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Cold Weather: Dress for a comfortable ride

Cold is a relative concept. I live in Southern California. Our weather during late fall, winter and early spring is just a constant heatwave to much of the world. For us, cool weather starts in late September and our seriously cold weather begins in late December and usually lasts through March and April.

If the weather and temperature is relatively constant throughout your ride you don't have to wear layers that you're going shed, so the convenience of arm warmers versus a long sleeve base layer isn't an issue. Our weekday morning rides are generally 25 miles and begin at 6:00AM and we're usually back around 7:15. The temperature is relatively constant during these short workouts.

At any temperature you should wear at least two layers: Base Layer and Outer Layer. The Outer Layer is usually your cycling jersey. The Base Layer is the most important one. When it's seriously cold (36F - 49F) I wear three layers and a skull cap and booties. The middle layer provides the real warmth and comfort. The skull cap is a critical component. If your head stays warm, it's easier for the rest of your body to stay warm, especially your hands and feet. If you need extra warmth or a wind break to block wind chill you can wear a vest over your jersy.

Cold Weather Clothing Components:

  • Base Layer
  • Middle Layer
  • Arm Warmers
  • Leg Warmers
  • Jersey
  • Vest
  • Skull Cap
  • Socks
  • Booties
  • Gloves
Base Layer

The first layer is a fast wicking and fast drying layer. A close fit is important but never baggy. Baggy layers don't provide good insulation and insulation is what keeps you warm. If cold air is circulating under and through the base layer you're going to be cold.

I've found that if the base layer is too tight without sufficient loft you'll feel a slight chill when the temperature is low. No loft means no insulation, so the cool air produces a chill over the layer and against your skin. It's an odd sensation - you're not necesarily cold but you can feel a chill. It's similar to eating a mentol cough drop; if you inhale slowly, you feel a chill in your mouth but it's not really cold.

I recommend:

Wool Base Layer: Wool is the absolute best base layer you'll ever find. The natural oils and structure of wool act to wick moisture. Wool has the best loft you'll find in a fabric. Loft keeps warm air close to your skin while the wicking properties keep moisture away. When it's hot, the moisture keeps the air cool and when it cold, your body keeps the air warm. Merino wool is soft and will not irritate your skin. Synthetic fabrics work very well, however, keep in mind; synthetics try to memic wool. Synthetics don't provide the same loft characteristic as wool and tend to create bad odors.

Smartwool products are very soft and don't itch. If you think wool is itchy, give Smartwool a chance, I think you'll be happy.

For Wool Visit:

Patogonia's Capilene® T-Shirt: These tees can provide a close fit. These shirts are comfortable and work very well. Visit

Craft Underwear: These are close fitting and have enough loft to keep moisture away from your skin. A very good base layer. Visit

If it's sub 55F I'll wear three layers and a head liner: