The Best Winter Cycling Kit and Apparel for Cold Weather
Racing and riding in New York City unfortunately involves enduring the long, cold, grey months that span from December until April. Thankfully we have learned to survive these uncomfortable conditions thanks in part to a specific set of cycling kit and apparel for cold weather riding conditions. We first introduced this list of our favorite winter cycling kit back in 2017 and have several updates in this, the 2018-2019 edition. With Garneau as a team partner we use a lot of their merchandise, but everything included below we have personally used in a wide array of NYC winter conditions.
The Best Winter Cycling Kit: Bibs and Tights
For winter bibs and tights we need the at times difficult combination of wind blocking, thermal protection and of course flexibility for those long winter rides. Strategies differ among the team including some riders who will throw the chamois-less Garneau Providence II bib-tights on under a pair of the team’s bibs. Its a bit unconventional but it works very well. For those that prefer a single layer bib/tight option we recommend the following:
Garneau Course Elite Cycling Thermal Bibs - The Course Elite Cycling Thermal Bibs are perhaps the first winter bibs that we have worn that didn’t fall victim to thick or extra rigid fabric that constrains leg movement on the bike. Instead these thermal bibs just do an all around excellent job combining wind blocking with thermal protection in all manner of conditions. We have used them down to air temperatures in the 20 degree range (before windchill) and have not bee. Special mention also goes to the Rapha Pro Team Winter Tights that also do an excellent job in these difficult conditions.
Craft Active Extreme Boxers - trust us, we were a bit uncertain when we first heard about what was originally known as the Craft Gunde shorts. The idea of wearing what are effectively insulated boxers under our bibs was anathema to what we thought we knew about bike apparel. And the first ride as we got used to the shorts was a bit odd. But when it comes to protection where it counts these Craft boxers make all the difference in cold winter weather - below 30 degrees these are vital to staying comfortable. Over the past year Craft has phased the Gunde model out of production, so its the Active Extreme Boxers linked above that you’re looking for.
The Best Winter Cycling Kit: Jerseys and jackets
The name of the game when it comes to winter jerseys and jackets is layering. Depending on temperatures we’ll wear an absolute minimum of two layers but will often find ourselves in as many as four layers to be able to properly regulate temperatures throughout the ride. For the most part we’re relying on Garneau’s custom lineup when it comes to winter tops so our recommendations on this front are somewhat limited but we love a good base layer.
Garneau Lt Enerblock Jacket - our go to winter jacket is probably the custom version of the Garneau Course Power Shield that provides surprising warmth for a short sleeve jacket (we’ll toss a thermal skinsuit or long-sleeve jersey underneath). But when it comes to retail product we’re big fans of the Garneau Lt Enerblock jacket that combines excellent breathability with cold weather insulation. The only exception might be when there is moisture in the forecast and we’ll either turn to, or at least pack, the Garneau 4 Season Jacket that we find has slightly better waterproofing properties.
Base layers - similar to shoe covers there are a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to base layers. Two of our favorites are Rapha which are, as you might expect, expensive when not on sale (which is not often) but generally high quality. For particularly cold days we are also big fans of Craft baselayers (including the aforementioned Active Extreme Boxers). For Craft tops their Extreme Line provides maximum wind protection and temperature insulation - these things are seriously warm. For a very thorough discussion of how to select base layers we also recommend "The Definitive Buyers Guide: How to Choose Base Layers" on ProfessionalCamping.com
The Best Winter Cycling Kit: Gloves
Gloves are one area of winter apparel where we don’t like to mess around. There is nothing worse than getting caught an hour or two from home with fingers that are slowly freezing. That said gloves are also a highly personalized piece of kit depending on hand circulation and rider preference. That is part of the reason why the team actually has two different sets of go to winter gloves depending on the precise temperature and wind-chill levels.
Garneau BigWill Gloves - the Garneau BigWill are your do anything, throw the worst weather possible, glove option. We have used them down to the 20 degree context (again before windchill) and been completely fine. Indeed, above freezing you are likely to be worried about these gloves being too warm rather than too cold. Using a ‘half lobster’ design that gives your index and middle fingers full range of motion for shifting these are a great, go to winter glove for those particularly cold days. The oversized cuff also insures you don’t have any wind sneaking in between you gloves and your winter jacket.
Garneau Shield+ Gloves - for a slightly less heavy duty glove we’re partial to the Shield+. For some of our riders with great circulation this is as much glove as they need to venture outside on the coldest days. But others will use this as more of a mid-weight winter glove as temperatures dip to and below freezing. Garneau describes it as their heaviest duty road specific winter glove, which is an apt description versus the BigWill that is equally designed for off-road use like fat biking. At the end of the day much of the team will have one pair of BigWill and one pair of Shield+ to fine tune their glove choice precisely to the weather conditions.
Side note: for those warmer winter days where the BigWill and the Shield+ would both be overkill we turn to the Garneau Rafale 2 Cycling Glove. The Rafale has good mid-weight insulation and excellent flexibility/breathability.
The Best Winter Cycling Kit: Shoe Covers
Garneau Big Foot Cycling Shoe Covers - first things first, these are overkill for most roadies. And they generally require a larger hole than specified be cut into the bottom for proper foot retention (at least for Look based pedal systems). But if you have issues with foot blood circulation or coldness during winter riding, these are a good fix. The Garneau Big Foot features a complete rubber sole on the bottom of the shoe cover, providing a thick layer of additional insulation lacking on your standard shoe cover. You just cut out a (possibly larger than indicated) section of the sole that equates with your pedal system and you’re good to go. I find them to be excessively warm on many days, but on the coldest days on the bike these are still my go to.
Garneau Thermax II Cycling Shoe Covers - there is some debate on the team whether a winter shoe cover should feature access to BOA dials for fine tuning shoe fit on the bike. For all-around shoe covers we come out on the side of skipping BOA access (something that is included on the Big Foot) in favor of maximum durability and simplification. Thus we recommend the Garneau Thermax II shoe covers as a go to winter option. They’re not as heavy duty as the Big Foot but with 3MM thick neoprene protection they’re a great winter shoe cover option.
The Best Winter Cycling Kit: Other Accessories
There are a couple of other items worth purchasing if you’re going to be putting in long base miles in cold conditions.
Hot Hands Hand Warmers - with a pretty comprehensive set of winter riding kit we were fortunate to only need to resort to hand / foot warmers on very rare occasions last winter. But there were one or two rides where the conditions changed dramatically mid-ride and having a set of hand warmers in a jacket pocket came in very handy (including when your teammates make a bad kit decision and need to be rescued). When you’re an hour or more from home it’s not the worst thing to have a backup plan for variable winter weather and this hand warmers fit the bill nicely.
Garneau Matrix 2.0 Balaclava - thankfully there are not many days where we need complete head coverage. But when we do we turn to the Matrix Balaclava from Garneau. It is a pretty straight forward piece of kit that does what you would expect of it. We only had to race in it once in the past two years (image below) and we’re hoping that doesn’t change in 2019.
Silca Seat Capsule Premio - we have written about this saddle bag before. It’s certainly not winter specific gear but when it comes to stuffing plenty of spare tubes and tools on your bike so you don’t have to worry about being stranded in sub-freezing conditions this is an important piece of the puzzle. We stuff it with all manner of gear including the aforementioned hand warmers - just in case.
Garneau Winter Cap - at the end of the day a cap is, to a certain degree, a cap. But what gets us excited about the Garneau Winter Cap is the simple fact that it comes in sizes, rather than the typical ‘one size fits all.’ As a large headed individual finding something that actually fits my dome is a big win. So if you’re looking for a winter cap with ear protection that is available in more than one size, look no further.