Gear guide: Choosing the right winter cycle clothing - Total Women's Cycling

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Gear guide: Choosing the right winter cycle clothing

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. The queen of cycling apparel, Debbie Burton from shows how to suit up and ride unhindered, whatever the conditions.

You can’t beat the sodden and utterly sweated-through feel at the end of a summer ride but the same perverse pleasure is still there to be had in winter – you just need to set yourself up for the game.

Bear in mind that every mile you put into your legs in the dank cold of winter is worth two in the sunshine. Fact.

Base layer

We do all know about layering by now don’t we? A base layer isn’t just there to keep you warm, but also to wick any sweat you do work up away from your skin. It helps minimise the cooling effect the moisture that’s built up has when you stop. The best fibres disperse it over a wider surface on the outside so that it can dry faster.

Merino base layers are cosy and warm, even when they get a bit damp

You can go with merino wool or manmade fibre for base layers. Merino, as you might expect from its sheepy origins has instant snuggle factor – it also has the (not to be underestimated) virtue of staying pong-free for a long time.

Seriously, hang a merino garment to air between rides and you’re good to keep going for several more without recourse to laundry. That makes it especially good for commuting, but the downside is that it does stay damper for longer than manmade fibres.

Manmade dries fast both on the body and after the wash. Some are so spectacularly good at moisture management that it’s like a science lesson before your eyes. However, despite the recent addition of anti-bacterial treatments to prevent it, there’s no escaping the fact they do acquire a bit of a whiff. Wear it for two rides in a row and you’d better be either way off the front, or back if you want to keep your friends.

Take a look at:

howies classic merino base layer, £55

Finisterre UK Eddy merino base layer, £45

Terry T-Base (manmade), £36

Sweaty Betty Finish Line LS (manmade), £65


If you haven’t already done so you should also get acquainted with softshell fabric, which is like a very heavy jersey material but windproof and very water resistant. Jackets and tights made from softshell won’t be called waterproof unless the seams are sealed (and most aren’t) but they will protect you from all but the very worst rain.

A soft shell jacket like the howies Outback is warm and almost waterproof

The improved warmth, comfort and versatility over a classic waterproof ‘hard’ shell means they are being used more and more. Unless it gets very cold you can generally wear a base layer plus softshell jacket and that’s it. If you suffer very much then another long sleeve mid-layer should do the trick.

If you ride off-road on exposed trails DO take an extra insulating layer. Light, packable padded jackets or pullovers can be squished into a pack; look for Primaloft insulation, which stays warm when wet. It could save your (or someone else’s) life if you get a mechanical or injury or just ride with a very social group that likes lot of stops.

howies Outback jacket, £135 (read our review here)

Maloja Rosina soft shell, RRP £135 (£101.25)

Pearl Izumi Elite Prima Reversible jacket, RRP £109.99 (£99.99)

Swrve winter soft shell trousers, £110 (when on Swrve site scroll down to the bottom for the soft shell trousers)


Now tights…. if we had a pound for every time we were asked if they were really necessary we’d be on a beach somewhere and never have to ride in anything but glorious sunshine again. While softshell trousers work incredibly well for commuting, when you really want to put pedal to the metal leggings are a better choice – you don’t want material flapping away as you’re gunning along.

The great thing about bib tights is the extra lower back coverage to help keep your kidneys warm and toasty

Stop twitching and consider this. Everyone puts on tights and stands face-on in front of a mirror. The WORST possible view, our money’s on even Vicky P. having a little weep sometimes. Now turn sideways. See – even… ahem, sporty thighs look better from that angle and that’s what other people see when you’re on a bike.

For removal of all doubt watch The Pink Panther with Claudia Cardinale as the princess and watch her work a curvalicious arse in ski-pants. Or wear a pair of baggy cycling shorts over the top that cunningly hides a multitude of sins. NOW you’re all set.

For most warmth look for tights that have a brushed inner surface – sometimes referred to as ‘Roubaix’, a brand name that has become a generic term.

For more money, but totally worth it – if only for the avoidance of the special mottled blue and white of your poor dead thighs – look for softshell tights. Most have panels of softshell fabric where you need it, leaving the rest of the tights in a lighter fabric. It does make for a firmer feel and any tights constructed in this combination should be shaped (articulated) at the knee. They do require more time to put on, but smooth them in place in the manner of a 40s film star adjusting the seams of her nylons and they shouldn’t move at all when you ride.

Tights with a built-in pad are sleeker because you don’t get that tell-tale muffin-thigh from the shorts underneath. But if you run as well, the versatility of a non-chamois style might be more important. We never judge.

The question whether to bib or not to bib is long debated. Bib tights are SO comfortable and help keep you warm, but loo stops in the wilds are logistically challenging unless you shell out for the type with special drop seats.

These are genius but tend to be more expensive, and aren’t foolproof in operation. Let’s just say we were once jack knifed ‘in the position’ when we realised we couldn’t get ours up and were effectively locked there by the very construction designed to help. Hilarity ensued.

A good compromise is a design with a flat panel at the front waist, which gets close to the ‘no waistband’ feel of a bib and remember to tuck your base layer in. Then remember you have it tucked in before you take off your jacket at the tea stop and reveal the effect.

Helly Hansen winter tight (no pad), £60

SCOTT W’s Shadow AS B-tights (pad and fleecy), £129.99

Pearl Izumi Symphony thermal tight (pad), £89.99

Gore Contest Windstopper bib tights (with ingenious zip to help with toilet breaks), £119.99

Waterproof baggies

If you ride off-road the one other addition to your legwear wardrobe should be a pair of waterproof baggies. The comfort difference of keeping trail-splash off your behind and therefore staying dry is immense.

Also consider them if you commute for keeping the spray off. If you wear baggies (even ordinary summer ones) over tights by the way it keeps the chill off the important thigh muscles, adds another layer of warmth and you don’t need windproof tights.


Gloves can be tricky – it’s a fine balance between being warm enough and getting suddenly sweat-bathed hands when you warm up. We aim for slightly cold hands when we set off, knowing that in ten minutes (or after the first hard climb) our hands will be nice and toasty.

Pearl Izumi Lobster gloves may look a tad wacky but they work brilliantly.

As with jackets, softshell is your friend for water resistance as well as warmth. If you regularly experience that crying pain on fingers that just won’t thaw then look for lobster gloves – so called because the style split the fingers into two, like a claw. Sounds bonkers. Works.

Pearl Izumi Pro shell Lobster glove, £59.99

Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Soft Shell Lobster glove, £59.99

Craft Thermal Split Finger Bike glove, RRP £40 (£36)

Socks & neck

No it’s not a lampshade cover. Buffs are available in a huge range of colours and patterns

For the other extremity – wool socks all the way. Knee length ones if you can find them. They double up for the schoolgirl look in warmer months so it’s never money wasted.

Finally, your best winter accessory is a Buff – an unassuming tube of soft wicking synthetic fabric (or – hooray! – merino) that tucks into the collar of your jacket to seal it, goes under a helmet as a headband/beanie – or when it gets so cold you lose all shame, can be pulled into a balaclava. If it’s really cold, you can even get an extended Buff with a fleece section.

SealSkinz Thin Ankle Sock, £24.99

Endura Coolmax Long Socks, £11.99 (pack of 2)

Original Buff, £13

Now suit up and ride. Or alternatively, go Dutch:

The Dutch way of tacking the cold. Image by Amsterdamized via Flickr


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