From the Bikemagic archives, a guide to cold-weather clothing.
First Some Optimism
Lets face it, we don’t get much of a summer here in the UK, except for the two weeks a year that come out of the blue and the good weather is gone again as quickly as it appeared. Most of the time it is cold, or wet or both. That’s why 3-season wear makes more sense and that’s what we are looking at today kids.
Those of you who ride all year round, regardless of the weather should know the merit of being dressed for the occasion. Having the right costumes in your dressing up box can ensure enjoyable riding on the foulest of days and, conversely, badly matched weather and clobber can turn a grand day out into a ride from hell or even to the hospital.
It needn’t be like this of course if you choose you kit carefully and though of paramount importance in mid-winter where your health could be at risk, what to wear in the ‘changeable’ seasons is important too, from a comfort and performance perspective.
Whereas in the winter you would layer to trap air to keep warm, in the mid-season the keyword here is versatility. By wearing a number of thinner layers, not only do you keep yourself warmer for less bulk when its cold, you can also adjust your clothing to suit the conditions and the intensity of your activities.
Thin layers tend to breathe better and when you get too hot/cold you can simply remove/add a layer respectively, the more thin layers you have, the more options you have but remember; you still have to carry the ones you take off. Thinner also means lighter, if you take a thin layer off you can carry it easier in your pack, round your waist or even in a jersey pocket.
An essential. On warm days your base layer will be your only layer, probably a race jersey or similar but for layering purposes these generally do not sit as well under other garments and pockets etc are largely unnecessary.
Simple construction and fast wicking materials are key, this layer is the most dynamic in that it will keep you cool when the heat is on and warm you up when the temperature drops. Base layers need to be close fitting in order to move the moisture away from your skin and never wear cotton next to your skin, it retains moisture and can cause a chill when you hit the downhill.
For most of the year a mid-layer might be too much, particularly a thick one, but it might just be a normal jersey over a thin base layer and under a light windshell for protection. This would give you options to cope with sunny and warm through to cold and windy with showers but you might get drenched in a heavy downpour. Likewise you could ride all day in a base layer and light windproof gilet with a lightweight waterproof stowed away as insurance should the heavens open.
Protection is the only aim of an outer layer, whether it be from the elements or skin swiping bushes etc. Choosing your outer layer determines your highest level of protection, how lucky do you feel? is today a short sleeves day? will you get by in a training shell or would you feel a little easier packing a waterproof?
In the winter gloves are for warmth and a winter glove is quite a different breed to the trail glove. Here you want protection, comfort and control and these twinned with your riding habits will shape the glove you want.
For treks over the hills and dales you might want the comfort and dexterity of a mit, for do-or-die missions through the trees you may want some thing with a bit of light armour and for general riding you might want something in between. Whatever you get it should be close fitting and durable with no tight spots.
Unless you have a spare pair of winter shoes, chances are your shoes aren’t looking to fresh after all that mud and water, even covered with overshoes they can take a kicking. If your shoes are due for a replacement look for those with less mesh and durable soles, stud holes are great too when the trails get slippy.
Mesh sections may keep your feet cool in the warm weather but unless you get particularly sweaty feet or your socks go for endurance sessions they are best avoided long term. You’ll be thankful when you hit a stream crossing and come out with dry feet and a fresh pair of fast wicking socks will do more for your feet than muffled air cooling at any rate.
If you are an all season rider then you may well own much of these types of garments as parts of summer, winter or race-day kit but there is something to be said for buying stuff mid-season. OK so maybe you’d buy a coat at the beginning of winter because you know for sure you’ll need it at some stage, if you need a jacket now though, don’t hang on until next winter just so you’ll get the use out of it, get it now. Warm clothing isn’t just for winter, sad though it is our beloved country is renowned for its miserable weather all year round so why suffer until its really cold.
Beginners and fair weather riders can learn to take the rough with the smooth if proper equipped and extend their enjoyable riding time into the darker months, after all this isn’t a seasonal sport. Getting mid-season gear can lay the foundations for a decent winter wardrobe, get the right kit now and you can use it through spring and autumn as well as on and off in the ‘summer’. It’ll only take a few extra bits and you can be riding all year round like the rest of us, and enjoying it.
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