Winter-proof your cycling with GORE, Rapha, Assos, Le Col
We’ve all been there, whether it is as cyclists, runners or swimmers.
It starts with the promise of a sporting renaissance in the summer; the longer, warmer days spurring us into action and a dedicated fitness schedule.
But then winter arrives and knocks all the enthusiasm out of us, forcing us to retreat inside and wait for the freezing winds and interminable drizzle to blow over months later.
It doesn’t have to be this way for cyclists, especially us commuters.
Modern technologies in winter garments, be it a sweat-wicking baselayer or tights with rain-resistant panelling can turn what used to be a nightmareish chore into an inviting challenge
In fact, if you dress and arm yourself appropriately, you’ll soon find that winter riding can be as rewarding as it is in the sun.
Modern technologies in winter garments, be it a sweat-wicking baselayer or tights with rain-resistant panelling can turn what used to be a nightmareish chore into an inviting challenge.
Once suitably armed, you’ll quickly discover what you’ve been missing out on when skipping those wintry British mornings: quiet, misty roads and stunning sunrises – not to mention the benefits to your health and your wallet.
Here, MailOnline Health talks you through the key weapons that will help to keep you in the saddle throughout winter.
Here, MailOnline Health talks you through the key weapons that will help to keep you in the saddle throughout winter
Dressing right for a winter ride starts, both literally and figuratively, with a good quality base layer.
As a garment that is compressed against the skin, it serves two functions; keeping you warm and wicking away sweat as fast as possible.
The ability of a base layer to perform this second purpose is vitally important, given that moisture that doesn’t dry away quickly will turn ice cold in wintry conditions.
This dilemma is all the more noticeable for those with hilly commutes, as the sweat you work up on a climb can turn a poor base layer from your best friend into your worst enemy on the descents.
Svelte’s Merino Wool Base Layer (left) was among the best performing garments we tested for moisture absorption. Meanwhile, Rapha’s Pro Team Thermal (right) is a very versatile bit of kit
Among the best performing garments we tested for moisture absorption was Svelte’s Merino Wool Base Layer.
The London-based manufacturer has come up with a low-profile top which is extremely soft and comfortable, almost to the point that you forget you have it on.
It also has a super-tight fitting around the wrists and forearms, a rare but definitive plus for any base layer as it stops it riding up your arm underneath other layers.
Rapha’s Pro Team Thermal offering is also absorbent, and performs many of the main functions of a base layer very well.
It is thicker across the arms and the chest for added warmth and comes in a slightly-more comfortable fit than a lot of Rapha’s Pro Team range.
Once suitably armed, you will quickly realise what you’ve been missing out on by skipping those wintry British mornings: quiet, misty roads and stunning sunrises – not to mention the benefits to your health and your wallet
What really sets this base layer apart from the rest, however, is the extra-long collar, which like the main body of the garment is very soft against the sensitive skin around you neck and face.
It can be pulled to cover your nose if needed, making it a very versatile bit of kit, but despite Rapha’s insistence it doesn’t quite stretch over the ears for more than a few minutes before being pulled back down.
Perhaps the warmest base layer we tested was Assos’s Skinfoil Evo7 Base Layer, although you are certainly paying for the privilege.
Even when the mercury dropped into the minus, this bit of wonder kit more than held its own.
The high and tight neck certainly gives you confidence in the coldest conditions but never feels restrictive, given the super soft material.
Perhaps the warmest base layer we tested was Assos’s Skinfoil Evo7 Base Layer (left), while GORE’s Turtleneck Base Layer (right) did not quite sparkle as much as we had hoped
The fit is true to the normally-tight sizing from Assos, which takes pride in basing its clothing around how it fits when sat on the bike, as opposed to in the coffee shop.
GORE’s Turtleneck Base Layer is certainly a serviceable garment, but given its price tag (similar to the others on test) it did not quite sparkle as you’d expect given the the outerwear giant’s pedigree.
The polypropylene material was comfortable enough against the skin but didn’t absorb moisture or trap in the heat as well as thought.
The addition of a front-zipper to the neck was certainly a plus point, however, allowing for manual heat management on tougher sections of a ride.
The mantra goes that there’s no such thing as bad weather for cycling, just bad cycling clothing.
With modern technologies providing us with high-tech protection from the wind, rain and beyond, there really is no excuse for giving that one wet ride a miss.
One company that is constantly pushing the envelope on staying active in changeable conditions is GORE, and its new One Rescue Jacket is simply stunning.
The waterproof fabric is probably the best we have ever come across, and it is so light that it is easily packed into the rear pocket of a jersey when not needed.
GORE’s new One Rescue Jacket (shown left) is simply stunning, and the brand’s Element Softshell Gilet (right) offers a plethora of options for layering
What makes it all the more incredible is just how breathable it is, making it an extremely versatile jacket.
The fit is just perfect while leaned over the handlebars, while the addition of a hood – something we were skeptical of, works wonders as a wind guard for your ears.
GORE’s Element Softshell Gilet is also versatile and offers a plethora of options for layering.
There is some stylish reflective detailing to keep you well seen on the road, and the zip pocket on the front is handy, as are the two pockets on the rear.
Giro can now boast of an excellent long-sleeved jersey with the Chrono Thermal (left), while Rapha’s Brevet Flyweight Wind Jacket is the lightest the brand has ever made
It is also warm; the high collar is a bonus and the material is completely windproof.
Coming in at just 74g in a size medium, Rapha’s Brevet Flyweight Wind Jacket is the lightest the brand has ever made.
In fact it is so packable that it fills just half of a jersey pocket, meaning you can keep it tucked away right up until those chilly descents.
What was astounding about the featherweight material was how amazingly durable it was; we tugged and pulled at it and it always kept its shape and looked new.
Better known for their well-made shoes and helmets, Giro can now boast of an excellent long-sleeved jersey with the Chrono Thermal.
If heavy duty is what you are after, look no further than Le Col’s HC Jacket (left). Altura’s Podium Elite Jacket (right) was among the most comfortable tops we tried
The brushed interior is so soft and makes it incredibly warm, while the tight cuffs and hem keep it in place and make for a comfortable on-bike feel.
There is also a generous amount of pockets and reflectivity, making it a great choice for rides in the dark where the temperature doesn’t require a heavy-duty jacket.
When you’re just looking for something to help beat the windchill or something you can cram in your backpocket in case of an emergency, look no further than Assos’s Blitz Vest Mille GT
And if heavy duty is what you are after, look no further than Le Col’s HC Jacket; It is waterproof, windproof and even has Kevlar elbow patches in case you fall off.
What is really great about this jacket, however, is the amount of hi-vis tech; Le Col says that the large reflective panels make sure that drivers see the outline of a cyclist, as opposed to just a line or circle floating in the night’s sky.
It seemingly has everything you could need, and what is all the more impressive is that it can do a job as a jacket and even a jersey, given the soft lining inside.
There’s no getting away from the price point though. At £300, this is certainly at the very top of the market, but all the tech is there should you be happy to spend the money.
A slightly cheaper option is Altura’s Podium Elite Jacket, which was among the most comfortable tops we tried, something Altura puts down to its ErgoFit 3D patterning.
It is warm enough with decent protection against the elements. There’s also so many pockets, including one zipped, making it a brilliant commuter jacket.
When you’re just looking for something to help beat the windchill or something you can cram in your backpocket in case of an emergency, look no further than Assos’s Blitz Vest Mille GT.
We honestly loved this gilet; it is so lightweight and packable but also packs a punch when it comes to keeping your midriff warm.
The length is perfect, but what really makes a difference is the high-neck and the fit.
It’s much easier for manufacturers to design a jacket with wind-cheating and waterproofing technology without having to compromise to much on the fit.
However it becomes a completely different ballgame when trying to bring those winter survival elements to the tight-fitting profile of shorts and tights.
The very best winter bottoms are able to provide both a great fit while keeping you warm and dry, and the best we tested for either of these were Assos’s Mille Tights.
Two of the very best items we tested were Assos’s Mille Tights (left) and Le Col’s brilliant Thermal Bib Shorts (right)
Made from extremely soft and luxurious Lycra, these were incredibly comfortable to wear, with extra padding in the knees, thighs and hips making for cosy riding.
The chamois pad was pretty much unrivalled, while the bib straps felt less restrictive than others and even comes with a handy loop to hold onto your sunnies.
A windproof panel on the crotch makes descending a much more palatable experience. All round, a fantastic addition to anyone’s winter wardrobe.
The Altura Podium Elite Thermo Bib Tights
A close second to Assos’s offering was Le Col’s Thermal Bib Shorts. Much like the Mille Tights, these come with a truly exceptional pad and a brilliant fit.
Even though the Lycra isn’t quite as soft as the Milles, it is certainly nice and thick and comes with a beautiful fleece-lining which is very warm against the skin.
Combine them with a good pair of legwarmers, and you have yourself a pair of shorts built for both the deep winter and the transition into both seasons either side.
Altura’s Podium Elite Thermo Bib Tights are a cheaper option which offers enough warmth during the morning commute, but is lacking in some key areas.
Firstly, the lack of windproofing can make descents a scary proposition, while the thick pad is descent enough but doesn’t cover all contact points with the seat, most notably at the – ahem – front area.
The fit is very good, however, and it has two two pockets of the rear straps, which was unexpected. The elasticated bands around the foot were also the best on test.
Castelli’s Nano Flex 2 Bib Tights cannot quite match its rivals for comfortable and warmth, but it truly excelled when it came to keeping the rain away.
The manufacturer’s Nano Flex material is coated with millions of nanofilaments to create a fantastic water-repellant surface, which sees spray roll straight off the body.
Castelli’s Nano Flex 2 Bib Tights (left) were great for keeping the rain at bay, while Pearl Izumi’s Pro Pursuit Bib Tights were good value for money
The bib straps are nice and wide to relieve pressure on the shoulders and the pad does the job nicely; it’s a great choice if you’re heading out on a rainy commute.
Pearl Izumi’s Pro Pursuit Bib Tights is a good option for those we do not feel the need to ride with a chamois pad on their commute, as it comes both with and without.
The straps are a laser-cut seam-free single piece, which makes it very comfy over the shoulders, while we liked the loose-ish fit around the ankle.
Our testing didn’t prove them to be super warm or luxurious against the skin, but they are good value compared to the price points of competitors.
The fleece-lining is comfortable on Le Col’s Pro Bib Tights, although we found the fit to be slightly wanting when compared to that of the brand’s Thermal Tights
Le Col’s Pro Bib Tights gel pad is excellent, as is expected from such a top notch brand.
They are also kitted out with its Aqua Zero waterproof fabric, which was brilliant at beading away the rain and was felt breathable at the same time.
The fleece-lining is comfortable, although we found the fit to be slightly wanting when compared to that of the brand’s Thermal Tights.
With nearly all outdoor sports, a set of cold, wet or numb toes can completely ruin a session.
Cyclists are possibly more exposed to this than any other, as the speed of motion combined with the bitter wind can cut a ride short in the worst cases.
A big issue is that as soon as they are too cold or damp, it’s practically impossible to reverse those processes as the feet don’t have to work too hard on the bike.
So dressing your feet and toes up for winter is more about prevention than anything else, with a variety of different options available to buyers.
Our favourite sock was Assos’s Bonka Evo8 (left), while Svelte’s Reflective Heritage Socks (right) are super comfy around the foot and ankle
The first line of defence is a good winter sock. Gone are the days of sticking two or three pairs on and cramming your foot into your shoe, which is awful for circulation.
Our favourite sock was Assos’s Bonka Evo8, a rich offering that we found to be more comfortable against the skin than other merino wool socks.
Made from a mixture of selected yarns to absorb moisture, they’re the perfect thickness for the cold months, not feeling cramped in the shoe but still warm.
We thought it would be hard to get too excited about a winter sock, but this is a superb product and became our go-to for events and longer rides.
Svelte’s Reflective Heritage Socks are not strictly a deep winter sock, given that the thickness of the lush terry-cloth fabric is more akin to a spring or autumn offering.
With nearly all outdoor sports, a set of cold, wet or numb toes can completely ruin a session
However they deserve inclusion in this guide due to their brilliant and unique reflective capabilities.
Hi-vis features are rare in socks, so these provide a unexpected weapon in the battle to be seen in the dark. They’re also super comfy around the foot and ankle.
In the worse conditions, you’ll need to arm yourself with more than just warm socks, however, with toe covers providing the next significant upgrade to your armoury.
By fitting over the front of your shoe, where your foot is most exposed to the elements, the material provides a shield against the wind and splash from the road.
We tested Le Col’s Toe Covers, which managed to protect from the worst of it, but lacked the toasty warmth of other we’ve tested in the past, despite a fleeced interior.
It has a durable skin on the bottom to stop the worst of the scuffing, but it could have done with a bit more coverage at the front as ours split at the seam quite early.
Le Col’s Toe Covers (left) lacked the toasty warmth we expected from such a great brand, while Rapha’s Reflective Overshoes (right) looked the part but didn’t stand up to the rain
They are the right tightness and certainly look the part, and the addition of a hi-vis line on the sides is a welcome addition.
The next step up is a full shoe cover, with Rapha’s Reflective Overshoes the brand’s latest entry in its burgeoning collection of eye-catching footwear.
They certainly look great, with the make-up of the shoe split between a blinding silver and Rapha’s characteristic pink highlights.
A fully reflective overshoe is a brilliant idea, as lighting up the moving parts of a cyclist’s anatomy is proven to increase visibility and safety among other road users.
However, they failed expectations when it came to keeping out the rain and road splash, making them slightly unreliable expect for on short nighttime commutes.
Cycling, perhaps more than any other amateur sport, lends itself to stocking up on a range of accessories.
This is exemplified tenfold during winter, with manufacturers offering all sorts of technological aides designed for keeping you safe, warm and dry.
For commuters, one of the most important decisions to make is what backpack to purchase.
Keeping your work essentials dry is the priority, but they also need to have enough space for clothing and shoes.
Rapha’s Reflective Travel Backpack is a superb addition to any commuter’s arsenal, with its nylon body being both extremely water resistant and entirely hi-vis.
Rapha’s Reflective Travel Backpack (left) is a superb addition to any commuter’s arsenal, while a great alternative for those who just require a waterproof layer is HUMP’s Reflective Silver Backpack Cover (right)
The bag comes with 25 litres-worth of capacity, and is very easy to pack and use all the space with a clamshell-style opening allowing to lie it fully flat.
There’s an abundance of pockets for packing away and dividing up your valuables, including a small pocket on the side which is accessible even with the (free) rain cover that comes with the backpack attached.
It is also very comfortable while worn, thanks to a rigid back panel, which has grooves running down and across to aide airflow and stopping a sweaty back.
For those who already have a comfortable and sizable backpack, several manufacturers offer waterproof covers that fit perfectly over the top.
Top of the tree is HUMP, whose Reflective Silver Backpack Cover is among the best items we reviewed when it came to not letting in a drop of moisture.
The 100 per cent Nikalite silver fabric is made using glass bead technology and offers great night-ride visibility.
Light and Motion’s Urban 900 Front Light (left) has a yellow light on both sides of the lamp, while the CatEye Kinetic X2 Rear Light (right) failed to deliver on brake-light functionality
It comes with a mesh pocket at the front, which is too loose to use for any valuables, but can house a light should you be that way inclined.
The cover fits snugly around the backpack, with the elasticated corners ensuring that there is no flapping in the wind.
Buying lights is also of huge importance for any cyclist looking to travel during the darker hours, with the brightness you require determined by what roads you use.
Those traversing country roads will need a front light with a big lumen output, as you’ll need to brighten up the road surface yourself.
Light and Motion’s Urban 900 Front Light certainly packs enough punch in this regard, with its 900-lumen beam offering incredibly visibility of what’s ahead.
It also has a yellow light on both sides of the lamp, which gives you more confidence at junctions and lights up the handlebars.
We would have preferred to have seen a few more settings for the beam, and a slightly better battery life, but the USB charging and quick-release mounts made this light a favourite with testers.
The heavyweight of the bike world is undoubtedly CatEye, so we were very excited to try out their Kinetic X2 Rear Light, which claims to have brake-light functionality.
Vittoria Corsa Control G+ Isotech Tyres (left) are extremely good and grippy in the wet, while Assos’s Tiburu Evo8 Headband will keep the worst of the chill off your ears
The idea is that the flashing bulb changes to solid red when it senses the cyclist braking, imitating the rear lights of a car.
In theory it is a great idea, however our testing found that although the ‘brake’ element came on each time you slowed down, it would also activate at random times, such as going round a corner.
This is obviously an issue, seeing as a driver behind you is none-the-wiser to the functions of the light.
While we were unimpressed by the brake functionality, it is otherwise a solid light with a few settings, a great mount and USB charging.
Perhaps one element that cyclists can be quite lazy about when it comes to being winter-ready is buying some tyres that are better suited to the conditions.
The general consensus among our testers was that Vittoria is among the best brands when it came to road tyres, and we were eager to try out their latest Corsa Control G+ Isotech offering.
The first thing that immediately hits you is just how brilliantly low the rolling resistance is on these, allowing you to build up speed at a truly satisfying rate.
The Lazer Z1 Helmet’s aero shell fits over the top, eliminating the vents on the hood and protecting you from the rain and bitter wind
They are also very resistant to damage, with a good looking over after a couple of weeks of riding revealing no punctures, cuts or noticeable grazings to the graphene body.
Our favourite aspect of the tyres, however, is just how good they are in the wet. You can really get your lean on in the corners without fear of your wheels disappearing underneath.
We did not expect to include a helmet in our winter guide, but the Lazer Z1 is so versatile and unique in its category that it certainly deserves its place here.
Incredibly lightweight and comfortable, it is already a solid performer when it comes to day to day riding, with the ‘Advanced Rollsys System’ ensuring a great fit.
What sets this helmet apart, however, is the supplied aero shell that fits over the top, eliminating the vents on the hood and protecting you from the rain and bitter wind.
It is a superb idea, and we found that the shell worked so well that it eliminated the need for any caps of hats, with no overheating issues.
Should you suffer from painfully sore ears in descents, however, you can’t go far wrong with Assos’s Tiburu Evo8 Headband.
We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it was when worn, with a great amount of give in the elastic and three sizing options.
The thickness was also spot-on, keeping the worst of the chill off the ears and forehead but not feeling restrictive when underneath the helmet.
The Polypropylene and Polyamide fibres also do a decent job of wicking away the sweat from your brow. It’s quite pricey for a headband but worth the outlay in our opinion.
Castelli’s Nanoflex Arm Warmers are made from some of the best water resistant fabric around, while the brand’s Tempesta 2 Leg Warmers are outstandingly visible
The great thing about a good pair of arm warmers is that they can extend the amount of the year during which you can wear your favourite short-sleeve jerseys.
Castelli’s Nanoflex Arm Warmers employ the same water-beading technology as their Nanoflex tights, and its among the best water resistant fabric around.
The silicone grippers carry out the task with no fuss or discomfort, and are the perfect length – not too long that they ride up into the armpit and not short enough that they don’t reach the sleeve.
The brushed fleece lining feels nice against the skin and the breathability is good, our only gripes are the sizing (go one up) and the branding, which could have been reflective.
Castelli’s Tempesta 2 Leg Warmers, meanwhile, were probably the most reflective item we tested – the silver lower leg is outstandingly visible, in all levels of light.
They felt great on, too; the wideness of the gripper made it sit nicely on the thigh, while it was very easy to get on thanks to an ankle zipper.
Unfortunately they didn’t provide the level of warmth we would like, with the protection from the rain also pretty so-so for the price.