I hear a collective “yay, autumn!” shout-out across the land. Cooler temperatures have finally replaced blazing hot summer sun. Many of my cycling sisters were o-v-e-r the heat, but I get a little sad when summer ends. I love riding and racing in dry, hot conditions. I prefer to strip down instead of bundle up. Maybe that’s why I’ve become proficient at the science of dressing for cold weather cycling; my inner thermostat is happiest when it thinks it’s still mid-July. As the saying goes, “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” With so many beautiful designs and performance-based fabrics available, it’s a season to shine even when the sun won’t. Here are my tips from, well, tip to toe.
SEE AND BE SEEN:
As we pedal towards ever darker days, with that comes overcast skies, dappled shadows that trick vision, and blinding in-your-eyes sunshine at morning and evening commutes as the sun travels lower over the horizon. These sleights of the eye are all things to consider when dressing because you want to be seen.
Color is the simplest change to make during the fall. Black may match everything but it fades you into a background or shadow. I’ll pull out a predominantly black kit or jacket if visibility is good. But if there are hazy, foggy, or low sunlight conditions, you bet I throw on the brighter jerseys and jackets in my collection. Bold patterns also help the eye decipher a moving body more quickly.
Let’s reflect(ive) on the situation. It used to be reflective tape was super expensive and fairly ugly so athletic apparel companies didn’t use it except on high-ticket pieces. Now there’s flexible, durable reflective material that can be laser cut into patterns. I love my Shebeest gloves, capris, and cycling cap with scalloped reflective trim…it doesn’t look like a safety feature, just a design one.
Another thought is to proactively throw light on the situation. More cyclists are turning on front (white) and rear (red) lights on during daylight hours. I thought it was a goofy paranoid thing at first, but you know what? I noticed it. And that’s the whole point. You can use handlebar and seatpost lights or lights on the front and back of your helmet. When riding my cruiser I use Nitelze spoke lights because it makes me more visible from the side and “yay, colors!”
DRESS FOR SUCCESS:
Layers are as desired on a cyclist as they are on birthday cake. In my beloved Colorado, temperature can vary wildly dependent not only on time of day but with elevation gain or loss. One particular ride took me through a 30 degree variance. Thank goodness for stretchy jersey pockets to stow extra apparel.
I have 3 drawers in a dresser specifically for workout clothes. One is for sport bras and swimsuits, one is for running and ski layers, and one is devoted to cycling. From warm weather layers to cold pieces, here are the mainstays of a good cycling drawer (for those in the South/Southwest, leave out the later part of the list):
- Fingerless gloves: protects palms, stays cool
- Jersey: short sleeve or sleeveless
- Bib/shorts: your choice
- Arm warmers or shrug and leg warmers: peel off when you warm up
- Wind vest: adds wind protection to your core
- Wind Jacket: traps heat and breaks wind
- Rain jacket: waterproof and sturdier than a wind jacket but probably less breathable too
- Balaclava, winter headband, or cycling cap: 40% of warmth is lost through your noggin’
- Long sleeve jersey: when you know you won’t peel off layers
- Thermal cycling capris or long tights: no need for leg warmers if it’s going to remain chilly
- Long finger gloves: keeps braking fingers nimble
- Thermal cycling hat: covers ears too
- Toe covers or full booties: blocks wind and wetness
And to further simplify things, here’s your “If/then” list. If the weather is this, wear/bring that:
65 degrees or higher, no chance of rain:
Short sleeve or sleeveless jersey, shorts, and sunscreen
*Extra tip: fill water bottles with an inch of water and store in freezer. You’ll have an ice cube that slowly melts during your workout.
55-65 degrees, forecast calls for change:
Short sleeve jersey with arm warmers
Shorts/bib with leg warmers
Light wind vest, wind jacket, or rain jacket
40-55 degrees, looks like it’ll stay that way:
Long sleeve jersey
Shorts/bib with knee warmers or Capris
Long finger gloves
Balaclava or cycling cap
Long finger gloves
Long sleeve jersey perhaps with thin performance-fabric tee underneath (don’t layer jersey upon jersey – it’ll be too much pocket volume)
Thermal cycling capris or long tights
Toe covers or booties
Insulated water bottle with warm Skratch Cinnamon + Apple hydration mix
I have one more important bit of advice I can offer thanks to the aforementioned 30-degree change of temp ride. It was scary because I understood how people in extreme weather quit, curl up in fetal position, and don’t care what happens next – it’s the body’s first response. My teammates and I rode up Squaw Pass near Evergreen, Colorado, starting in beautiful warm summer sun. At the summit almost an hour and a half later we played chicken with the clouds and lost; a torrent of freezing cold rain unleashed with 18 miles of descent before we could find refuge in our cars. Even with rain jackets, GORE gloves, and multiple layers, my ride partners and I were wet and chilled to the bone. My legs felt like dead stumps pushing on the pedals. I worked my way down my hand to use different fingers to brake; I couldn’t feel them so I relied on muscle memory to pull. Thankfully we made it down safely, although scared and miserable. The takeaway is this: although I cranked the heat and seat bunwarmers in my car, it took a while to get my extremities and core warm. BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES for after bad weather rides. I was able to fend off hypothermia because I got into warm, dry clothes and drank hot tea from the local coffee shop. Also don’t play chicken with Mother Nature. She can be a grump.
There’s always room for one more piece of apparel in your gear drawer. It’ll be money well spent to ensure a great ride and that you get home safely at the end. Buy layers. Buy reflective. Check the hourly weather report to see what’s in store and dress appropriately. It’s way better to have brought a little extra gear and not use it than to wish you had. Yay, fall, after all!