Winter clothing needs to serve two purposes for cyclists. First, it needs to keep us warm. Keeping the core of your body warm is essential no matter what you are doing. Second, and just as important, cycling clothing needs to have wicking properties. Wicking is the process of getting sweat away from the body. High tech cycling clothing can help draw moisture away from the body. This will help keep you dry, warm and more comfortable.
An upper body long sleeve base layer sits as the first layer on your skin. For that reason, you want to make sure it is comfortable. The nicest base layers will be soft, allow freedom of movement, and have smooth seams. Base layers provide very high wicking capabilities. They will get the moisture away from your body, keeping you comfortable and allowing your body to regulate temperature better.
Long Sleeve Jerseys:
Long Sleeve Jerseys come in quite a few varieties. The warmest ones will be a thick material, often with a soft fleece material inside for comfort. Some will have a wind protection layer on the front to protect the rider from cool air getting in. Some are made from Merino wool, which is excellent as a heat regulator and provides good wicking capabilities. Most will have a tall collar to provide additional insulation. When choosing a jersey, concentrate on what your riding conditions are going to be. If it is cold, but dry, a thicker "thermo" style jersey may work. But, if it is wet, such as the Pacific Northwest, a lighter jersey works better, as a jacket will be worn over it.
A good cycling jacket can mean the difference between a 30-minute "miserable" ride or a 4 hour "incredible" adventure. Jackets are designed to keep the elements out. At the same time, they need to be breathable and let moisture out from the inside. Staying dry can be difficult, as you can get soaking wet from the outside or the inside. The best cycling jackets will allow moisture to escape but keep you bone dry from the worst rain or snow.
Soft Shell Jackets:
Keeping our lower body warm not only insulates us from dangerous conditions but it also protects us from one other crucial danger: Injury. Keeping our knees and larger leg muscles warm will prevent kinetic injuries such as a pulled muscle or tendon. Blood flow is increased to warm muscles, which improves oxygen transfer and overall performance.
Warmers are a good option due to the convenience factor of putting them on and taking them off. They are easy to adjust on or off the bike, as well. Knee warmers are shorter, isolating just the knee portion, while full leg warmers will cover the entire leg. Two styles have emerged over the last few years. Thermal warmers concentrate on keeping you warm with a thicker, fleecy material on the inside or with wool. Water resistant warmers are usually DWR treated and will keep water from soaking in.
A good pair of winter tights is comfortable, durable and extremely functional. Good quality tights will also stay in place while riding. Tights come in several varieties including with or with a pad (chamois) or providing varying levels of water repellency. You can choose between regular tights, which start at the waist, or a bib tight with shoulder straps. "Knicker" tights are a shorter variety, stopping just above the ankle. These are a great option for heat management. Most tights will have a small amount of reflectivity added in for safety. As with all clothing choices, the best thing to do is think about the conditions you are riding in and make a good choice.
Overpants are an excellent option to protect from the elements. Commuting or Touring? This style pant is a fundamental piece in your repertoire. Cycling pants need to be breathable and water resistant, similar to other pieces of winter clothing. Cycling pants will also pack down to a small size and are very easy to carry with you. Pants can be a great option for where it is wet but not too cold. They will keep the elements out and that will keep you dry and warm.
Cycling clothing is very technically oriented. The designers are constantly providing materials and garments that improve (and sometimes allow!) a good ride to happen. The quality of cycling clothing is outstanding and every detail is thought about. With the right gear, or combination, there is no reason at all to stop riding this winter. Sometimes, the best rides are in the worst conditions imaginable.