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The art of layering for cycling in cold weather

Use the right apparel and layer properly so no weather stops you from riding

Photo: Seetoh Lang

The forecast is calling for a cold day but that won’t stop you from heading out for a ride. Maybe there’s even some rain coming or moisture on the road which if allowed to penetrate will leave you with a real chill. Riding in these conditions can quickly turn into a battle for survival as the wind nips at your extremities, face and core.

Knowing how to dress and having the right gear to reach for will make all the difference in these conditions. A cold weather wet ride can be a blast instead of miserable even with variable conditions which will challenge your wardrobe selection. Knowing how to layer is essential. If you dress to warm and overheat it’s inconvenient to be carrying twice what you need. Not enough layers or the wrong selection of gear and you risk being cold forcing you to slowly count down the kilometres until you get home to a warm shower. Here are some tips to help you select the right gear for your ride.

Keep your core warm

Giordana wool blend base layer

Start with an appropriate base layer. Depending on the temperature, either choose a long sleeve wool one for when it’s frosty or something just to get perspiration away from your body. Preventing overheating and sweat build up next to your skin is essential to enjoying any cold weather ride. A warmer base layer will also help keep your core from loosing heat. Base layers like the Giordana Wool Blend for real cold rides and Ceramic base layer for slightly warmer conditions are excellent choices for heat management during cold weather riding. If you only have something lighter that’s fine, just adjust the the layers you are putting over it.

Leg protection


Your summer bib tights with leg or knee warmers won’t be enough to keep you warm in cold weather. Instead a dedicated pair of cold weather bib tights are your absolute best beat. A good pair will make all the difference ensuring you are cozy and protected from the cold wind. Some will also keep out moisture really making a difference on wet and chilly rides.

Castelli Nanoflex 2

Castelli’s Nanoflex 2 bib tights are a lighter weight option with a water repellent finish. They aren’t quite warm enough for sub-zero riding but on cold fall days they are more than sufficient at keeping your legs warm. They also are water repellent for light rain or road spray.

Pearl Izumi
Pearl Izumi bib tights for cold and wet rides

The Pearl Izumi Pro Bib Tight  are heavier duty featuring fleece, wind and water resistant fabrics. These are an excellent option for winter riding but anything with sufficient insulation and extra protection where you may get spray from the wet road will help make the cold and wet more than bearable.

Sportful Fiandre bibs for mild days

For milder days that are still chilly, the Castelli Omloop bib shorts have a longer design to reach right to the knee and have internal fleece. Similarly, the Sportful Fiandre bib shorts are water resistant and warm but you’ll have to pair them with leg warmers for really cold rides. Giordana G-Shield collection is another excellent cold weather kit that can keep the cold and damp out. These can also always be layered on top of tights when it’s real cold.

Jerseys and long sleeves

Giordana G-Shield and Castelli pieces for layering

Next you will want to layer your clothing on your upper body appropriately to the temperature. Above zero and dry you can use a summer jersey over your baselayer and then a long sleeve jersey. You don’t want to overheat so choose pieces with zippers and don’t over insulate keeping in mind you will warm up once you start moving.

Louis Garneau
A wool Louis Garneau jersey for cold days


The MEC Route 35 winter jersey is a stylish and simple piece with pockets. It won’t cut the wind but it will keep you warm. The Castelli Puro 2 jersey FZ is also relatively lightweight but has a fleece interior to keep you warm. A warmer alternative for another under layer is the Louis Garneau Power Wool jersey which can be used under a jacket when the temperature is very cold.

Jackets and vests

Castelli Perfetto
Castelli Perfetto long sleeve

For temperatures hovering just above or below zero, when it’s raining or when the weather is likely to be variable you will want another layer to really keep you protected from the elements. If the weather is going to be cold all day a long sleeve jacket like the Castelli Perfetto is still very breathable but made with a solid wind resistant fabric that will keep the cold and light rain out.

RELATED: 2017 buyer’s guide: Rain jackets

Rain jackets can be a good option if the weather is likely to be variable as they will nearly entirely cut the wind and are small enough to fit into a back pocket. This is good if you are in the mountains and will be climbing then descending Of course, they also serve to make wet and rainy riding much more enjoyable.

A rain jacket like the Sportful Hot Pack Norain will keep the wet and wind out

The Sportful Hot Pack NoRain jacket folds into a small bag that fits nicely into a rear pocket. Pearl Izumi have multiple rain jackets that have high visibility so you keep dry and seen like the Pro Aero WxB Jacket or the Elite Barrier jacket.. A heavy duty option would be the Castelli Idro which is exceptionally small and with GoreTex offers the best rain protection available.

Castelli Alpha ROS
Castelli Alpha RoS jacket for the worst weather

The colder the weather you may want to look at heavier duty jackets with more insulation like the Castelli Alpha RoS jacket and jersey both of which boast the additional bonus of only requiring a base layer to be effective at keeping you warm.

Light Giordana vest for cool riding

Finally, another option are vests which usually offer excellent wind protection and can fit easily into a pocket. These can be used over a summer jersey with arm warmers when it’s cool but not cold. A heavier vest may serve you well over a long sleeve jersey without much wind protection to keep your core toasty.


Your hands are possibly the most susceptible to the cold so making sure you’ve chosen the right gloves is essential. A light pair of gloves are good for weather between 5 C and 10 C when it’s sunny and dry but any colder you are going to want to look at options with more insulation.

Louis Garneau
Glove choice can make all the difference

A pair of medium insulation gloves like the Louis Garneau Verano were great for between zero and -5 C. If your hands are prone to getting cold they might also be a good option for riding above zero. Any colder a lobster glove might be your best bet allowing you to operate the controls of your bike but giving you much more warmth. Consider wool or lightweight insulation gloves to really provide extra warmth and can be taken off mid-ride if they prove to be too warm.

For exceptionally wet riding consider neoprene gloves like the Castelli Deluvio gloves.


Winter shoes or shoe covers are your best options for keeping your feet warm. Like your hands, warm toes will make the ride so much more enjoyable. As your extremities are the most prone to getting cold mid-ride, it’s important to carefully consider your selection.

Shoe covers for when it’s around 5 C

For rides above 5 C a pair of toe covers may be enough to cut the wind. Below that look at shoe covers which will not only cut the wind but provide insulation. Shoe covers can be waterproof but remember often the top of the booties will be vulnerable to water penetration.

Heavy duty shoe covers

An alternative to booties are winter cycling shoes which provide increased insulation and often levels of waterproofing not found on all season riding shoes.


Pearl Izumi winter cap

Finally, for protecting your face, ears, the top of your head and neck while riding you have a lot of options. Keeping your head warm is essential to making sure you don’t catch a chill. A classic cycling cap will be enough in mild weather and can keep rain out of your eyes. Add a neck warmer or Buff for riding when it’s chilly out to keep the cold air away from your throat. Keep in mind these pieces are extremely versatile able to be pulled over your ears and face on descents. A winter cap worn under your helmet will protect the top of your head and ears when it’s below 5 C. The colder it gets, the more you can look like a ninja with a balaclava being the ultimate piece for the coldest of weather.

The art of layering

By using the above pieces appropriately, you will be ready to ride in virtually any conditions. If you don’t know how to dress appropriately, you will likely not enjoy riding. The riders you see having a blast riding regardless of the weather are able to do so because they understand how to layer for the riding conditions they will face. The key is having pillar pieces like good bib tights and the right jacket to cover a wide variety of conditions. Then compliment them with the right selection of accessories and apparel to keep you protected and happy. Remember to not over dress but always be prepared for a slight change in weather or temperature.