“By early evening all the sky to the north had darkened and the spare terrain they trod had turned a neuter gray as far as the eye could see. They grouped in the road at the top of a rise and looked back. The storm front towered above them and the wind was cool on their sweating faces. They slumped bleary-eyed in their saddles and looked at one another. Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place n the iron dark of the world.”
― Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
When winter comes for cyclists, when the cold rolls in with the whimper of dusk, it’s a climate, not just a weather. It’s the atmosphere for months, the air we sink or float in.
And how do we get through it? What can we do to ease our winter riding? To stay with our passion and pursuits through the dark months?
If you are here and reading this, well, let’s start with the fact you are interested in learning more about layering your clothing for winter warmth. It’s probably something you’ve heard quite a lot, that “layering is key” for riding in the colder months, but you might be wondering the why and the how. Keep on reading for an in depth look on multi layered clothing, staying warm but not too hot and getting the most for your miles.
Let’s start with the why.
One of the most important factors for thermoregulation (the temperature control of your body) is your core, think torso and shoulders, temperature. This part of the body sends signals to the limbs and extremities. So if you chest is cold, your veins will restrict, limiting warm blood flow to your fingers and toes.
Layering fabrics allows you to concentrate your extra warmth points where you want them, and gives you flexibility to change it up during your ride. Over the course of a workout the weather can change as does our temperature based on heart rate and intensity level.
Layering is key to be able to remain at the correct thermo zone from the second you walk out the door to the apex of your effort at the top of the climb, and down the other side. So we want to be warm, but not too warm, dry and have the flexibility to adapt your kit on the road.
Another important element of layering is getting to choose the right fabrics for where they sit in relation to your skin.
First things first, the base layer!
We all sweat, and it’s especially important in winter that our base layer wicks the moisture away from the skin, whilst keeping the core warm. Generally you will see base layers in sleeveless, short sleeve and long sleeve.
They also come in variety of fabrics, most commonly polyester and merino, with natural merino fibres being the best option for the coldest of days. A few innovations are popping up as well, like Tencel, a sustainable fabric made from wood pulp known for its breathability, moisture wicking and bacteria (odor) resistant quality. Our Polartec Delta tops blend in Tencel in addition to polyester and elastane.
Let’s go next to the mid layer.
This is your jersey or versatile layer that keeps you warm, has good pocket functionality and will stay on throughout the ride.
Winter weather can also be drastically different between types of “cold.”
A wet damn cold 5 degree day can feel colder than a 0 degree dry day and the moisture in the air can also affect our thermoregulation. The main purpose of the mid layer again is to add warmth to the core, whilst adding some extra protection around the wrists, neck and lower back.
On a winter day a cozy fleece will keep everything warm, while on a mild day this could be your long sleeved or summer jersey. Once again, you want a moisture wicking fabric that works with the base layer to move any sweat away from your skin.
The zip on the jersey is a natural air vent- so for the colder days we recommend a 3/4 zip. One of the keys to layering is having a few key versatile garments that can be used for a range of conditions, like our Primaloft Fleece jersey. It stands up to the damp, but on a dry clear warmer day can also be worn with just a windproof gilet.
Lastly is the outer layer.
Here's where you want to place all your weather resistance. As inclement weather is more common in the colder months, the outer layer should be water resistant and windproof.
A lot of technology goes into these outer layers to give them a breathable membrane that lets moisture out, but doesn't let it in, meaning the cheap alternatives usually don’t hold up. If you have two under layers that are pulling moisture away you need the top layer to carry on this action along a venting systems with double zippers and concealed zipped vents.
The wind proofing will keep out cold breezes or wind on descents. The jacket should be packable and stowable in the back jersey pocket of your mid layer, keeping up with flexible dressing throughout your ride.
And for the dry winter air in the northern parts of the world, the shell will protect from the biting wind, whilst equally protective in humid winter climates like in the south of Europe. Our WP performance shell includes ventilation for all important expulsion of moisture, and flexible zips whilst withstanding all types of chill.
We’ve covered the essential core layers.
Bib shorts or long tights for the extremities? Well, we recommend always starting with a winter bib shorts, and then layering over with winter tights or leg warmers, again for flexibility and changing conditions. Leg warmers can come in a few different fabrics, weights and length styles, with your mid season ones being 3/4 long in a technical knit all the way to thermal windproof ones for freezing conditions. Your options depend on the range of temperatures you’re dealing with, how cold your legs get, what shorts you’re using.
Investing in a good pair of winter bib shorts will leave you covered for 4 to 6 months of riding in colder conditions thanks to a smart layering system with a variety of leg warmers.
NGNM’s winter performance bib shorts, for instance, are fully made in a windproof & breathable thermal fabric that keeps you warm in the right spots. With these shorts we’re using tech-knit leg warmers up to 0 degrees celsius, but thermal ones with brushed interior are a valid choice for more rigid conditions.
Let's not forget the head.
Is there anything worse than cold ears or forehead? Protecting your head from the cold is equally important as keeping your core warm. Actually, as they say "warm head, warm body".
Coming in a variety of options from beanies to caps, we suggest to use a cap with ear covers just like the Winter Cap.
The visor helps your forehead from getting cold, and protects your clear vision from the occasional drizzle, moisture or fog. Want more breathability and a tad more air on your face? Flip the visor up!
The warm and soft thermal fabric should be enough for most winter conditions, but in rigid temperature conditions, the cap can be easily lined with a silk or merino beanie underneath.
The essentials of layering can be summed up in one word: Versatility.
With only 4 garments you can set yourself up for a perfect ride whatever the weather and even in constantly changing conditions. We pride ourselves on the flexibility of the No Gods No Masters women’s range, making sure that each of the layers becomes a wardrobe essential, much loved and used throughout the year.