Selle Anatomica
Cyclist wearing multiple layers as he rides in the cold

Bike Shorts: How to Layer up for Cold Bike Rides

If you’re brave enough to keep cycling in the cold weather — and believe us, it can be done — then you’re bound to run into a problem at some point.

You’re all layered up and halfway through that chilly ride when, suddenly, nature calls. It’s time for a bathroom break, and you’re in a hurry. But it’s not as simple as you’re used to.

“You’re at this roadside stop somewhere, and you just can’t get it all off without having some on the ground,” says cycling coach Darryl Mackenzie. “As soon as you get near that toilet, you need to be on it, and you can’t get your pants off fast enough!”

Funny as it may be, at that moment, it feels like a serious crisis. So how do you avoid it? You need to layer up your cold-weather cycling clothes in the right order. Let’s take a look at how to layer for cycling with comfort and cold weather in mind.

The Right Order to Layer up for Cold Bike Rides

In Coach Darryl’s decades of cycling experience, he’s been surprised to see how little thought many cyclists give to their clothing and the order they put them on, especially for cold rides. The order is simple, and it will save you a lot of trouble when you have urgent matters to tend to or you need to shed layers due to rising temperatures.

Here’s Darryl’s quick guide for how to layer up for cycling in cold weather:

  1. Heart monitor: This wraps directly against your skin, right across your sternum. Darryl has seen cyclists struggling to get these under three layers in the middle of a cold parking lot, and it never looks like a fun time. 
  2. Undershirt: On a cold day, this should be a snug base layer with sleeves that are long enough to tuck into your gloves.
  3. Bib shorts: Smooth your undershirt down and tuck it inside the bib shorts so that your body is completely covered from the knees to the neck.
  4. Leg tights: This part is key. Make sure you put your tights on after your shorts. That will make it easy to take your tights off if you get too warm. Many cyclists forget this — so much so that Darryl once embarrassed a fellow rider who thought he was going to drop his shorts when he went to put on his tights in the parking lot.
  5. Socks: If your socks are long enough, pull them over the top of your tights to cover any gap. Now you’re covered from neck to toe.
  6. Arm warmers: This added layer is essential to keep your arms from chilling on colder rides.
  7. Jersey: Your cycling jersey’s sleeves should slide easily over your arm warmers.
  8. Cycling jacket: This top layer fits over everything else and is easy to remove as you warm up. Wear a lightweight, thin, drawstring backpack into which you can stuff layers as you remove them.
  9. Gloves: In cool weather, Coach Darryl usually starts with long-fingered gloves and switches to short-fingered gloves (which he keeps in his center pocket for an extra layer of spinal protection) mid-ride when his hands start to sweat. If your fingers are still cold under your long-fingered gloves, try adding rubber gloves underneath to trap more heat. Just be sure you cut holes in the fingertips so they can breathe.

Protected but Flexible

There you have it — how to layer for cycling. If you layer up for your bike ride in that order, you’ll be well insulated against the cold. 

“This outfit is good for me for somewhere around the high 30s to the mid-40s,” says Darryl. Anything colder, and you’re going to need more. Not to mention, you’re truly a hardcore cyclist if you’re still cycling at that point. 

But this outfit (in this order) doesn’t just keep you warm; it keeps you flexible so you can remove layers as you warm up. And you can take care of business more easily when you need to. 


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.


Photo by Mattia Cioni on Unsplash