Cycling generates a lot of heat, often too much. If you wrap up like you’re going for a winter walk, you’ll be sweating buckets a mile down the road. It’s better to be not quite warm enough when you set off, so that you’re comfortable once your ‘cycling engine’ is in gear. For your extremities, however, the opposite applies: you need more protection than you would on foot, or your fingers, ears and toes will burn with cold.
That’s because of wind-chill, which is a significant factor on a bicycle. If it’s zero degrees Celsius in still air, that’ll feel more like -5 when you’re riding at 10mph and -7 at 20mph – and it’s even worse if you get wet. Quite how cold your extremities will feel depends on your circulation. Some people can wear thin gloves in the depths of winter while others need sub-zero gloves as soon as their breath starts to steam.
Winter cycling gloves of any thickness ideally need to be windproof, waterproof, and breathable. That last point is important. Marigolds over cheap woollen gloves are warm and weatherproof, but your hands will sweat, becoming clammy and cold – not to mention smelly.
For warm feet, you need enough room in your shoes to wiggle your toes. If you’re buying winter cycling shoes, go up a size – or just wear medium weight merino wool socks instead of thick ones and don’t do your shoes up super tight. The metal cleat on cycling shoes is a heat sink, so try an extra insole if it’s a problem. Whatever shoes you wear, use full-length mudguards to keep your feet dry.
Any headwear needs to cover your ears. If you wear a helmet rather than a hat, the top of your head can get pretty cold too because helmets are designed to be well ventilated. Even a thin layer underneath makes a big difference. In the grimmest weather a helmet cover can provide extra protection; you can make a temporary (and non-breathable) one by wrapping your lid in clingfilm.
Altura Night Vision Evo
Quite a few winter gloves are waterproof, windproof and breathable. The Night Vision Evo is versatile too: the thermal liner glove is removable and can be worn by itself - as can the outer - making this glove suitable for spring and autumn as well as winter. The cuff is snug enough to fit under your jacket cuffs, so rain won't run into your gloves. And as the name suggests, there's lots of reflectivity. Sizes: S-XXL.
Pearl Izumi PRO Softshell Lobster Glove
Lobster gloves are like mittens split down the middle. These ones are just the thing for sub-zero weather, or for anyone who suffers badly from cold hands, as the 'fingers' are fatter and better insulated, using lightweight Primaloft. While they look bulky, dexterity if sufficient for gear changing and braking. They're windproof and waterproof, and the thumb is fleecy to catch any drips from runny winter noses. Sizes: XS-XXL.
Endura Road overshoes
Summer cycling shoes leak like teabags in soggy British winters - and damp feet get cold fast. Endura's Road overshoes encase your shoes in neoprene to keep out the rain, snow and wind. The top seam is welded and the neoprene meets under the rear zip to minimise water ingress there. The sole is reinforced with Kevlar so that it won't wear out easily. If you need overshoes for street shoes, check out Endura's Luminite instead.
Sealskinz Mid Weight Mid length socks
We mentioned Sealskinz socks before for riding in the rain. They're an ideal last line of defence in winter too. As well as keeping out water, the breathable, waterproof membrane helps keep out cold winds - and just being dry will keep your feet warmer. The merino wool lining provides warmth, and this mid-weight version is thin enough to fit in normal sized shoes without a struggle. You can wear them with street shoes or cycling shoes. Sizes: S-XL
It's a stretchy tube of lightweight microfibre fabric that's of most use to cyclists worn like a pirate's bandana underneath a helmet. You can also wear it as a scarf, a hat, or a headband. There are countless different patterns and lots of different types - including ones made from wool or incorporating Polartec fabric to better shrug off the cold. But the basic buff works fine for most UK conditions. In hail or snow, a second buff can be worn from neck to nose to protect your face.
Rapha Winter Hat
Rapha is something of a boutique brand. Its traditional-style Winter Hat, however, is supremely practical. It's made from Sportwool, a mix of polyester, wool and elastane that's soft and stretchy. It keeps your ears warm as well as your head, and the peak stops rain and snow from getting in your eyes. It can be worn by itself or underneath a helmet. One size fits all.
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