On their own, they look like something you might wear to a costume party. Little half leg tights, arm sleeves, mesh net tank tops, and even those special covers for your shoes called “booties.” And while they might look a bit ridiculous by themselves, these layers of clothing can make or break your rides when Mother Nature decides to flex a bit of her muscle.
Every year, around this time, we go through a transition. Those glorious days of mindlessly throwing on our jerseys, shorts, helmets, and little else before rolling out the door come to a sudden halt. Those scorcher days quickly give way to crisp mornings and cool afternoons, which means we’re left with a somewhat daunting task when it comes to dressing for our rides. To complicate matters, there aren’t any hard rules as to what will keep our individual body temperatures properly regulated as we spin away out there during these autumn months. But the good news is that with a little experimenting, and investing in a few quality apparel items, you’ll be able to find the optimal combinations of clothing layers that work best for you.
One of the most important pieces to consider for fall layering comes in the form of a base layer. These seemingly basic, next-to-skin layers do an outstanding job of keeping your core dry by pulling moisture away from your skin. This, in turn, keeps your body from getting clammy and chilled underneath your outer layers. A host of manufacturers are now making these cycling-specific layers with full, short, and sleeveless options, all of which have been developed using blends of wicking fabrics that keep your core temperature consistent. It’s worth spending some time investigating the different base layer materials and fabric compositions that’ll be most ideal for you and your specific riding conditions.
Warmers are another essential part of the fall layering equation. The beauty of warmers, unlike a bulky jacket or thick tights, is that they’re exceptionally versatile. Arm, knee, and leg warmers — similar to base layers — come in a variety of fabric weights and styles. We all know that one of the most challenging aspects of dressing for fall riding is the varying weather patterns. Layering with warmers helps mitigate the effects of these unpredictable cycles, as they’re easily peeled off once the day warms up, stashed in a jersey pocket, and pulled on again when it cools down.
A vest is also one of those multiple-hat-wearing pieces of fall apparel. A medium-weight vest works to insulate your core, block the wind, and to shield you from late season rainstorms. Along these lines, almost every apparel company is making ultralight rain shells, which often weigh about as much as an energy bar and are also easily packed into a rear pocket.
Once your core and limbs have been addressed, it’s crucial that you don’t forget your extremities. Full-finger gloves and shoe covers do an amazing job of warding off biting winds, and there are many neck/head warmer options that easily integrate with your helmet.
Overall, the real key to layering for fall riding comes down to knowing your body and how it reacts to varying temperatures. After that, arming yourself with a few different layers gives you the freedom to mix and match according to your given riding conditions. After all, the art of layering is something that comes with time, trial and error, and some experimentation. But once you get it dialed, you’ll find that riding in the fall becomes that much more enjoyable.