficient.
Altura Nightvision Storm Jacket
From the point of view of warmth, most trousers are fine for normal-clothes commuting in the UK. The key is to keep them dry – partly why you’ve got mudguards. For rain, sleet and snow, you’ll need either waterproof overtrousers or a poncho-style cape. Waterproof overtrousers should go off easily because you want to be able to don or remove them if it starts or stops raining en route. Other useful features are sealed seams, to stop rain from getting in there; adjustable ankle cuffs, to stop flapping and drivetrain interference; and reflectivity. Proviz Reflect360 Waterproof Trousers (RRP £54.99) meet those criteria.
Traditional capes have fallen out of favour in recent years but work well. Thumb loops enable you to stretch the cape between the saddle and handlebar, so it sits over you like a little tent. As air can circulate underneath, you don’t get as hot as with overtrousers. The Carradice ProRoute Rain Cape (RRP £42) is a good one, as is its more expensive, waxed-cotton stablemate. Capes are harder to ride in when it’s very windy, however.
When you’re riding in bike gear, it doesn’t matter if your legs get wet because you’ll be changing clothes later. What’s important is that your legs stay warm. For that, you want cycling tights. Winter-weight cycling tights typically have words like ‘thermal’ in their description. They use thicker, fleecy-lined Lycra and may also have a water-repellant coating. Bib tights are the least convenient to get on and off but are the warmest as they prevent any gaps at your waist. The Lusso Women’s Thermal Bibtights (RRP £70) are a good value example, as are the Lusso Classic Thermal Bibtights for men (RRP £85).
Lusso Women's Thermal Bibtights