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Dressing for Winter

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Non-cyclists often find it surprising that, whatever the weather, I would rather cycle than drive. They think that cycling must be really unpleasant when you're cold and wet. Actually, they're right. So the trick is not to get cold and wet.

Cycling can be a pleasure in all weathers, as long as you're dressed appropriately for the conditions. Choosing the right clothes takes experience and an extensive cycling wardrobe. This is what I'll wear for commuting on a really cold day in the depths of winter - these clothes will keep me warm and dry in any conditions that I'm likely to encounter in Southern England.

I start with shorts, cycling socks and a base layer.

The base layer should be warm and breathable. If you sweat then the base layer should wick sweat away from the body. This is a Parrot Baseline Zip Neck. They're so good that I now own 6 of them.

You might not expect your choice of socks to make a great deal of difference to cycling comfort. I was surprised the first time I tried a pair of cycling socks by just how comfortable they were. I now always wear cycling socks for cycling.

Next I don a pair of bib tights. I'm not going to zip them up yet, because I plan to shove some newspaper down my front a little later on.

The shorts are worn as underwear, so that a single pair of tights can last me all week. If you're going to dress like this to ride an upright bike then the shorts should be padded and not the tights.

Some people will ride in just shorts on even the coldest winter days. Not me, I want my knees to keep working well into the second half of the 21st century.

Then a pair of water repellent Ronhill Bikesters adds some extra warmth and a nice reflective touch. In Autumn and Winter I'll wear either the tights or the Bikesters, but on a cold winter's morning I want both.

Now it's time to shove some newspaper down my front, then I'll zip up the bib.

Newspaper is fantastic for cycling, when you often need more insulation on your chest than on the rest of your upper body. And if I sweat then the newspaper soaks it up nicely.

I use two tabloid sheets, folded to A4 size, to insulate where I need it without having to wear an extra layer on my armpits, sides and back.

Keeping your neck warm is important, but finding the right neckwear can be difficult. For me, a fleecy neck tube is too warm for cycling and a Buff, even doubled up, is too thin. I bought this Breezeblocker in a motorbike shop in 1997. I'd like another like it, but I've never found one since.

Before growing a beard I would wear this in Autumn and Spring as well. With the beard, I only need it in winter.

Next I'll put on a cycling jersey. Again, this should be breathable. If the temperature's above about 5C then I'll skip this layer - I'd overheat with it.

Water repellent overshoes over my cycling shoes keep my feet warm and dry.

Then comes the Gore-Tex. There's some controversy over whether Gore-Tex is really suitable for cycling, with many people finding it too hot or not breathable enough. I'd overheat wearing Gore-Tex on most days in autumn and spring, but in winter I find that it's a good compromise between total waterproofing and total breathability. If it had armpit zips then it would be just about perfect.

Whatever you wear as your outer layer, it's a good idea to wear something windproof. At 5C and 15mph, the wind chill will be -5C. Most winter mornings will be colder than this - with these clothes I'll still be comfortable at a wind chill of -20C.

I wear armbands to make my signals more visible. These are reversible - fluorescent yellow for daylight, reflective for after dark.

A beard is terrific for keeping the face warm, if you're able to grow one. But sometimes that's just not enough. On the coldest days I'll wear my Briko WindStopper mask (left). As a general rule, if there's frost on the ground then I'll wear the mask. It makes drinking awkward, but it keeps my nose and cheeks toasty and does a good job of warming up the air that I breathe.

Next come the cycling glasses (right). Whatever the weather, I always wear cycling glasses to protect my eyes from wind, grit, insects and anything else that might be flying around. Usually I'll want the clear lenses in winter, but if it's cold enough for the mask then the chances are that the sky is clear. On the morning commute that means I'll have the sun in my eyes, so I'll want the mirrored lenses.

The gubbins over my right eye is a glasses mounted mirror.

With my hair getting ever thinner, I seldom venture out now without a hat. In the summer I need something to keep the sun off my scalp, in the winter I need something to keep my head warm.

If it's icy or exceptionally windy then I figure I'm much more likely than usual to have the sort of crash where a helmet might offer some benefit, so I might wear one. If so then I'll wear this hat underneath it. It's waterproof, with a warm fleecy lining, a visor to keep the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my glasses, and it covers my ears. This was made by a company called Abris, which I believe has since gone out of business, but Lowe Alpine makes something very similar.

Having followed the Great Helmet Debate for many years, I am convinced that in most circumstances a cycle helmet is more likely to cause or exacerbate serious injury than to prevent it. So most of the time I don't wear one.

If I'm not wearing a helmet then I'll wear a warm fleecy hat. The Parrot MPH (right) is excellent. If it's raining or sunny, or too cold for just the MPH, then I'll wear a traditional cycling cap (left) underneath it, with a visor to keep the sun or the rain out of my eyes.

Finally, gloves. First I'll put on a pair of silk inner gloves (left). Meraklon gloves are easier to find, but I much prefer silk. I get them from Patra.

Inner gloves have two advantages. One is the extra warmth. The other is that they are much easier to wash than thick, waterproof outer gloves. Hands sweat as much as feet, so a pair of thick gloves worn throughout the winter will tend to get a bit stinky. It's useful to have a liner that can be washed on a weekly basis.

Then I'll put on a pair of Pearl Izumi Lobster Mitts (right) over the top. Halfway between a glove and a mitten, they're warmer than ordinary gloves but still allow sufficient dexterity to operate brakes and gears. They're also waterproof.

And that's it. I'm now ready to enjoy cycling in whatever the British weather is likely to throw at me.

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