Dress Like An Onion: The Art of Layering

The thing about the cold is that you can never tell how cold it is from looking out a kitchen window. You have to dress up, get out training and when you come back, you then know how cold it is.

– Sean Kelly

Apart from the obvious lesson in Rules #5 and #9, hidden within Sean’s sage advice lies a paradox: if we can never tell how cold it is until we’ve arrived home from our ride, then how are we to determine how much kit to wear?

The Kelly Paradox is the layering equivalent of the Goldilocks Principle, wherein we aim to be neither overdressed, causing us to overheat sweat excessively, nor underdressed, causing us to needlessly lose energy through shivering and to hate life at a conceptual level. By extension, it also implies that whatever choice you make, you will get it wrong.

The answer lies in the art of layering, wherein one deploys several layers of clothing that can be unzipped, shed, and added back as both the temperature and the engine room heat up and cool back down throughout a ride.

The first rule of kitting up is that we should expect to be chilly for the first ten or fifteen minutes, allowing for the body to warm up and start producing its own heat to counter the cool outside temperatures. But this may not account for changing temperatures throughout the ride, and therefor we will need to be prepared to alter the composition of the kit.

The second rule of kitting up is that unless it is mid-summer, you are likely to misjudge the weather, so you should be prepared to make adjustments en route. Please observe the following pointers when kitting up for your ride.

  1. Always wear a base layer, which should be made of wicking material and is designed to keep the skin of your torso dry. In colder weather, heavier wool base layers may be used as an insulation layer against the skin.
  2. Long Sleeve jerseys and full leggings are always encouraged at the café for pre-ride espressi unless it is genuinely warm and sunny, in which case one is encouraged to bask in the sun and admire you own guns, Boonen-style.
  3. Arm warmers are preferable to long sleeve jerseys unless the weather is sufficiently cool or the temp sufficiently moderate to ensure the long sleeve jersey will not be shed throughout the ride. Arm warmers may be slipped down to the wrists for further cooling. Under no circumstances, however, are the sleeves of a long sleeve jersey to be pulled up towards the elbows to regulate temperature.
  4. A gilet should be considered before a long sleeve jersey as it can be easily removed and stowed mid-ride. A gilet should be light and close-fitting like a jersey. When stowing, fold flat in thirds from top to bottom, then in half along the zipper. Slip this between your jersey and bibs rather than into a jersey pocket. This should be done for bonus Casually Deliberate points while riding hands-free.
  5. It is acceptable for any and all layers to be unzipped and allowed to flap in the wind, emphasizing how hard you are crushing it. Additional Casually Deliberate points are also available for zipping back up while riding hands-free, particularly when doing so while cresting a climb with fools suffering on your wheel.

Related Posts

94 Replies to “Dress Like An Onion: The Art of Layering”

  1. It’s finally cooled down enough here to deploy arm warmers; got to bust em out for the first time on Saturday morning. I always look forward to the opportunity to layer up for rides, although I’m sure I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic if we had a truly cold winter.

  2. Yesterday’s ride: partly sunny/cloudy, low 50s, 10+mph wind. Me: base layer with long sleeve jersey, gilet (aka wind vest), knee warmers, and booties. I know the last is kinda wimpy but my feet get cold really easily/fast, so once the temp dips into the 50s I usually wear booties. Also, light full-finger gloves. My feet were still a little cold, but everything else was “just right.” And love my aeroshell cover on my Lazer Helium helmet. Blocks the vents to keep cold air out, but the rearmost vents are still open to vent out. Don’t need to wear anything under it in cool weather (without it, I would’ve worn a skullcap). In colder weather (for me, the 40s), I’ll wear a skullcap especially if I need to cover my ears.

  3. Additional Casually Deliberate points are also available for zipping back up while riding hands-free

    Unless you ride into a pothole while arms are half way in or out of a gilet. Sensi Cipo did that and really ruined himself. He broke his fall with that face of his (anything but the face!) and missed part of the season. Ouch.

  4. My worst moments (on the bike…) were when realising that I will not warm up after 15 minutes, ‘man-up’, to be hit by the hongerklop after only 1.5 hours in the saddle. Not much casual deliberateness remaining when staggering into a filling station, clutching a bank-card with shaking hands and hitting the mars, snickers and the chocomel…

    ps. be careful to ride hands-free before reaching the top of the mountain (hill)….

    http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest-news/sportive-crash-rider-causes-social-media-sensation-123863

  5. “it also implies that whatever choice you make, you will get it wrong.”

    I recently wrote about being poorly kitted for ride a few weeks ago.  I blame a dodgy weather report for that epic fail.  This weekend, I am to blame.  I have a few sets of leg and arm warmers and more than a few gilets.  I chose the thinner sets for Saturday’s training ride and that was a poor decision.  The winds picked up, the sun stayed hidden and 40 minutes into the ride the shivers were still there.  I wasn’t the only foolish bloke.  We decided that pushing the pace might help, it helped some, but at the expense of letting the Man with the Hammer creep within milimeters.

    Adding insult to injury, before I left the house I had my shoe covers and Gabba jacket in my hands, but tossed them back in the closet.  137kms and I never felt very comfortable.  With a closet full of kit for all weather conditions I am still getting it wrong.  I am going to act upon the onion advice from this point forward.  But I will likely still mess it up.

  6. If you’re going to get it wrong, better to be too warm and un-layer than not have enough and be cold. At least for me, when it’s cold I can never be too warm. I can, however, be too f**kin’ cold.

  7. @chuckp

     And love my aeroshell cover on my Lazer Helium helmet. Blocks the vents to keep cold air out, but the rearmost vents are still open to vent out.

    +1; mine is a Genesis, but love the shell.

    I agree mostly w/@Frank, but I’m a bigger fan of LS jerseys vs SS and warmers.  I have and use both, but if it’s 55F or lower I’ll grab the LS every time (the exception is with my Gabba SS and Sportful NoRain warmers).  Just don’t see the benefit of fiddling.  I do vary base layers depending on what I think will happen with temps/wind during the ride.  For colder temps my Showers Pass Softshell Trainer with a w/b treatment is my go-to piece — love the cut and the performance.

    Same on the bottom.  I have two pair of Sportful NoRain bibs (same model 2 years apart have dramatically different cuts, but that’s a rant for another time) and matching knee warmers.  I do like the thicker fabric and water repellency, but will more often reach for my Endura or Castelli bib knicks.

    My gilet is in my pocket a whole lot more than on my body…  starting colder and planning to warm up on the ride usually works — but when it’s 30-40 minutes in and you’re not quite there….  how much fun is that?!

  8. Its that time of year down here in sunny/overcast/hot/cold/raining/dry South Australia.

    Guaranteed to get it wrong and to take the forecasters advice is to set oneself up for a fail.

    So, the only answer is :-

    Rapha PT base layer, Rapha PT Bibs, PT Jersey, Tight Gilet ( loose, well, would be points deducted straight away )  Light dab of embro on knees and calves, cap under helmet and away we go.

  9. Based on his calf definition seen there, Kelly has what…4% body fat? His guns were always awe inspiring.

    It’s gotta be plenty cold for me to cover mine (the calves), but they pale in comparison.

  10. @chuckp

    If you’re going to get it wrong, better to be too warm and un-layer than not have enough and be cold. At least for me, when it’s cold I can never be too warm. I can, however, be too f**kin’ cold.

    Same here. Someday I’ll live where I can ride year round in mild temps (La Serena, Chile).  Until then I need to better my kitting-up skills.

  11. @chuckp

    If you’re going to get it wrong, better to be too warm and un-layer than not have enough and be cold. At least for me, when it’s cold I can never be too warm. I can, however, be too f**kin’ cold.

    This!

  12. My god, in all of my time as a Follower, I’ve never considered pulling a LS jersey sleeve up. I guess I understood the function of arm warmers and the awesomeness of colorful Wrist Skirts when riding so fast in bad weather your arms need cooling.

    I guess I understood this conceptually. And “hating life conceptually.” Wow, what an incredible idea, which we’ve all had when sitting in the saddle on really cold, wet days. NICE work, Frank. I’m sure this will be explored in the coming winter riding season.

    Finally, out of all the things I love about the peace of mind cruising along in the middle of nowhere provides…the fact that zipping and unzipping is a constant part of that journey, and means the difference between Perfect Onion and Sweatin’ Onion. Sweatin’ Onions could dessicate to Funyun stage, and those things are weird.

  13. Come to think of it, I really should have brought arm warmers and a gillet on Sunday’s ride… Descending those 2800′ from Camino Cielo down to Santa Barbara was chilly.

    On the other hand, I’m certainly not going to earn any hardman points on my regular rides these days, so I guess I’ll just follow Rule #5, zip up the short-sleeve, tuck more deeply, and enjoy the ride.

  14. I’ve had a bit of a change of heart about kitting up recently – I used to go for wearing as little as I could get away with; bare arms and legs unless it was really quite cold. I’m now enjoying long legs and long sleeves more, although I think that’s more to prevent me getting covered with crap off the road (most of my rides are commutes) than to keep warm. I also enjoyed the snugness of an undervest recently, even though it wasn’t really cold enough to require it.

  15. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing options”. Apart from the fact that this may directly impinge on Rule #5 the kit conundrum is a very tiresome one. I’ve spent years accumulating kit to solve every climate riddle, but still I make school boy errors. Forgetting arm warmers being one of them.

  16. @nobby

    Apart from the fact that this may directly impinge on Rule #5

    Rule #5 does not mean you deliberately go out to get cold and uncomfortable. Rule #5 means that you don’t complain about it when it happens. And if it makes you go slower it means you are contravening Rule #10

  17. @RobSandy

    @nobby

    Apart from the fact that this may directly impinge on Rule #5

    Rule #5 does not mean you deliberately go out to get cold and uncomfortable. Rule #5 means that you don’t complain about it when it happens. And if it makes you go slower it means you are contravening Rule #10

    Maybe I was thinking of Rule #9, which suggests that, despite what you wear, you should be riding regardless of the weather.

  18. Here in Tennessee, the weather changes rapidly through the day – it’s not unusual for the temp to start below freezing and then climb into the mid-twenties Celsius by midday, so if you’re out on a long ride layer storage becomes an issue.

    Having a Jersey with adequate storage is essential – nothing is worse that rolling along with a jumbled mess of warmers, gilet, and whatnot flailing about from the top of one’s jersey pockets.

  19. Arm warmers are preferable to long sleeve jerseys unless the weather is sufficiently cool or the temp sufficiently moderate to ensure the long sleeve jersey will not be shed throughout the ride. Arm warmers may be slipped down to the wrists for further cooling. Under no circumstances, however, are the sleeves of a long sleeve jersey to be pulled up towards the elbows to regulate temperature.

    This.

  20. @antihero

    Here in Tennessee, the weather changes rapidly through the day – it’s not unusual for the temp to start below freezing and then climb into the mid-twenties Celsius by midday, so if you’re out on a long ride layer storage becomes an issue.

    Having a Jersey with adequate storage is essential – nothing is worse that rolling along with a jumbled mess of warmers, gilet, and whatnot flailing about from the top of one’s jersey pockets.

    See #4 for how to store your gilet without taking up valuable jersey pocket space. I put mine inbetween my shoulder blades on the inside of my jersey. Makes for a cool little “aero hump” like on GP motorcycle racing leathers. :-)

  21. @Ccos

    Based on his calf definition seen there, Kelly has what…4% body fat? His guns were always awe inspiring.

    It’s gotta be plenty cold for me to cover mine (the calves), but they pale in comparison.

    That’s why he’s only got the knee warmers on. He knew there would be photographers on hand to document the guns in order to inspire future generations of cyclists.

  22. @teleguy57

    I wear LS myself quite a bit as well; the point is to only do that when you’re certain you won’t need to take the sleeves off. A great example was the Whidbey Cogal where we started in cool weather and finished in bare arms and legs. An LS jersey would have been a pain in the ass. (Although we had a team car, and @Haldy rode the whole day in long sleeves, full leggings, and overshoes WTF.

  23. @chuckp

    If you’re going to get it wrong, better to be too warm and un-layer than not have enough and be cold. At least for me, when it’s cold I can never be too warm. I can, however, be too f**kin’ cold.

    I agree so long as I’m not riding hard. I run a bit hot anyway, and sweat a lot, so if I’m overdressed, there is no way I’ll be able to drink against the water loss and I’ll be totally fucked. If you’re coldish, you can just ride harder, but if you’re too cold you’ll be just as fucked. You really do want to get it right.

  24. @Ron

    Finally, out of all the things I love about the peace of mind cruising along in the middle of nowhere provides…the fact that zipping and unzipping is a constant part of that journey, and means the difference between Perfect Onion and Sweatin’ Onion. Sweatin’ Onions could dessicate to Funyun stage, and those things are weird.

    Perfect Onion, Sweatin’ Onion, and Funyun, strong strong work. +1 badge to you, matey.

  25. @cognition

    Come to think of it, I really should have brought arm warmers and a gillet on Sunday’s ride… Descending those 2800′ from Camino Cielo down to Santa Barbara was chilly.

    On the other hand, I’m certainly not going to earn any hardman points on my regular rides these days, so I guess I’ll just follow Rule #5, zip up the short-sleeve, tuck more deeply, and enjoy the ride.

    The same CashDel points apply for the zipping/unzipping of jerseys on the climbs, with the minor caveat that if you’re riding unzipped, you better be going fast enough that its flapping in the wind, otherwise you’re just emphasizing how much you suck at climbing.

  26. @RobSandy

    I’ve had a bit of a change of heart about kitting up recently – I used to go for wearing as little as I could get away with; bare arms and legs unless it was really quite cold. I’m now enjoying long legs and long sleeves more, although I think that’s more to prevent me getting covered with crap off the road (most of my rides are commutes) than to keep warm. I also enjoyed the snugness of an undervest recently, even though it wasn’t really cold enough to require it.

    I wear an undervest always, no matter how hot it is; a good lightweight one will wick the sweat away, especially between the bibs and your skin. Nothing worse that wet lycra slapping your bellah.

  27. @nobby

    @RobSandy

    @nobby

    Apart from the fact that this may directly impinge on Rule #5

    Rule #5 does not mean you deliberately go out to get cold and uncomfortable. Rule #5 means that you don’t complain about it when it happens. And if it makes you go slower it means you are contravening Rule #10

    Maybe I was thinking of Rule #9, which suggests that, despite what you wear, you should be riding regardless of the weather.

    Yes, but again, you still want to get the clothing right. We are lunatics, not masochists.

  28. @antihero

    Here in Tennessee, the weather changes rapidly through the day – it’s not unusual for the temp to start below freezing and then climb into the mid-twenties Celsius by midday, so if you’re out on a long ride layer storage becomes an issue.

    Having a Jersey with adequate storage is essential – nothing is worse that rolling along with a jumbled mess of warmers, gilet, and whatnot flailing about from the top of one’s jersey pockets.

    Did any of you read the bullet about the gilet? It doesn’t go in your pockets. Fold it flat and slip it between the jersey and bibs. It won’t be bulky and doesn’t take up space in the pockets.

    @chuckp

    Correct.

  29. @chuckp

    Arm warmers are preferable to long sleeve jerseys unless the weather is sufficiently cool or the temp sufficiently moderate to ensure the long sleeve jersey will not be shed throughout the ride. Arm warmers may be slipped down to the wrists for further cooling. Under no circumstances, however, are the sleeves of a long sleeve jersey to be pulled up towards the elbows to regulate temperature.

    This.

    Here’s my take on it at the end of the 118 mile L’Etape London(the Badger only did the short,lightweight),was pretty chilly at the start and the weather fluctuated all day from sun to grey and drizzly and back again;not shown is the light full finger gloves and Sportful hot pack gillet safely stowed in the back pockets.(Sorry for the tail thing although it’s not a proper satchell more a tool roll);

  30. @fenlander

    And we’re both wearing Lazer Heliums! (Or at least I’m pretty sure yours is Helium). Mine is with my Lion of Flanders aeroshell cover, which is great for cool/cold weather riding.

  31. @chuckp

    Yep it’s a Helium,great lid bought it at an advantagous price after bashing my LAS victory;didn’t get the aero cover with mine though.

  32. @fenlander

    @chuckp

    Yep it’s a Helium,great lid bought it at an advantagous price after bashing my LAS victory;didn’t get the aero cover with mine though.

    You can find the aeroshell pretty cheap ($20 USD). I’ve seen it on UK websites and UK eBay. One of those “why didn’t I think of that?” great ideas. It really makes a difference riding in cool/cold weather. I don’t need a skullcap to keep my head warm unless it’s really cold or I need to cover my ears (which means it’s really cold). If you get one, make sure you get the right size. If your Lazer is sized small, medium, large, or x-large, then you get the aeroshell in the same size. But, apparently, Lazer also made the Helium with “mixed” sizing and it’s not a direct correspondence to the aeroshell sizing (and it’s very confusing). I had to confirm with a Lazer rep (in the UK even though I’m in the US) to make sure I got the right size (my Helium is “regular” sizing).

  33. @frank

    @chuckp

    If you’re going to get it wrong, better to be too warm and un-layer than not have enough and be cold. At least for me, when it’s cold I can never be too warm. I can, however, be too f**kin’ cold.

    I agree so long as I’m not riding hard. I run a bit hot anyway, and sweat a lot, so if I’m overdressed, there is no way I’ll be able to drink against the water loss and I’ll be totally fucked. If you’re coldish, you can just ride harder, but if you’re too cold you’ll be just as fucked. You really do want to get it right.

    I run VERY hot. I blame it on being 172 cms and not having as much surface area as you big fuckers. Lately too I’ve noticed whenever I drink spirits…I get super hot. I know it opens your pores, but of late if I’m drinking whiskey I feel like I could sit on the shores of Lake Superior in December in swimtrunks. It’s weird. (then again, I usually am working on bikes and moving all over when I’m drinkin’)

    Also, let’s not forget the cold/hot situation and where the hell you grew up. Now that I live in the southern U.S. I’m routinely annoyed with what people consider too cold to do anything out-of-doors. If you grew up in a place with an actual winter and four seasons, you just deal with shite weather. If you grew up in a sunny place, unless it is 25* and brilliant, you fucking complain.

    AND…yes. It’s key to point out riding hard versus recovery/cruising/commuting. Crushing souls, you can wear next to nothing in cold weather. If I’m riding the MUP with the VMH on the weekend, I’m wearing LS and full leg warmers.

  34. @Chipomarc

    This guys don’t seem to be in agreement on the kit needed for the ride.

    Yeah, but they’re also riding with only half a fork.

  35. @frank

    @Ron

    Finally, out of all the things I love about the peace of mind cruising along in the middle of nowhere provides…the fact that zipping and unzipping is a constant part of that journey, and means the difference between Perfect Onion and Sweatin’ Onion. Sweatin’ Onions could dessicate to Funyun stage, and those things are weird.

    Perfect Onion, Sweatin’ Onion, and Funyun, strong strong work. +1 badge to you, matey.

    As far as I know, this is my first earning of such an honor. I shall mark it in my log book and take great pride. First I got a Guest Article, now this!

    Fuckin’ cool.

  36. @Ron

    Also, let’s not forget the cold/hot situation and where the hell you grew up. Now that I live in the southern U.S. I’m routinely annoyed with what people consider too cold to do anything out-of-doors. If you grew up in a place with an actual winter and four seasons, you just deal with shite weather. If you grew up in a sunny place, unless it is 25* and brilliant, you fucking complain.

    Another factor is your ancestry/ethnic heritage. Those of you with Nordic genes are probably going to tolerate cold weather a lot better than those of with tropical/island (in my case, my parents were from the Philippines) genes.

  37. @Matt

    @Chipomarc

    This guys don’t seem to be in agreement on the kit needed for the ride.

    Yeah, but they’re also riding with only half a fork.

    Looks like they’re looking for the other half.

  38. @chuckp

    Perhaps the other fork leg was crushed and melted down to produce the necessary material for the 900mm bars the far left rider is using.

  39. @frank

    @teleguy57

    I wear LS myself quite a bit as well; the point is to only do that when you’re certain you won’t need to take the sleeves off. A great example was the Whidbey Cogal where we started in cool weather and finished in bare arms and legs. An LS jersey would have been a pain in the ass. (Although we had a team car, and @Haldy rode the whole day in long sleeves, full leggings, and overshoes WTF.

    You just don’t like my shoe covers because one is pink and one is blue. Not to mention the fact that you were an ungrateful bastard and didn’t wear the orange shoe covers I made the special effort to get hold of in time for the cogal, and you still have my scissors! I would also point out that I had to split off early to ride back down the Island and catch a ferry..thereby not having the support of said team car for the final 30 miles, and I was quite grateful for the layers the last 10 miles or so, it was cloudy and cold at the southern end of the island when I was back down there. Having done the solo run from my house to the top of Stevens Pass the week before..I was used to having to carry everything I started out with.

  40. @Matt

    @Chipomarc

    This guys don’t seem to be in agreement on the kit needed for the ride.

    Yeah, but they’re also riding with only half a fork.

    I think that’s why they’ve stopped. “Fuck me, mateys, anyone seen my right fork?”

  41. @wiscot

    @Matt

    @Chipomarc

    This guys don’t seem to be in agreement on the kit needed for the ride.

    Yeah, but they’re also riding with only half a fork.

    I think that’s why they’ve stopped. “Fuck me, mateys, anyone seen my right fork?”

    I like the guy in the center.  “Hold the fuck on guys… Before we start, Jimmy needs a lesson in dressin.”

  42. @chuckp

    Another factor is your ancestry/ethnic heritage. Those of you with Nordic genes are probably going to tolerate cold weather a lot better than those of with tropical/island (in my case, my parents were from the Philippines) genes.

    I can see that.  I don’t start wishing for knee/arm warmers before 10C at the start of the ride.  I also think a healthy rule 33 violation combined with my built in insulation can be a substitute for early knee warmer application.  If I manage to get down to climbing weight, I may have to revisit my layering/temperature coordination.

  43. @Matt

    @chuckp

    Perhaps the other fork leg was crushed and melted down to produce the necessary material for the 900mm bars the far left rider is using.

    One of my mates rides off road with bars that wide. It fucking freaks me out. Looks like he’s riding his bike with a broom.

  44. @Haldy

    @frank

    @teleguy57

    I wear LS myself quite a bit as well; the point is to only do that when you’re certain you won’t need to take the sleeves off. A great example was the Whidbey Cogal where we started in cool weather and finished in bare arms and legs. An LS jersey would have been a pain in the ass. (Although we had a team car, and @Haldy rode the whole day in long sleeves, full leggings, and overshoes WTF.

    You just don’t like my shoe covers because one is pink and one is blue. Not to mention the fact that you were an ungrateful bastard and didn’t wear the orange shoe covers I made the special effort to get hold of in time for the cogal, and you still have my scissors! I would also point out that I had to split off early to ride back down the Island and catch a ferry..thereby not having the support of said team car for the final 30 miles, and I was quite grateful for the layers the last 10 miles or so, it was cloudy and cold at the southern end of the island when I was back down there. Having done the solo run from my house to the top of Stevens Pass the week before..I was used to having to carry everything I started out with.

    Every time I looked over at you fully covered up on the cogal, it was enough to keep me warm.  I would have overheated and shrivelled up under all that gear on that ride.  I actually liked the one pink/one blue combination.  Made me think of the old Lampre kit.

  45. @RobSandy

    I don’t get the trend towards ever widening handlebars.  Way back in the 90s when MTB was all I ever did, the bars I had were just right for the single track through the forests of BC.  Just the thought of riding through those same trails with the current ‘plus’ sized bars gives me the heebie jeebies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.