Layering for Cyclists
Layering is vital for comfort on the bike. If you’re cycling gently in decent conditions, you might get away with your civvies, but if you plan to ride for any length of time and in all weather, you’ve got to learn to layer. Layers mean you’re ready for heat, cold, rain, sun, snow and everything in between. If you’re comfortable on the bike, you’ll ride better and for longer.
The well-prepared cyclist has three layers.
- The base layer. This sits next to the skin, keeping it dry by wicking away sweat.
- The mid layer. This adds insulation to keep you warm.
- The shell. This is your armour from the elements and can be windproof, waterproof, or both.
Of course, you won’t always need all three, but you can easily remove a layer if needed.
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!
But as a rough guide, go for:
- Winter – all three layers.
- Spring and autumn – two layers (a base layer and a shell, or a base layer and a jersey).
- Summer – you might need just one layer. In the UK, we’d still recommend bringing a spare layer in your pack, though.
Base layers can be man-made or natural. Man-made dry faster, but natural tend to smell less. The best ones have an anti-microbial treatment to tackle this.
A good base layer should be highly breathable with good wicking qualities. It will remove moisture from the skin, keeping you dry. Better wicking jerseys tend to be close-fitting. Winter base layers also need to insulate from the cold.
Your most flexible layer. In warm weather it could be the only top you’ll wear. Or it can be worn as an outer layer with a base layer underneath. Or, as the name suggest, it can be the mid-layer between a base and a shell.
A great mid layer will feel nice against the skin and have good insulating qualities, without being too heavy. It’ll be breathable and a reflective strip or two will be useful.
The holy trinity of an outer shell is breathable, windproof and waterproof. Shells come in two main varieties, hard shell and soft shell.
Only a hard shell jacket is likely to be totally waterproof. The best of these are also very breathable, but they can feel inflexible. Lightweight, windproof models are perfect for folding up small in a pocket or pack, in case of bad weather. Totally waterproof heavy-duty jackets are great for commuting and making shorter journeys where you won’t get too hot or sweaty. Weatherproof but highly breathable jackets by brands like Gore or eVent are the most costly option. These are a brilliant investment if you’re more serious about year-round cycling.
Soft shell jackets usually breathe better, but tend to be water resistant rather than waterproof. Soft shells with a membrane will stand up to everything but a downpour. They are ideal for intense riding in unpredictable conditions (or as we like to call it, UK weather).
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