Layering for Cyclists
Layering is vital to ensuring comfort on the bike. If you’re cycling gently in decent conditions you might get away with your civvies (in fact we wish we saw more office workers suited and cycling), but if you intend on riding for any length of time, putting in any sort of effort or riding through a variety of weather conditions you’ve gotta layer up.
Be prepared. Forget the Scouts, it’s our motto now. You’ve got to be aware that your temperature will rise and fall on the bike – and that keeping your temperature as stable and your body as dry as possible will allow you to concentrate on the important stuff. Riding!
By using layers, you’re preparing for a rise/fall in your body’s temperature in rain, sun, snow and whatever else Mother Nature can throw at you. By using breathable layers you will have more control over your temperature whilst riding, if not you run the risk of-at best-being uncomfortable on the bike.
A prepared cyclist should consider up to three layers. A base layer, which will sit next to the skin, a mid layer and a shell layer. Any combination of these three layers should see you comfortable and keep you riding, and of course should one prove to be unnecessary you can easily shed one of them.
There’s no hard and fast rule as to how many layers you should wear in each season in the UK, mostly because there is no hard and fast weather forecast! Roughly, well chosen three layers will provide enough insulation, breathability and waterproofness for all but the most extreme winter weather conditions. Spring and Autumn will see most move to two layers (a base layer and a shell, or a base layer and a jersey), whilst summer will see many cyclists riding with just one layer. This being the UK however, good sense dictates the necessity of always riding with a spare layer in your pack.
A good baselayer should primarily be highly breathable with good wicking qualities. It will wick (remove) moisture away from the skin, keeping you as dry as possible. The better wicking jerseys tend to be closely fitted.
Winter baselayers have the additional role of providing insulation when it’s cold.
They generally come in two flavours. Man made and natural.
Cons: Synthetic baselayers are sometimes tough to wash and eventually can pong a bit as a result (in case you were wondering why your buddies always insisted on riding upwind). The better ones have an anti-microbial treatment.
Natural/Merino wool baselayers
Pros: Breathable and able to wick moisture quite efficiently, Merino wool baselayers also have great insulating qualities, remain warm when wet and feels nice against the skin. Merino is easy to wash.
Cons: Sometimes more expensive. Can be a bit heavier than the synthetic competition.
Note, whatever you wear, make sure it’s not a cotton tee! It soaks up moisture and will hold it next to your skin, preventing moisture from escaping and chilling your body.
This layer can perform several roles. In warm weather it could be the only thing you’ll wear. Or it can be worn as an outer layer with a base layer underneath, or – as the name here suggest, as the mid-layer between a base and a shell layer. With this in mind there are several qualities to look out for.
A mid layer should feel good against the skin and have good insulating qualities but not carry much of a weight penalty. It’ll have to be breathable and because it may be called into duty as a top layer if the weather is decent, visibility is worth considering – a reflective strip or two.
Mid layers don’t have many hard or fast rules. Again, avoid cotton, but apart from that a baggier base layer or a standard breathable cycling jersey would be ideal.
Breathable, windproof and waterproof? It’s nice to have the full house, but the only sure fire way of being totally waterproof is to have a hardshell jacket. The best of these are very breathable and completely waterproof – but they can be a little inflexible. Alternatively, soft shell jackets are the new black. They tend to breath a lot better than most hardshell jackets, but at a cost in waterproofness. They tend to be water resistant, rather than waterproof.
It’s a good idea to break the shell down in to a few categories, and take one appropriate for the intensity of the activity, taking into account the possible weather.
Completely waterproof and very breathable. Think Gore Tex or eVent. Usually pretty expensive, but you’re getting a jacket that will go long way to making you more comfortable in bad weather or whatever amount of effort you’re putting in.
Highly breathable but usually not completely waterproof. Softshells with a membrane will stand up to everything apart from a downpour (but cost a bit more). Great for intense riding in unpredictable conditions (or as we like to call it, UK weather).