This guide will help you if you’re a new rider and you don't have a closet full of cycling clothing and you don't have experience riding in a wide variety of weather conditions. Or, if you've been riding for a while and want to extend your riding season, this will help you make the leap to improve your clothing choices. I'll explain what cycling clothing, called kit, you should own, so you can get out for a ride in a wide variety of conditions.
Before we get into the clothing specifics, here are a few things you should consider when trying on clothing.
Cycling clothing should fit tightly to keep it from flapping in the wind as you ride, since that can be annoying and cause chafing.
Remember that you don't ride a bike standing up, so bend over in the fitting room, like you would on your bike.
Cycling kit is made from technical fabrics that improve their performance and protection from the elements. Those features can cost more, and they are usually worth it.
Keep your underwear on when trying on shorts.
Simple Summer Ride
Let's start with the simple summer ride, when the temperatures are above 60° F (15° C). Must haves: a short-sleeved summer jersey and pair of shorts with a good chamois. Nice to haves: helmet, undershirt, cycling shoes, socks, gloves, and safety or sun glasses. Optional: sun sleeves, vest or rain jacket, and a head band.
A jersey, with two or three pockets on the back, is essential for carrying essentials with you on your ride; things like food, money, and maybe a spare tube and CO2 inflator. The shorts must have a good chamois, because that's what keeps your bottom side from getting too intimate with your bike's saddle. A good chamois, like the Garneau 4Motion that's in our 2018 club kit, is dense where it needs to be and thin and pliable everywhere else. Men usually prefer bib-shorts, because the shoulder straps help them stay up. Women's wider hips help keep shorts from falling down and they make it easier to take a mid-ride nature break.
Nice to Have
A helmet is a good idea, no matter what speed you travel, because your brain is worth protecting. Spend a little more on a helmet for a better fit, which is essential for your protection. All helmets must meet the same minimum safety standards. An undershirt or a sports bra will keep the wind on your jersey from chafing your nipples and they provide additional protection from the sun's UV rays. Your shoes must fit well and be compatible with your pedals. Cycling shoes are required when riding with clip-less pedals and a stiff sole will reduce foot fatigue and help you transfer power from your legs to your bike.
When it Rains
It's a good to have a tight-fitting, packable vest or rain jacket that you can put in your back pocket when heading out on a ride whenever there's a chance of rain. When the rain falls on your summer ride, you'll want a vest or rain jacket to keep your core temperature stable, not to keep you dry. The club's vests provide good protection and they will fit in your pocket. I also have a jacket that packs into a bag that's smaller than my fist and I carry it on my daily commutes.
Spring and Fall
As the temperature drops below about 60° F (15° C), you'll find that your summer kit won't keep you warm enough, especially when it's windy, cloudy, and/or you're on an easy ride. To ride in cooler temperatures, you'll need to invest in a few add-ons for your summer kit. What you add will depend on the weather and your body's ability to keep itself warm. Must haves: summer kit, plus a vest or jacket and full-fingered gloves. Nice to haves: arm and knee or leg warmers and a hat. Optional: shoe covers.
The vest or jacket that you wear in the summer when it rains on your ride is also great for keeping your core warm as the temperature drops; and this should be the first add-on that you utilize. Your hands and feet will probably be the next thing that needs attention, so add full-fingered gloves and thicker wool socks to keep them warm. You may add a larger pair of gloves or mittens over a thin pair of gloves, as the temps and your body requires.
Nice to Have
It doesn't need to get much cooler and you'll want to add arm and leg warmers to your kit. The arm warmers can be pulled up and down as the temperature fluctuates during your ride. Leg or knee warmers are good to add whenever you wear arm warmers, because you need to keep your knees warm to avoid long-term problems. A hat of some sort helps you from losing too much heat from your head. Depending on the temperature during your ride, you may want something like a cycling cap or a beanie that fits under your helmet.
Winter (in Minnesota)
As the temperature drops to near freezing or colder, you'll need to replace your summer kit with a log-sleeved jersey and long pants/tights. Look for kit made with wind-stopper fabrics, because they will keep you much warmer without adding another layer. At these temps, the wind and sun make a bigger difference, and what you add to your kit will depend on the weather and your body's ability to keep itself warm. Must haves: hat, log-sleeved jersey and (bib) pants/tights, undershirt, warm gloves and/or mittens, thick wool socks, shoe covers. Nice to haves: kit made with wind-stopper fabrics. Optional: chemical warmers, balaclava, another layer of gloves and socks, and goggles.
Start with a warm hat that fits under your helmet and covers your ears, add an undershirt to keep the wind off your core and over that your long-sleeved jersey. To keep your legs warm, so they can power you down the road, you need a good pair of (bib) tights/pants; and if they don't have a chamois, you can wear summer shorts under them. To keep your extremities warm, you need warm gloves and/or mittens, thick wool socks, shoe covers.
When the basic winter kit doesn't keep you warm enough, you can add chemical warmers where you need more warmth; typically your hands and feet, but your lower back is a good spot, too. When a hat isn't enough to keep your face and head warm, replace it with a balaclava or add a bandana around your neck. Add another layer or warmer gloves and/or mittens as needed. For extreme cold, add more base layers and goggles.
If you start out with a summer kit and follow the guidelines laid out here you can extend your cycling season while saying warm and without breaking the bank.