Spring cycle clothing guide
Spring is in the air. What to wear, from arm warmers to gilets, jerseys to bib shorts and more
It might have been a slow start, but it looks and feels like spring is really in the air now. The weather is starting to get niver with increasing temperatures and the longer evenings meaning more ride time for a lot of people, and it’s worth making sure you’re prepared with the right clothing.
Dressing for the winter is relatively easy, it’s just a matter of wearing as much cold-weather clothing as you can fit out the front door in. Spring is altogether more challenging though, and it’s because the weather can change wildly from warm and pleasant to cold and windy. The trick with spring clothing is having a selection of clothing that lets you easily adapt to the changing conditions.
For example if 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.
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. Here’s a look at some of the best ways to dress for the spring.
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. The second choice is bib knickers, or three-quarter shorts, that extend to below the knee.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Essentially a long sleeve gilet, these can be very handy for the less joyous spring days. 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.
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.
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.
Another option are toe warmers. Essentially overshoes with most of the shoe removed execpt the bit over toes.
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.
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. Something like DeFeet’s Duraglove, a low bulk, lightweight and cordura/coolmix fabric that provides just the right level of insulation with enough breathability to prevent overheating.
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.