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Layer Up and Keep Warm

By Andy Brown, posted 31 January 2018

Layers are the magic formula to staying warm. But how many? Andy does some maths.

Contact on twitter @justridethebike

Layers. According to those that know, it is the magic formula for keeping warm in the winter months. The mantra has been repeated to me often, be it when pursuing mountaineering (well, rock scrambling really during winter walks in Wales), rowing (winter training was as relentless as cycling on any form of bike), and now riding a bicycle as a middle aged man.


My problem is what layers. Or is it which layers. And how many of them? I always veer from overheating to being very cold in seconds. Coffee stops or the odd pause to ponder a route choice whilst chewing a banana are fraught with a fear of a shiver (literally) running down my spine. So, what am I doing wrong? The Magic Spanner argues it is best to start cold and warm up (like mountaineers) - inferring some weakness on my part, but also the requirement to bring extra clothes (layers) with me. That’s OK and it works for climbing mountains on foot, but I’d rather start warm and then lose some layers, not add them. But am I right?


Apparently I am wrong. Three is the magic number. So, recently I have experimented with wearing fewer layers. Typically I wear a thermal base layer - sometimes the Mons Royale ski brand, occasionally an Endura merino top or my trusty 20-year old Berghaus. Over the top of this base layer goes an old Patagonia roll neck. Then a cycling jersey either Le Col or Santini (useful for the pockets) and then I put on a Santini thermal zip up long sleeve top (which is probably my favourite piece of kit). The last piece is a Gore raintop. Gloves from Lidl and a Santini cap (sorry Brian Holm, I know you hate them under helmets) and Sealskinz socks are the finishing touches. Some people might think this is too many layers. Do I need so many because my kit is tired and lacks the insulating qualities it once boasted. Who knows. But I rode in -2C recently on the road and was OK.


What’s the right answer? How many layers and which kit? We asked a few other riders.


Dave ...

... one of the JRtB team, on a daily, sometimes very cold, commute now wears -


  • Thin ‘MBR’ socks (freebie from a magazine)

  • Showers Pass waterproof socks

  • Endura neoprene overshoes

  • Specialized winter bib tights

  • Mountain Warehouse long sleeve base layer

  • Whatever short sleeve cycling jersey is out of the wash

  • Pearl Izumi thermal Select jacket

  • Endura winter gloves

  • Decathlon neck snood

  • Pearl Izumi skull cap



...the owner of Independent Bikeworks in Cirencester, who rides whenever he can shut the shop, shared his personal kit list for cold weather -


  • Defeet Woolie Boolie socks

  • Shimano RW5 winter boots.

  • Pearl Izumi thermal bib tights

  • Pearl Izumi transfer long sleeved base layer

  • Cloudveil fleece gilet

  • Pearl Izumi 360 softshell jacket

  • Pearl Izumi thermal skull cap

  • Pearl Izumi Elite softshell gloves


For the wet he adds overshoes and dons Pearl Izumi PI Dry bib tights but he might dispense with the Cloudveil fleece gilet depending on temp but does take a Showers Pass Spring Classic jacket. But he definitely suggests changing the head gear, opting for a Pearl Izumi barrier headband and Pearl Izumi WXB gloves.


That’s fine - but what do you wear if you are new to cycling, or returning to the bicycle after a time away and you do not have any kit to speak of?


Lorraine ...

... Smith is just one of those riders. Being new to all this she hasn’t ventured out on the bike in the snow, nor the ice, nor the driving rain, nor high winds. However, she did go out the other Saturday with her husband, embracing the winter weather around the local lanes (albeit dry and still), and this is what she wore:


  • SweatyBetty Glisten Bamboo Long Sleeve Workout Top - expensive but effective (or find a friend with a discount code...)

  • Asics running jacket (years old but defo a keeper)

  • Altura padded cycling shorts (only because I didn't have long ones - it was a toss up between comfort and warmth - this is the only time I would ever choose comfort...)

  • Pink Adidas compression socks

  • On triathlon shoes - in the absence of clip-clop cycling shoes they have good grips on the bottom for the pedals

Jim doesn’t complain about being wet or dry or cold. He just wears decent kit. Dave reckons his feet are always cold (from November onwards I am always in Specialized winter boots, which are lush). Whereas Lorraine appears to be really hard as nails and wears fewer layers, albeit they are tried and trusted technical fabric friends. Her riding might well progress to being more lycra oriented and cycling specific kit but she has a lot in common with the more extreme bike rider option espoused by Thomas Hardy. He gets on fine with shorts and a t shirt, or jeans and extra layers in winter. Like Lorraine he prefers his running trainers, but does go so far as a Gap merino wool sweater - arguing it is as warm as a hundred-quid breathable base layer.


The common denominator here is only a few layers. Count them as you re-read the lists.

Three is a magic number.

Credit: Lezyne, 2018.

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