What to Wear, What to Wear?

Figuring out what to wear on a bike ride is more than just fashion. Having the right clothes to stay warm or stay cool can make or break your ride.  For many years, I’d be getting ready to head out for a ride and would get stuck thinking about what to wear. Should I bring my jacket? Regular gloves or thick gloves? Do I need anything on my head? Most people have great memory and can remember what they wore last week or even last month. Not me. I can barely remember my children’s names.

So one day I was riding with a buddy who mentioned that he wrote down what he wore and the temperature so he could remember what to wear. GREAT IDEA! I started to do the same. For each ride, I’d jot down what I wore, the temperature, and my Goldilocks score: too hot, too cold, or just right. From there, I developed the following chart:


cycling clothing chart
Click here for full chart

For each five degree temperature range, you can move across and see what you need for your head, body, hands, legs, and feet. Certain pieces of clothing cover a wide range of temperatures (a short sleeve jersey covers anything from 70 deg and up). And there is some overlap between different articles.

In thinking about clothing choice for a ride (and using this chart) there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Wind and cloud cover make huge difference. A windy, cloudy 60º day requires more clothing than a calm, sunny 60º day.
  2. Think about the beginning and ending of the ride. Is the sun going to set during the ride? If so, bring something for those cooler temps.
  3. It’s all about layers. Having multiple thin layers is more effective than one thick layer. Not only does it provide better warmth but it provides more flexibility. When the sun comes out and it starts to warm up, taking off layers is easy.
  4. Packability is key. If the layers are thin, then you can take them off and stuff them in your rear jersey pocket. A lightweight, thin windshell is a good thing to pack if you are uncertain about the weather.
  5. There are two places where you dissipate a large amount of heat: arms and head. The arms are especially dissipative given the large veins but also the wind that passes by them while riding. Take advantage of that by covering the arms to stay warm. I like arm warmers because they provide flexibility. They keep the arms warm when it’s cool and/or windy but can be slid down to the wrist when you or the air warm up.

The general rule of thumb, especially useful if you don’t have your handy chart, is to feel a little cold before you get on the bike. Riding will warm you up. The other rule is to not cover your legs until the temps drop into the lower 50’s. The legs generate a lot of heat and don’t need to covering until it gets chilly.

Your mileage may vary.

Everybody has as different tolerance of heat and cold. Heavy guys can ride with a t-shirt when I have three layers on. People from Miami are putting on layers before people from Boston. When some people are riding  in freezing temps, others have hung their bikes up for the season. Likewise, a sweltering day won’t bother some folks while others are inside an air-conditioned room on the trainer.


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