Winter Riding Essentials: A Guide to Gear for Cold-Weather Road Cycling

Winter Riding Essentials: A Guide to Gear for Cold-Weather Road Cycling

You've heard the saying: "there's no bad weather, just poor gear choices."

I'm not so sure I agree completely -- you won't catch me outside in extended downpours (although I have been accidentally caught in a few), dangerously high winds, and temps below 30 -- but I am proud to say that living in Portland has made me much more of a winter weather rider. I've learned that 6 months of the year is a long time to spend on the trainer, so this year I decided to learn how to tackle...and even enjoy winter weather in the Pacific Northwest. 

I can't speak to riding in heavy snow (perhaps we'll have to interview a few of our A2 athletes who can!), but here's a bit of what I've learned during my trials and errors: 

Layering is Key:

The key to staying warm during winter rides is effective layering. Start with a good moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your skin. When it's really cold, I'll make the base layer either a wool or sport-tec thermal, but I often just use one of my running base layers to save some money on gear.

Add an insulating layer (or two) for warmth and finish with a windproof and waterproof outer layer to protect against the elements. Remember, it's better to have too many layers that you can adjust as needed rather than not enough.

Example of what I often wear in rain in the 40s: long sleeve running base layer top, thermal bibs (rain pants with lighter bibs if I'm expecting consistent rain), Rapha thermal long sleeve jersey (one of the warmest layers I own), rain shell or jacket, buff on the neck, buff on the ears, neoprene gloves, wool socks (tucked into bibs for rain coverage), neoprene shoe covers

Windproof and Waterproof Gear:

Good winter gear can sometimes feel like it costs an arm and a leg. That being said, I've learned that investing in good gear will make a huge difference in enjoying your ride. I have been lucky enough to find some of my favorite Rapha, Showers Pass, Giordana and Pearl Izumi gear on sale or sold secondhand through online marketplaces or friends. (Note: there are so many more other fantastic brands, these are just the brands I know and use.)

One thing not to skimp on: hand and head coverage. Cold hands can quickly turn an enjoyable ride into an uncomfortable one. Invest in windproof and waterproof gloves to protect your hands from the biting winter chill and potential rain or snow. Consider gloves with touchscreen compatibility, allowing you to use your smartphone without exposing your fingers. Once I upgraded to a neoprene-like layer on my hands, my rides in the cold Portland rain became easy.

For head coverage, consider wearing a thermal cycling cap under your helmet (the brim can help in rain) or a stretchy headband to keep the ears warm. 

Cycling Tights or Leg Warmers:

Keep your legs warm with cycling tights or removable leg warmers designed for cold weather. Look for options with thermal insulation and/or wind resistance to provide maximum comfort during winter rides. If I know my ride may have fairly consistent rain, I will sometimes throw on a pair of rain pants (I use pants from Shower's Pass) and go for a lighter bib underneath. 


Shoe covers, shoe covers, shoe covers! And yes, there are practically covers for every temperature. During most of the winter, I use thermal and waterproof shoe covers and am toasty warm! Back when I lived in DC and it rained far less in the winter, I skipped the waterproof addition. Even in the spring and fall when temps may be a bit warmer or it may be a bit less rainy, I'll still often use at least toe covers on cold days or during cold triathlons (the toe covers can sit on the shoe while it's clipped onto the pedal if you do flying mounts!). 

I will never go out for a cold ride without shoe covers now - it's made that much of a difference. 

Lights and Reflective Gear:

Winter days are shorter, and riding in low light conditions is common. Ensure your bike is equipped with bright front and rear lights to enhance visibility. Wear reflective clothing or accessories to make yourself more noticeable to other road users. When riding at night, I've started attaching a reflective band to my legs after seeing one catch my eye while I was driving once. The up and down movement was easy to spot and let me know that a cyclist was ahead long before I could see the rest of them. 


At least in Portland, winter riding means wet and muddy conditions. Fenders help to keep water, mud, and slush from splattering onto you and the riders around you. Especially if you plan to go on group rides, having fenders is the polite move -- nobody wants to be stuck drinking your wheel water (and you definitely won't make friends that way). 

When looking for fenders, make sure you know which types of brakes you're using and how they mount on the bike -- there are many varieties out there depending on what you need! 


Get out there and ride!

Riding bikes in the winter can be a fantastic experience with the right gear. By investing in quality winter cycling gear, you can stay warm, comfortable, and safe while enjoying the beauty of winter landscapes. So, layer up, gear up, and embrace the cold weather on your two-wheeled adventures. Happy winter cycling!