Written by Alchemy’s custom bike painter, Phil Harwood.
I grew up in coastal New England, and am no stranger to riding a bike in some of the worst conditions imaginable.
I’m a huge fan of the Spring Classics, but has the Peloton ever ridden in “thunder snow” during Paris Roubaix? I honestly have no idea, but having survived 5 winters as a bike messenger in Boston, I certainly have.
Pedaling through the dreaded “wintry mix” of 33 degrees and pouring rain? Check. Having to carry my bike over my shoulder, running and slipping through downtown streets in a foot of snow to make a rush delivery? Yup.
I learned quickly that to successfully ride in winter meant heading the advice of this oft-used quote: “There is no bad weather, only bad gear.”
Investing in quality cold weather biking gear can make or break a ride. Here are 5 of my favorite pieces of winter biking gear that will help you stay warm and comfortable so you can have a great ride no matter the weather.
Good layering is key to staying warm on your ride when the temperatures drop. A merino wool baselayer will keep you both warm and dry, as it’s designed to both wick moisture away from your body and retain heat at the same time.
These layers work great, but my current favorite is actually polyester from Pearl Izumi, the Transfer long sleeve
. It’s technically a summer baselayer, but it has mesh back- and arm-panels, so even in cold weather it does an excellent job keeping your core warm, while allowing your back to breathe freely and not get sweaty.
This is a go-to most every day, especially for commuting rides while wearing a backpack.
Warmers, Warmers, Warmers
Arm warmers, leg warmers, toe warmers, and neck warmers are all amazing pieces of gear I use religiously for at least 9 months out of the year.
Cold morning commute and a warm afternoon commute? All these items will keep you warm when it's chilly, and easily fit in a backpack/jersey pocket/frame bag for when the temperature rises.
I would also throw a vest into this section, as it’ll add some core warmth, especially on the descent. But a vest can easily be unzipped for a climb to help cool you down, as well as give you a real swashbuckling pro look!
And the best feature of the vest is three extra pockets to stash more gear, like more warmers!
And of course, in a global pandemic, a good neckwarmer can actually double as a mask when on the bike path or mountain bike trail to help keep you and fellow riders safe. Primal Wear, right here in Denver, has a dual-purpose warmer/mask called a “maska”
that comes in all variety of colors and styles.
Rain Shell Jacket
This is important: A good rain shell will keep your core dry and warm in even the gnarliest of downpours.
I actually use two– a Primal Wear rain jacket
that I carry with me in the warmer months.It’s translucent white, folds up ridiculously small, and I carry it in a little RoadRunner Burrito Handlebar bag
with a mini pump and some extra sealant and a tube.
Small storms can pop up in the mountains on even the most blue-bird days. Staying prepped with this gear has saved me from getting completely drenched countless times.
For the winter months, I have a Gore Bike Wear jacket
, which is really just a thin shell that is water proof. You can supposedly wear it in the shower with a hoodie on underneath, and the hoodie will stay bone dry.
I haven’t actually put this theory to the test, but it does have extra-long arms to play nice with gloves, so your wrists stay dry in snow and rain.
It has a longer flap in the back to help keep your lower back and butt as dry as possible, has reflective features for safety, and of course fits tightly enough to not blow around — without being so tight that you can't fit a warm wool sweater or long sleeve jersey underneath.
My favorite winter biking gloves right now are a pair of Craft 2-in-1 Hybrid Weather glove
. They’re wind and waterproof, and feature a mitten shell that folds into a neat little compartment near your wrist.
These are great gloves for a place like Colorado, where you might get warm on the climb up but cold on the descent. To prep for the cold descent that inevitably follows, you simply pull out the mitten covers and have extra protection from the wind and cold.
The 5-finger gloves are light enough to be considered 3-season. As a bonus, the mittens are permanently attached, so you can't lose them.
They’re also friendly with smart-phone screens, which is a huge plus so you don’t have to take them on and off to send a text or look at a map.
Winter Biking Boots
A good pair of winter biking shoes will make riding in conditions previously thought impossible, possible. Don’t be misled by the name — winter boots can be used in fall and spring as well.
Cold, wet feet will ruin a ride. You can ride farther and longer on slushy and sloggy days if your feet stay warm and dry.
I have had a few different pairs of winter riding boots over the years. I’m currently using a pair of Shimano MW7 winter bike shoes
. They are mountain bike shoes, which are great for walking around in bad weather as well.
They feature a tough Michelin rubber sole, a Gore-Tex insulated liner, a boa to dial in the fit, and a lace shield Velcro strap to keep everything inside dry and clean.
I bought mine a half size bigger to accommodate a wool cycling sock. Defeet
makes really good winter biking socks, as do non-cycling brands like Smartwool
Stay Warm all Winter Long
Investing in good winter biking gear will extend your riding season, and even cross over into other outdoor activewear for activities like hiking, snow-shoeing, ice fishing, and more.
Some other honorable gear mentions would include lights (both front and rear): A bottle cage thermos for coffee and tea, clear or yellow lens glasses for lowlight situations, and fenders.
Up next, we’ve got an extreme cold weather biking gear write-up for the really hardcore cyclists out there that like myself, have no off-season. But in the meantime, check out our top 5 mountain bike upgrades we’d recommend in 2021 >