Cycle wear or not? No this isn’t a ‘call to arms’ for everyone to join in on the London naked bike ride, but if that floats your boat, please carry on!

This is a look at what to wear and when to wear it and some of the science behind the theories, for which I take no credit and have quoted those far more eminent in their field than I.

cycle wearToday is the first day of British Summer Time and true to form the sky is heavy, the wind is brisk and the forecast is for heavy rain………. welcome to summer, but at least it can only get better (can’t it?).

The decision of what to wear today won’t be a problem, rain jacket, winter long sleeve jersey, warm winter tights, winter socks and waterproof winter boots, these are a given and still after 50 miles water will have found its way everywhere.

I have ridden virtually every week throughout the year and during 2014/15 have only been stopped by the weather once, and that was due to snow.

But what I have been amazed by, throughout the winter months are the number of people riding with bare legs and even bare arms, on one occasion just after Christmas my Garmin was indicating a temperature of 1 degree and a group of riders past the opposite direction in shorts and thin jerseys – their legs were bright red from the cold! I know we are used to the cold ‘Up North’, but even being brought up on the North East coast, I know it’s not good to bare that much flesh in those conditions.

So what is the thought behind the effects of cold on, especially, the knee joints?

Well the knee is the pivot point between the two major muscle groups of the thigh and the calf which when you look at it doesn’t have much in the way of protection, and given that we rotate, push and pull the pedals to cycle it is imperative that we keep the knee free from damage. The knee is surrounded by fluid which lubricates during rotation, the effect of cold on lubricants is well known and the knee fluid will also become thicker in the cold making the knee less efficient, which long term may lead to cartilage damage and dreaded ‘knee pain’.

The knees don’t have exclusive rights to being at risk when cycling, the other major joints – elbow, neck etc. will also be affected and also consider general health, especially the chest – it wasn’t that long ago that it was common to see a soigneur at the top of a climb in the Tour de France and other races handing out newspapers for the riders to put down their tops during descents to lessen the effect of extreme sweat on the ascent chilling to such a level that chest complaints were commonplace.

It may be 9-12 degrees at the moment, but take into account any wind will cause a ‘wind chill’ reducing temperature and also if you’re riding along at 15-20 mph the effect will be heightened and even more so on a descent, so the 9-12 degrees could very easily be halved to an ‘actual’ temperature of between 5-7 degrees. Adding rain will also heighten the temperature deficit.

The best way is to cover up until such time that the weather is settled and any adverse effects are negated, and the most effective solution is to ‘layer’, it is easier to add or remove layers dependant on the conditions and what you are actually doing at the time.

I have quoted James Hewitt’s guide below as it is the most up to date reference I have found researching the science behind the above and this guide from the paper is an ideal reference for what to wear, when:


  • 19°C-21°C: Base layer; short-sleeved jersey; shorts; racing mitts; socks
  • 17°C-19°C: Add arm warmers
  • 15°C-17°C: Add knee warmers or 3/4 length tights; swap for thicker socks; swap mitts for thin full-finger gloves
  • 13°C-15°C: Swap knee warmers for leg warmers; add gilet
  • 11°C-13°C: Swap warmers for full medium-weight tights, thicker full-finger gloves; add long-sleeved jersey; toe covers or over-socks; head-band
  • 9°C-11°C: Swap to long-sleeved base layer; thin hat, add race-cape/packable water-proof for changeable conditions
  • 7°C-9°C: Swap to full over-shoes or winter shoes; thicker hat
  • 5°C-7°C: Swap for heavier-weight tights; lobster gloves or mittens
  • 3°C-5°C: Add a second long-sleeved jersey; a midlayer sock
  • 1°C-3°C: Add additional base-layer; knee warmers under tights
  • 0°C and below: High-risk of ice on the road so consider an indoor session!

Be positive, get out there but make sure you wear the correct level of clothing to ensure you have a comfortable ride, but also are able to get out long term injury free.