Winter Clothing: Shell or No Shell?

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Quite a few readers have asked about winter clothing. Most of all, they seem surprised that I don’t wear windbreakers or shells unless it is very cold (way below freezing) or raining very hard. What is the best clothing for winter riding?

I think the answer depends. If you ride at a brisk pace, you tend to generate so much heat that you tend to stay warmer. The extreme example are cyclocross races. Even in 45-degree weather, I race in shorts and an extralight wool jersey with short sleeves, without being cold. Climbing mountain passes at night, we often wear just shorts and an extralight short-sleeve jersey, despite the temperatures being rather nippy (in the photo below, we ran into snow just a little higher up the climb).

tinkham_rd

During winter rides, I layer up in wool. I often wear three or even four layers, starting with a short-sleeve undershirt, then a long-sleeve base layer, followed by a long-sleeve jersey, and, if it is really cold, a thicker wool jersey on top. For my legs, wool usually tights suffice. If I add shells to this, I tend to get clammy, because the brisk pace not only generates heat, but also transpiration.

Even when it rains, I prefer to have my outer layer get wet, since even the most breathable shell tends to disrupt the moisture transfer. The heat transfer from my body outward keeps the inner layers dry. (I have to add that I use fenders that keep all spray off my body, and a handlebar bag that shields my legs from the rain.) However, if it rains so much that more moisture comes down than goes outward from my body, I use a shell to keep myself (marginally) drier.

cascade_ride

I also use a shell for mountain descents. I don’t pedal much on long downhills, so the outward heat and moisture transfer are much-reduced, while the wind (and rain) come at much greater velocity. A shell keeps cold air from penetrating my clothing and reaching my skin.

If you pedal without generating as much heat, then a shell may be useful even while riding on the flat. As always, experiment to find out what works for you. Every rider has a unique body, so all these thoughts are just starting points for figuring out what works for you.

You also may be interested in our previous post about how to stay warm on a ride.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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52 Responses to Winter Clothing: Shell or No Shell?

  1. Hans says:

    I just recently purchased an Ibex breakaway II jacket. It has panels of nylon/wool blend on the front and sleeves, and 100% wool on the back. In the past 300 miles I’ve ridden with it I’ve found that it balances moisture dissipation and wind breakage very well for the way my body sweats and heats up. I have no affiliation with Ibex.

  2. charliewhite says:

    I read in one of your earlier posts that you typically don’t wear a shell because of the perspiration. I have been wearing one for years on my morning commute and then I catch the train into Seattle. I found that because I was so wet from sweat that I was always cold on the train ride. As an experiment, I tried riding a without the windbreaker. The first 3 miles or so, I found that I was considerably colder. Once I started getting a sweat on, I was just fine. When I got to the train, I found that I was much drier, and the ride much warmer. For me I will continue to ride sans windbreaker unless it gets below freezing, at which point I ask myself what I am doing out in this weather.

    • There is an old rule in cycling: If you are comfortably warm in the first few minutes of a ride, you are overdressed. I notice the same with my riding partners, some of whom do wear shells. When we stop and enter a café, they start shivering, while I am getting really warm. Being dry is key to comfort.

  3. Alexander says:

    I follow the wool layer strategy and it works. However I put a sheet of newspaper between layers to protect from too much wind. Easy to replace at every recycling bin.

  4. Mike B. says:

    I have very similar clothing requirements. I rarely use a shell unless I absolutely have to. I am a bigger guy so I generate heat and will easily sweat when I start to put in extra effort. Even here in Central NY in winter I typically wear only wool tights. Up top I wear 3 or 4 layers starting with a short sleeve shirt (something that will wick moisture of course), then a thin long sleeve shirt (also wicking) then either a wool jersey or a non-cotton sweater, depending on the ride (transportation vs recreation/excercise). That will typically keep me comfortable while riding well below freezing. I almost always wear a balaclava when the temperature is anywhere close to or below 0 C. In fact I have a light one and a heavy one for really cold days. But that is basically just for my ears as I usually get a little warm with one on and tend to sweat a little in it.

  5. Frank says:

    I was a merino wool guy and in general I still am, but starting previous winter (2012/2013) some cracks in my wool armour started to develop. One was caused by reading “The Terror” by Dan Simmons, which I got as a Christmas present. It’s a well researched, but fictional account of Sir John Franklin’s failed 1845 expedition to discover the North-West Passage, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin%27s_lost_expedition

    The book vividly describes how the sailors on Franklin’s ships HMS Terror and HMS Erebus cope with being trapped in the Arctic ice for years. Their clothing is made of wool and this is inadequate for the conditions the crew met. Much later in the book one protagonist is able to wear Inuit clothes, made of fur, very light, much better adapted to the extreme cold.

    Simmons’ descriptions of how wool can fail to keep you warm because it soaks up water, which freezes to ice and will slowly kill you made me worry a bit about my choice of jersey. :)

    Well, anyway, I still wear merino jerseys, but when layering I also consider other materials nowadays. I don’t layer three or four merino jerseys in the cold anymore. Instead on top of a fishnet base layer there is just one Merino jersey, then if necessary a insulated jacket (e.g. Primaloft) when it’s very cold and a breathable wind shell. I find that modern wind shirts don’t make me sweat. If I get hot, I remove the Primaloft jacket: It’s very light and compressible and fits easily in my front bag. If I get even hotter, there goes the wind shirt, but this hasn’t happened in winter yet. The wind shirt is much easier to store compared to a thick merino jersey, as it takes up less space and is much lighter (~150 g).

    It’s strange how it literally takes years to find the combination of clothes you ride in comfortably, and how your choices may change over time. Just like choosing your favourite bicycle it is a Journey of Discovery with dead ends (high pressure 21mm tires, cotton base layers) and great discoveries like 650B tires and fishnet base layers.

    • Mark Schneider says:

      Fishnet is great clothing for sleeping I never tried it cycling. When it’s really cold I use a VBL liner over fishnet for sleeping to keep my down bag dry.
      I almost always wear a shell, especially in the winter. I just feel it works better for me. I do wear wool under the shell, either old wool sweaters or my one actual jersey. I just bought some Ibex tights, and I love them, rain or shine.
      I do get cold a lot when riding, but I think that’s largely a factor of my age. I never got cold riding when I was younger. I really have issues with my extremities, I’ve taken to riding with plastic bags in my riding shoes and wearing thick insulated gloves to keep warm on my after work rides.

    • Lee says:

      “The Terror” is a great read!

    • Garth says:

      Inuit fur…hmm…

      (isn’t wool fur too?)

    • Guy says:

      Can you recommend sources for fishnet base layers. The Norwegian source is very expensive to ship to the US while I don’t care for the Wiggy’s product design. What I currently use are various shirts I bought over 40 years ago and are slowly breaking down.

  6. Fionn says:

    Jan, How heavy are the wool layers that you’re wearing? I’ve tried a few different wool tops, both cycling and base layer, and I’m still trying to find the right balance. I mostly wear a Rab vapour rapid-rise top (pertex + mircofleece Marmot Dri-Clime clone) on it’s own for commuting though during winter, with a thin icebreaker 150g/m2 base layer underneath if the temperature is close to freezing. I find that the dri-clime style tops work well for almost all sports, although they do get surprisingly damp, although whilst wearing the top you hardly notice just how much moisture is in the pertex.

    Thanks for writing up this article though, I had been hoping for some more information on what had been hinted at in other posts.

    • I don’t think I’ve worn more than four layers of wool yet. Obviously, it depends on the temperature and level of exertion. When we test clothes for Bicycle Quarterly, we do weigh them, but otherwise, I am not too concerned about the weight of my winter clothes. When I am training, I can carry a a pound or two extra. Even during an event, being cold and shivering affects my performance much more than a little extra weight on the bike or body.

      Regarding dampness: I find that as long as I am moving, even clothes that get damp can be OK, but when I stop, it quickly gets uncomfortable or even dangerous. The advantage with wool is that when I stop, the wind chill is gone, and I actually get warmer for the first five minutes or so, as my body still produces extra heat.

      • Alex says:

        I think Fionn is referring to the g/sq meter of the wool, ie. weight in the fabric sense, not weight of the garment. The g/sqm makes quite a difference. I sweat a lot and find 150g to be good on my skin, but have two 250g outer garments i can wear for when it’s below freezing or for commuting/slow rides. But as I mentioned in a previous comment, I still haven’t ditched the Gore-Tex Active Shell outer in v. cold weather – and it does get wet! Perhaps Windstopper would be a better bet for me in the winter. I wonder what Frank’s wind shell is?

      • You are right – silly of me. Unfortunately, I don’t know the weight of the wool garments I have. I am not a huge fan of simple metrics, it seems that the weave and quality of the wool affects its warmth as much as its weight.

      • Fionn says:

        Thanks Jan, I was wondering, I too sweat a lot and find that wool works well until I stop, at which point I find that I have a damp layer next to my skin, although so long as I haven’t been working hard on a climb then it’s nothing too bad. I do find though that it takes wool ages to dry out, although the more ‘knitted’ garments seem to do better at drying out, or at least feeling not quite so damp. I have a cycling jersey that I bought in REI a few years ago, and that seems to have a much more ‘open’ weave than the icebreaker baselayers (both 150 & 200g/m2) that I have, and it seems to be a bit warmer when wet. That said, I also bought one of the byjrne super thermo tops late last year, and so far that seems to work exceptionally at keeping the dampness at bay. I also have an ultralight windshirt like Frank mentions, a Patagonia Houdini in my case, and I’ve experimented at wearing just that with the super thermo top, and that works well for hiking and skitouring (at least the going up bit), for cycling it’s a similar to the dri-clime top. I think it’s because the nature of knitted polyproplene and an ultralight windbreaker layer hold virtually no sweat.

    • Frank says:

      @Alex: Currently I use a windshirt made of Pertex Microlight (Montane Lite-Speed: I hate its zipper, but otherwise it’s nice.)

    • Spiny Mouse says:

      I also use Rab vapour-rise and like it very much. Their old-style smock (anorak to us Americans) is a mountaineering design, but it suits me very comfortably on my bike too. The fit is “athletic” with long-ish sleeves, so I can reach the handlebars without them riding up my arms or the back riding up and leaving me exposed above my tights. Comfortable down to about 25 degrees, while working at a moderate pace. Also good at 35 in the rain. I wear the smock against my skin, with nothing underneath, as I do with my heavier Pile & Pertex clothing (a Buffalo Special 6 and a Montane Extreme Smock) when I’m on foot at altitude. On the rare moments when I can feel the damp, I’m still warm due to how these garments are built. In warmer weather, I often use just a wool t-shirt, sometimes with a Pertex wind shell over it.

      I came to cycling after many years of mountain hiking, summer and winter, in all weather. After years (and many $) spent trying to use layers of plastic fleece-type jerseys under laminate “breathable” hard shells and still ending up soaked and cold, I discovered Pile & Pertex and would never go back. Either on foot in the wind above tree line or on my bike.

      Soft shell from a mountaineer’s perspective: http://www.andy-kirkpatrick.com/articles/view/the_best_softshell_in_the_world

      • Fionn says:

        Strangely enough, Andy Kirkpatrick’s writings were one of the things which encouraged me to look at the one-layer approach; there’s a lot to be said for it, although initially I tended not to vent enough, as when you’re going uphill it’s suprising how warm you get. I also came at this from the hiking/mountaineering perspective, and then I was wondering how well it worked on the bike, and these days I just wear the vapour-rise jacket for commuting (about 25min, with a decent hill) between October and April, adding a softshell or puffy vest (Patagonia Nano Puff) when the temperature drops to about -5C or so. I haven’t tried the buffalo or montane pile jackets yet though, the vapour-rise + a softshell and/or puffy vest is enough for me in all conditions so long as I’m on the move. I only wear a waterproof goretex jacket if the rain is really coming down, as they get too clamy too fast no matter what I’m doing, unless I’m just standing around or flying downhill on a bike, which is the same thing really!

        Andy Kirkpatrick’s website is a great place to look for sensible advice on what to wear outdoors for hiking/mountaineering/etc. Recommended!

      • Mr Slob says:

        Here in Auckland, it never gets really cold but it does rain a lot. So after lots of research (including reading Andy Kirkpatrick’s aforementioned article) I purchased a Buffalo Teclite shirt (http://www.buffalosystems.co.uk/products/teclite-cycle-shirt/). I like it – it repels the rain, keeps me warm, and does an excellent job of wicking away sweat. On several occasions I have worn it all day, in a variety of temperatures and conditions, and always felt comfortable. The cut of the jacket is not especially streamlined though, and I have heard people complain about it being ‘flappy’. But if you’re on a tour, or just not in a big hurry, I think it’s well worth considering.

  7. Heather says:

    I don’t think anybody is riding in Northwest Passage conditions without proper gear! I’ve biked in prairie winters and you have to wear a lot more than woolies! Waterproof breathable high tech winter jackets, snow pants, layers upon layers you name it. In more mild climes, wool is fine. I tend to overdress because I am prone to being cold and my hands and feet suffer the most. I live midway up a mountain, but the nearest town is further down and has a different climate so can be quite mild. So, I might dress for my conditions at home only to be boiling by the time I reach the lower levels. Wool or silk scarves are warm, but take up little room in a bike bag when they have to come off. I wear wool winter coats in the winter, they are great in the rain, but if going up a long hill, I have to take it off which can be a bother. Sometimes just opening the zipper or buttons for awhile helps let air in until I cool down again. My ibex coat has a silk lining so no synthetics at all trapping sweat and heat.
    My best combinations for a winter ride has been silk and wool layers with a wool coat. Silk is so cozy and the silk and wool dries off eventually after sweating and by the time you get home you are warm.
    Somedays I put a cotton shirt on instead of wool and silk for my commute to work and am chilled for hours even after putting warm work clothes on.

  8. John Hawrylak says:

    Jan
    Very informative article. What do you wear on the head?
    The head is a large radiator and in the wind stream increases the heat loss. I typically wear a skull cap of either coolmax or fleece.

    John Hawrylak
    Woodstown NJ

    • When it’s below freezing, I wear a skull cap, but otherwise, just a helmet. As you say, your head is a radiator, and I need it to keep myself cool. Keeping the torso warm and radiating at the extremeties is the best way to remain comfortable.

      • Bert says:

        Funny I prefer the other way around. Draft on the head often gives me headaches. On the other hand, when head, head, and feet are warm, I can use fewer layers on the torso. That keeps the body well vented, and thus dry. To each their own!

        Bert

      • If your feet, arms and head are getting too warm, then it’s indeed the best idea to reduce the clothing on the torso.

        Regarding covering your head, I think a lot depends on the outside temperature and how much power (and thus heat) you produce.

  9. Tim says:

    The next to skin merino I wear is the Smartwool micro weight. I have accumulated several of these in sleeveless, short sleeve, and long sleeve over the past few years. They are not cheap even when purchased on sale online, but well worth it, and have held up pretty well. For more warmth in the coldest conditions, I use heavier layers of merino, lambswool, or cashmere sweaters over the micro weight Smartwool. These have all been purchased for several dollars each at thrift stores. I wear wool fingerless gloves or mittens and a Smartwool neck gaiter to cover my head. I don’t use a shell and haven’t found the need to buy specific cycling clothing.

  10. There are shells and there are… shells.

    In most conditions, fully windproof jackets like e.g. Gore Windstopper series are indeed an overkill but a well designed lightweight and very thin jersey with only front windproof panels and more breathable back is an excellent compromise.

    Just like with frames, the design is more important than a material/fabric.

  11. Chris says:

    I am a huge fan of vests. Whether using a light weight gilet type vest, or a more heavy weight vest. I even will wear a down vest when I commute. My arms might get a bit cold, but my core stays very warm and that is what matters to me (as well your body’s natural physiological response to cold is to shunt blood to keep your core warm). Lastly, I never leave my house in the winter without some sort of head cover. Ofcourse each of us has very individual needs when it comes to clothing. One thing I think should be pointed out is that the ambient temps and wind chills in the plains states (where I live) during the winters can be very extreme. I have lived in many different places and climates and I have never felt cold like the kind we get in Nebraska in January and February.

  12. Joe says:

    I commute upwards of an hour each way here in Minneapolis below zero F and have quit using shells altogether. I got too wet and then eventually cold. Now four layers of wool, the outer layer a fantastic merino wool hoodie from LLBean. Too bad it took me so many years to figure this out.

  13. Allen says:

    I’m also a wool guy, top to bottom. Last Sunday I rode for hours in 25 degrees and sunshine with no shell and it was perfect. When it gets lower than that, or if there’s no sun, I tend to want to keep the wind off me. I’ll sometimes put the lightest windbreaker on and it makes a real difference. In the real nasty stuff (single digits or lower), I bust out the massive Swrve Milwaukee jacket, which is overkill for anything over 15 degrees (but makes a perfect snowboarding jacket!). I have to go down a fair hill to start off every morning, and this really screws with my clothing choices. In real cold weather, I can’t recover from the chill if I don’t put on some sort of shell, so I often end up taking that off at a stoplight, or just getting sweaty. I have to change clothes at work anyway. Last week I discovered that the commute is no longer fun for me at negative 8. Everyone’s got their limit, right?

  14. Antisthenes says:

    I do all I can to avoid impermeable layers too, which ‘waterproof breathables’ are at any exertion. If damp and warm, you stay warm, so long as you don’t stop too long. I stay away from synthetic or down loft, unless I am going to be still for some time. Merino is the bomb! I have found my own nearly perfect system. I do not wear all of this often, but add and remove layers. Most items I can use multi-sport.

    Torso:
    – base layer is a synthetic T, to move moisture outwards
    – covered by a merino jersey
    – covered by an thin softshell hoodie, hoodie worn under my helmet
    – covered by a fleece vest with a nylon-faced front
    – helmet with a helmet cover to stop wind, removed when warmer

    Legs:
    – regular cycling shorts (thin padding only, riding a Brooks)
    – one of several thicknesses of tights/pants I have – really like Sportiv 3SP material
    – wool long underwear under that as necessary (I ride through Toronto winters)

    Hands and feet:
    – leather-palmed (grip!) softshell gloves
    – with thinner of thicker liner gloves
    – merino socks
    – thick insoles
    – neoprene overshoes

    When it’s well below zero centigrade I get serious:
    – switch softshell for a higher-pile version
    – switch bike for skiing helmet
    – balaclava and goggles
    – wear leather ski gloves
    – thermos water bottle

    The last section is not for brevets but for winter commuting, which I do fixed (with brakes) or singlespeed, so I don’t need much dexterity.

  15. Mitch Hull says:

    Jan,
    In previous writings, you’ve mentioned using a gore-tex shell mitt over your wool gloves.
    What brand and model is that?
    I live in a place without good outdoor shops. Regular gloves at hunting-type stores are always too short in fingers and thumb for gripping bars (my hands are not that big, either).
    My DeFeet wool gloves are a great base but need a little help when it gets really cold. I use thin polypro gloves under my regular (summer) fingerless cycling gloves; I’m looking for the next size up to go over my DeFeets but that combo won’t be warm enough for sub 25F temps.

    Thanks!
    Mitch Hull, SE Ohio

  16. robertkerner says:

    I agree with Frank. Finding the right combo takes some time and often money. There’s no perfect solution for everyone; the things I wear on a 45 mile quick ride in 40 degree temps make my companions think I’m nuts: A poly base layer and long sleeve wool jersey. Meanwhile they are wearing 5 layers. It took me a long time to figure out perspiration management and that it’s usually best to be a little chilly at the start. I now have two basic systems for sub 40 degree temps. Either I layer up in wool, or I use a combination from the Assos climarange. I can get by with a base layer and mid-weight shell without being cold or sweaty. The Assos stuff works but it is expensive.

  17. MattS says:

    Just an additional note I think hasn’t been covered. For rides below zero, it can be wise to carry a shell in case of a mechanical problem or injury. If one breaks their bike and cannot ride it, effort will come way down; walking is not very intense. A shell will keep your heat in. In the event of an injury that has a rider stuck waiting for a ride to hospital or home, a shell can likewise keep them warm. I don’t use bar bags, but I always reserve my middle pocket for my shell.

  18. Grant says:

    I ride year-round in Wisconsin and also avoid a shell most of the time. I do use one when it gets below zero (F). For the rest of the winter (5-30F) I use 2-3 layers of wool. Typically it’s a lightweight (200g/m), long sleeve, zip-neck baselayer with a mid-weight (260g/m) long sleeve over the top,with an additional merino vest over that when it’s cooler or windier. I find having my neck covered is important to me and also love having thumbholes in the sleeves to keep my wrists covered. I use a smartwool balaclava which is also great (thin enough to not be too warm even up to 35F). If I plan to stop riding for any length of time while being outside, I bring a down coat/sweater packed in my bag. I’m not sure about the Rain Claws, but I did find some excellent covers at MEC that I use for cold and rainy or extreme cold (below zero F). They’re very inexpensive too: http://www.mec.ca/product/5020-728/mec-cloudraker-mitts-unisex/?f=10+50089+50111

  19. Frederic says:

    Mec.ca makes a cycling claw glove very similar to the OR version: drencher gloves.
    http://www.mec.ca/product/5020-734/mec-drencher-gloves-unisex

  20. Bill Gobie says:

    I have found uninsulated shell mitts very effective in cold weather. In fact that is what I wear skiing and I only need liners in very extreme conditions. Unfortunately I cannot find anything similar on the internet right now.

    I am a big fan of Bar Mitts. I can ride in temperatures down to freezing just wearing short-fingered gloves. Bar Mitts have some disadvantages: no protection riding on the drops, and depending on how light your bike’s steering is, the added windage ahead of the steering axis can cause some handling surprises. I find once I am warmed up my hands often get too warm and then I can tolerate riding on the drops for a while. On a recumbent Bar Mitts are the bomb and have no drawbacks.

    After the discussion of fishnet base layers on the earlier post I ordered a nylon top from Wiggy’s. The sizing is very large so I recommend going down a size. The shirt feels like what it is — coarse nylon, but the sensation goes away quickly. When I sweat hard my skin gets wet and warm, similar to running shirtless in a warm humid climate. When my effort goes down my skin dries. My wool layers do not get soaked in sweat. In spots they become a little wet but the fishnet keeps any cold wet material from touching my skin. The shirt gets smelly quickly, like a polypro garment. Unlike polypro it is easy to wash. Simply rinsing it in the shower removes all the odor. For $33 I think it is a good product.

    I always carry at least one merino skullcap in cold weather. Another effective item is a helmet cover. When it is raining but too warm for a skullcap the helmet cover keeps the rain off my head while allowing air circulation for cooling. In completely dreadful conditions I wear the helmet cover right on my head over the merino. I like the Showers Pass cover because it has a removable neck flap.

    In the sub-freezing conditions we’ve had recently I have been very pleased with a light silk balaclava. It is so small and lightweight I am going to carry it on all long rides.

    • Alex says:

      Cheap and extremely lightweight helmet cover: the shower caps that you sometimes get in hotels. Always take them with you, I say!

  21. Brian Gangelhoff says:

    Hi all
    I was one of those people looking for the OR rain claws and was unable to find anything like it. Those Mec.ca ones look thicker and may be insulated. Has anyone tried them?
    Living in Oakland CA my hands don’t get cold enough for thick gloves, a liner is usually more than enough. I would be looking for just rain protection to slip on when wet, I recently found a pair of these at REI.
    http://www.rei.com/product/856779/brooks-adapt-gloves-ii
    So far so good. The gloves aren’t to thick so I don’t over heat. Their have been a couple mornings of riding in 30 degrees and the mitten covers worked great as wind protectors and warmed my hands right back up. The mitten covers also came in handy on the cooler descents. I’ve yet to try them in any serious rain but since they are advertised as water repellent I don’t have high hopes. I will most likely spray them with a water repellent coating for further protection. Hopefully I’ll let you know soon since Northern CA’s drought seems to momentarily have come to an end.
    I’m also considering hand sewing my own.

    Brian

  22. Scott G. says:

    The Ibex Breakaway is not wind proof, is wind resistant. Once the temps get to the 30s, I put wear a windproof front cycling vest over it. To check wind resistance, try to breath thru fabric,
    it is easy to breath thru the front of the Ibex, not so easy to breath through the Pearl softshell
    I wear when it gets really cold.

  23. Alex says:

    As gloves have become a feature of the comments, I thought I’d chime in again. I’ve had great success with leather motorcycle gloves: the non padded, plain deerskin or goatskin ones. The idea is simple: very tough base material, very few seams/parts, windproof, and waterproof if desired (naturally for quite some time, and beyond that with simple treatment: i put Brooks Proofide on the backs). They also offer hand protection in the event of a tumble, & offer good grip on the bars. Mine are the Hein Gericke Urban, 30EUR, when i bought them they were only 20EUR.

    Todd at CleverCycles for example sells a proper, well made & probably thicker variant, but mine are thin and very inexpensive (motorcycle gloves in particular seem to be great value, compared to equivalent cycling gloves, and you can get great motorcycle lobster mitts as well as very simple shell mitts).

    I buy them XL instead of L to allow for either wearing on their own, or w/ very thin merino liners, or DeFeet style woven gloves, or both. I could imagine an XXL pair with even thicker liners. They don’t help you the way mittens or ‘lobster mitts’ will, but for everything above ca. 4 degrees celsius, & for all weather types, they beat the pants off almost all cycling-specific gear, which tends to be overdesigned and undermanufactured. No nose wipe, however!

    A caveat with gloves whose material does not stretch that much, such as leather: you can do damage to the nerves on your knuckles on a long ride if your glove is too tight when gripping the bars. Happened to me when i wore simple thick leather gardening gloves on a cold nighttime ride. Should be loose.

  24. Mark Guglielmana says:

    I purchased a Showers Pass Storm Jacket recently, and sure enough, a ride in the rain with wool undershirt, REI nylons shirt and the inside of the jacket was soaked. I read the article and have been riding with a merino wool V-neck. My MIL bought me nearly identical ones 3 birthdays in a row, so I have plenty. A zip up neon yellow vest is about all I need over it. Good article, shows that there’s always something new to learn.

  25. Jon Blum says:

    There are lots of warm gloves for cold weather, but intermediate conditions (winter in CA, spring/fall in northerly climates) can be a challenge, as I hate to give up the padding of my short-finger gloves. I use the low-tech layering solution of cotton gardening gloves, with rubber dots for grip, over my short-finger cycling gloves. Yes, it looks dorky. If it’s a little cooler, I use Rivendell’s MUSA mitts. The cut is pretty bad (as if hands were two-dimensional), but if you can get over that, they work well. When it warms up, you pull them off and hang their drawstring on anything protruding (brake lever, bell, whatever) until you have a chance to put them away. For those of us who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone take both hands off the bar, it’s nice to be able to “change gloves” while riding.

    • I find my Ibex wool gloves perfect for anything that is too cold for short-finger gloves. When it gets too cold for that, I add a shell over them.

      Padding on gloves doesn’t really do much for shock absorption – once the entire front of your bicycle is moving up and down, the unsprung mass is too great to be absorbed by a little foam. If you get numb hands, the best solution is to absorb the vibrations close to their source (at the tire/road interface).

      Padding does help in that it reduces pressure points between hands and handlebars, but a good handlebar shape is the best way to reduce hand discomfort.

  26. Michael says:

    I have been trying no shell this winter and it works pretty well. However, after a couple hours out in 20-30 degree temps, I sometimes feel like I am on the verge of catching a cold for about half a day after that. Then I feel fine later. I guess my body is not used to being out in the cold so long and my immunity is temporarily lowered? I use four layers up top, three on bottom, hat and I feel plenty warm on the rides. Minimal sweat. Just a touch of damp on the base layer I notice when I get home.
    Is this lowered immunity feeling normal until your body gets used to being outdoors in 20-30 degree weather normal?
    @Jan:
    Sounds like you prefer no padding on bars and non-padded gloves?

    • Sounds like you prefer no padding on bars and non-padded gloves?

      I put padded tape on my handlebars when I first built my bike, but developed numb hands. The night before a 1200 km brevet, I changed the bars for a different shape and wrapped them with thinner, unpadded tape. I haven’t had hand problems since.

      Gloves: Mine have thin padding. I sometimes take them off for a few hours during long rides, to avoid having the same pressure points all the time.

  27. I’m anti-shell! I seem to manage on 95% of rides with base-layering and it’s rare for water to get all the way through and leave me feeling cold. When I have worn full waterproofs I’ve ended up wet on the inside and cold anyway – I’d rather be a bit wet but warm!

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