With temperatures soaring to more than 20C this week, it’s definitely time to get outside and ride. The good news: a mid-afternoon ride calls for little more than short sleeves and shorts. The bad news: most of us don’t have that sort of flexibility in our work day.
That leaves the majority of cyclists starting or ending their rides in cooler weather and that calls for a bit more clothing – or “kit.” But what to buy? And what to wear?
Here’s a list of five items that are essential to riding in cooler weather. Most aren’t too expensive, and the best news is that if you choose neutral colours (especially black), they can be worn with any jersey or pair of shorts you own. In fact, buying these items might give you more bang for your buck than any other cycling-related purchase you make.
Turn any short-sleeved jersey into a long-sleeved one by slipping on a pair of arm warmers. Made of Lycra or merino wool, they run from your biceps to your wrist to well, keep your arms warm. When it gets too hot, you peel them off, roll them up like a pair of socks and stick them in your jersey pocket. My first pair cost about $50 almost 15 years ago and I still wear them. I’ve since bought a slightly warmer pair for a little more dough. Arm warmers are, hands-down, the single most valuable item of cycling kit I’ve ever put. I wear them in spring, fall and even on wet summer days when the rain might chill me a little.
Fashion tip: Don’t be caught dead wearing these over your sleeves. Put them on before your jersey for a sleek look, and check for gaps at the coffee stop.
Designed to be worn over your jersey, a wind vest (or “gilet”) keeps your core warm on early morning or evening rides. They’re a little more pricey – you’re lucky to find one under $100 – but you’ll be surprised at how often you wear it. Yes, you can wear a baselayer of some sort under your jersey, but few of those are designed to block the wind, nor can they be easily stripped off when you start to overheat. I prefer vests with pockets in the back – just like my jersey – but those can be hard to find. A good alternative is a vest with a zipper that unzips from both the top and bottom. Unzip at the bottom to access snacks or other items in your jersey pockets.
Fashion tip: Black goes with everything and doesn’t show dirt. On the other hand, some prefer white or a day-glo colour to help with visibility. (Not a bad idea, considering you might wear this around dawn or dusk.) When you take it off, stuff the vest in the middle pocket by turning it inside out, or take the time to zip it up and roll it before sticking it in your jersey for the rest of the ride.
I can hear you asking “Why not list this right after arm warmers?”
Here’s the thing: If the temperature is between 12-14C, you might be able to ride in shorts – as long as you keep your core warm with arm warmers and a vest. But you can’t really do it in reverse.
Made of the same materials as arm warmers, leg warmers fill the gap between the thighs and ankles. Of course, you can also get knee warmers that extend to the middle of your calf – but if you’re in an either/or situation, the leg warmers have a broader temperature range. (I mean, when was the last time you thought “I’m happy that my knees are warm, but my calves are on fire!”)
Fashion tip: You fit them based more on the size of your thighs than the length of your legs. Who cares about a little bagging around the ankle? Like arm warmers, don’t even think of wearing these over the cuffs of your shorts. And unless you want to drive the rider behind you absolutely mad, tend to any gaps ASAP.
Some wear these all year-round. Some wear half-fingered gloves in warm weather – or no gloves at all. When the temperature drops below 12C, you’re going to need to keep your hands warm. Your hands control your gears, your brakes and your steering. ‘Nuff said.
Fashion tip: if you like colour, there’s nothing wrong with brightening things up on your hands. I’ve been wearing Assos Spring/Fall gloves for the past year or two and I love them. Really thin, but amazing protection from the wind. (No, Assos does not sponsor me. But I’m open to offers!)
MERINO WOOL SOCKS
Merino is the latest, greatest old-school fabric there is: warm when it’s cool, cool when it’s hot, capable of insulating even when wet. On top of that, merino socks are as thin as any other cycling sock you’ll wear. Be careful not to wear a thick sock in a tight shoe. You’ll cut off your circulation and make your feet colder.
Fashion tip: Seriously, go crazy with colour. There are a ton of fun socks out there.
NOT ESSENTIAL, BUT HELPFUL…
Booties that go over your cycling shoes. These range from sock-like designs, to nylon/lycra windbreakers, to waterproof fabrics or neoprene boots. All good ideas, but only needed when it’s under 10C. I’d advise buying booties (or shoe covers) before buying toe warmers, which only extend over half your shoe. If you’re just looking to keep your foot a little warmer, you can also go low-tech and wrap your sock in tinfoil or plastic wrap.
Cycling cap that’s worn under your helmet. I love them in cool and warm weather for one reason: panache. If you have short hair, they’ll insulate nicely. Some of my friends opt for beanies or Buffs. Just don’t be seen with a baseball cap. It’s a bad look – but more important, it compromises the protection given by your helmet.
So there you have it. Everything you need to start riding now – and continue riding well into autumn. Join us this May for our #GravelGals program - six fun sessions in which you'll build skills, meet friends and enjoy delicious food. Find out more HERE. Now, get out and ride!
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