We all know this time of year brings plenty of cold, wet conditions to the Pacific Northwest. But that doesn’t have to mean putting the bike away until spring. From bike commuting to recreational riding, or even heading out for some last-minute holiday shopping on two wheels, anyone can enjoy winter cycling in less-than-ideal conditions, it’s just a matter of being prepared. Here are six winter gear essentials that every bicyclist should own.
We’re including a few examples of our favorites in each category. We’ve found that these pieces fit and perform well without breaking the bank, but there are plenty of options out there that will get the job done. (No one’s paying us to say this, we swear. We just really, really appreciate good gear.) We recommend always comparing products, reading customer reviews, and considering personal preference and individual needs when choosing gear—whether it’s for you or that die-hard cyclist on your list.
1. Versatile Base Layer
It’s easy to overdress for cold-weather riding, but our bodies produce plenty of warmth as soon as we start pedaling. The key to comfort is wearing layers that are waterproof, breathable and sweat-wicking. Choose a base layer made of Merino wool or any synthetic wicking fiber like polyester or nylon/spandex. Avoid cotton, it will soak up sweat and hold it next to the body. Check out the Gore Windstopper base layer. It’s a versatile and comfortable long-sleeve that does well to block wind and manage moisture. At around $80 it’s an excellent baselayer with an attractive price tag.
2. Waterproof Jacket
Again, you don’t need a lot of warmth from a cycling jacket. Focus on finding a lightweight shell that’s waterproof and breathable. You can always add an extra layer underneath for especially chilly days. Look for a jacket with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment, which makes water bead and roll off. The Double Century RTX jacket from Portland-based Showers Pass is a lightweight and super-functional shell with a drop hem in the back for extra protection.
3. Commuter-Friendly Pants
The easy solution here is to throw a pair of pullover rain pants on top of your standard everyday slacks—the Marmot PreCip Pant performs well for its minimal price tag of around $55. But affordable options can be ill-fitting and not durable, making them prone to catching, tearing or wearing through. If you’re willing to spend a little more, the Arc’teryx A2B Chino and the Coalatree Trailhead Pant are solid entries in the multi-function pant category. Both offer flexibility with a water-repellent finish, and look just enough like your business-casual slacks to fit right in at the office or coffee shop.
4. Biking Gloves
Hands don’t benefit from all that body heat that the legs and torso get from pedaling, so a good set of gloves is one of the most important pieces of gear for a safe and enjoyable winter ride. Look for gloves that are waterproof, or at least water-repellent. Durable materials like leather on the palms add protection in case of a wipeout, and silicone details on the fingers and palms can give you a secure grip even in the rain. Sealskinz Dragon Eye Gloves are durable and close-fitting, with great dexterity for a range of activities.
Bike fenders have come a long way from the rattling chrome monstrosities of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Most fit easily onto virtually any bike frame, and can be quickly attached and removed depending on the weather. Of course, fenders block water from spraying up onto the rider, but more importantly they can prevent mud, sticks and other debris from launching into bike wheels and drivetrains, which can prevent accidents and save on repair costs in the long run. Planet Bike’s Cascadia fenders are a solid choice for full-fender coverage, and the SKS Xtra-Dry is a surprisingly-effective rear mudguard that attaches in a snap and retails for under $20.
6. Bike Lights
Powerful, dependable lights are a good idea to carry any time of year. But that’s especially true in the winter months, when daylight hours are limited and rain reduces visibility even further. Whether you’re riding on city streets or rural roads, it’s important to consider not only how well you can see, but how well you can be seen. Consider how long, how often, and in what setting you’ll do most of your night riding, and look for a set of lights that fits your needs. Serfas offers a wide selection from permanent-mounts to quick-release and everything in between. The Blackburn 2-Fer Combo light is USB rechargeable and keeps you visible to other riders and drivers. Each light is interchangeable, with toggling headlight and taillight settings and a quick-release clip. Versatility and a modest price tag make the 2-Fer a great entry-level option.
These are just a few examples of the quality winter-weather cycling products available. Hopefully this list provides some insight and a solid place to start your search. Experiment with what works best for you. Consider function and price point. Most importantly‚ enjoy the ride!