While spring and warmer weather riding are on the horizon, many of us in the colder parts of the country still have scores of frigid miles ahead of us. Riding in cold weather, and the awkward shoulder seasons between fall and winter, and winter and spring, requires building a clothing system that works well for you and your riding style in order to stay comfortable.
Regardless of whether you are fat-tire biking, commuting or getting bone-chilling road miles in, the layer that sits directly on your skin is maybe the most essential. While insulated bibs or riding pants will take care of your lower half, having a good next-to-skin jersey or top-layer is essential.
After many cold days and miles in the wind, snow, and wet, we have come across a few layers that make great options for getting out, and enjoying yourself, regardless of weather.
Castelli Flanders LS
The Flanders LS is a warm form-fitting option from Castelli. It has a fleece finish that keeps the garment exceptionally warm and soft on the skin. It’s great for cold days as a layer or during the shoulder season beneath a windproof jacket.
The SottoZero polyester fabric resists developing any funk and keeps you comfortable regardless of how far you’re riding. We particularly like the flat seams which help the shirt from chafing or rubbing uncomfortably on any pressure point, like the shoulders, where other layers may press onto your skin.
The Flanders LS is cut for cycling and will perform far better than a hiking base layer when you are bent over your bars. It fits and stretches with you and is cut longer in the back to keep it tucked into your bibs without slipping out, leaving a ribbon of cold, uncomfortable skin at the bottom of your back. It fits tight, so while you can wear it under baggier layers, it works especially well under traditional tight fitting cycling clothing that road or gravel riders might have a closet full of.
We also loved the intelligent heat management that included mesh fabric in the armpits to vent off excess heat and prevent sweating, as well as a high tight collar that seals off your body from headwinds that would try to snake their way down to your chest.
It’s a great option for cold days, giving full coverage down to the wrist with a no frills design meant to stay in place, be comfortable on the skin, and keep you warm.
Specialized Trail-Series Thermal Jersey
If tight, form-fitting layers aren’t your thing, then we think you’ll enjoy this warm layer from Specialized.
This piece comes from the mountain biking world and brings with it a more relaxed fit than road-focused cycling pieces. And with the fit come style decisions, like the front kangaroo pocket, that makes this warm layer fine to wear by itself. You could even get away with wearing it on a patio for a post-ride beer without raising an eyebrow from any non-cyclists around you. It looks like a smart piece of well fitting, but not overly tight, athleisure.
It’s not all form though, with it comes function. Inside the kangaroo pocket there is a zippered pocket that is a great place to store things you want to keep close to your body like your keys, or work ID, without having to worry about them slipping out.
The 91-percent polyester, 9-percent spandex fabric helps you stay warm when wearing it as one of several layers on particularly cold days. And it can also be worn under a windproof layer on cool early-season days. The PolarTec Power Grid manages moisture and pulls sweat away from your skin, but traps heat, all while staying impressively light.
We love that this piece also includes a side zipper at the bottom hem to help manage heat. Should you get too hot, you can unzip the vertical zipper at the hem to loosen the shirt around your waist. This lets more air in, and heat out, without shooting cold air down your chest like a traditional collar zipper would. It’s a clever way to give mechanical means of managing temperature while working with how your body moves on a bicycle.
Additionally, front facing panels have thicker fabric than those facing the rear, like on the back of your arms, where wind is less of a concern and gives opportunity for temperature management.
While the fit makes it not a great option for road cyclists and those working on their aero-positions, it’s great for mountain bikers, folks who ride for fitness and commuters, who could use the many benefits without worrying about a skin-tight fit or layering it beneath a tight riding jacket.
Overall it’s a winner. Warm, intelligently designed for biking, and on top of that it even looks sharp.
Velocio Men’s Merino Mesh SL Base Layer
We are huge fans of a sleeveless base layer as a flexible option for adding a bit of warmth. If you already have a system that works well for you, this layer adds almost no weight, fits tight to your core, and saves you from squeezing another layer down your jacket sleeve while providing a tad more comfort on an unseasonably cold day.
This piece from Velocio is a blend of merino wool and polyester. This blend gives you the benefits of merino, that include moisture wicking, warmth and resistance to smell, with the structure and durability of more traditional polyester. The blend feels incredibly soft on your skin; there is no scratching, no itching and none of the irritation that can sometimes come with sweat soaked polyester. It dries quickly after a ride and really does resist developing a funk.
This is a great piece for when the coldest days of winter break into the mellow melting of early spring, or when the leaves start to fall at the start of autumn. It’s a transitional piece for transitional seasons that gives you just enough without adding weight, bulk or bunching beneath your other layers.
While this particular sleeveless base layer is running low in inventory, consider other sleeveless bases from cycling manufacturers as a piece of your cold weather layering kit.