Last week, I wrote a blog post detailing the types of apparel you can use on a spring, fall, or winter bike ride. However, I didn’t really talk specifically about how to use it, which is through the act of layering.
Layering is the process of wearing apparel that can easily be removed or added during a bike ride. It usually starts with a base layer t-shirt and a pair of bib shorts, then you add or subtract based on the weather.
Why Layering is Important
Nothing kills the mood of a ride faster than the discomfort caused by the weather. During the three major seasons of fall, winter, and spring, changes in the weather can happen rapidly. You should be prepared for wind, rain, or sudden increases or decreases in temperature. Layering works best for temperatures between 60 – 40 degrees.
Anything colder, your main goal will be to just stay warm and dry. So, as Selene Yeager states in her article from Bicycling.com about layering, your layers should “trap your body heat between them, so you stay warmer during cool-weather rides…”
To achieve proper layering, cyclists should look at their ride preparation in three steps: base layer, mid-layer, and outer shell. With a layering system, Yeager claims that if “done properly, your layers will also pull moisture away from your skin, as well as keep outside moisture from reaching your skin…”
A base layer is either a short sleeve or long-sleeve undershirt worn under a jersey. Keep in mind this is a cycling or sports-specific garment and not a t-shirt. A base layer can be made with various materials:
- Merino wool,
Whatever fabric you choose, the most important thing to remember is that a base layer should have wicking properties built in so that sweat is pulled away from your body. That’s why it is essential to avoid a cotton shirt because it absorbs instead of deflects water.
There is a lot of variation as to what makes up a mid-layer. It truly is a matter of personal choice. Your choices will be influenced by a few factors, such as, of course, temperature (consult your weather forecast for the timeframe you’ll be out on a ride) and your own core cold tolerance.
Yeager says the “role of a mid-layer is to work with your base layer to wick away sweat and insulate your torso to provide warmth.”
Again, a layering system works best in the temperature range I mentioned earlier in this post. These temperatures are not too warm nor too cold but added changes, such as wind, lack of sun, or rain can quickly alter your riding environment. That said, a mid layer can consist of six main pieces.
- Neck gaiter
- Arm warmers
- Long sleeve jersey
- Knee warmers
- Full leg warmers
- Wool socks
Mid-layer warmers are great because they are easy to put on/ pull off and can be stored in your jersey pocket. And I’ve found that even on a relatively warm 60 to 70-degree ride, I may pull them off but put them back on toward the end.
The primary purpose of an outer shell is not only to keep you dry and warm but also to deflect wind. In fact, I’d say that wind is probably the single biggest nemesis you’ll face during late or early-season riding.
The wind can cool you down rapidly, especially if you’re sweating heavily. That’s in addition to the fact that even though the temperature gauge may say 60 degrees when you start your ride, you will lose 10 to 15 degree just from the air moving around you as you ride. Add in wind and it feels even colder.
Much like a mid-layer, an outer shell can have many interchangeable parts. Once again, the weather and your own tolerance to the cold will govern your apparel choices. Those choices will, most likely, be based on these items.
- Thermal leg warmers
- Riding vest
- Neck gaiter
- Head/ ear warmers
- Cycling jacket
- Shoe or toe covers
Late or early-season riding can be fun and invigorating. Choosing the right apparel is essential, then using it while riding so it works effectively is also important. That way you won’t have to end your ride prematurely because you are too hot or too cold. So, plan ahead and feel comfortable and assured on your cool-weather rides.