Clothing for the 'mile-eater' commuter

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If your commute is over five miles each way and you like to use it as your daily exercise fix, then you’re probably better off investing in proper cycling kit to maximise your comfort and enjoyment on the bike.

No matter what time of year regulating your temperature whilst wicking away sweat is your primary concern, so let’s take a look at some of the basic items that you’ll need, based on the well known concept of layering.

Layering is the overarching principle in outdoor circles, based on the idea of keeping comfortably warm and dry through a series of clothing layers, each serving a different function:


The base layer

This layer will be next to your skin and its role is to draw sweat away from your body and on to the next layer in your clothing. Cycling base layers and lightweight and tailored to fit properly when in the cycling position – the back is long to keep the kidneys covered and if long sleeved, the sleeves are longer than usual to keep wrists insulated. Polyester-based synthetics are the most common and affordable. Merino wool is great alternative, wicking well and retaining heat even when wet. Cotton t shirts should be avoided like the plague – although great at absorbing sweat, cotton’s thermal properties are lousy, meaning you’ll be cold and clammy – a serious issue on long, athletic commutes in very cold weather.


The cycling jersey

This is the classic cycling garment, useful all year round. Jerseys are made from either polyester, merino wool or 'sportwool', a mix of both. On the hottest days of the year you will wear it on it's own or with a lightweight base layer. At other times of the year it will form part of your layering system. Short and long sleeved variants are available, however maximum flexibility is often afforded by teaming a short sleeved jersey with arm warmers, giving you a 'two for the price of one' garment than you can tailor to your needs, often mid ride during the autumn and spring.


The mid layer

This is the insulating layer that keeps all that nice heat that you’ll be generating on the inside. Cycling mid layers tend to have a snug fit with the tell-tale long arms and back. The outer fabric is smooth and tightly woven while inside is usually micro-fleece – which does the bulk of the insulation. The chest and leading edges of the arm bear the brunt of the wind, so the best garments will have windproof fabric at these points to ward off chilly draughts than can make riding in the cold a misery. Rear pockets are also useful to keep your mobile phone, wallet/purse and maybe a mid ride snack handy.


The outer layer

Depending on the temperature and/or rainfall, you’ll want an outer waterproof and breathable shell to add the final layer of protection. Like base and mid layers, cycling waterproofs tend to be short at the front and long at the back, with long arms and a snug fit. It is essential that you look for a fabric with is waterproof and breathable – skimp on the ‘breathable’ bit and you’ll end up wetter on the inside, due to sweat, than you are on the outside, due to rain. A small pack size is also important, so you can shove it in your pannier when not needed.



For spring, summer and often into early autumn, the best, most cost-effective combination is a pair of bib shorts and leg warmers, giving you maximum flexibility on those intermediate days without having to spend out on both shorts and longs. For autumnal days, three-quarter-length bib shorts are great, keeping your knees warm while not completely covering your legs. For the really cold months, your best bet is a pair of bib tights, which go over your existing shorts. Usually backed with micro-fleece (sometimes known as 'roubaix fleece), winter tights will keep your legs as warm as toast even in sub zero temperatures. For torrential rain or really extreme weather, get a pair of waterproof and breathable overtrousers to complete the three layer system.



In mild to warm weather on a fast or long commute, keeping cool is your priority, so lightweight wicking cycling socks are ideal, while its always wise to wear some cycling mitts to protect your hands from vibration during the ride and from road rash should you have a tumble.

During cold periods keeping your head, hands and feet warm is critical to your overall comfort and safety. You lose a lot of heat through your head, so when the temperatures in the morning get cold, consider a cap underneath your helmet. Moving on to your hands – lightweight, fleece lined, windproof gloves are a chilly weather essential. A snug fit and a good gripping surface are two key features to look for.

Finally, feet - overshoes do a great job of keeping your feet comfortable and dry during in cold and/or wet conditions. These are usually made of a neoprene ‘wetsuit’ type material and fit snugly over your cycling shoes, with holes in the bottom to allow you to clip on to or grip your pedals as usual.