With mornings crisp and the evening chill coming on fast, this time of year can be both brilliant and taxing for riding. It’s a slap to think of the cold months ahead and, having been lulled by so many warm summer rides, it’s easy to get caught in the dark without everything you need.
Here’s a shortlist of the pieces we’ve been wearing on the road to deal with the shorter, cooler days:
Rapha Hi-Vis Gilet ($175)
Not everyone will love the look of this gauzy vest, but I’ve been carrying it on every fall and winter outing since I got it for the extra protection and visibility it provides. Not only does the hot pink pop in the dark, but the dual stripes are reflective. And as with any vest, it adds some 10 or so degrees of extra warmth when the mercury drops. It’s not much bigger than an orange when folded up, so it stows easily, while the oversize built-in pockets make for easy access to gear and food when you layer up.
POC Essential Jersey ($170)
The Essential Jersey, which is part of the AVIP line (Attention Visibility Interaction Protection), is cut from a four-way stretch material that feels a bit heavy in the heat of summer but works perfectly in cooler conditions. Sleeves and neck are laser-cut for comfort, and there are nice touches like a quick-pull locking zipper, a waterproof zippered pocket for electronics, and a small marked rear slot for emergency info.
But the real story is visibility: With a large reflective patch on the middle rear pocket and, of course, the traffic-cone orange styling, I never had to worry about being seen by traffic. One warning: POC cuts their garments to fit skinny racers, so order up a size unless you’re okay with the skin-suit look.
Castelli Alpha Jacket ($250)
This lightweight softshell is trim enough to roll up and stow in a rear pocket, but the Gore Windstopper front and arms provide surprising warmth for such a gossamer piece. A thin, insulating layer is sewn into the front of the chest like a built-in vest, and opens with a secondary zipper. The back of the jacket and underarms are full mesh, albeit a fleecy variety, for venting heat. The combination allows for coverage in a wide range of conditions and excellent temperature fine-tuning: the Alpha works just as well as a layer piece on cold winter days as it does as a single top coat in autumn.
The cut is anatomic and extremely comfortable in the riding position, and detailing is super, with a silicone-gripper drop waist for water protection, a fleece-lined articulated collar, and laser-cut stretch waist and sleeves that keep it all in place. The chartreuse model may not match with everything (like the POC jersey), but it will definitely keep you more visible than dreary (and dangerous) black.
Assos T.Tiburu_S7 Bib Shorts ($300)
We’re still overdue for a full review of Assos’ new S7 line of shorts, but suffice it to say the company’s bibs still top our list of the finest you can ride in. We were thrilled when the Swiss company released this midweight model, which is constructed from a light, fleece-lined stretch fabric and reinforced with wind-protection in the crotch. The insulation means that, combined with a pair of knee warmers, we’ve been toasty in these shorts down to freezing.
Other than the materials, the patterning is the same as the T.equipe_S7 bibs, with the compressive fabric taking the place of lots of leg panels to eliminate as many seams (and chafing points), as possible. There’s tons of technology behind the chamois, which uses multi-density foam and moves freely from the exterior layer of the short. The result: an insert that’s more comfortable than any other on the market for long periods in the saddle. Since these are so pricey, I’ll only be buying one pair, which means the laundry machine will be getting a workout as the days get cold.
Gore Alp-X 2.0 Windstopper Soft Shell Light Gloves ($50)
Gore makes excellent fall and winter apparel, such as new thermal bib knickers and the tried-and-true insulated vest, but the company’s glove line is its crown jewel. This pair looks and feels like a standard full-finger mountain bike glove, but the Windstopper layer on the back of the hands provides exceptional warmth for the weight. As with all Gore gloves I’ve tried, fit and cut is perfect, with no dead spots or digits that are too long or short. The terry nose-wipe on the thumb is big and soft. This will probably be the only pair of gloves I wear from now until January.
Fits Light Trail Quarter sock ($17)
When the weather begins to turn, the right sock can mean the difference between enjoyable long rides and skulking home with frozen toes. I love Fits socks because they’re constructed by a company that pays attention to detail: the Light Trail isn’t just some long tube, it has a heel cup and shape to match the contours of your foot. The lightweight merino wool is body-mapped to provide cushion in contact points but ventilation in spots where you need less heft. And even though the fabric is thin enough to fit in my race cleats, it has enough stretch that it retains its shape and feel after multiple uses.
Bell Star Pro With Shield helmet ($280)
Though the new Star Pro was introduced at the Tour this year to give team Belkin an aerodynamic edge, we’ve found the helmet is also ideal for cold weather. The key: a small switch at the back of the crown of the head that opens and closes the vents by way of built-in plastic covers. With vents open, the Star Pro functions like any other helmet. With vents closed, it wards the wind and elements away from your head. A less expensive $240 model isn’t equipped with the magnetic, snap-in visor, but I like the Zeiss lens for the additional $40 because it allows for eye protection in very cold temps without the fogging issues associated with a goggle.
Bellwether Arm and Knee Warmers ($24 and $40)
I’ve worn many arm and knee warmers over the years, but I always come back to my 7-year-old Bellwethers because they’re light and simple. The silicone arm and leg grippers have held up after hundreds of washings and keep everything in place, though the arm warmers definitely need a snug fitting jersey overtop or a base layer underneath for extra grip. The knee warmers are cut fairly short (above the calf), which makes them perfect for transitional weather when longer varieties can cause overheating. Mostly, I love how inexpensive they are—it always seems silly to spend lots of money on what amount to little more than fabric tubes.
Blackburn Central Combo lights ($65)
It may not be fashionable to run lights on a road bike, but I’ve started using them full time because of the extra safety they afford. This micro-USB rechargeable Blackburn set provides 100 lumens in front and 20 out back, enough to ward off unsuspecting cars on dark roads, especially when run in blinking strobe mode. The money-clip style attachment slides into trim rubber mounts, but can also slip onto a belt or pocket if you’ve forgotten the straps. The lights rattle a bit if you don’t situate them properly, and the mounting straps could be longer to fit on oversize and odd-shaped posts and bars. But overall, these are a durable, relatively inexpensive insurance policy that cyclists shouldn’t go without.