Winter Cycling: Keeping Your Upper Body Warm

07 Nov

Note: This is the eighth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Arm Warmers

Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Arm Warmers

Cool weather cycling can be quite enjoyable if you have the proper clothing. It is not just about having warm clothing, but versatile clothing that you can layer. The first piece of extra cycling gear I wear in the fall is a pair of arm warmers—and the Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Arm Warmers are my favorite. They are made of a nylon/spandex/polyester blend and have a Windstopper membrane that keeps the wind out and a fleece backing traps warm air next to your skin to keep you comfortable. While these warmers are not waterproof, they do offer great protection from light drizzle. The reflective accents on these warmers are larger than you will find on most cycling jerseys or jackets. The “grippy” elastic hems keep these arm warmers in place. Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Arm Warmers retail for $50. I use these arm warmers in temperatures from around 50 to 64 degrees. When the temperature drops below 60 I also put on a cycling vest—this way I can avoid wearing a thicker clothing for as long as possible.

Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey

Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey

I own more pieces of Pearl Izumi cycling gear than any other brand because they consistently offer high quality clothing that shows evidence of meticulous attention to detail. One of the finest pieces of cycling wear I have ever purchased is the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey—and if spend a lot of time cycling in cool weather this thermal jersey will make your rides a lot more enjoyable (and you’ll look better too).

The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey is made from a fabric composed of 63% polyester, 27% Minerale polyester, and 10% elastane. I don’t know exactly how they form the polyester into this thermal fabric, but it is extremely comfortable, highly breathable and incredibly warm—and yet it is very lightweight. This jersey also dries quickly after washing and is odor resistant. It has a full-length front zipper with an internal draft flap with a zipper garage to seal in the heat. There is a drawstring around the neck that adjusts in the back—you can open it up a bit if you start to overheat. The front pocket on this jersey is large enough to easily hold an iPhone or other cell phone, and there is an opening in the back of the pocket that allows you to pass a headphone cable through. Around the zipper is a piece of highly reflective material (and this jersey has several other pieces of reflective piping as well).

On the back of this jersey you will find three full-length pockets along with a small sweat-proof zippered pocket. In addition, there is a piece of elasticized gripper material on back of the jersey to keep the hem in place. You will also notice that the back of this jersey is cut longer than the front to keep your backside warm (and keep you from offending anyone riding behind you). The men’s version of this jersey retails for $160 and is available in three colors (Red, Black, and White). The women’s version is $10 cheaper and comes in four colors (Red, Black, White, and Hi-Vis Yellow). Prices for this jersey on range from $110 to $150. If you just can’t justify spending that much money on a thermal jersey you might want to consider the Pearl Izumi Select Thermal Jersey—it is missing a few of the nice finishing touches the P.R.O. jersey has, but will certainly keep you warm (and save you about $50). The Pearl Izumi website says the recommended temperature range for this jersey is between 45˚F and 55˚F (7 to 15C) and I think these numbers are correct. You could also use it in slightly cooler weather if you wear a thin thermal base layer under it.

Terramar Tech Skins Polypropylene Thermal Base Layer

Terramar Tech Skins Polypropylene Thermal Base Layer

Staying comfortable in inclement weather is all about layering. Anytime you wear two or more layers it is imperative that your base layer is good at wicking moisture away from your body. The Terramar Tech Skins Thermal Base Layer is lightweight (only 140 grams), extremely breathable and does an amazing job of keep your skin dry during strenuous outdoor exercise (like cycling or running).

The Terramar Tech Skins Thermal Base Layer is made of 100% polypropylene—this fabric is stain-resistant and provides a decent amount of odor control. Terramar makes three different thicknesses of crew neck base layers and this one is the thinnest. I’ve found that this base layer adds about 6 or 7 degrees of effectiveness, i.e., if you have a cycling jersey that will keep you warm down to 50 degrees, when you add this base layer you should be able to stay warm down to about 43 degrees (your experience might vary).

The Terramar Tech Skins Thermal Base Layer retails for $20 and is available from many different kinds of stores—from bike shops and ski shops to places like Gander Mountain (that’s where I bought mine). This product is available in five sizes for men (S, M, L, XL, and 2XL). Terramar also has a version of this product available for women, the Women’s Polypropylene Baselayer (S, M, L, XL, and XS).

Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Jacket for winter cycling and biking

Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Jacket

If you are looking for a softshell cycling jacket for winter rides you really need to check out the Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Jacket. This jacket is warm, windproof, waterproof and the most comfortable cycling jacket I own. In fact, I own three of these jackets (three different colors). It is incredibly soft inside—it has a brushed thermal fleece fabric that does a great job of keeping you warm and transferring moisture to the outside. The jacket zips on the front and has a full-length internal draft flap and zipper garage. The sleeves are contoured for a great fit and extra long (something I like in winter jackets) and there is ample reflective material on all sides of the jacket to increase visibility at night.

The Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Jacket only has two pockets. On the chest there is a pocket that will easily hold an iPhone, and it even has a small opening so you can run a pair of headphones through it. On the lower back  is one large zippered pocket, and inside of it there are three smaller pockets. These small inside pockets are a bit difficult to get into as you are riding, but I like them anyway. However, I have found that moisture from perspiration tends to build up inside of both pockets. These zippered pockets have very nice pull-tabs for easy opening even if you have a pair of gloves on. The body of this jacket is made of 100% polyester, and the panels are 95% polyester and 5% elastane.

Since I have several lighter cycling jackets I don’t wear this jacket until the temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1C). At that temperature I wear an Under Armour compression shirt and a Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey under my jacket. The Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Jacket has a “semi-form fit” which means it will fit most cyclists, except for those who carry a large spare tire around the waist. This jacket is available is five sizes (S, M, L, XL, XXL) and appears to be true to size. You can buy this jacket in five different color combinations. The list price for this jacket is $150.

Showers Pass Tour Jacket

Showers Pass Tour Jacket

When the temperature drops down into the 20’s (-7C) I wear three layers of clothing on my upper body. For the base layer I wear an Under Armour ColdGear Fitted Longsleeve Mock compression shirt, then a lightweight fleece jacket, and a Showers Pass Touring Jacket for the outer shell.  When the temps are in the single digits I wear an Under Armour compression shirt and a heavier fleece jacket (one made for snow skiers) and then Showers Pass Touring Jacket as the outer shell. Because of its generous cut you can layer your clothing and still have room to breathe, and thanks to a large rear vent I’ve never had a problem with condensation with this jacket.

The ventilation options on this jacket are incredible. It has two 12-inch two-way pit zips, a full-length back vent for flow thru ventilation, cinch-cords at the hems and highly adjustable cuffs. The 3M reflective taping on the arms and back is superb. This jacket also has a drop-down tail for when the rain just won’t stop and a light loop on the rear vent so you can attach a flasher (taillight). The zippered chest pocket has an audio port so you can keep you iPhone dry on the worst of days, yet still listen to your tunes. All of the exposed zippers are waterproof and I’ve never had them fail. The rear pocket is large enough to carry just about anything you need. The Showers Pass Tour Jacket is available in three colors: Black, Electric Blue and Yelling Yellow. The list price on this jacket is $150 and I think it is worth every cent.

Bonfire Radiant Ski And Snowboard Jacket for winter biking

Bonfire Radiant Ski And Snowboard Jacket

If you ride your bike in the winter and depend on cycling clothing manufacturers to make all of your cold weather gear then you either live in the deep south or you are going to freeze to death. Clothing that was designed for winter cycling in Europe won’t even come close to meeting the needs of winter cyclists in the Upper Midwest of the United States. One of the best pieces of winter gear I purchased last year was the Bonfire Radiant Ski And Snowboard Jacket. While this exact jacket is no longer available, I wanted to tell you about so you can find something similar if you ride in temperatures below zero (-18C).

As the name implies, the Bonfire Radiant Jacket is designed for skiers and snowboarders, but it will keep cyclists warm on rides that last all day (or night) long. In fact, this jacket has several great features that most cyclists would love to see on our regular cold-weather cycling clothing. First, this highly breathable jacket is made with waterproof fabric. In case you don’t already know, waterproof fabric doesn’t mean anything if the seams are not sealed—and the seams on this jacket are totally sealed and waterproof. The jacket’s brushed tricot lining means it is very warm, but if you start to overheat you can open the full-length pit zips to let some of the heat out. This jacket also has a great powder skirt to keep the snow that is thrown off your tires from getting under the jacket itself. There are a total of three large zippered pockets in this jacket—two on the side and one on the chest (a goggle pocket). The chest pocket also has a small opening in it so you can run a cord from an iPhone or other electronic device in pocket to your earphones. Other features include a detachable hood, key holder, and a 2-way center front zipper.

Since this jacket was designed for snowboarders it is a several inches longer than a normal cycling jacket—this is actually a good thing since it covers the groin area fairly well (guys, if I have to explain the importance of this to you then you have never been out for a long ride when the temperature was in negative numbers). With just an Under Armor compression shirt and a thin fleece sweater this jacket keeps me warm and happy for the entire ride. With a thicker fleece liner this jacket is good down to at least -20 Fahrenheit (-29C).


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24 responses to “Winter Cycling: Keeping Your Upper Body Warm

  1. Lee

    November 7, 2013 at 9:47 PM

    Excellent! Thank you

  2. sueslaght

    November 7, 2013 at 10:11 PM

    I own the Gore Windstopper Arm warmers and they are fabulous. Great for our unpredictable Canadian weather. I use them for running too. Great post.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 7, 2013 at 10:27 PM

      Thanks for the confirmation! I own a lot of arm warmers, but I seem to always go back to the Gore Windstopper warmers.

  3. thehomeschoolingdoctor

    November 7, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    I know I should be sending accolades on another well-written, very informative post. Instead, I must get it off of my chest how difficult navigation to sites I follow has become now! I think I had to click about four times to arrive here now! Ugh! Anyhow. This gear all looks very great, and I look forward to accumulating some of it over the next couple of years. Thank you for writing all these great reviews! I had no idea about sewn seams/waterproof and all that technical stuff!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 8, 2013 at 3:24 PM

      You are apparently having trouble with the “new and improved” WordPress Reader. About every six months the folks at WordPress come up with a way to “improve” our online experience and so far every “improvement” has slowed things down. Rumor has it that WordPress hired the web designers who created the Obamacare site to “improve” their site. 🙂

      Anyway, sealed seams are really important if you are riding in the rain. There are some great waterproof fabrics on the market—but a few companies “save money” but just sewing the pieces together and during the first big storm you might as well take the jacket off since you are going to get drenched anyway. By the way, the same thing is true if you buy a tent—most of the water that gets inside comes through the seams!

  4. cathyo

    November 8, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    i’m not a bike person at all, but if I did take it up, I would know exactly what I need. I’m learning so much reading your posts!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 8, 2013 at 3:25 PM

      Come on over the “the dark side”! I’ve read your blog—I bet if Bon Jovi started cycling you would give cycling a chance! 🙂

      • cathyo

        November 8, 2013 at 7:14 PM

        Haha! I would definitely consider it!

  5. bgddyjim

    November 8, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    PS. The Goggle Pockets are perfect for, um required inner city bike anti-theft/personal anti-thug devices. Won’t help you in Chicago but when I ride in Flint…

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 8, 2013 at 3:26 PM

      About the only “anti-theft/personal anti-thug devices” that work in Chicago is chaining a couple of Navy SEALs to your bike!

  6. Kate

    November 8, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    This is all great information. I may just bookmark this page and send it to my husband for my Christmas list. My winter riding gear is sad indeed, mostly making use out of what I already have for running and making do.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 11, 2013 at 10:32 PM

      Thank you so much! By the way, just before Thanksgiving I always publish an article about the best Christmas gifts for cyclists — you can print out a copy and give it your husband (men aren’t real good with subtle hints).

  7. MikeW

    November 9, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    These garments, when well fitting, and smoothly interacting can make a training day in the cold excellent experience. If there is a poorly sewn seam, an area that catches on gear and rides up, or any such thing, they can be a pain. Fitting, and testing while wearing packs / water bladders, and the like pays off. If they’re wicking away moisture, no matter how comfortable, they’ll stink of sweat later on, but its worth it. I like Tom’s natural deodorant using oats as part of the neutralizer…no alcohol, metals, or chemicals trapped to the skin by the garment.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 11, 2013 at 10:33 PM

      I’ve never heard of Tom’s natural deodorant — now I’ll have to go look for it!

  8. paul evans

    November 9, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    I enjoy reading your blog, very informative. This recent article seems to focus on what I call synthetic products, after three winter trips to Japan to cycle I have opted for lightweight to medium/heavy layers of wool clothing. I can now layer up to 4 layers and be extremely warm without the buildup of sweat that the synthetics caused (lowest temperature last trip -9 F.). I still use one Gore product, a Windstopper jacket that is a slim or form fitting size, it does keep the wind out but traps any sweat.After some exhaustive searching I now have purchased about 8-10 items , all wool, from a jacket to thermal layers and leg and arm warmers. I am a winter rider, as summers here in the southern hemisphere are too hot for me. Wool is a natural insulator doesn’t smell after one wear, only downside is the washing and drying process , as a touring cyclist I make sure to have a rest stop for at least 2 days in every 7 to wash and dry any gear . New age wool is very lightweight, colorful and does not itch like the old school stuff, most I have sourced from the USA, Japan or New Zealand only a couple from here in Australia. Outdoor gear stores have a huge range, skiiers and hikers are moving towards wool.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 11, 2013 at 10:34 PM

      I love wool products for everything except the outer layer — I really need something there to stop the wind better than wool does (I live near Chicago — the Windy City).

  9. canadianinjersey

    November 10, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    Another great article. Let me add… I’m a firm believer in wool – merino wool in particular (doesn’t itch). It’s naturally antibacterial (no smell, even after 3 or 4 sweaty rides), and it’s warm even when damp (unlike many synthetics). Terramar makes great, inexpensive merino baselayers. I use different combinations of base/mid layers, such as (in order from warmer weather to colder): synthetic singlet + long-sleeve merino baselayer + jacket; merino singlet + long-sleeve merino baselayer + jacket; merino singlet + long-sleeve merino jersey + jacket; long-sleeve merino baselayer + long-sleeve merino jersey + jacket. My favorite jacket has chest vents I can open when I overheat and removable sleeves. I find I have to start out a little too cool, and warm up over the first few miles.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 11, 2013 at 10:35 PM

      I couldn’t make it in winter without the chest vest (or pit-zips). Sometimes the temperature can change by 20 degrees in just a couple of hours — and no one enjoys overheating in the winter!

  10. doctorlynn

    November 11, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    I’m such a cold weather wimp that I could use these items just to venture down the walk to get the mail!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 11, 2013 at 10:36 PM

      I think you are a LOT tougher than you give yourself credit for (you obviously have a lot more dedication to weight lifting that I do).

  11. KB

    November 16, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    Over the years I have tried a number different cold weather jackets and gear. I tried a Castelli product once, and have purchased many more since. I have Pearl Izumi, Assos, Gore, Suogi, etc and my all time favorite cold weather goto is the “Castelli Espresso Due Jacket”. I used to think pit zips were the cats pajamas. The Expresso Due jacket uses “breast zips” that are amazing for cycling. They allow the jacket to be used over a greater range of temps. Air flows in the front, and out the back. I now have a closet full of “great” cycling gear that never gets used thanks to Castelli.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 16, 2013 at 9:17 PM

      Funny, I don’t think I’ve ever bought any Castelli products — but the “Castelli Espresso Due Jacket” sounds great!


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