While there’s a lot of truth to the old maxim ‘There’s never the wrong weather, only the wrong kit’, it offers scant consolation when you find yourself a mile or two into a cold and soggy commute using very definitely ‘the wrong kit’.
Here comes the sun
Let’s start with some blue-sky thinking because not all cycle commutes have to be grey and dank affairs, and even riding in bright sunlight requires some preparation for success.
The secret to any effective cycling wardrobe is layering, and we can begin this process in warm weather. Five garments should constitute year-round cycling fundamentals: padded cycling shorts, a good quality baselayer, a T-shirt or cycling jersey, a breathable but waterproof, highly visible and reflective jacket, and protective eyewear.
The shorts are purely for physical comfort in the saddle and can be worn underneath other bottoms depending on conditions, although getting a bit of early-morning breeze to your shins is a nice wake-up. However, a good quality baselayer is particularly important in warmer weather because it will help wick perspiration away from the skin, meaning you won’t arrive at work drenched in sweat.
A T-shirt or jersey is a basic layer, which you can wear as your outer if the weather is particularly good. However, although a cycling jacket might seem like it would hinder the evaporation of moisture in warm weather, if you invest in a high-quality product you should find it still keeps you feeling comfortable.
Then to those cycling glasses. Even in the morning, UV rays can affect your eyes and can contribute to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration over time. More pragmatically in the short term, tinted lenses will help you see more clearly when the sun is low in the early morning or evening, and they’ll keep flies and midges out of your eyes in summer.
Wet and windy
While we’re still thinking about eyewear, the reason why we refer to them as cycling glasses rather than ‘sunglasses’ is because in wet weather they help protect your eyes from road spray and little pieces of foreign matter – such as silt and grit – that are thrown up. So fit a clear rather than tinted lens and wear them in lowlight conditions, too.
If you’ve purchased wisely, your breathable high-vis jacket will offer effective protection against the rain and wind. If you wish to add waterproof trousers or even water-resistant cycling tights, there are suitable garments available. However, the levels of discomfort caused by water on your legs is largely governed by ambient temperature – if it’s not chilly, just towel them down at the end of your commute.
Don’t forget to hang all your wet clothing to dry when you reach work, or ideally have a spare set of shorts, baselayer and jersey stashed away in a desk or locker for the return commute. Then put the really wet stuff in a plastic bag to take home inside your rucksack or pannier.
There are also other things you can do to stop the worst of the weather from even reaching your body.
The first is to fit mudguards to your bike. Front mudguards will stop road water from spraying up onto your legs, torso and even face, while rear mudguards will stop water and mud spraying up your back, which is both uncomfortable and dirties your clothes. To find out if your bike will accept mudguards, look to see if there are mounting brackets on your frame and fork by the wheel dropouts. Even if your bike doesn’t have these, as long as there is enough clearance between your tyres and fork or frame, you could fit clip-on mudguards that still offer a decent amount of protection.
Other accessories that you’ll probably already have fitted but it’s worth using in wet weather are your bike lights. Poor weather tends to bring about poor visibility, so switch on your lights even if it’s officially daylight hours.
Cold as ice
When the temperature drops, it’s time to start ramping up those layering options. For your torso, you’ve already got a baselayer, a T-shirt or jersey, and a jacket, but you can augment these with long-sleeve jerseys, softshells or gilets. Buy cycling-specific garments as these are designed to provide the best fit when you’re in a typical riding position.
Actually, in cold weather, your torso is probably the easiest thing to keep warm – your limbs and extremities are the areas of most concern. For arms, you could wear stretchy arm warmers underneath any long-sleeve tops. Leg warmers are handy, too, although in very cold conditions you’d be better served by wearing thermal cycling tights, or even thermal cycling tights under waterproof trousers.
To keep the chill from your neck and chest, use a snood, Buff or multi-purpose scarf. On your head, wear a thermal hat or skullcap underneath your helmet.
Hands are particularly vulnerable in cold weather, so waterproof, thermal full-finger gloves are a must. And don’t forget about your feet: waterproof, thermal cycling overshoes might seem a bit extreme but if you have ever suffered foot freeze on the bike, you’ll understand.
It might seem like quite a shopping list but you don’t have to buy it all at once. If you put your commuting wardrobe together sensibly, it’ll help you keep riding all year round.
You don’t need to look like a racer for the journey to work. Normal clothing is fine – as long as your bike is properly equipped.
It’s colder, darker, and wetter, but cycling to work can still be the highlight of your day if you have the right equipment and attitude.
Spread the cycling message by logging your journeys and encouraging colleagues and friends to ride. There are prizes – and prestige – to be won.