Layers for Winter Riding: Part Three

This is the last installment, but maybe the most important. As I wrote before, I struggle most with my extremities in the cold. It's no surprise that I have a lot of options when it comes to shoe covers and gloves.


I have found that a good pair of winter bibs is a real luxury. It will keep the warmth in and the wet out. However, I have started to realize that not every bad weather item needs to come from the boutique cycling shop. Winter bibs are super expensive and easy to break a zipper on! When I broke the zipper on my Castelli’s, I started wearing a regular pair of bib shorts with rain pants over the top, and I have been just fine. I can also wear a thinner bib short and add a bigger sized base layer over top or even a tapered leg sweat pant if it is really cold. I tuck the leg into my overshoes, and I am just perfect. So, go ahead and buy a nice pair of Castelli winter bibs or Pearl Izumi tights, but remember that you can improvise and do just fine. Your legs are the moving part of this equation, and I feel that I can get by with a lot of stuff I already have in the closet.


Again, go with wool or smart wool so you don’t feel clammy when you start to sweat. Make sure you don’t wear too tight a sock, as that will make your feet get cold fast. I think about how my toes are crammed into the cycling shoes when I choose a pair to wear. Some people add tin foil or Saran Wrap over their socks, but I am not an adopter of any of that, I just wear a sensible shoe cover.

(clockwise from left: Neoprene covers , wool sock-style covers, thin rain covers, and neoprene toe covers in the center)

Shoe Covers

I think that everyone could benefit from four distinct types of shoe cover. I adjust my cover to the weather. If it is wet, I wear a thin waterproof cover. If it is cool and dry, I wear a simple neoprene toe cover or wool cover. These work great down into the 40’s and high 30’s. When it really drops, I pull out the neoprene covers that are both warm and waterproof. These do the trick most of the time when matched with the right sock.

Make sure that you try your covers with your shoes. Not all covers work with mountain bike style shoes, and sometimes road shoe buckles are not a good fit for tight covers. I have a pair of Lake road shoes that have a single BOA dial in the back of the shoe. These are a dream for pulling on the heavy Pearl Izumi neoprene covers. But if I wanted to wear my cx shoes, those covers do not work at all. I need something with room for the cleats and sole. Make sure you think about pairings and or try stuff out at the local shop before you buy.


There are several really nice winter shoes out there, such as the recent offerings from Fizik, Bontrager, Lake and 45NRTH. If I was commuting, I would probably own a pair, but for now I am getting by with covers. Maybe Santa will bring me some. Check them out if you really ride a lot in the snow and wet, you will not be disappointed.


In cool weather, I like a simple glove like the HandUps or any other light full fingered glove. I have mechanics gloves and cycling gloves, and both work equally well. If the temps drop, I have also found that a nitrile glove underneath is just perfect for adding a touch of warmth.

If you have hands that are always cold or the temps are brutal, I like a nice lobster glove (like my Specialized ones above) or mitten. The added space allows for more air and thus warmth to circulate around your hands. You don’t need cycling specific gloves, but make sure you can shift and grip the bars with them. Not all warm gloves adapt well to the bike.

Lastly, Bar Mitts are pretty popular with the roadies around here. They are almost like neoprene booties that fit over the shifters and protect your hands and keep them warm and dry. You wear a light set of gloves underneath that you would normally need with your hands exposed.

If you are going to venture out on a cold day, take a good look at what you already have around. Think layers and how to store things you need to take on or off. What will you do if you get wet? Head to the local shop and ask what they have to get you riding out in the cold rain and snow? Ask if it is compatible with your preexisting gear.

Most of all, have fun and be safe out there.