Spring cycle clothing guide: the best kit and ways to wear it to get the most from cycling in spring

Your what to to wear for spring cycling guide, from arm warmers to gilets, jerseys to bib shorts and more

by David Arthur   April 1, 2014  

Ride Aquazero arm warmers

Spring is here, and with it time to strip away the winter layers and air out the spring and summer cycle clothing… well, sort of.  Spring is a tricky time of year to dress for, as it requires clothing that is versatile and adaptable to quickly changing conditions and temperatures. 

Dressing for the winter is easy, it’s just a matter of wearing as much cold-weather clothing as you can fit through the front door in. Spring though requires some key clothing and some experience to know just what is the best approach. There's no one best solution, everyone has preferences based on riding styles, whether it's racing or commuting, how fast you're riding, and how hot or cold you run as a cyclist. We're all different, but there's some really good technical clothing available that can make cycling in the spring an utter joy. 

If, for example, you’re an early riser you might start your rides when there’s still a chill in the air, and you need to wrap up. If it’s a long ride and you’re going to be out for most of the day, the temperature is going to increase and you can find yourself overheating, so you want versatile clothing that lets you regulate your temperature. This regulation of temperature is key to riding through the spring. With temperatures fluctuating by as much as 10 or more degrees in the space of a day, that can be a challenge.

Layering is often quoted in cycle clothing articles, and nowhere is it more important than in spring (well, okay autumn too). As you build up temperature on a ride, as the air temperature increases, you want to be able to gradually peel away outer layers leaving you at a comfortable temperature. Items like gilets, knee warmers and lightweight jackets are ideal to wear over shorts and jerseys. They can be worn when needed and stuffed in a jersey pocket when not needed. 

How much clothing you wear depends on the type of cyclist you are. If you’re a racing cyclist and always ride reasonably hard, you’ll need to wear fewer thinner layers to avoid getting too sweaty. If recreational cycling is your thing and the speeds involved will generally be slower, you’ll want to wear thicker and warmer layers. If you’re a commuting cyclist it can be much colder on the way into work compared to the ride home in the afternoon/evening.

The key thing about spring clothing is to find what works for you. There’s quite a few different clothing approaches you can take, and everyone has their favourite. If you've already got a few basics like shorts and a couple of jerseys, adding a gilet and arm warmers might be all you need to get you through spring to summer. Lots of the clothing on this page will actually do you service in the typical British summer. 

Arm, leg and knee warmers

These simple Lycra accessories are the cornerstone of a flexible clothing outfit that lets you adapt for any given spring weather. If you’re anticipating it getting quite warm a couple of hours into the ride, arm and knee warmers keep you wrapped up during the chilly first part of the ride. When it does warm up enough to allow removal, they can be easily folded up and stashed into a jersey pocket.

DeFeet Kneekers Knee Warmers

Most are made from a tube of fabric with Lycra and wool being popular materials. Thicker wool warmers are good for chillier days adding a bit more insulation. Manufacturers approach the design of warmers from different angles, they need to have enough stretch and articulation to allow complete freedom of movement. This is especially important at the knees. Some use a simple high stretch fabric while some use a complex multi-panel and pre-articulated design.

Sugoi RS Arm Warmers

You can also get warmers that are water resistant, like Castelli’s Nanoflex and Sportful’s NoRain, which increase their adaptability when the weather makes a turn for the worse. Fit is very important so try before you buy. The last thing you want is them slipping down your arms/legs and and ending up around your ankles/wrists.

Long sleeve jersey

It’s getting warm enough to ditch the thick winter coat, and swap it for a lighter weight long sleeve jersey or lightweight jacket. There’s a multitude of designs and array of materials on offer, which means there’s something available for all tastes. The line between lightweight jackets and long sleeve jerseys can get a little blurred at this time of year.

Howies Cadence long-sleeved jersey

If you’ve been wearing a softshell through the winter, you might find it’s fine too in the spring. You can simply wear it over a lighter grade short sleeve base layer and you might find that the perfect combination. Softshell’s are highly versatile in that respect, and a very good three seasons choice.

The warmer it gets though, the more suited a lightweight jersey is. A good jersey can be part of a layer system, over a short sleeve base layer and complemented with a gilet or lightweight windbreaker when the weather demands it. It should keep you warm and keep the wind out, but be breathable enough to cope with the more brisk riding you’ll be doing in the spring.

Embers Merino Blaise Shadow jersey

Some jerseys might offer a windproof fabric which will stops cold air from passing through it while still being very breathable, maintaining a comfortable temperature. Fabric’s like Gore’s Windstopper are a good choice. Wool and polyester fabrics are a good option too. A long sleeve jersey will have a full-length zip and you’ll commonly find at least three rear pockets, good for stashing all your food and essential spares. Fit is important

Base layers

I’ve been wearing long sleeve base layers exclusively through the winter, and now that it’s warmer up, it’s time to consider short sleeve base layers to be paired with jerseys and arm warmers. There’s a choice of very lightweight base layers designed for the hottest days and warmer base layers that are better suited to the spring weather.

74 Degrees No Nonsense Men's Short Sleeve Merino Base Layer

The job of a base layer is even more important at this time of year, especially if you’re now riding harder and faster, maybe racing or doing sportives. It will keep you dry and prevent you getting soaked in sweat from your efforts on the hills.

Base layers come in a variety of materials. They largely fall into two camps; man-made or natural materials. Merino wool is the most common natural fabric base layer, but bamboo is being used by a few manufacturers. Merino is great because it copes with a wide range of temperatures and doesn't pong when you get sweaty. It comes in different weights to suit different temperatures. 

Pearl izumi Transfer Lite Sleeveless base layer

Man-made synthetic base layers like polypropylene are generally better at wicking sweat and are usually much lighter and a preferable choice when it's really warm, and many people prefer how it feels next to the skin. It can get smelly when you sweat though, you certainly can't wear it on subsquent days like you can with Merino. 

Gilets

A gilet is essentially a lightweight shell jacket with the arms removed. The idea is to provide an extra layer of defence on your torso, blocking the wind, and ensuring your arms don’t overheat. When they’re not needed they curl up into a tiny package that will take up only a little room in a jersey pocket.

Castelli Free Vest gilet

It could be worn over a long sleeve jersey to add protection from the wind on the early morning commute or for the first hour of a training ride. They’re usually made from the lightweight mould with a thin, breathable and wind resistance fabric. Some might come with pockets but most don’t, as it’s ideally something you only wear for short periods.

There are examples of heavier weight gilets such as Rapha’s Softshell gilet which are designed less for emergency use and intended to be worn for the duration of the ride. They won’t fold up small so you need to factor it in from the start to the finish. Such examples come with pockets though, increasing their usefulness.

Café du Cycliste Madeleine Women's Gilet

There are increasingly products that blur the lines between gilet, jersey and jacket. A good example is the Castelli Gabba, a jersey that has been seen a lot in the professional peloton this season. It’s a lightweight race-fit jersey, with short sleeve arms down to the elbows, with a windproof and water resistant fabric that seems to be a good top layer over a jersey, base layer and arm warmers. It’s got three rear pockets so can be worn for the entirety of the ride, and has a dropped tail to keep your bum protected against road spray and muck.

Lightweight shell

Essentially a long sleeve gilet, these can be very handy for the less joyous spring days.

Howies Dyfi Active Shell jacket

They’re very good when it’s really windy or there is a risk of rain, and will provide enough protection to allow you to get riding, or make a dash for home or the nearest cafe. There are some very good lightweight jackets that when not being worn will almost completely vanish in a jersey pocket. Such a jacket can save you from getting caught short.

Shorts

Are you ready to pack your winter tights away? We certainly are. The bib short options for the spring are varied though. The first option is bib shorts, and pair with knee or leg warmers as dictated by the weather. 

Rapha Pro Team bib shorts

The second choice is bib knickers, or three-quarter shorts, that extend to below the knee. Whatever your choice, it’s very important to keep the knees warm in the cold weather, and there’s still a nip in the air. The knee goes through thousands or revolutions on any given cycle ride and the muscles don’t like operating in the cold. So keep them wrapped up.

Another option that has become popular in recent years is the thermal bib shorts, and a handful of manufacturers offer them.. They’re the same cut as regular bib shorts, but are constructed from a warmer fabric. For this early spring weather they can be a blessing and provide a lot of extra insulation against the cold air.

Oversocks and socks

Yay, it’s time to ditch the thick overshoes that have done sterling service through the winter and switch to lighter overshoes and oversocks. With less concern for keeping your feet insulated, you can opt for lighter overshoes made from a thinner fabric. You still want to keep the wind out of those pesky vents on your shoes, so look for a windproof version.

 

 

Prendas Ciclismo Cordura Oversocks

As it’s warmer you don’t need to worry about getting cold feet as much, and oversocks are a very good choice. Yes, they’re essentially socks stretched over the shoes with a hole for the cleat, but they serve a good role at this time of year. They provide just enough protection and warmth from the elements, and when the roads can be very mucky they keep all the dirt and crud of your shoes.

rh+ Neo toecovers

Another option are toe warmers. Essentially overshoes with most of the shoe removed execpt the bit over toes.

Pearl Izumi Elite Tall Sock

While oversocks go over your shoes, socks for your feet are also worth investing in. Proper cycling socks offer a better fit than regular socks, and are usually made from a fabric that keeps your feet dry and a comfortable temperature, and many have added support in key places.

Light gloves or mitts

Something strange has happened on my last few rides. I’ve finished with no gloves. That’s because I’ve started with winter gloves and found them just too warm part way into the ride. Too chilly without them, but nothing a dose of MTFU doesn’t cure.

Castelli Prima Gloves

It’s time for a lighter pair of gloves, and there’s plenty of choice. It’s probably still a touch too cold for mitts, but as the weeks pass and the temperature increases, you can certainly begin to consider mitts, or fingerless gloves, for the majority of your riding. Until then, I reckon a lightweight pair of comfortable long finger gloves are the way forward. 

Embrocation

The other option at this time of year is to slap a load of embrocation over your legs. Popular in the past with racing cyclists, the smell of embro filling the changing rooms is becoming a thing of the past as technical clothing has improved so much that slathering a thick layer of heat generating gunk over your skin is less favourable. Some still swear by it, and there’s a big market for it, mostly generated by the interests of US cyclists keen to romanticise anything they can about European cycling culture.

Those are our suggestions. Do you have any favourite cycle clothing for the spring?

25 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Anyone know of a shot sleeve jersey with a windstopper front?

posted by martincashman [22 posts]
26th April 2013 - 17:11

41 Likes

They write "spring is really in the air now" as the hail started falling... Big Grin

posted by a.jumper [726 posts]
26th April 2013 - 19:22

40 Likes

Hail? Where are you?

Lovely and sunny here in south west London

David Arthur's picture

posted by David Arthur [1756 posts]
26th April 2013 - 20:59

35 Likes

the Midlands

posted by a.jumper [726 posts]
26th April 2013 - 23:04

36 Likes

Martincashman I think Gore do a short sleeve winds topper jersey, the ozon I think?
Or take a newspaper and shove it down your front!

posted by psychonabike [14 posts]
27th April 2013 - 9:17

32 Likes

I rate my convertible jacket - I can rip my arms off and use it as a gilet when the temperature starts to rise.

posted by Bexleyhillbilly [42 posts]
28th April 2013 - 15:04

36 Likes

Back to wearing winter gear in Yorkshire today. Real feel of 2C.

kiwiglider's picture

posted by kiwiglider [23 posts]
28th April 2013 - 21:24

34 Likes

I was out on Saturday, tights were back on. Saw quite a few people in shorts with very pink legs/knees. Not sunburnt- cold.

posted by Al__S [645 posts]
29th April 2013 - 10:22

39 Likes

Would love to be out on bike but on a 12 hr shift, and the wind is blowing a hoolie, in northumberland, hope it calms down for ww160 in couple of weeks

posted by issacforce [206 posts]
29th April 2013 - 10:25

34 Likes

Have now had a screaming headwind every ride home for the last three weeks and my windproof kit has been a godsend. Cannot wait for the sun to come out and even more so for a bit less wind.

davecochrane's picture

posted by davecochrane [105 posts]
30th April 2013 - 21:59

33 Likes

I looked down at my legs yesterday on my early morning 13m ride and thought, my thats a unusual coulor for a pair of knees lol, bright almost fluorescent pink, back to full length me thinks, at least four a few weeks Big Grin

posted by billyman [129 posts]
2nd May 2013 - 7:27

31 Likes

Gore Oxygen Short Sleeve Jersey.
It's the best bit of kit I've got and accompanies me on about 70% of my rides. With merino it's good down to 0 deg and on its own up to 20'ish deg, can get a bit warm after that..
Just ordered 2 more of the black from last year before it disappears..

posted by DanTe [85 posts]
1st April 2014 - 22:52

27 Likes

martincashman wrote:
Anyone know of a shot sleeve jersey with a windstopper front?

No but a good idea is the Castelli Flanders wind baselayer which has the windstopper front and then you can just wear your regular jerseys over the top.

stenmeister's picture

posted by stenmeister [76 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 8:43

20 Likes

I've been wearing a thin pair of 'performance sports trousers' which I got from lidl under my shorts. They basically look like a pair of tights and they keep my knees and legs warm whilst still offering flexibility.

I couldn't find my overshoes one morning so wrapped some kitchen foil round my socks before putting the shoes on. It had all fallen apart by the time I had finished but it was a good short term solution.

stenmeister's picture

posted by stenmeister [76 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 8:47

21 Likes

I tend to err on the side of caution, being slightly too warm is always better than being too cold.

posted by caaad10 [128 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 10:19

27 Likes

Decided to MTFU yesterday and this morning and dropped the fleecy tights, just went bibs, summer jersey and softshell. Perfect. Considering going for the gilet tomorrow but that may be a step too far...

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [956 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 11:13

32 Likes

I'm loving my new Rapha asymmetrical one-sleeved gilet, combined with Assos' latest left-half-shorts, right-half-tights offering.

The problem is, it cost me an arm and a leg. Wave

posted by chokofingrz [320 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 11:43

28 Likes

B-dim tish!

Shamblesuk's picture

posted by Shamblesuk [121 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 12:18

21 Likes

chokofingrz wrote:
I'm loving my new Rapha asymmetrical one-sleeved gilet, combined with Assos' latest left-half-shorts, right-half-tights offering.

The problem is, it cost me an arm and a leg. Wave

You should have finished that with "I'm here all week" Big Grin

Wesselwookie's picture

posted by Wesselwookie [154 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 15:19

26 Likes

Gah! I opened this article feeling all eager... as a female cyclist I have not given up hope that someone will design some proper kit for us road cyclists, that doesn't have too much pink, or polka dots, or are just completely insipid. What is that monstrous gilet? Has it been designed to make her look as unattractive and shapeless as possible? If so it's a winner. Tell me, is there anyone that would check themselves in the mirror wearing that and think, damn! I look good today?

posted by Emmyloolah [2 posts]
17th April 2014 - 12:02

24 Likes

I agree with Emmy - imo there's not enough racing fit kit out for women at the moment, DHB/Wiggle are trying their best but a lot of it caters to the broader market of more recreational lady cyclists.

Sportful have made some nice stuff but it's still fairly expensive!

Most of the mens stuff would be great if they made a women's equivalent, but brands seem not to want to do this, and those that do end up putting in a mental colour scheme, or relaxed cut etc

Merlin Cycles women's race team ~ http://www.merlincycles.com
Manx nerd peddler ~ http://mooleur.blogspot.com

mooleur's picture

posted by mooleur [542 posts]
17th April 2014 - 12:13

22 Likes

I recently got Castelli Gabba to use with Nano arm warmers. A perfect combination in this changeable weather. Went for fluo too and offers me an improved level of confidence in the current overcast drab climate. Looks well compared to traditional uses of fluo. Expesive but nothing else can touch it for me.

posted by darranmoore [34 posts]
27th April 2014 - 15:17

22 Likes

I'm a complete novice when it comes to cycling, having started commuting last September. I read quite a few forums and blogs and there's no shortage of things that raise numerous questions in my mind. I wonder if anyone can help with the 'warm knee' conundrum. I've seen it written in a variety of places about how important it is to keep your knees warm, thus 3/4 trousers, full length trousers, leg warmers are recommended, but why? What's the potential risk of not doing? I rode through until early December in my bib shorts, then when it felt too cold, switched to some longs, but this was more about overall body/leg temperature than knee preservation. By riding through spring in my shorts have I inadvertently risked knee damage of some sort?

Yours curiously.

posted by stephenpercy [4 posts]
27th April 2014 - 19:12

20 Likes

I agree with you Emmy Smile,the women's range of cycling kit available is awful mostly Flowery and pink or even worst ...sparkly!!!! Sad((( arghhhh Sad(( and I .rather wear a black bin-bag than that shapeless monstrous gilet .
I invested in a really nice team kit from Lululemon-Specialized and
It was worth every single penny .... and every single hour of overtime too Smile

posted by meltoji [1 posts]
28th April 2014 - 21:50

20 Likes

martincashman wrote:
Anyone know of a shot sleeve jersey with a windstopper front?

Castelli Gabba ss jersey combined with Nanoflex/NoRain armwarmers, perfect piece of kit combining.

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

― George Carlin

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”

― Euripides, Bacchae

Cyclist's picture

posted by Cyclist [225 posts]
10th May 2014 - 15:47

17 Likes