The Art Of Layering: Dressing For Cold Weather

The Art Of Layering: Dressing For Cold Weather

Riding on a 45 degrees day can feel like it’s 37 degrees at a modest speed of 15 mph.  It is important to remember that air temperature is only one part of the equation when riding. On a bike, you are also creating additional wind-chill, which is a more significant factor as temperatures dip. But with just a couple of key pieces of gear you can extend your riding season comfortably into the Fall, or get out riding earlier in the Spring.

Gearing up to ride in the 40s and 50s can be tricky. You need to be strategic and not over-dress, yet have enough insulation and wind-blocking layers so that you stay comfortable as temps drop or winds shift. Most cyclists have riding shorts and a jersey, and that’s a great foundation for building your cool season wardrobe. Below are tips on what layers to add for riding in in the transition season.

arm warmers


Arm-warmers effectively turn your short sleeve jersey into a long sleeve option. You’ll be surprised how much warmth this simple addition makes – with the added bonus that they can easily stuff into a back pocket if temps rise.  Warmers come in a range of technical fabrics from wind and water resistant to Summer-weight designed to reflect the hot sun and harmful UV rays like the Specialized Deflect Arm Covers. A good pair of medium-weight thermal arm warmers like Specialized Therminal 2.0 Arm Warmers are what we use anytime temps are going to be in low 60s and below.

Endura Baa Baa Merino Long Sleeve Base Layer

Base Layer

Pairing your jersey with a base-layer increases your comfort range by keeping your core temperature regulated.  Base layers do a great job of pulling moisture off of your skin and create a micro-climate to help keep you dry and more comfortable. Just like the arm warmers, base-layers come in a huge range from light weight airy mesh designed for the hottest summer days to thermal long-sleeve options for riding in the coldest temps. Check out Endura’s Baa Baa Merino Base or Assos SkinFoil.  A mid-weight short sleeve base layer like Endura’s Transrib is a great option for the transition season. Adding a second layer over the torso – especially when paired with arm-warmers – is a versatile way to keep you comfortable when it’s colder while allowing you to remove layers as temps rise.

Legs & Knees

When the temps are below 60 degrees it’s a good idea to protect your knees and keep them warm.  A great way to do this is with either a pair of knee or leg warmers. Like the arm warmers, these keep you warm but can be easily removed if temps rise. The difference between knee and leg warmers isn’t huge.  If you run on the warmer side, go with Specialized Therminal 2.0 Knee Warmers. If you tend to run a bit colder, then get their leg warmers. As the temperature drops further, tights are the way to go for the coldest rides.


When you pair up your warmers and base-layer with a light weight wind-breaker you can really extend your comfort range. There are some excellent wind-breakers that have removable sleeves that can serve an even greater range of temps and conditions. The key thing to look for in a wind-breaker is breathability, the last thing you want is to get clammy and cold from your own perspiration. If you run on the warmer side I’d recommend going with a vest or jacket with removable sleeves like the Specialized Deflect Jacket.


A thin headband or hat like the Specialized Element 1.5 Wind Stopper that fits under your helmet and covers your ears is a must on colder rides. They weigh next to nothing and take up virtually no space in a back pocket if you warm up.


On the hands, a thin knit glove can take the chill off, but still breath well if the pace or temps heat up. Your hands get a lot of abuse from the elements on a bike. Good wind protection is important.  It is better to use warmer gloves.  You can always take them off if you get hot hands.  Nothing ends a good ride faster than cold hands. We’d suggest Specialized Mesta Wool Liner Gloves or Deflect Gloves depending on how toasty you like your digits.


Wool socks are great for cooler rides and Specialized Merino Wool Socks do the trick.  But below 50 degrees, you’ll want more protection.  Toe covers will protect your toes from the wind.  Shoe covers are better as the temperature drops to help keep your feet toasty. We like the Specialized Element WindStopper Toe Covers that cover your toe box and the Endura MT500 II Booties that cover the whole shoe.

Dress for the weather, but also the duration and the level of exertion. On casual rides, you might want more layers. If you’re riding hard, you’re going to warm up. It’s always best to start out on the chilly side.  If you walk outside and feel comfortable or warm, you’ll be stripping off layers as soon as you get your heart rate up.

On a longer ride, you may get cold from prolonged exposure to the elements or if your clothing gets damp from sweat. It’s a good idea to bring an extra layer – especially if you’re going to be starting and stopping or standing around for any length of time.

In the end, everybody’s internal thermostat runs a bit differently, so it’s always best to experiment and find what layers work for which temperatures for you. Swing by your local ERIK’S or shop now online for the latest cycling apparel!  Let us help you find the perfect cycling apparel so you can ride comfortably in any temperature.

A special thanks to Chris Rogers, ERIK’S Fit Manager, and a year-round cyclist, for writing this article.

Leave a Reply