Years of long base miles here in chilly Colorado and downright frigid Vermont have instilled in me a love for winter riding. I adore those long days in the saddle when everything is covered in quiet snow. The mood is calm, the pace pleasant, and the miles just tick away.
Unlike the oppressive heat of summer, pleasant winter riding is simply a matter of dressing correctly. There is absolutely nothing you can wear (or not wear) to make 95˚F comfortable. 25˚-50˚F, on the other hand, is easy. The three items below are some of my personal favorites when the mercury starts to drop.
This jacket is, bar none, the most versatile piece of fall/winter/spring clothing I use. In terms of temperature spread, I’m likely to pick it up anywhere from 30˚ to 55˚, and apply various base layers accordingly. I wear it more than anything else this time of year. If we rated products here, it would get a 10/10.
It doesn’t have a million fancy little features, just a few important ones. A wind-resistant (but not –proof, though Mavic says it is) front and shoulders goes a long way, while Mavic’s Ride Wick Warm fabric is placed on the back and does exactly as its name implies.
The Cyclone isn’t a thick jacket, though it is too hefty to stash in a pocket easily. That’s why it’s so versatile, though. Thick jackets tend to be too warm for me as soon as temperatures get out of the teens, unless I wear nothing underneath them. Even then, they never breathe as well as you’d like.
I much prefer to wear a nice base layer, a jersey, and perhaps some arm warmers, under a lighter jacket. The Cyclone has found the thermal sweet spot, keeping wind and cold out while breathing amazingly well.
Beyond finding that sweet spot, the Cyclone gets major points for a superlative fit. Flexible fabric is used in all the right places, all but eliminating flapping and bunching (no terrible mono-man-boob effect). The result is a jacket that fits more like a jersey.
The low tail and well-placed, quite large pockets are much appreciated as well. The cuffs keep drafts from squeezing their way up the sleeves, and are flexible enough to be pulled up to your elbows on a warm climb. The asymmetrical zipper seems gimmicky, but really is more comfortable when the jacket is zipped all the way up.
The scoop: Perfect balance between wind resistance and breathability, light weight, excellent asymmetrical zipper, superb jersey-like fit.
Rapha Winter Jersey
I’ve already mentioned my disdain for classic thick winter jackets. Unless you cruise along at walking pace, riding simply generates too much heat for most of them to cope with.
The Rapha replaces those silly, bulky monstrosities with a wonderfully tailored, fuzzy thermal jersey. The fabric used has more of an emphasis on keeping heat in than wind or water out, though the surface is moderately wind resistant. And because it’s cut like a jersey, it doesn’t flap or bulge. You feel faster and sleeker in the Winter Jersey than in a jacket, but you’re just as warm.
The material isn’t very stretchy, so pay close attention to fit. The medium I’ve been using fits around my torso very well, but the arms could be just a tad longer to prevent gaps in between sleeve and glove.
Fit is great in the riding position, and looks quite silly when off the bike. The high front slides up to your belly button when standing, and the long tail drops down to your thighs. Bend over on the saddle and everything sorts itself out perfectly, though. An elastic drawstring keeps the bottom in place.
Styling is quintessential Rapha — you either love it or you hate it. I like the understated logos and classic lines, personally.
The two enormous pockets are great for stashing food for a long ride, or other layers to be put on later.
Have I mentioned this thing is WARM? I took it out on Wednesday just as the cold snap here in Boulder broke (temps went from 2˚ to 27˚) with only a thin base layer underneath and thin vest over top (see next page) and was perfectly comfortable. The Winter Jersey works down to about 35˚ on its own (with a base layer… always wear a base layer!) and well below that with another shell or vest over top.
Two under-arm mesh vents can be opened up, which, combined with the mesh-backed pockets, allow for comfy riding up to about 50-55˚ or so. They’re not quite pit-zips — instead, Rapha has moved them forward a bit to catch more air when in the riding position. This makes them even more effective.
The scoop: Great fit unless you have long arms, warm thermal material keeps lots of heat in and most wind out, zippered vents work very well to moderate internal temperature, huge rear pockets, easily layerable.
Pearl Izumi P.R.O Aero vest
There are four qualities important in a vest: wind resistance, water resistance, packability, and fit. The P.R.O. Aero vest passes all with flying colors. $110 is a bit ridiculous for a vest though; is this thing really worth it?
Depends on which of those four you place the most emphasis on. Fit is my first priority with a vest, an item I often only throw on for long descents. Long descents mean high speeds; high speeds mean any flappy bits are even more annoying than usual. As a pretty lean guy (let’s just call it “racer build”), I’m continuously at war with flappy clothing.
If you, like me, have a “racer build” and hate flappy clothing, the P.R.O Aero vest is worth every shiny penny. It uses a stretchy material and race-cut fit to drastically reduce flaps and folds. Even the collar is tapered to fit the neck better when in an aggressive position.
Amazingly, that stretchy fabric still provides entirely excellent wind and water protection. This isn’t a thermal vest: it’s just one thin layer, but for keeping wind out that’s all you need. It easily adds 10˚ to any garment setup. I add it to thick thermal gear to provide some wind protection, or to a jersey and shorts to make an early fall descent a bit more comfortable.
Packability is second to none. Some vests can get really tiny if you sit down and carefully fold the thing, but when wadded up in a fist they take up quite a bit of room. The Aero vest scrunches up tiny and stuffs easily in a pocket.
Speaking of pockets, the P.R.O. Aero vest doesn’t have any. That’s my only problem with it. But I’m always wearing something with pockets underneath, so it’s not really a big deal.
The scoop: super light, super packable, stretchy fabric eliminates flapping, excellent race-cut tailoring.