Unfortunately “shoulder season” doesn’t refer to that time of year when the weather permits bare shoulders. For athletes, it signals that period when dressing for the weather becomes well, difficult.
Shoulder season usually corresponds to “off-season,” that time where your training plan adds in higher volume rides. The longer you are out on the bike, the more flexible your wardrobe needs to be to take you from foggy, cool mornings to sunny afternoons.
You have two enemies when riding in the cold and rain: wind and sweat. Regardless of the temperature, you will sweat under the layers of clothing to help regulate body temperature. If your core remains moist from the sweat it results in being chilled. The solution is to wear layers that move moisture away from your skin while providing insulating properties to keep your core warm.
The number of layers you need will vary as to your personal preference and the weather. For cool days, you may only need to cover your exposed skin, while for blustery days you’ll need quite a bit more insulation.
As a base layer under your jersey, wear a wicking top. Whether you choose a lightweight layer or something with a bit more loft, be sure to choose a fabric that breathes. There are both synthetic and well as natural fabrics, such as wool, that are excellent at wicking moisture.
For your lower half, look for one of two combinations: full-length tights or shorts with leg warmers. Winter tights are available in many thicknesses; choose one that is warm, but flexible enough to allow for easy pedaling. The second option is to wear your riding shorts with leg warmers. These are best if you live in an area where your ride starts out chilly and then warms up, because they are easily removed.
If your long ride begins before the sun rises, a soft shell jacket with the venerable GORE-TEX fabric is an excellent choice. A few models even feature wind-proof front panels. These keep your chest warm while allowing excess sweat to move away from your body via more permeable fabric on the back and underarm area.
Feet are more difficult to keep warm. Because your cycling shoes have cleats, there are spots on the sole that let cool air in. To counter this, the best thing is to wear warm socks and then cover your shoes with booties.
Additionally, you’ll want something to cover your hands, ears, and possibly your neck. There are many styles of headbands and hats designed to wear comfortably under a helmet.
Whatever combination of clothing you choose, be sure you are able to move in it and that it won’t restrict your ability to turn or brake. Try everything on and bend into “riding position” to ensure that the skin at your wrists, ankles, and lower back remain covered.
Once you are warm and dry, be sure to enjoy the scenery as you put on the miles during the upcoming season.