Winter Cycling Clothing

A discussion on fabrics


Some good basic rules of thumb:

  • Dress in layers – allows adjustments as the day, and your body, warms
  • Good cycling fabrics breathe – essential for comfort
  • If you’re comfortable the first 15 minutes of the ride, you’re over-dressed
  • Keep it simple – a few well chosen items are all you really need
  • Keep extra stuff in your car – you never know when you or someone else might need it

Layer Definitions:

  • Base layer – next to skin
  • Insulation layer – between base and outer
  • Outer layer – exposed to weather
    Most items can be used as a different layer in different situations (exceptions are jackets, gloves, booties, etc.)
    Can have multiple insulation layers, but obviously only one base and one outer




Cotton / cotton blends (most important point; it you want to snooze, hear this first)

  • Never wear cotton next to skin – not only important for comfort, but safety as well
  • Absorbs and retains moisture
  • Can lead to hypothermia and, in extreme cases, death (but that’s not likely in Oklahoma)
  • Clothing items: maybe a sweatshirt as insulation layer, otherwise, leave it in the closet


  • Was fabric of choice for cycling wear even in summer 30 years ago
  • Doesn’t absorb moisture
  • Retains insulation properties when wet
  • Washable types have been available for years
  • Merino wool is best–soft and not itchy
  • Clothing items: insulation layer, socks, gloves, glove liners


  • Great insulating characteristics in very thin fabrics
  • Very comfortable next to skin
  • Relatively expensive (although trade with China has reduced cost greatly in recent years)
  • Somewhat fragile (must be laundered and dried very carefully)
  • Clothing items: balaclava, base layer, glove liners, sock liners




Polypropylene (polypro)

  • Man-made fabric with many of the same properties of wool
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Same material as milk bottles
  • Clothing items: ear band, balaclava, base layer, glove liners, tights, socks, sock liners


  • Probably makes you think of leisure suites, but think again
  • Many of the so-called “high-tech micro-fibers” are polyester
  • Can be spun for wicking properties hard to match by any other fabric, natural or man-made
  • Sold under many brand names, which will be discussed later
  • Clothing items: jerseys, base layer, ear band, balaclava, socks, sock liners


  • Not often thought of as a sports fabric, but it can work well
  • Good insulation properties
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy care (wash and wear)
  • Wears well
  • Clothing items: insulation layer (sweater), ear band, socks


  • Inexpensive
  • Not very durable
  • Doesn’t breathe
  • Not recommended for cycling


  • Used for wet suites for diving
  • Doesn’t breath
  • Clothing items: toe covers, booties, face mask (only for VERY extreme conditions to prevent frostbite)





  • A fluoropolymer made by Gore fabric company
  • Wind and water resistant
  • Limited breatheability
  • Clothing items: outer layer


  • A patented polyester fabric
  • Great wicking properties
  • Used in many summer cycling garments
  • Clothing items: base layer, jersey, socks


  • Fine-weave polyester
  • Dries quickly
  • Usually very soft hand
  • Clothing items: base layer, socks, glove liners, balaclava, ear band


  • Comes in four weights (100, 200, 300 & 400) – higher numbers mean heavier garment
  • Mostly looks like fleece but also comes in ribbed fabric
  • Good wicking and drying properties
  • New 100M version is a microfiber that has a very soft hand – great for base layers
  • Clothing items: ear band, balaclava, base layer, insulation layer, outer layer, socks


  • Fine hollow-core polyester
  • Great wicking properties and very fast drying
  • Claims to spread body heat from warmer areas to cooler areas
  • Clothing items: ear band, balaclava, base layer, glove liner, sock liner




  • Local bike shops
  • Ski shops
  • General sporting goods stores
  • Department and discount stores. Items will vary from season to season and store to store. Check in sporting goods section as well as clothing section. Check labels for fabric content. Items sometimes found include polypro or polyester base layer, polyester t-shirts (CoolMax or a similar fabric), polyester fleece items, CoolMax socks, wool socks (although typically of questionable quality), wool base layer, silk base layer, ear bands, gloves, glove liners.
  • Cycling mail/Internet catalog companies (two examples below):
  • Bike Nashbar
    P.O. Box 1455
    Crab Orchard, WV 25827-1455
  • Performance Bike
    P.O. Box 1605
    Crab Orchard, WV 25827-1605
  • General sporting goods mail/Internet catalog companies (two examples below):
  • Campmor
    28 Parkway, Box 700
    Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
  • Sierra Trading Post
    5025 Campstool Rd.
    Cheyenne, WY 82007-1898

Disclaimer: The retail establishments mentioned above are for reference only. OBS and the author of this article have no fiscal connection or employee relationship with any of these establishments. The references above do not constitute a recommendation to buy merchandise from these establishments nor imply any indication of quality or reliability of products they sell.