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The Correct Attire
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
- Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Judging what to garb oneself in for a ride takes practice. Nowhere is this more true than in the UK, where the weather forecast changes every minute. On this neurotic island you’ll see the man in his vest and shorts strolling down the road on a sunny afternoon, to find himself only seconds later scampering to escape a howling hailstorm. Considering that the road cyclist finds him or herself travelling distances through time and space, scaling altitudes of increasing menace and getting a good old sweat on in the process, knowing what kind of clothing is required bears significance. Overheating is bad, freezing on a descent even worse and excessive ‘flapping’ completely unacceptable.
So how do we know what will be too hot, cold or simply wrong (see mittens, soccer shorts and ski masks)? One of the easiest solutions to the problem is to choose clothing that supports thermoregulation in your surrounding environment. As endothermic mammals, humans have a near constant body temperature which, when compromised, can be problematic. For a cyclist the dependence on liver osmosis and muscle contractions to control temperature is even more paramount, as the propulsion of the bicycle depends on these functions simultaneously. Our metabolism and homeostasis – namely the body’s ability to generate and balance its energy – is key to successful riding.
Yet it would be missing the point to suggest that in winter, insulation is the only consideration; and in summer, hydration is the main ingredient. Both these elements are needed in any season, but in varying values. What is crucial is adaptability, dressing to allow the body to do its job of regulating heat and energy handsomely. My own experiences of freezing mornings turning into mild afternoons and searing climbs transforming into teeth-chattering downhills is certain evidence of this. But I still get kit choice wrong sometimes… Another rule of thumb is to make sure that when you step outside, you can feel the cold. If you are warm before you even start moving you may be overdressed.
This winter season in southeast England has so far been kindly, with little to no frost and only one day where I’d wished for a different piece of kit, that piece being overshoes rather than oversocks (I wrapped my shoes in cellophane from a coffee shop which alleviated the bite to a degree). In fact, there have been a few occasions where I’ve overdressed this winter. Better safe than sorry.
This discourse could go further into the origins of how humans have arrived at all manner of materials available for the tailoring of sports clothing, but that’s for another occasion. The two important ingredients, in my view, for winter riding are layering and storage. Layers allow the movement of moisture and circulation and storage enables layers to be stowed and for carriage of energy and tools needed to survive. But the quality of these layers and the capacity and design of this storage is additionally vital. And that, for want of more subtlety, is why you found yourself here in the first place.
So here is my ‘go to’ selection of Rapha winter products that afford me a happy time on the bike. These items are used in temperatures between 0 - 10°C, with variable levels of wind, rain and hangovers. Anything below 0°C, ie icy roads, I'll usually stay indoors. As everyone’s homeostasis differs and no weather front can be predicted, I can’t be held accountable if you follow a similar selection and end up freezing your bits off or find yourself in a sweaty, effervescent froth. Generally though, Rapha kit is designed so that this never happens, unless you really misjudge things…
[Please note: Rapha design products for temperatures below 0°C, such as the Deep Winter Tights.]
Merino Hat – don’t notice it’s on and always marvel at how such a minimal piece of material keeps my loaf warm. A Winter Hat is chosen if there is a chance of rain and a Knitted Winter Hat if I’m ‘poncing about’ more than usual.
Three layers, every time. This varies between:
Layer one - short sleeve or long sleeve Merino Base Layer.
Layer two - Long Sleeve Jersey or Winter Jersey (cold days).
Layer three - Softshell Gilet, always. I can’t recommend this thing enough, it’s two layers in one (actually it has a 'membrane'), giving huge amounts of breathability but also wind proofing and rain protection for that all important core temperature. Plus the pockets are lovely and big for food, tools and a Rain Jacket; with two zip-up compartments for annoying things like keys and wallet.
Ah the legs, the pistons, the difference between a shivering jaunt and a victorious slog. Cold legs are bad news but I’ve always assumed legs are the least vulnerable, because they are (or should be) constantly moving and staying warm. But in cold temperatures your legs need more energy to hold enough heat to function efficiently.
The Classic Winter Tights are not only indestructible (I’ve had mine for three years) but their flexibility also allows you to ride hard and keep toasty all day. The high-rise of the bibs on the tights gives extra protection to the torso as well. A pair of Classic Bibs under these (or over the top if so inclined) and you are laughing, as they say.
If you're looking for an even more flexible alternative, the new Pro Team Thermal Bib Shorts paired with Rapha Leg Warmers (or Merino Knee Warmers if you are hardcore) work very well.
Dan Craven wears: Merino Hat, Base Layer, Long Sleeve Jersey, Softshell Gilet, Classic Bibs, Classic Winter Tights, Winter Gloves, Overshoes (beard optional).
Feet and Hands
I think this one is a very personal preference. Circulation is pretty important here, so socks, gloves and shoes should never be too tight, again allowing your anatomy to do its job. My advice is play safe and go for the warmest option. I’ve never heard of anyone complain about their feet being too warm and you can always take the gloves off and stash them. I can honestly say that the Winter Gloves are perfect in various temperatures. If you suffer from cold hands, merino liners underneath will do the trick on very cold days. I’m also recommending overshoes from now until the spring, and then it’s still a case of white oversocks for the Belgian-aesthetes among us.
Overall, when you have the correct attire, allowing you to enjoy your winter riding to the extent that you don’t even notice the weather, it’s rather satisfying. To outride the colder months will, as we have heard many times before, make the next season all the more sweet. Your comments on this subject are most welcome.
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