We get lots of questions about what to wear on your ride in different conditions. Obviously to some extent choices are going to be personal, and dependant on your riding style, but we’ll try to outline some general guidelines here based primarily on temperature:
Hot (20C +)
When the temps are this high you want to wear as little as you can. This might be the most intuitive riding temperature category. A lightweight jersey, shorts, gloves (maybe opt for fingerless gloves on the hottest days if you’re flexible with handwear) and obviously a helmet. Always a helmet.
Pro tip: Bib shorts are, in almost every situation, more comfortable than conventional shorts with elastic waists (not so great for urgent bathroom needs but otherwise pretty awesome) but can feel especially great in hot conditions. The absence of binding above your hips lets things breath better. The Assos bibs pictured above are uniquely made for women, with just one centre strip of fabric up the front to play well with sport tops and women’s contours.
Pro tip 2: Somewhat counterintuitively a specific base layer under a jersey can actually help cool, not heat, in hot temps. Look for sleeveless tops that are made to collect your sweat and use that to lower your core temperatures. You can also wear this as your only top (no jersey). It provide a bit less crash protection, but it’s not like a normal jersey is providing lots of protection anyway (we’re just gonna recommend you not crash either way).
Warm (10C to 20C)
Okay, 10C may not sound warm but you start generating your own heat pretty fast on a bike. In this range you can mostly stick with your hot gear but maybe add a light to mid weight jacket on top. Otherwise, you can continue to stick with the basics.
Cool (-5C to 10C)
Below 10C you may want to add some leg warmers or full tights. At -5C we like to have tights with a bit of liner, though that’s not always necessary. Closer to 10C and a liner is rarely necessary but it can still be nice to have a thin covering on your legs. Full fingered gloves are pretty much necessary but you can sometimes still get away with ‘summer’ gloves. If not, some lightweight ski gloves often do the trick. A mid weight jacket may still be all you need over your jersey up top but adding a thin full sleeved base layer can help.
Maybe most importantly a toque or something else to cover your ears starts to become necessary close to the freezing point. Your skin might survive the temps fine but your ears are likely to start ringing part way into the ride and sting for a while after you’re done, if you don’t have them covered. Sometimes even just earplugs will do the trick (make sure to use ones that don’t inhibit too much hearing though, so you can still be aware of your surroundings).
You probably need to switch out your summer riding shoes at this point too. Closer to 10C you may get away with just stuffing warmer socks into your shoes but eventually you’ll need something more cold weather specific, and if you’re using clipless pedals that means what are often called “winter” cycling boots, named thus because they’re intended for climates where it never really gets much colder than just below freezing (see: the west coast).
Cold (-25C to -5C)
This is the widest temperature range we’re identifying, because at this point it’s mostly about the layering. You more or less take what you were wearing in cool temps and add more.
Up top that means another jacket layer, or a heavier jacket. As windchills increase you’ll also want a wind-breaking outer layer. A second ‘base’ layer (yeah, that’s not really right but you get what we mean) may even be helpful.
Heavier cycling mitts become a necessity at these temps, as do some sort of full face covering (usually a mask in conjunction with your toque, or a balaclava). Serious cold temp cycling boots are important, and an additional layer on your legs, often in the form of something that is wind-breaking and maybe lined (in addition to lined tights) help when it gets really cold.
Another things that helps is a backpack, frame bag, pannier bags, etc to store layers you take off during the ride. As you ride you can, depending on other conditions such as sunlight, windchill, and more, generate a surprising amount of internal heat even when it’s really cold outside and you need to make sure not to overheat, sweat too much, and render your technical fabrics useless or worse. Taking layers on and off mid-ride becomes the norm at these temperatures so be prepared to carry stuff with you.
Crazy Cold (below -25C)
At these temps there’s no shame in hoping on the indoor trainer (with virtual training apps like Zwift indoor training has become soooo much better than it was back in the day) but if you want to carry on outdoors below -25C you need to make sure you’re prepared for anything because badness can strike quickly. It’s always a good idea to let someone else know when you’re going out for a ride so they can look out for you and send out the search party if you don’t return as planned but when it gets crazy cold this is especially important. Riding with a partner is also a great idea.
In terms of clothes, it continues to be about layering, adding as necessary. Even heavy winter cycling boots may not be all you need at this point so some people switch to conventional boots and platform pedals and even add overboots. Heavy cycling mitts may not be enough either so often pogies are added to the handlebars to be used overtop of your mitts. You don’t want any exposed skin at all at this point so often ski goggles are added to a mask and toque.