Having spent a couple of winters working as a bike messenger in London, I know what gear works and what doesn’t. Whilst I don’t fully subscribe to the view ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,’ I do know how wearing the correct clothing on the bike can make your day bearable, or uncomfortable. I’ve spent hundreds of hours riding in pretty terrible English weather and found out where it makes sense to spend your pennies. Obviously comfort and performance are important, but for me a big priority is clothing that will last. And seeing as people are always asking me, I thought I’d share what’s turned out to be my favourite clothing for winter riding, what keeps me smiling throughout the cold months.
First up, feet. Though not winter specific, I swear by my SIDI EAGLES- yep, they cost a bomb, but they’ve taken such a beating and still perform like the day I bought them. They’re a little breezy in winter, but that’s when I layer them up with socks and overshoes. Check out my review here.
If you’re spending a lot of time on the bike, your feet are often the first part of your body to feel the cold. I absolutely detest the way they look, but these ENDURA neoprene overshoes work incredibly well, keeping your feet warm and dry. The only downside is, the underside gets shredded if you walk in them but I found that they still functioned just fine, staying in place despite eventually looking a bit shoddy. If you don’t plan on walking about in them like I used to, they’ll probably last a little longer.
If the weather is truly abominable, and you still need to go out on your bike for prolonged periods of time, get some SEALSKIN SOCKS. Though these claim to be waterproof, I found that they’re not entirely, however they’re a hell of a lot better than cotton or wool socks in the rain.
If it’s not wet, but it is stupidly cold, you’ll be wanting some good socks. I’ve tried a lot, and whilst these RAPHA merino socks are really expensive, they’re super warm and last a really long time so they’re worth every penny. They are the best socks for cycling in cold weather and my absolute favourites.
So that’s your feet, now on to your hands. When I was working as a bike messenger, I tried on so many pairs of gloves before finding some that kept me warm, but didn’t hamper movement. My favourites turned out to be the GORE BIKE WEAR ladies ‘Windstopper’ gloves, but unfortunately I lost one, and they’ve changed the gloves since then, removing the velcro fastening around the wrist for some reason. So my new favourites are now my PEARL IZUMI women’s ‘cyclone’ gloves, which are comfortable, lightweight, look nice and have lasted well.
When it’s really, really, rotten weather, freezing cold and rainy, or you get very cold fingers like me, the best gloves are the FOX ‘Antifreeze.’ These are fairly bulky, but not uncomfortably so, and I absolutely promise that you won’t get cold hands with these. But be warned, if your hands don’t get that cold, these will make them sweat!
Moving away from hands and feet, my next essential piece of kit is my DHB Vaeon Roubaix leg warmers. Leg warmers can be the most irritating thing wear, having to yank the up all the times drives me absolutely crazy, plus no one wants wrinkly old ‘Nora Batty’ style leg wear. These leg warmers are soft and fleecy on the inside, don’t dig in around the top and most importably, don’t fall down. They’re also really cheap. Win!
I’ve tried loads of arm warmers too, and plenty of these are annoying to wear as well! I’m not going to bother listing all the ones I don’t like, but I’ve found the VELOBICI VB Ella arm warmers to be adequate; you can just put them on and forget about them. They’re pretty light, so in winter I wear them underneath a long sleeve jersey – at the moment, I wear a base layer, a short sleeve jersey and the arm warmers, then the long sleeve jersey over the top.
My next favourite bit of kit is a little pricey, but you know what, I don’t buy high heels, get manicures or blow drys, have crazy nights out etc, so if I want to spend a bit of money on cycling kit, well I’m gonna! My Rapha winter bib shorts/tights are so warm and snuggly, fit really well, look nice and have held up over several winters. I love them. Mine are the men’s version – I’ve had my Rapha stuff since before the women’s line was launched so I have no idea what the women’s bib shorts or tights are like.
Along with the Rapha bib tights, I adore my tatty old pair of NIKE thermal women’s running tights. These have lasted over five years, including a couple of years as a messenger, and they still perform well. They’re very soft, don’t have a seam under the crotch, come up high enough but not too high and they dry very quickly when they get wet.
Next up, is another piece of RAPHA, my women’s rain jacket. I have to confess that I didn’t actually pay for this little beauty – I was reviewing it for Coven Magazine and the kind people at Rapha let me hold on to her. The jacket is £190, so pretty astronomical in price, but it does look swish, fits really well and holy crap, it keeps the water out well. I wore this in Tuscany earlier this year when we were caught in a torrential downpour – it was raining so heavily that we couldn’t even see, but when I got back to the hotel and took this jacket off, I was dry as a bone underneath.
So that’s my fancy pants jacket, but I can’t leave out my other favourite; my Gore-Tex KARRIMOR ’phantom’ jacket, a totally battered hand-me-down. This is the jacket that I wore over two winter working as a messenger and it never let me down. It’s totally waterproof and has a hood with a strip of wire in it so you can bend it how you want it. When it was pissing it down at work, I’d wear a baseball cap underneath the hood – the hat kept the water out of my eyes and the hood stopped water dripping down my neck. It’s men’s jacket so I can fit a lot of layers underneath.
Finally, a buff! My Dad got me one of these for Christmas – it’s basically a tube of material to wear around your neck, head or both. It’s really soft, packs down to a tiny size and stops a draft blowing down your neck.
And that’s it! My choice of jersey depends on what mood I’m in, that’s about all there is to it. And bib shorts, well, I’ve a few pairs I like, but this post is about kit that’s stood the test of time and I’m still not sure which bib shorts would be my ultimate favourites.
As for base layers, well I’m yet to find one that can stand the amount of abuse I put them through. Does anyone even make a base layer that doesn’t fall apart after multiple wears and washes, they all seem so weedy and get holes in immediately. I’d love to hear any recommendations. And how about winter hats you can wear under your helmet. Are there any good ones?