Autumn essentials - the best cycle clothing for when the going gets crisp
Prepared for the autumn with these essential clothing picks, including gilets, arm and knee warmers, oversocks and cotton caps
Summer officially ends with the autumn equinox on 22 September. But it's already getting chilly out there so it pays to be prepared with the right clothing. With a few choice additions to your summer cycling wardrobe, you can easily be protected against colder mornings, strong winds and showers. Here's the essential autumn clothing you should consider arming yourself with.
Did I say 'arming'? Number one on your essentials list should be arm warmers. Reasonably inexpensive, these simple - and sometimes not so simple - tubes of fabric can be paired with your usual summer cycling jersey, extneding its use right into the new season. Typically made from Lycra, though merino versions are available too, they're light and stretchy and can easily be removed if it does get warm enough. Realistically, arm warmers are something you can use around the calendar and for that reason every cyclist should have a pair. The best have an anatomic cut that reflect the shape of your arm and the fact that it articulate at the elbow. When it comes to arm warmers is is definitely worth getting the best pair you can afford because you will get plenty of wear out of them. As in every other area of cycling kit you can pay silly money for a pair - but equally you can get a very good pair for twenty quid which considering how much wear you will get out of them and the amount versatility they bring to the rest of your cycling wardrope is a real bargain. Good arm warmers fit better too - I'm sure I'm not alone in finding it annoying when a pair of arm warmers start to slip down - and they will do a better job of keeping your arms warm.
Like knee warmers, and the next item of our list, gilets, arm warmers come in a choice of fabric thicknesses - most people in the UK will probably best be served by a pair of medium weight ones, but depending on whether you run hot or cold you may want either a thicker or lighter pair.
Next on your list is a gilet. Sometimes called a sleeveless vest, this is a very versatile top that can be worn first thing in the morning for the commute or on longer rides until it warms sufficiently to remove it. When not being worn, they can pack down very small and take up little space in a jersey pocket. Most are windproof so will keep the wind chill at bay too. Paired with arm warmers they give you even more upper body protection from the cold. Gilets come in a number of fabrics and finshes those with windproof panel at the front in particular can keep working for you right in to the winter - especially in milder parts of the country. If you're commuting early in the morning or after dark go for something with plenty of reflectives - there are of course plenty of flouro coloured gilets too.
There will be days when a gilet isn't quite enough, when the weather is looking like it could throw a shower or two your way. On days like this a lightweight shell jacket comes in to its own. Usually windproof and water resistant (but waterproof versions are available too) they pack down very small when not needed and provide just enough protection from the elements when it the weather is changeable and likely to get nasty. They need to be breathable, because while it might be wet and windy, it can still be reasonably warm in the autumn. Choose one with the minimum of features, you don't need pockets as it's really more of an emergency item.
As the temperature continues to drop, and especially when we start seeing more rain, keeping your knees warm and protected should be high on your list of priorities. Knee warmers, like their arm warmer cousins, are simple Lycra tubes that pull over your knees and fit underneath the hem of your cycling shorts (that, along with the tension of the material, keeps them in place). Your knee joints need looking after when the temperature cools, they don't really like working until they've warmed up, so give them a helping hand and cover them up. It's important to get the correct size, there's nothing more annoying than knee warmers that slide down your legs when riding. Like the best arm warmers which are cut to mimic the shape of your arms, the best knee warmers are shaped to your leg - so instead of being straight tubes they have a bend at the knee, this greatly increases comfort and makes for a much better fit. Oh, and it's always worth looking out for ones with some refelective detailing at the back - a reflective patch going up and down should grab a driver's attention - that's also why pedal reflectors are so effective.
Oversocks are a good investment both when it's colder in the morning and also when the roads are covered with rain and debris that can leave your shoes mucky brown. Though thin, they go a surprisingly long way to keeping your feet a little warmer – blocking up the air vents on race shoes is one reason they're so effective. And any times it's looking like it's going to rain, or a rain shower has passed, I reach for them without hesitation.
Cotton cycling caps, worn under a helmet, help block out all those vents that really don't need in the autumn. They can of course be worn on their own. As well as keeping your head a little insulated, the peak can act as a valuable device for stopping rain dripping into your eyes, or bright sunshine from blinding you.
If anywhere is going to notice the dip in temperature when cycling, it's your fingers and hands. You might just get away with mitts, depending on how tough you are. If you have poor circulation like the author of this article, then autumn is the time to get out the long finger gloves. It's not really cold enough yet for full-on winter gloves, so pick a glove with a thin and light construction that is breathable, to avoid overheating.
These are the items of clothing we've been pulling out of the depths of the wardrobe recently and pressing back into regular service. As the temperature continues to drop it'll soon be time to think about even warmer clothing like long sleeve jerseys, leg warmers and three-quarter bib shorts. But until then everything listed above should suffice.
And don't forget your lights if you're heading out very early or late into the evening. At the moment a small set of single LED blinker get-you-home lights should suffice. It's better than getting caught out, as I did this time last week, but if you work early or late you'll probably already have broken out somehting more powerful.