With cold crisp days, winter can be a wonderful time to ride your bike. But, if you're going to enjoy it, you need to make sure you're warm enough. So what kit do you need for winter riding? There's plenty of cycle specific kit you can buy, but it's also possible to keep warm and comfortable without shelling out lots of cash. In this guide I aim to let you know where it's worth spending and where you can compromise.
1. Fingers or toes are always the first to freeze. If you suffer from cold hands then it's worth making sure you've got good kit. For hands I think it's worth splashing out on gloves that are waterproof and windproof, but they don't have to be bike specific. On the coldest days I wear my old ski gloves, for example. Just make sure that they aren't so bulky that you can't change gear.
2. Keeping feet warm can be a challenge. If you ride clipped in, then there is a good choice of waterproof winter boots available, and they are pretty good at keeping your feet warm and dry, especially if you buy them big enough to wear a pair of thick, woolly socks underneath.
3. If you have flat pedals, the shoe makers are missing a trick. None of the (market leading) FiveTen shoes are waterproof (mine seem to suck up water and take for ever to dry). One solution is waterproof socks. Get the longer ones, as sometimes water finds it's way over the top of shorter ones, and it's really unpleasant as there's no way for it to escape! Alternatively, lining your shoes with a plastic bag doesn't cost anything, and can be just as effective.
4. My head and ears also get uncomfortably cold. This can be solved with a bike specific skull cap under your helmet. A Buff can be folded as a skull cap and will double as a neck warmer. A thin beanie would also fit under a helmet.
5. Never wear cotton next to your skin, especially in winter. As soon as you sweat, it gets clammy and cold. You want fabrics that wick the sweat away from the skin, so you keep warm and dry. I'm a fan of clothes made out of merino wool and bamboo, but the synthetic ones are fine too, and can be cheaper.
6. The trick in winter is to layer your tops. Several light layers tend to work better than one thick one, and then you can control your temperature more effectively. Bike specific tops tend to have zips at the neck, and often have pockets at the back. While this is nice, it's not compulsory. Any of the base layers and fleeces you you get in an outdoors shop like Millets, Blacks and Mountain Warehouse will work fine and cost less.
7. On top, you'll need a decent waterproof jacket, which will also be invaluable for keeping out the wind. Again it's worth investing in one that has good wicking properties, otherwise you'll get horribly hot and sweaty.
8. Most cyclists wear lycra tights in winter. These can come with padding, or they can be worn over padded inners/shorts. Some are warmer than others, and some come with windproofing which are great for keeping out the cold. You could wear running leggings instead - but ideally not the cotton ones sometimes used for yoga or pilates. Tracksuit bottoms are fine, as long as they narrow at the bottom. Avoid wide ones that flap, which could get caught in the chain.
9. When it's really cold and wet a pair of waterproof trousers make life bearable - or you could stay at home in front of the fire.
10. While nothing to do with warmth or winter, I'd recommend getting padded undershorts or knickers. They just make life more comfortable!