As warm, sunny summer days start to fade away and the days start to get shorter and colder, life on a bike can suddenly become very different. One day you’re bopping out the door in nothing more than a short sleeve jersey and shorts, thinking nothing of it and the next… you’re freezing nuts off, drenched to the skin wondering what you were ever thinking leaving the house without at least 2 jackets…
Dressing correctly for cold, wet, windy weather as a cyclist can be tricky – same goes for running but today I want to talk about cycling gear.
Wear too little and you’ll be absolutely drenched through and through, from inside your jersey and right down to your sodden socks. And if you’re out for a while, coldness will set in fast. Wear too much and you’ll be even more irritated by the heavy clothing and uncomfortable level of heat and extra clothing.
So what do the experts advise?
I’ve done a fair bit of research and asked a lot of people in the know about what one should wear during colder temperatures and ill-tempered weather conditions. The answer is consistently the same – layers. Layer up and then if you get too hot or it stops raining, you can remove layers while out on your cycle, scrunch them up and shove them into a back pocket on your jersey.
Understanding The Layers
Seems to me there are 3 basic steps to how you should layer up:
1. Base Layer – the purpose of this layer is to wick sweat away from the body so that it isn’t left sitting there on your skin, causing you to get cold. It also acts as the first layer of insulation. Base layers can be long or short sleeve and come in different varieties of materials, including synthetic or merino wool. Either way, it should rest close to the skin as otherwise air will be able to get in and cause a chill – similar to a wetsuit.
2. The Mid-layer – ie. the layer that comes between the base layer and the final layer that separates you from the exterior conditions. This would be your jersey – whether you prefer a short or long sleeve. On a drier day or a day that’s not so cold, this might do for your top layer. You can opt for a lighter or heavier jersey depending on temperatures and personal preference.
3. Outer Layer – typically a rain jacket. There are so many different options when it comes to cycling rain jackets out there that it can really be bamboozling trying to understand the differences between them all and deciding which one to buy. Fundamental differences are how heavy the materials in the jackets are – do you need a full-on heavy duty commuter rain jacket or would you prefer a super-light rain jacket which you just need to cover your other layers?
Then there’s the classifications – waterproof, water-resistant and water-repellant. Surely they all equate to the same thing right? Wrong. To be considered waterproof, a jacket must be made from a waterproof fabric and have taped seams. Anything else is water resistant, which will hold out some rain but eventually it will penetrate. Water-repellant fabrics use a hydrophobic treatment that reduces the amount of water the fabric absorbs. A water resistant jacket might be okay for light rain, but if you’re likely to be out in prolonged heavy rain you want a waterproof jacket.
Fabric – There are a range of different fabrics on the market. Some have a waterproof treatment applied to the actual weave of the fabric (the lightest and most breathable option), some have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) layer that causes water to bead up and roll off, and some have a membrane sandwiched between several layers. Many fabrics use more than one approach. Membrane waterproofs have a DWR coating that provides the first line of defence against the wet.
Worth noting as well that some jackets with a DWR will need to be re-proofed after a while to replenish the coating. If water isn’t beading off your jacket, and it was when it was new, then it needs reproofing. Typically just a matter of just putting your jacket through the washing machine with a special proofing product added.
Look out for jackets with a “dropped tail” at the back, where the material at the back falls down far enough to cover your bum. This is actually a huge plus because what it does is it allows the rain to roll off the fabric all the way down past your bum, rather than having it all drop off at your lower back onto the top of your shorts. If you’ve ever been riding in heavy rain, you’ll appreciate how important this detail is. Worth looking out for.
Breathability is what counts when it comes to rain jackets. Anyone who has ever owned a cheapy rain mack from Penneys will know that when you zip those babies up and go and hike up a mountain… oh dear god the heat… the sweat…. ugh, it’s not pleasant. Same goes for cycling jackets – generally speaking, the more you pay for a jacket, the higher the level of breathability features. However, even the best fabrics have limitations when it comes to what they can deliver in terms of ventilation.
A big factor to consider here is price – you can pay hundreds of euro for a waterproof cycling jacket… and it may still not meet your needs. Decide exactly what it is that you need from a rain jacket and how much you want to spend and then stick to your budget. Just remember that you are generally going to get what you pay for here.
I recently bought a Castelli Gabba Long Sleeve jacket, which is a tailored soft-shell jacket containing the much talked about Gore Windstopper fabric. This a highly breathable textile and should allow for good expelling of sweat. On cold rides, it should keep you dry on the inside and though not completely waterproof, it does have a highly water-repellant finish and fabric, to keep out most showers.
I’d describe it as a mid-weight layer, but deceptively light given how warm it is to wear. It’s very comfortable to wear and a lovely neat design. Good seams and tapered ends should lend themselves to keeping out the rain. I’ve yet to give it a good testing but look forward to seeing how it fares. Teemed with an outer layer of a very light rain jacket, I’m hoping the combination of the two will see me through wet weather quite well.
Overshoes. As a self-confessed newbie to cycling in adverse weather conditions, I have not yet worn overshoes. In fact, my first pair came in the post today and I’m looking forward to trying them out. Many a day have I come in the door from a cycle with numb, sodden wet feet. If these work, I will be eternally grateful.
Lights and Safety
I hope to be commuting to work a few days a week on the bike and with my days starting and ending in the pitch dark, ensuring my bike is lit up like a Christmas tree is a must. I just ordered a front and rear light, both good quality, extremely bright and worth every penny. I’ll be adding to them with at least one more for front and back because I truly believe you cannot be lit up enough as a cyclist on the road. Pain to have to spend money on something you get no pleasure from but if it saves your life, it’s a very small price to pay. Don’t argue with this one, just make it happen.
Autumn and winter cycling doesn’t have to spell a dark period of doom and gloom- make the adjustments to your bike and your clothing and you could be setting yourself up for a few months of fun and a good period of training. Cycling through the rain can be wet and miserable but it can also be ridiculously liberating and exhilarating.
Go find out for yourself!