How to stay warm in the cold

As I sit and gaze at the snow falling outside, and ponder the likelihood of a white Easter, I wonder how long this cold weather will last.

This recent cold snap in Ireland has been particularly unpleasant – not just for the snow – but because of the strong and bitterly cold easterly winds.  It’s not the most enticing conditions for riding, and I’m sure many a fair-weather cyclist has been leaving their bike at home for the last few weeks.

It’s not exactly the most pleasant thing to ride in current conditions, but it’s completely do-able, as long as you have the right gear.  After all, as the saying goes: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.

Your main priorities when cycling are to:

  • dress comfortably
  • maintain full movement
  • do not overheat
  • protect your extremities

A big winter overcoat may be perfect for walking the city streets, but can be a bit impractical when on a bike. It can restrict your movement, and quickly cause you to overheat. The perceived wisdom for any outdoor activity in the cold is to dress in multiple thin layers. That way you can always add or remove layers to regulate your body temperature as conditions change.

The layers nearest your skin are there to trap air (and warmth), and the layer on the outside is there to protect you from the wind and rain – and a good set of waterproofs (jacket and trousers) is invaluable.

You also need to protect your extremities – and by this, I mean your head, your hands and your feet. You can use normal hats, scarves and gloves if you like – but you need to remember that on the bike you are moving faster than if you were a pedestrian, and so a thin set of wool gloves is not going to offer much protection, and it’s not like you can shove your hands in your pockets on a bike!

Personally, I quite like the combination of a standard woolly hat, a buff for my neck, and two layers of gloves for my hands – a merino wool glove liner, and a thicker protective glove to cover. The thicker gloves provide the protection when on the move, but can easily be removed for more dexterousness tasks like locking my bike or answering the phone, with the glove liners providing enough protection for when stationary.

You also need to give some thought to your lower extremities. Too often, we tend to wrap up nicely on top, but forget about everything from the waist down, and end up at our destination with freezing legs and feet. I find that a good set of waterproof trousers are helpful, even when it’s not raining, to keep the wind off my legs. And for my feet, I’ve been trying out a set of shoe covers which serve the same protective purpose of adding a wind and waterproof extra layer (and save me from ruining my work shoes).

I also have a pair of gore-tex shoes and various thermal socks which provide other options to help keep my feet dry and warm.

For the ladies who ride in a dress or skirt, the good folks at Georgia in Dublin have you covered, quite literally, with their Rainwrap – a handy (and I’m told stylish) alternative to using waterproof trousers.

Above all, if you can make sure that you’re protected from the elements, then you can still have an enjoyable ride. You might be a little bit cold when you step out of the door, but you’ll warm up within a matter of minutes. And if you can stay dry and stay warm, you won’t mind what mother nature tries to throw at you.

Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog

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