Layering Up For Winter Riding

A while back on a group ride my buddy Justin said I should write a piece about how to dress for cold winter riding.  I thought this was funny because I have been spending all my time riding inside.  In the past I rode more throughout the winter, but lately I’ve been a Zwift junkie.  Last weekend several of us got together for a cold mountain bike ride and while I was getting ready it occurred to me I should attempt a post on layering up for winter the Barndoor Way, which is to say extremely cheaply.

There is a local rider who, as the story goes, has a chart from a magazine that instructs him on exactly what to wear for any given temperature.  This is something to avoid as every person is different and what works for me may not work for you.  Instead I will just explain what I wore this last weekend which kept me warm on a day where the temperature started off around 30 and peaked in the mid 30s by the end of the ride and mention what some of the other guys did.

So before I get into specifics lets just go over the general cold weather gear FACTS.  Avoid cotton at all costs, cotton kills.  Zippers everywhere, can’t have enough zippers.  You should be cold before you’ve started, if you’re warm before you’ve started you’re going to be CRAZY HOT in 15 minutes.  Thin layers are the bomb.


First off there is the base layer.  I have in the past made fun of prestige brands like Under Armor, and I honestly I’m still to cheap to buy their stuff, but I got this shirt second hand exceptionally cheap.  I’ve found that I really like a tight compression layer next to my skin as it pulls away moisture and seems to hold warmth.   When I got home my outer layers were damp but this shirt was totally dry.  Dry is warm.


The next layer was this thick long sleeve shirt, which is I believe military issue and very warm.  It has several features that make it work great for cycling.  One is a long zipper that is easy to manipulate.  Zippers are a must for every layer past the baselayer.  The zipper goes up a long collar that functions as a neck gator and holds alot of heat in.  Of course I found this shirt at a thrift store for 3 bucks.


Next I’ve got a regular summer jersey which I’m really only wearing for the pockets though the extra warmth on the core was nice too.  I have a few different long sleeve jerseys and if I was road bike riding I would have went with one of them. While mountain biking I generally build up so much heat that I can wear much less than I would on the road.


My final layer was a waterproof shell jacket like this North Face model that was given to me by famous adventurer Greg Elam.  This jacket has pit zippers which I find do wonders to keep the moisture and heat from building up inside.  Jackets like these are great because they can easily be folded up and stashed if it gets too warm yet fully zipped up they provide a great deal of protection against cold, wind and rain.


On my legs I went with a pair of thermal tights, actually sadly they are thermal “fashion” tights that belong to my wife.  Before you laugh you should know that they are very warm, much warmer then cycling specific tights I’ve worn in the past and they are very cheap.  I don’t like to wear my Pearl Izumi bib tights when I’m mountain biking since I’ve torn up so much nice stuff in the woods. These have the inner “brushed” texture which seems to be much warmer than tights with a smooth texture.  I wore some generic bib shorts over these which do wonders to hold them in place.

My feet stayed very warm in thick wool hunting socks from Rural King.  My hands were another story though.  When it’s seriously cold I’ve got these waterproof ski gloves that came from bike Nashbar about ten years ago.  They are seriously worn out and just don’t insulate like they used to besides being thick and bulky.  The only part of me that was cold were my hands early in the ride.  Eventually they warmed up.

So with this outfit I was warm right from the start, about 30 minutes I had to zip down the jacket and about an hour later I had to zip down the mid layer shirt.  Now just looking around the group most of the faster guys were wearing less  than me, but they were going so fast the cold didn’t have to to settle on them.  It seems the faster guys tend to wear less and are generally working harder throughout the ride so maybe they don’t need as much.  I know a few guys stashed their jackets early in the ride and another rider went with a baselayer, long sleeve jersey and a thin jacket.

Ultimately figuring out what to wear in the cold is trial and error and personal preference.   Some guys wear jackets seemingly on every ride while I know guys who wouldn’t wear a jacket in a rain storm.  It’s always best to wear a bit to much and peel layers then to be cold on the entire ride.  Of course if you just ride the trainer you don’t any of this junk.  Back to Zwift I go!



About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in Barn Door Cycling, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Layering Up For Winter Riding

  1. Kate says:

    I’m all about cheap gear, too! One thing I have to watch out for is that I typically run pretty hot, especially when MTB-ing. That’s fine as long as you’re moving but I get cold fast if we’re stopped for a mechanical or something. I always make sure if we’re going to be very far at all from the car that I have a little something extra to throw on if I have to be stopped unavoidably or for long.

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