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Layer up: Keep riding and commuting as winter arrives

Mark Cohen
6 Nov 2018

Dress properly and keep riding as autumn turns to winter

Here it is. Another sanctimonious bit of cycling media prose, proselytising the virtues of riding your bike year round. Ignore the grim realities of waking up to rain. Wherever you live, wherever you ride, swing that leg over and ride in all conditions.

You’ll be better off for it. Right?

That’s the dream at least. A dream commuters in wet cities - places like Portland, London, Seattle and Copenhagen - have embraced, ignoring weather and eschewing the fool's errand of driving as they straddle that kitchen cup-o-coffee of doubt, peering out a window, and deciding to ride anyway.

Every commuter knows those early morning bouts of indecision coupled with the joy of pushing beyond it.

Whether you’re chasing green light countdowns or just trying get from bike to boardroom with a little dignity, panache, even, commuting this time of year requires only a bit of layering for it to be realistic. (Mud-guards and tyres, too, but that’s another article.)

Here, a list of some cherry-picked city kit to keep the commute comfortable and keep you channelling your best Hugo Koblet while doing it.

Autumn-winter layers to make commuting more comfortable

The Faroe Wind Pro hooded fleece in black

This is second bit of kit I’ve had the chance to try out from Mission Workshop - the San Fran-based maker of packs and apparel (the first was the Hayes from their shirt stock); the Faroe Wind Pro, a hooded polyester Polartec fleece, cuts wind and rides incredibly warm, radiating heat like it is fire, and was made to be a go-to layer to transition from bike to startup with ease, says company co-founder, Bart Kyzar.

The slightly longer back and scallop-shaped sleeves offer the kind of considered coverage every rider will appreciate.

Sure, a low profile, zip-secured back pocket for wallet, phone or energy bar on the left hand rear technically make this a piece intended for riding, but it is a layer that performs like a champ in almost any cool clime.

A jumper that’s versatile, technical and comfortable on its own or as a mid-layer that you’ll reach for on repeat.

Rapha Merino Snap Through

Rapha has a history of producing understated, monochromatic homeruns in the city and road riding ranges. The tradition continues with the Merino Snap Through - a new layer introduced by the company this autumn - a close fitting, unconventional cardigan with reinforced snaps that runs long on both function and form.

In the grand scheme of city layers, this looks like any old conventional knit, especially with Rapha’s signature styling, the armband and everything else that makes its kit distinct.

Reality, however, is much different. This is a very warm, stylish merino mid-layer that feels like second skin. The medium (I'm 185cm, 77kg) is equally at home on a coffee run or in the drops on your cross rig.

High-visibility cuffs, tucked under a 'peek-a-boo' wool cover, come in handy on dusk or dark rides. Fits really well with both shirts and t-shirts underneath.

Chrome’s long sleeve merino crewneck

Chrome dubs this a 'performance piece' - perhaps meaning it isn’t intended to be worn on its own during meetings and such - but you can make a strong case for its utility either way.

As a dedicated 'keep me warm' layer, it’s a standout. Made from merino wool, bamboo rayon and nylon, it has a knack for repeated wear without the stank. (I heard somewhere the record for consecutive-days-worn was around 14.)

As a wear-around-town piece, tall, slim riders (again, I tested out the medium for this roundup), will find a lot of utility in this crewneck.

There’s nothing technical about it other than the weave, but it is undeniably, like Chrome’s packs, a well-conceived and inexpensive layer that will make cold commutes comfortable, stink-free and stylish all at the same time.

Tuck it under a shell (scroll down) and you’re well on your way to riding into the single digits.

A heavyweight merino sweater cut for the dampest days from CDC

This is the last heavyweight sweater you’ll ever buy. Seriously. I’ve reviewed many items from Nice-based Cafe du Cycliste over the years.

But this one - styled with branded, at-the-collar-bone buttons and longer-than-normal sleeves for a little extra reach on the hoods - has to be one of my favourites.

The weight and warmth of this layer makes hitting local bike lanes easy; a very rare crossover piece that successfully straddles functional cycling layer (stuff it under a shell and you can take this into late November/December) and stylish office jumper.

Cyclist or not, you’ll immediately spot the meticulous consideration stitched into the weave and the heavyweight warmth in a handsome stripe design that feels joyous on damp, cold rides.

Oliver’s merino henley

Oliver’s - a California-based company with cycling in its blood - continues to deliver technical basics, and is an outstanding example of how simplicity can create sophisticated product for discerning commuters (and the active-minded, in general).

The merino convoy short sleeve henley crushes on style, comfort and performance, particularly on consecutive days of wear; a killer next-to-skin layer that doesn’t look overly technical - part of the reason it remains in our heavy rotation and on this list.

Its marvel is its subtlety; a perfect base layer to cut cold when stepping out.

Assos Equipe RS Rain Jacket

For road cyclists looking for a crossover piece that works on city roads and club rides, the Equipe RS rain jacket from Assos, designed for water-repellency and to be windproof, fits the bill.

Assos worked closely with textile suppliers to produce the 'Schloss Tex' fabric. It is the company’s lightest, most weather repellent to date.

The only downside to commuting in this shell is that it is so performance-minded that strolling into the office with it on might be out of place.

As an insurance piece, however, you can stuff in your back pocket, on account of its size and weight. When the weather turns, having it will be well worth it.

A high-visibility stripe down the middle of the back and new charcoal colourway round out the outstanding shell.

Lululemon Outpoor shell

Scapegoating Lululemon as a yoga-only apparel maker would be a mistake; for years it has been turning out technical clothing, and more recently turning its attention to running and commuting kit.

The Outpoor shell is a good example; a waterproof jacket made to move on trails and city lanes. Rear vents bring generous amounts of airflow to a rider and the seam-sealed build (made with waterproof 'Glyde' fabric) and several stow pockets give this plenty of technical feel and function.

Upper-back and jacket-edge reflective detailing were appreciated riding dimly lit streets (hey, who doesn’t like a little vis).

For added versatility, combine a layer underneath for cold weather riding

A hooded wool jacket...

London weather requires commuter kit to be warm and hydrophobic. Rapha’s hooded wool jacket is an outstanding example of this.

Cut to be more forgiving, the jacket was envisaged for younger professionals, styled to be worn with layers underneath, say company designers.

The high collar protects when it’s coming down, and outer wool layer (so subtle it doesn’t feel at all like wool) thermoregulates, making it a deceptively technical bit of kit.

A double ended zip adds extra comfort when in the saddle. And the removable hood? A stylish touch not often seen in city shells. If you don a suit and ride to work, this one’s for you.


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Merino hooded sweatshirt from Ashmei

Ashmei has been banging the drum about the advantages of merino in both summer and winter for a while now. This hooded jumper is a perfect example of the malleability of the fabric; at once warm (especially in a close-cut like this) and well-conceived (with hood to tuck under helmet and thumb-catches to cut cold hands), it boasts a subtle stow-pocket with zip to handle keys or a phone easily.

It’s a versatile layer on its own or perfect as mid-insulation. Highly breathable, runners will also get a lot of value from training in it November to March.

It fits next to skin: for a more comfortable, casual cut, suggest sizing up.

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