As a cyclist, you may find yourself constantly fighting a battle of wearing enough to stay warm but not too much that you're sweating. Even though your legs are spinning those perfect circles, you aren't really moving your upper body and you have to deal with the wind factor on hands and feet.
This is where the layering system comes in. Generally, you're looking at three layers of clothing on top when you're riding to keep your core warm: base-, mid-, and outer layer. If you keep your core warm while riding, your circulation tends to take care of the extremities. As always, there is the exception of having bad circulation so you may need to bundle up those bits that get chilly.
Baselayers provide warmth and wick sweat away from the body as quickly as possible to keep you from getting clammy. In order to do this properly, the fit of a base layer must be snug like this fine gentleman from IceBreaker is modelling:
There are three "weights" in the base layer catagory:
1. Lightweights are good for summer and for intense activity. They provide excellent wicking but not a lot of warmth.
2. Midweights are for low intensity activities and have good wicking properties and some warmth to them. They are one of the more common layers as they tend to be more multi-purpose across different temperatures and sports.
3. Heavyweights are still a wicking material but act as more of an insulation layer. So, if you're racing, you're more likely to go with a lightweight base layer but might use a mid-weight for warming up or training, and a heavyweight for going for an easy ride around the seawall or hanging out post-race to cheer your teammates in.
Lightweight baselayers are also work well in summer condition. Now maybe you're reading this and probably going, "Base layer in the summer... Whaaaaat?! Are you nuts?!" but they can be useful. Having another layer between your jersey and skin is a good idea because it will wick the sweat away quicker and create space between your body and the midlayer for air circulation. The Craft Cool Mesh Superlight, perfect for a light summer underlayer.
Wool is a good baselayer as it has good wicking properties and doesn't smell even after a few times out on the bike. A synthetic layer is good because it transfers moisture without holding onto it.
Midlayers are your insulator layer, to provide warmth. Unless you're racing, they should be a looser fit but not baggy. The reason for this is that this layer is designed to trap body heat. Depending on how hot you run, a jersey (either wool or synthetic), a light softshell jacket, or shirt would work perfectly.
Jerseys work as perfect midlayers as they are durable enough to go over a baselayer on their own but light enough to be under an outer layer. photo: Sugoi
Outer layers are your weatherproofing. They need to be able to withstand whatever the day is throwing at you. In Vancouver's typical climate, the challenge tends to be finding something that's waterproof, warm AND breathable. Goretex is unbeatable when looking for a waterproof shell but is sometimes lacking in the breatheability category. Other companies are coming out with light shells while still keeping the waterproofness as high as possible. Basically, determine what you want out of your outerlayer and choose accordingly or come down to OtR and let us know what you want and we'll help you out, I promise! There's the Hydroshell from Sugoi that is a super breatheable jacket for riding in the rain but can't be worn with a bag on your back. The Gore Power jacket is completely waterproof and tough enough for a daily commute.
Customer Andrea Akelaitis keeps cool and looks cool as she shows off effective layering with the Craft Performance Rain Jacket while on a bike trip in Oregon this past spring. photo: Andrew Summers
Taking a well-deserved break during a day of riding. photo: Andrew Summers
On the bottom side of things, you can usually follow the same concept though you may not need as many layers. Depending on how warm you get, you can go with tights, knickers, shorts, or a combination of all three. Now there are many companies that have created lifestyle clothing that work on and off the bike. We've had a lot of good luck with Swrve and Chrome and have recently brought in Derny. All three are geared towards people who want multi-purpose clothing without looking like too much of a sportster.
A sleek and sexy cut that'll keep your hems out of the chain and your calves looking good. Photo: Swrve
Companies like Swrve now make jeans that have highlights such as being more durable, having a higher waist in the back and lower in the front to keep you from embarrassment, pockets big enough for a u-lock, and reflective strips.
You can also accessorize with arm, leg, and knee warmers, higher socks, shoe covers, and gloves. These are great because they are, for the most part, easy to put on and take off and make a world of difference if you're feeling chilly or overheated. Most can be stashed in your jersey pockets on a training ride and/or don't take up a lot of room in bags while commuting.
Sugoi's track arm warmers can help you signal your win at the end of a race or simply taunt cars as you whip by them stuck in traffic on the way home. photo: Sugoi
So, figure out what works for you. Some people need more layers, some need less. Some people can't stand the feeling of merino wool next to their skin, others can't wear anything but. Some people need two layers of gloves, others run with fingerless year round. At the end of the day, you're the one wearing the clothing and riding the bike so you should be comfy. And if you're not, your body will let you know. If you have any questions, give us a shout or drop by.
Til next time... as a good friend tells me, "Rubber side down, keep it between the ditches."