Winter Cycling in Style

We originally posted this article a while back, but so many of our readers told us they loved the info, so we’ve decided to post it again!

From crisp days with bright piercing sunshine to incessant drizzle, blustery wind and sometimes even snow, winter can bring some of the most euphoric highs and wettest lows of cycling in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re used to dressing to go out in our winters, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to dress for biking. The principles are the same: stay warm, stay dry, look good.

For a hard core commute, investing in a full rain suit is a good idea, but for casual rides around town, you’ve may already have what you need in your closet.

Layer it up

If you’re easily cold in the winter, a good base layer will keep you toasty. I live in my silk long underwear bottoms from REI — they layer smoothly under snug-fitting jeans and keep me surprisingly warm for how thin they are. Smartwool leggings are another excellent option and they come in both come in men’s and women’s styles. They are well made and worth the investment.

Under skirts, I wear fleece-lined tights and leggings. The right kind of tights can be surprisingly wind-blocking, and they’ll stay warm in the rain whereas denim will become cold and clingy.


Wool fabrics are an excellent option in the winter. Both cotton and wool absorb water, but with cotton water fills in the spaces between fibers and leaches out your heat. Wool fibers, on the other hand, maintain pockets of air to insulate you, even when the fabric is wet.

A dense wool, even a light-weight one, can easily keep water at bay. Wool works well for light rain and on-again, off-again days. Wool also airs out well and does not develop the wet-weather stink that synthetics are prone to have. From base layer to sweater, coat, hat and scarf, wool is the way to go.

A Good Coat

One of the best investments you can make in winter, whether you’re biking or not, is a solid, durable coat. Look for a 100% waterproof synthetic (wear light clothing underneath to prevent overhearing), a nominally water proof fabric (with wool underneath for extra rain protection) or a dense wool jacket (it does not have to be thick to be dense). You want enough ease in the fit so it is comfortable with a sweater underneath and when you lean over your handle bars. I recommend a style long enough to keep your rear-end and thighs dry.

I like a lightweight, mid-thigh waterproof trench with a high collar which can be layered over a wool sweater on extra rainy or cold days, without overhearing.


Nothing kills the enjoyment of a bike ride faster than feeling as if your ears and fingers are about to snap off and shatter on the road like icicles. Build up a reliable arsenal of accessories, however, and you’ll have no worries.

Head: In the winter, a lot of people like a multi-sport – like those by Nutcase, Pryme and Bern – because the solid shell traps in warmth. If you stick with a standard helmet, use a thin hat or headband to keep your ears and head warm without adding bulk underneath your helmet.

Face: A cowl or scarf pulled up over your mouth and nose can help keep sensitive skin warm. If you prefer full coverage, try a balaclava. If rain gets in your eyes, go for a pair of clear glasses coated with an anti-fog spray that prevents raindrops from forming.

Neck: I love a silk bandana or wool cowl to keep my neck toasty. Cowls are easy to slip on and don’t get tangled up in other objects.

Hands: At our house, we have a pile of cycling gloves for all varieties of weather, from fingerless to fleece-lined lobster claws. My old winter standby, however, is a pair of lined leather gloves. The leather is waterproof and the lining is thick enough to keep my hands warm without losing dexterity. I’ll add wool or silk glove liners if it gets too cold, but if it gets truly frigid I’ll break out the lobster claws. Another option is a fully waterproof shell that slips over gloves of an appropriate warmth for the weather. Glove needs vary widely from person to person. Those who struggle with circulation issues know how terribly painful fingers can be and how important it is to find the right gloves. We’ll be devoting a future article to gloves and welcome your ideas below.

Feet: If you ride clipless, invest in a pair of insulated waterproof gaiters. If you prefer to ride in street shoes, go for a pair of tall boots (and keep in mind you’ll probable get some upspray from slushy puddles). Carry your work shoes in your bag (or leave them at work) to prevent them from getting slushy during the ride. Thick wool socks are a must, whatever shoes you choose to wear. Keep a pair of dry socks in your drawer at work or in your bag, just in case.

Stay Cheerful!

In parting, remember that bright colors aren’t just good for chasing away your winter blahs — they also help cars see you. This is especially important in the winter when lower light, drizzling rain and fogged up windows are distracting drivers more than usual.

Share Your Style Tips

What are your tips for staying warm, dry and stylish in the winter? Tell us all about your bike style in the comments below.

Jessie Kwak is a writer who loves to type about the good life: travel, outdoor adventures, food and drink, and (of course) cycling.

9 thoughts on “Winter Cycling in Style”

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  2. It sounds excessive and silly,but when it’s cold and really rainy I wear kayaking neoprene gloves with an ibex wool glove liner. The wool helps absorb any sweat and helps insulate. The neoprene stays grippy when wet and keeps my hands toasty.

    1. I don’t consider that excessive or silly. In fact, neoprene is a rather common material for things like rain gloves and rain booties. If it works for WATER SPORTS, chances are it is a good idea for biking in the rain.

      Thanks for sharing this excellent tip! Sounds like a really good formula for warm and dry hands.

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  4. I wouldn’t be without my Gore-Tex clone (Columbia Sportswear Omni-Tech?) rain pants. Keeps me dry and warm — plus the mud doesn’t stick to it (i.e. self-cleaning).

    For the neck, i use a Turtleneck circular scarf (i.e. sewn into a flat doughnut shape).

    I use my regular vented helmet, but wear a thin polyester cap (which i bought for a couple bucks at Home Depot last winter) underneath it in cold weather. Keeps my head warm. Thinking of making a helmet rain cap out of rip-stop nylon and reflective strips, similar to the Sugoi Zap Helmet Cover i saw at REI.

    I like the neoprene glove idea; have a problem with my fingers getting cold. Been using a cheap set of Harbor Freight work gloves over a wool liner insert this year; pull out my thinsulate lined skiing gloves when it gets really cold, but neoprene sounds better for bicycling.

  5. Yes, I’m for sure going to have to look into some neoprene gloves. The fleece-lined neoprene Glacier Glove looks like it might be just the thing for my always-freezing hands. I might just have to start wearing them in the office!

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