What to Wear Whatever the Weather

gravel smile race

Deciding what to wear while cycling in inclement weather is tricky. It can take a lot of trial and error to get it dialed, but riding in most conditions is A LOT more comfortable once you know how to dress.  It’s a horrible feeling when you went through the painstaking process to figure out what to wear last year, but you wrote nothing down so you spend the first few rides of each season miserable.

I’m here to tell you about a system I’ve honed that could help you out. If you’re antsy, just scroll to the bottom and check out the Google spreadsheet template I’ve shared. BONUS — I’ve added product links to the items that work for me or my family, so you can basically shop the list and be set from temps all the way down to 0F.


Spring is Here! Errr, Almost.

Spring is almost upon us in Minnesota! We’ve had a few days of good weather and I’ve snuck out for a few rides. Have you? Did you remember what you wore last year at these temperatures?

I’m betting that if you’ve been out, your clothing choices weren’t quite dialed. Have you suffered through a few too-hot or too-cold rides already this season? Here is something I’ve been working on since I was a new cyclist to help me solve my clothing conundrums.

There are a lot of websites out there with rules of thumb for what to wear at different temperatures. However, go on any group ride when it’s a little chilly and you’ll see a HUGE range of layers and warmth. One guy is in shorts, another gal is wearing a softshell jacket and they’re on THE SAME GROUP RIDE.

We are all different from each other — insulated in different places, and have better or worse circulation to our limbs. I have hot hands and slightly hot feet. My core and head also run hot, but my hips and butt are usually frigid. Others, problematically cold hands and a sweaty body. Everyone’s unique.

A local bike shop’s Facebook page posted an example of a clothing guide that was meticulously developed by one of their employees who bike commuted year round. At first the spreadsheet is a little intimidating, so I’ll roll it out in bits. If you want to jump straight to the template I made for this blog post, scroll to the bottom and have at it.


Pick Your Layout

First, here is how I have grouped the areas of the body —

  • Head
  • Torso
  • Legs
  • Feet
  • Hands

Each section has clothing options listed in order of “warm weather gear” to “cold weather gear”. For example, here is what I have written down for “hands”.

  • Summer gloves
  • Full finger gloves
  • Softshell gloves
  • Lobster mitts
  • Lobster mitts+ liners

Here is where you’ll start building your grid. You can do this electronically or on a sheet of paper, whatever you prefer is fine.

I write down a reasonable temperature range for my area across the columns of the sheet. For riding in Minnesota, my current temperature range spans from -10F to 70F. (I wear the same cycling clothing at 70F as I do at 90F.) I haven’t ridden when it’s colder than -10F YET, but you better believe that when I do I’ll excitedly add another column to my spreadsheet.

Here is what the “hands” section looks like, without the cells filled in yet.

what to wear while cycling on your hands

Last, you need to develop a shorthand system for recording how a particular clothing combination felt at your ride temperature. Simple is best. Here is what I’ve chosen.

what to wear while cycling in the cold ranking system

Spend a little time thinking about what conditions you ride in the most. Here is why it matters — you will need less warm clothing when fatbiking along sheltered singletrack in the winter than you would for a gravel ride with no cover from the blustery wind. My spreadsheet is geared towards “road cycling”, or riding open paved or gravel roads with the wind whipping around.

Start Your Grid

Once you have your framework set up, it’s time to go ride! Pay attention to how you feel during each ride. When you get home, fill out your sheet for your ride’s temperature range. Heck, this sheet sometimes even gets me out the door when it’s a new temperature range. “Oooooh, I haven’t done any long rides at 0F on gravel, I’d better go get out there and test some gear!”

Whenever I go out for a ride and I come home unhappy with my clothing choices, you’d better believe the spreadsheet gets an update. I think it’s almost more important to write down the BAD clothing choices than the good. You want to avoid feeling miserable in the future!

If you don’t have the energy to update the sheet right away, dictate a quick note on your phone or scribble some notes on a scrap piece of paper and call it a day. You’ll find it .. eventually.

Filling out the sheet is especially motivating when you have a long event coming up. Test all sorts of clothing combinations on long rides to figure out what works for you. Chances are, you’ll encounter crappy weather on the day of your key event. This way, you’ll be prepared.

Here is what my sheet looks like all filled out for “hands”.

Cells are color coded with how I felt For example, my Pearl Izumi softshell gloves are PERFECT at temperatures from 20F to 45F, and a little too hot at 50 and 55F. Gray cells represent temperatures where I’ll probably never wear that piece of clothing. White cells mean I still need to ride at that temperature with those gloves!

Last Minute Tips

Your grid will be geared towards your normal riding conditions, but what do you do if the weather doesn’t exactly match?

The sheet isn’t perfect, and it never will be. HIgh winds? Wear a little extra. Fat biking with extreme effort through fresh snow? Wear a little less, or be able to shed some layers into your pack. Sunny? Wear less. Nighttime? Wear more. Racing and going at max effort? Wear less. I tend to go up or down 5-10F depending on the conditions.

I’ve simplified the public copy of this sheet, removing some of the extra lines or gear combinations. I’ve learned over time that I can get by (and life is much simpler!) with a few staple pieces instead of nuanced options for EVERY temperature. These staple pieces make repeat occurrences or are worn in combination with others as temperatures drop.

The Template, and my Favorite Gear

Here is a link to my template! You may share, modify, and copy this for your own use. All I ask is that you link back to my blog or Facebook page.

LINK TO TEMPLATE and product recommendations!

I mentioned the concept of staple pieces earlier in the post. You can see a few of these key items on my Favorite Cycling Products page.




Leave a Reply