With the Autumn weather starting to kick in we’re turning our attention to the art of layering: of combining garments to create an effective barrier against the elements.
Two types of climatic condition blight the cyclist in winter, and both include the cold. If you’re lucky, you’ll ride in cold, dry conditions; less fortunate, and the weather will be cold and wet.
With Melbourne's variable weather it's a good idea to have an assortment of winter kit, having a few 'go to' items are a good start, but its always nice to have a few extra garments that you can combine to get the best experience during the cooler months.
The base layer is the garment that underlies all others. It has a dual responsibility: to provide a first, if basic layer of insulation, and to set moisture from the skin on the first leg of its journey through however many other layers to the outside world.
Base layers come in various fabrics and sizes, or, to coin a phrase from the clothing industry, ‘weights’. A short-sleeve, synthetic layer might be considered the lightest of all; a short-sleeve merino layer, slightly heavier. Merino has its own air channels too, and is soft and wicks effectively, but might not to offer the same longevity as a good synthetic base layer. A single merino layer is still likely to be warmer than a single synthetic layer, but if you’re layering for the very coldest conditions, don’t rule out the possibility of combining two synthetic bases: a sleeveless beneath a long-sleeve, for example.
A wind and shower proof vest is a versatile option for those days when anything can happen. If you are a beach road cyclist a vest will help with those lovely cold south westerly winds, massively cutting the wind chill and if you get a dusting of rain it will at the very least keep your core body dry-ish and warm. The best part about vests is that its easy to remove and packs away in a back jersey pocket should you no longer need it. Combined with a base layer, jersey and arm warmers, its often the perfect item for the Autumn combo.
A great option for the cold but not freezing cold days, where you might opt for a vest over a full blown jacket. Arm warmers, like the vest offer you the option to easily remove the on the go, should you feel they are no longer needed. As mentioned above these are a great option paired with a vest.
One of the most surprising sights to an experienced cyclist is seeing a rider clearly new to the sport riding in shorts in single-digit temperatures. Everyone’s personal thermostat is different, of course, but 10 degrees might be considered “a line in the sand”. Exposing the knees, in particular, to very low temperatures is likely to be an uncomfortable experience, during the ride and afterwards. Legwear with a Roubaix-style fabric – one whose lining is brushed to a fleece, offering a pile to trap air and so provide insulation – comes in many shapes and sizes.
Covering the entire leg can be done either with a full-length tight, usually a bib-tight with braces, although those that end at the waist are still readily available (we’d advise against this style: the elasticated waist band can be uncomfortable, and it’s a design that forgoes the coverage to the kidneys offered by bib-tights).
A second method of ensuring full-leg coverage with the insulation of a tight is a combination of Roubaix-lined bib-short (an increasingly popular garment) and an accompanying Roubaix-lined knee warmer. The combination provides greater versatility (the short can be paired alternatively with knee warmers or with no additional leg cover.
Wet weather needn’t mean wet and freezing ‘guns’. An increasing number of manufacturers are producing tights designed so see off the rain, with new aqua replant fabrics.
Footwear can be layered to a degree, although you’re unlikely to wear two garments from the same family, as you might with a base layer, for example. Keeping the feet warm and dry in winter will involve a heavier sock than for summer, and an overshoe to wear, well, over the shoe. As with all cycling garments, different ‘weights’ apply, and different fabrics will offer protection variously from the cold, wind, or rain.
Merino is the ‘go to’ fabric for socks of any weight. Its natural wicking properties make it an ideal choice for any season, and its insulation ensures its suitability for winter. Additionally, merino remains warm when wet or dry. Look for additional material in the heel and sole to provide padding and greater insulation, but be aware that too much could create a tight spot in the shoe that could cut off circulation, leaving you colder, rather than making you warmer. A ‘tall’ sock will provide an insulating overlap between tight/leg warmer and sock.
Neoprene has increasingly become the first choice for designers of the ‘heaviest’ winter overshoes. Like gloves made from the same material, the panels are likely to be united with a ‘blind’ stitch (one that doesn’t pass entirely through the material) and bonded. Two types of neoprene overshoe are prevalent: double lined and single lined. The first uses nylon only on the lining, leaving the exterior with a rubberised appearance, such as Endura’s Road Overshoe. These are warm and highly effective at keeping out water (from the top only – cleat holes in the sole will allow some water ingress).
Seeing off the rain and defeating the cold, while remaining sufficiently ventilated to avoid overheating can be a tricky balance. Layering can provide much of the answer, but it requires experience. Modern, technical fabrics are surprisingly effective, but manufacturers’ claims should be treated with caution. A jacket sufficiently sealed to keep out rain is likely to have difficulty managing moisture of a different kind: sweat. For the most flexibility look for a jacket that fits you well and is suitable for a wide range of temperatures.