Winterising Wil: A Guide To Dressing For Winter Riding

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In Issue #110 of Singletrack Magazine, we paid a visit to Endura in Scotland to get our Aussie man prepared for his first British winter…

Some concepts are near-impossible for non-native riders to visualise. For example, British riders have very little idea what ‘Too hot to ride’ could be like. It sounds pretty nice, to be honest. Likewise, we have no idea that ‘this trail is really dusty’ is actually a bad thing. We’re so delighted by that first puff of dust seen on a late June ride to consider that a very dusty trail is anything other than a joyful experience.

And so it is with Wil, our new staff writer. He moved to the UK from Australia in late June to work for Singletrack. His travel route limited him to a single rucksack at the time, which didn’t leave much room for riding clothes, and even when his steamer trunk showed up a month or so later, there wasn’t much more than short sleeve jerseys and short shorts in there. It was quickly clear that Wil had no idea how to survive a winter here.

winter apparel wil endura clothing
So many foreign-looking pieces of apparel. In time Wil, in time…

For our guide to helping you (and Wil) to survive the winter in comfort and style, we’ve split minging weather into two different sorts of ming – first up is hideously, shoe-squelchingly wet and then there’s face-numbingly, achingly cold. There are obviously as many variations of bad weather as the Australians have variations of ‘a bit hot’ but it’ll do for starters. And to make sure it’s not all depressing, we’ve also added a third change of clothes for those three unseasonably warm days we always get in February, as well as for that glorious ‘first nice day of the year’.

It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, but it’s a great place to start and, as we were given the run of Endura for Wil’s trolley-dash, we reckon we’ve got the kit that will keep him safe and dry this winter. Look for more detailed reviews in the spring too.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
An Australian being introduced to riding trousers – amongst other bizarre garments he never knew existed.

Wet & Horrible – Stair-rod Sundays

There are days when it’s wise to carry a packable rain jacket. And then there are days when it’s going to be dumping rain all day. Waterproof gear here needs to keep the wet out as much as possible, while the inner layers keep you warm and move any moisture from sweat to the outside as quickly as possible.

Starting with the base layer, we’re using a ribbed synthetic fabric (Transrib L/S Base layer: £32.99). Unlike merino, this keeps its shape and elasticity well through multiple washes and, most importantly, dries almost instantly. There may be times when you get the base layer wet – even lifting a wet bike over a deer gate can fill your sleeves with rain – and you need it to dry as quickly as possible. On multi-day trips where you get a hotel room, it can be washed in the sink and dried overnight and, again importantly, it feels drier to the touch and doesn’t chill as much as merino can when you stop. And we know that you’re all grown up enough that we don’t have to say ‘Not cotton as a base layer, ever!’ right? If we all rode in the desert it would be a different matter, but in the UK you need to pull moisture away ASAP.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
For proper miserable conditions, a synthetic baselayer and thermal bib shorts (or biblongs) are essential.

For inner shorts, we’ve gone full-bibs, with a brushed lining (Windchill Biblong: £114.99 – not shown here). The psychological lift that some warm shorts can give can’t be underestimated – and bibs ensure that kidneys are kept warm and no drafts can get through.

And overshoes? Yes. Know that they’ll wear out in a year or two of regular use, but the extra comfort and warmth will be so welcome on those dank, wet days where it’s dark by 3pm (MT500 Overshoe II: £32.99).

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
Wil learns about mid-layers.

Overtrousers have elevated from walking wear and near-disposable farm-shop purchases to something you can genuinely ride in all day (MT500 Waterproof Trouser II: £139.99). If the weather is that horrible outside, there’s no real need to persevere in trying to look ‘enduro’ in damp baggies. Just embrace the long leg and stay dry. Trousers have the added benefit of keeping water from filling your shoes (or filling them as quickly) and at the end of the ride, you can slide them off and reveal a relatively clean, dry underneath that should be welcome in the car ride home.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
It’s like an onion with a moustache!

While many wet winter rides can be done comfortably in a long sleeve thermal and a waterproof, that combo won’t cut it if you’re stopping and starting, riding with different ability riders, or even stopping for lunch, so Wil’s wearing a synthetic mid-layer for warmth (MT500 Full Zip L/S Jersey: £82.99).

And finally, you’re not going to stay warm and dry without a waterproof (MT500 Waterproof Jacket II: £199.99). There’s been a trend for sewn-in hoods recently. Make sure you find one that is stowable or you’ll end up with a drogue chute on any occasion that it’s not wet enough to wear the hood up. Talking of that, a lot of UK riding is on those wet days where you get more water from the ground than the sky, so watch those clothing gaps and pay attention to what’s tucked into what. Gloves should sit inside the cuffs of your jacket; trousers should go outside your boots. That kind of thing.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
When it gets so cold the ground gets hard again. Wil is learning that this is in fact, A Good Thing™.

Cold & Dry – It’s Parky Out

Some would argue that the (bitterly) cold and dry days of winter are the best. These are the days when you can see your breath and, sometimes, see the horizon too. Trails might be damp still, but the overall theme is ‘chilly’. If you’re lucky, the bogs have frozen solid (or are snowed over completely) and you can ride far and wide on a hard surface that’ll be as good as it gets until about June.
There are days when the wind whips past and your face freezes enough for friends to ask if you’ve had a stroke. Ignore that; the trails are firm and fast and a great time can be had by those riders who make themselves go out on days when just chipping ice off the car can seem an arduous activity.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
A merino skullcap is the simplest, but one of the best additions to your winter riding wardrobe.

Unlike for wet and horrible days, you don’t need complete clingfilm impermeability, but you will need a warm core (Pro SL Primaloft Gilet: £114.99) and clothes that are resistant to both the biting wind and the splashes from those not-quite-dry trails.

Your base layers in these situations are open to debate and personal preference. Many UK riders swear by merino wool in these situations. A long (or short) sleeve merino top (BaaBaa Merino Long Sleeve Base layer: £49.99) will be instantly warm and surprisingly comfortable against the skin and won’t pong or annoy you on long all-day efforts. It does very well if you’re doing a multiple day trip where it’ll take on several back-to-back days without smelling. Also good if you’re going out to the pub in the same base layer that you were riding in. However, once it does get wet, it can take an age to dry and can chill you quickly if you stop. Best to try one and see how you get on.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
Insulated vest for keeping the core warm, and spray baggies for shielding you from muck flung up by the tyres.

Likewise, leg length is a touchy subject in the winter. Some riders happily wear full length brushed-back, or ‘Roubaix’ winter tights and throw a baggy short over the top (Steve Peat is an advocate for example), but the fashionistas claim that you can’t wear baggies unless there’s some leg-skin showing, and insist on 3/4 shorts, or perhaps knee warmers (or even knee pads) to keep the legs warm, combined with long socks (Thermolite II Sock Twin pack: £27.99). This has the effect of showing an inch or so of purple skin to the elements, but hey, if that’s what your fashion-self tells you… We’d reckon that, as it’s winter and any riding is better than no riding, it’ll probably be dark, no one’s around, so who really cares as long as you’re out?

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
Don’t worry, the merino avoids those moments.

Anyway, as we mentioned, the trails might be frozen, but they probably won’t be dry, so a splash-proof baggy short is recommended (MT500 Spray Baggy 3/4 Short: £84.99). We’ve also dressed Wil in some thermal shoe covers too – a great winter comfort if you don’t have dedicated winter boots and/or waterproof socks (Freezing Point Overshoes: £49.99). But really, you should have these, they’re great.

Up top, you need to make sure that the chilled wind speeding past you doesn’t drop the temperature of your extremities, so cover up ears, neck and forehead, especially if you’re going to be tearing down any descents (BaaBaa Merino Skullcap: £17.99).

Thin softshell jackets are one of the best developments in recent years (Windchill Jacket: £89.99). They’re not overly thermal and allow you to regulate temperature by choosing a base and mid-layer appropriate to the conditions. They are completely windproof though and near-as-dammit waterproof, so you can be safe from freezing spray or those cheeky sleet showers when you’re halfway round your loop.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
A lightweight, packable waterproof outer shell is perfect for fresh days out in Spring.

There Is Hope! End Of Spring Edition

At last! We’ve come through the worst of the winter. We’ve destroyed several chains, replaced loads of brake pads and stuffed more shoes with newspaper than we’ve had nights in front of the fire, refusing to go out.

There’s now hope for the return of the sun. The trails are starting to dry in the slightly warmer days as the reawakening of the trees and plants help to suck the moisture from the ground. Riding pals you’ve not seen for months start reappearing after a winter of cyclocross, training in Spain or just drowning in gin, and rides become sociable again. It’s no longer just about ‘getting out’ to try to limit winter’s damage, it’s about going riding because it’s fun. It’s dry enough to stop and chat at the gates, rather than pressing on before someone loses a toe to frostbite.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
He looks optimistic with that sleeveless baselayer.

In these situations, you can start showing a little more skin and riding gear can be tailored more towards fit and comfort than ultimate waterproofness. We’ve dressed Wil in some decent baggy shorts (MTR Baggy Short II: £82.99) and, just to be extra optimistic, a sleeveless base layer (Translite S/L Base layer: £22.99). The top, though, needs some element of windproofing to it, as well as some water resistance and the shorts need to have a decent amount of windproofing as well as a good DWR coating to shrug off spray (FS260-Pro Jetstream L/S Jersey: £84.99).

The trails aren’t dusty yet, so you need to ensure that puddles and stray spring showers are kept at bay. If you’re out and working, then this windproof and water resistant layering system will work for most conditions, backed up with a light, packable waterproof jacket for the unavoidable rainstorms (MTR Shell Jacket: £139.99).

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
Swap the knee warmers for knee pads.

For the legs, it’s probably time to wear those kneepads as kneewarmers, given that speeds will rise and the ground is grippier, but no longer soft, squidgy and as forgiving as it can be in the winter (SingleTrack Knee Protector: £57.99).

Expect to do a lot of fine-tuning to your spring gear. It can be hailing one day and shirtsleeves the other, so we’d recommend a selection of thinner layers so you can tune accordingly. Knee warmers and arm warmers work well for this, as well as Buffs and neck gaiters.

wil endura clothing waterproof jacket winter booties trousers
Thin layers allow you to adapt to changeable Spring weather.

Make sure your extremities are still warm. No one riding in the UK ever complained about their feet being too hot or too dry outside of July, so make sure you’ve got some good woolly socks and don’t go for those skimpy summer gloves just yet (MTR Gloves: £34.99).

And when the decent weather finally returns, you’ll know about it and be ready for it. It’ll be that day when you can head out in just shorts and a riding top, feeling the warming breeze on your bare arms and legs. If you’ve planned well and kept riding through the winter, then you’ll be in a far better shape when that day comes than if you just hide in the gym, on the turbo in the garage, or just on the sofa with the Quality Street.

wil winter snow cold bathers budgie smugglers goggles
It’s ok Wil. It’s only like this for 9 months.

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