Cycling in winter requires a dialed cold-weather setup. Here’s what you’ll need, whether you’re looking for the best gear or the grittiest budget hacks. Because neither snow nor rain should keep you from your cold-weather bike ride.
As the weather worsens and mud, rain, sleet, and freezing temperatures become the norm, you don’t have to hang up your bike. There’s tons of gear on the market tailor-made for the worst conditions. And we’ve selected the essentials to keep you warm, dry, and visible.
But you can still get through quite a few rides just by layering on the clothing you already have in your closet and following a few of these super-cheap, super-simple DIYs for cycling comfort in the chilliest of temps.
Cold-Weather Cycling: Core
Hack it: Most people assume that winter riding means a warm cycling jacket and overdressing when the mercury drops. But if you’re planning to ride a lot in the winter, a good rule of thumb is this: If you’re warm when you start, you’ve got too much on.
You may not have a perfect winter coat or fleece-lined tights, but you probably have a long-sleeve base layer or two, a windbreaker, or a raincoat. Hit up your closet to find appropriate layers to stack on depending on how cold it gets. Mix and match thin layers with thicker ones, but avoid super-bulky sweaters or insulated pieces.
Remember, wear one layer less than what you think you’ll need to avoid overheating and sweating too much. And make sure you can still move your arms freely as you add layers!
Winter Bike Gear: Wind Blocking
Buy it: The Castelli Squadra Vest keeps your core warm and is super packable.
Hack it: If the commute home is colder than expected, you don’t have to call an Uber. To block wind without a windbreaker, just grab a newspaper and stick it down your shirtfront.
Cheap, light, and shockingly effective, this trick has become one that I use even when I have windbreakers on hand. It just works that well and doesn’t cover your jersey, so you don’t lose pocket access. Plus, if it warms up, just recycle!
Buy it: Pull on your favorite bibs over the Gore Thermal Cycling Tights to keep your legs warm, without the fuss of legwarmers.
Hack it: This isn’t much of a hack, exactly, but a lot of cyclists fall into the trap of assuming that only cycling gear will work for cycling. But really, a lot of your winter gear for other sports will serve double duty on the bike.
You can pull cross-country ski tights over bib shorts as makeshift riding tights. And skiing base layers work just as well under a jersey. Even your ski goggles can come in handy if you’re planning to ride on a particularly chilly or nasty day (this author has, on occasion, even biked in swim goggles when the weather took a turn for the worse).
Keep ‘Em Dry
Buy it: Gore Waterproof Bike Gloves keep hands dry without getting sweaty inside.
Hack it: Latex gloves can be layered under your regular cycling gloves to keep your hands dry. They are cheap and readily available at most pharmacies.
Plus, gloves designed for bricklayers and other close-up manual labor are made to be breathable on one side, latex for better grip on the other, and relatively water-resistant all around. Best of all, both types are small enough to stuff in a saddlebag, so you always have a pair in a pinch.
Keep ‘Em Warm
Buy it: Gore Windproof Cycling Gloves offer optimal movement and keep wind from hitting your digits without trapping sweat. And if you’re in the far north, consider a set of pogies (neoprene wind-blockers fit your handlebars).
Wolf Tooth Components’ Singletrack Pogie is waterproof, abrasion-resistant, and, if you’ve never tried them before, works like magic to keep hands sheltered from wintry gusts.
Hack it: If you can’t invest high-quality, warm gloves, you need to layer up. In a pinch, you can put old wool socks (with a hole cut for your thumb) over your gloves to add a layer of insulation and wind protection.
Buy it: The Polar Insulated Water Bottle will keep your bottle cage bevy warm on a cold-start morning.
Hack it: Add a splash of vodka! Hear me out, this is a classic roadie trick. Add just a splash of vodka to your water bottle to keep liquids from freezing quickly.
Because alcohol has a lower freezing point than water, it can keep your bottles drinkable for longer, even when it gets super chilly outside. To be fair, so will an insulated bottle or starting with warmer liquids.
PSA: Seriously, stick to just a tablespoon of booze, and only for two bottles. Don’t get tipsy on a group ride; it’s not classy.
You can also keep your bottle upside down in a jersey pocket or bottle cage. Since water freezes from the top down, the valve will freeze last, allowing you to drink from the bottle even if it starts freezing. Just be sure to close the valve before holstering your bottle.
Buy it: The 45NRTH Wolvhammers are worth every penny if you value warm feet.
Hack it: If you don’t have three Benjamins burning a hole in your pocket, you can extend your riding comfort with a little duct tape, a plastic bag, and some tin foil. Cover all holes/vents in your shoes with duct tape and add an extra wrap around the toe for wind protection.
Trace your insole onto a piece of foil, cut it out, and place it under the insole of your shoe. It will reflect the cold out and the heat in. Then, put on your warmest socks and stuff them in a plastic bag. Your feet will stay warm and dry.
Buy it: The wool icebreaker Merino Oasis Balaclava insulates when wet, which means your melon will stay warm and comfy. And the added protection for your cheeks and nose will help if a dreaded headwind picks up.
Hack it: Shower caps are amazing for wind and waterproofing. Mountain bikers discovered this dollar-store secret for rapidly changing weather they encounter on some rides. Stick a clear plastic shower cap (100 for only $9!) in your saddlebag, and when the temperatures drop and the going gets rough, pull it out and pop it over your helmet. Voila!
Your normally breathable helmet becomes windproof and will retain more heat on your head. Helmet covers are great, but they’re often pricey and won’t necessarily fit your next helmet. But plastic shower caps can be pulled over any normal vented road helmet.
Bonus hack: Shower caps also work on your feet! More often than cold temps, wet weather is the culprit that freezes toes. When it’s chilly out, slipping shower caps over your socks and under your shoes can keep socks dry. Because it’s chilly, you won’t be trapping much sweat in your socks, and dry feet mean more time before toes get too cold.
Buy it: 45NRTH makes studded tires for almost every size wheel out there. And they’re cheaper than a trip to the ER if you hit a patch of black ice.
Hack it: If you’re running disc brakes, put a zip tie every inch or so around your tire. This will add extra grip on slick surfaces (for dirt cheap). And remember to lower tire pressure to add extra traction in snow or slush.
Buy it: Get food that won’t freeze. Trail mix, nuts, and salty snacks (like Chex Mix) can offer high-calorie, temperature-resistant nutrition.
Hack it: Handwarmers work great — and not just for your hands. In fact, unless you have a thin pair of gloves to layer between your skin and a handwarmer, you actually shouldn’t stick one into your glove, as you may burn your skin.
The best use for one (or a few) is to keep it stashed in your jersey pocket. It helps prevent gels and bars from freezing and becoming impossible to eat.
Winter Biking Gear: Safety
Buy it: PHOOZY Apollo Series Thermal Phone Case ($30)
Hack it: Handwarmers to the rescue! Perhaps more important in the winter, you’ll want to keep your phone at the ready in case an unexpected mechanical finds you stranded in the cold.
Keep a handwarmer in the same pocket with your phone. It can keep the battery from draining quickly in subzero temps. And keep your phone as close to your body as possible.
Buy it: RoadID has the simplest options to help identify you or store important medical info in case of an accident. And it works whether you want an ID plate for a smartwatch, a necklace, or a bracelet.
Hack it: Pet tags make cheap on-bike IDs. Everyone’s nightmare is crashing, getting knocked out, and being unable to provide important contact info and medical data. Bad weather can bring on more cycling accidents, so it does pay to be prepared.
Channel your inner golden retriever with an affordable dog tag that you can personalize with your medical info and emergency contact. (You can also give yourself a fun nickname for the front, like “killer” … or not.)