What to wear when you’re riding in the winter: Cycling Coach Reid Beloni shares pro tips and hacks

by Stephanie Buss

Wearing the correct gear when you’re cycling in the winter can make the difference between a positive experience, and a miserable one. What you wear MATTERS, so we feel it’s important for riders to research the right clothing and be prepared for the fluctuating temperatures during our North Carolina winters.

Reid Beloni has been a professional cycling coach for six years and is one of Asheville Winter Bike League’s most experienced ride leaders, with over 15 years of riding experience under his belt. He is a USA Cycling Level 2 coach, and one thing he always stresses before a winter group ride is being prepared for wetter, colder temperatures.

So what’s the first rule of what to wear for winter riding? LAYERS.

“In order to stay comfortable when riding in the winter, you will need to layer,” says Reid. “You will be dealing with a lot of changing temperatures, and moisture. You’ll get hot when you climb and then super cold when you decent…so layering is super important.”

Reid recently gave a talk at the Kick-Off Party for AVL WBL, where he went over what to wear based on the temperature you are riding in. He started with what you would wear on a warmer day, like 65 degrees, and worked his way down to 30s and 40s.

“If we are starting on the warmest weather day, start with bibs and a jersey,” Reid says. “Then as it starts to get cooler, the first two things I grab are a base layer and arm warmers.”

Base layers wick away moisture, Reid explained, so it keeps you cooler when it’s warm, and warm when it’s cold. Even when it’s 65 degrees out, Reid likes to wear a sleeveless base layer for this reason. Depending on what you prefer, there are more heavy duty base layers available as well, but what Reid prefers is a lighter sleeveless base layer with arm warmers. That way if he gets too warm on the climb, he can pull the sleeves down, and then pull them back up on the descent.

As temperatures drop, a vest is best!

As it gets colder, Reid adds, you’re going to want a vest — which he highly recommends with pockets, “so you can access your snacks.” The front of the vest is windproof and the back is more of a mesh material, so when the front is zipped, it keeps the wind from hitting your core. The vest is crucial for riding, Reid adds, and works for a lot of different temperature ranges.

As far as the legs go, riders have the option of leg and knee warmers. Both are similar, but leg warmers cover a little more skin than knee warmers tend to do. If you’re choosing between the two, Reid recommends going with the leg warmers. You can always unzip them at the bottom and roll them up if you get too warm.

Cycling in 50 degree temps

So you’re on your bike, you’re wearing leg warmers, arm warmers and a vest, and you’re still cold. It’s time to add something to your top, but a long sleeve jersey may be too warm for 50 degree temps. Reid recommends pairing a long sleeve base layer with arm warmers instead, that way you can rip off the arm warmers if you get warm.

“This is a good in-between temperature hack,” says Reid.

Cold feet?

Invest in cycling socks — your feet will thank you! Avoid wearing cotton, and purchase different types of socks such as heavy duty, mid-weight and heavy duty wool socks. Wool makes a good choice, says Reid, because it wicks away moisture. Cotton does not.

For 50 degree temperature, Reid prefers a lightweight sock and a toe cover. When the wind is blasting your foot through the vents, you’ll be thankful for a foot cover to keep your toes warm.

Shoe cover hack: Electrical tape or duct tape.

“You can take electrical or duct tape and cover up the vents in your shoe in the winter. This is a great idea if you tend to get really cold feet.”

Cycling in the mid 40s (brrrrrrrr…..)

Now it’s mid 40s temperatures, and it is getting colder.

“You will want something a little more heavy duty,” says Reid. “Add a layer to your lower body, like a pair of tights.”

Tights are made to be windproof in the front, but not in the back, which adds to their comfort.

Pro cycling hack: Buy tights without the shammy. That way you don’t have to wash your tights after every ride, AND the shammy’s that come in shorts are more comfortable anyway than the ones that come in tights.

As for your upper body, you will want to add an insulating layer underneath the windproof layer, says Reid. Cycling jackets are a good choice because you can often take the sleeves off or open up the vents, so you’ll stay cool if needed.

Gloves: Keep your hands toasty

Much like your ride socks, Reid strongly recommends having different types of gloves for different temperatures.

“I ride with two pairs of gloves,” he says. “I start with heavier duty sometimes before I’m warmed up, and then I’ll switch to a dry (lighter) pair. This can make a big difference in terms of the quality of your ride. You can get away with one type of jacket, but you need different types of gloves and socks.”

Reid also recommends not layering up your gloves, because it tends to cut off circulation. Same with your feet; wearing two pairs of socks is not as efficient as wearing one pair of socks with a shoe cover. Reid personally likes to wear a lighter ride sock, like a summer sock, with a heavier duty shoe cover, and save the heavier duty socks for when it’s really cold outside.

If you use toe warmers, avoid putting the warmer in your shoe; instead, put it on the outside of your shoe and in your shoe cover to avoid cutting off circulation. The shoe cover will hold it in place.

Keep your head warm too!

Wearing a hat under your cycling helmet can help keep your head warm, and this can be a light-weight cap. Just make sure the helmet fits properly over your hat. Buffs are also a great option for your head and neck. Swap to a heavier duty hat if it gets really cold.

“If you keep your hands, feet and head happy, you’ll have a more enjoyable ride,” says Reid.

Bring an extra piece of clothing for “emergencies”
Bringing a lightweight windbreaker or light weight rain jacket can be critical, Reid explains.

“Say it got way colder than you expected, the sun went down on your accidentally because you had to fix a flat…then a super lightweight shell is really invaluable.”

If you can, choose a high visibility jacket that has reflective material. Not only will you stay warm, you will be visible to others and increase your safety.

Put lights on your bike for safety

Lights are fundamentally important to winter cycling. The sun is lower on the horizon, and with more twilight in the morning and evening, cars will have difficulty seeing you on the road. Front lights are a good idea in general, but having rear lights is also very important. The more you can appear visible on the road, the better, so make sure you charge up those lights before heading onto the road.

Additional resources

Reid is happy to answer any questions you may have about winter riding, and you can contact him by emailing rbeloni@trainright.com.