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You guys gave me good advice and I've been able to bike comfortably with temperatures in the high 40s F.

I bought some base layer clothes and I want to add those and try doing a ride in the low 40s F. The top is easy and I have tons of options in my closet.

The legs are where I'm not sure what to do. I've been wearing leg warmers with thick basketball shorts and that's worked great down to about the mid 40s F.

I don't see a way to wear the leg warmers and base layer together so I'm guessing I need to replace the leg warmers with the base layer and the shorts with pants.

I'm not ready to invest much in cycling specific clothes this winter, so I'm trying to figure out what kind of pants would be best to wear.

If they're windproof they'll trap sweat in but maybe with the baselayer that's ok? I know windproof pants without a baselayer get swampy and gross.

I have a handful of synthetic jogging/basketball type pants with varying degrees of insulation and windproofing, some jeans and a pair of thin synthetic hiking pants that zip off into shorts.

What should I try first?

I found these at Costco for $10 if anyone else is shopping for baselayers. enter image description here

4 Answers 4

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The leg warmers are the base layer. You can get warmer ones, but I would recommend full-length tights (or bibs), as the insulation through your waist or higher contributes a lot.

With that you can wear looser pants on top. I won’t make specific recommendations, but light weight “trail joggers” is what I would look for. You want a slim cut, particularly near the ankle.

Everyone has their own temperature tolerance, but the lightweight trail joggers alone end up being enough for me down to the upper 30s (°F) for my commutes that last between 30 and 60 minutes.

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I don't know if the terminology travels, but "running tights" ("running leggings") work well over bike tights, and should work over a base layer. You can get ones that are windproof only on the front, so don't trap sweat too much. I wear those over cheap bike tights below freezing; a few degrees warmer and either the bike tights or the running ones are enough on their own.

Wind- but not water-proof fabrics aren't too bad for trapping sweat, especially on the lower half, unless you're really over-dressed.

If you want something over the top that looks more normal off the bike, those zip-offs you mention work well in winter. I've often done that.

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  • "tights" and "leggings" both imply skin tight (and therefore typically next-to-skin) to my American ears. Same for you? I'm imagining full-length, chamois-less tights in your description. Is that what you mean?
    – Paul H
    Jan 22 at 18:08
  • @PaulH they're cut slightly differently, but basically yes. Mine are an old version of these. The front keeps the wind off, but the backs of the legs are thinner, very thin mesh behind the knees so compared to doubling up on bike tights (if you can find some with no/minimal padding) you don't get a build-up of fabric behind your knee. Ideally they'd come up about half a size bigger than bike tights worn underneath
    – Chris H
    Jan 22 at 18:31
  • I'm not a runner so that doesn't mean much to me but since you posted a link I know exactly what you're saying and can go buy my own when/if needed! I wish more people posted links.
    – user66598
    Jan 23 at 14:57
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For cold weather you generally want insulation layer(s) below and then a windstopper layer on top. The insulation layers shouldn’t get compressed too much since they mainly work by trapping air in tiny pockets.

IMHO there are two approaches:

  • Wear loose windproof pants on top, e.g. windproof hiking pants and one or more insulation layers below. This can also be combined with cycling underwear or summer cycling shorts for comfort. You can use a wool base layer or leg warmers for the lowest insulation layer. This should keep you warm down to -5°C or so. If it’s not warm enough you can replace hiking pants with full blown ski/snowboard pants or add another insulation layer between (e.g. loose jogging pants).

  • Dedicated winter bib tights. For example Gore Bike Wear C5 Thermo Bib Tights+. They usually work fine down to -5°C or so without any additional layers. They already have an insulating fleece inside and a windstopper outside. Easier to put on (since it’s only one piece). Their big advantage is that the shoulder straps make sure your belly and back are not exposed and the jacket doesn’t bunch up on where a belt would go. Unfortunately if they are not warm enough there are only limited options since they are too tight to add much insulation below. You can often buy them without pad so (if you buy them large enough) you can wear additional layers below.

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People are different, ride differently and have different preferences. Wool products (wool/synthetic mix is also ok) and suitable wind protection is the only advice I think should be sound for almost(*) everyone.

At 4C/40F I would do with a single quality('*) wool layer + wind resistant jacket on top. Hiking pants below. Down to -15C/5F: a double wool layer + wind proof jacket on top, single layer quality wool long johns + hiking pants below. In addition you need suitable protection for head/neck and extremities.

Almost any choice of base layer should be sufficient in combination with the right wind protection at 40F. I always prefer wool products above pure synthetics. They don't smell, have excellent heat/moisture handling, feel good and they are a natural environmentally friendly product. Hiking pants are an excellent choice on top.

(*) some people's skin don't like being in direct contact with wool. (**) 200-250 g/m2, preferably with tiny hoops on the inside of the fabric.

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  • Can you explain what you mean by "tiny hoops on the inside of the fabric"? I have owned several wool base layers over the past 25 years and I can't imagine what you mean here.
    – Paul H
    Jan 22 at 18:06
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    @PaulH It seems the English word is terrycloth: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrycloth. Characterized by hoops/loops of thread. It's not very common, but when made from wool/wool-mix it is the very best garment for cold weather imo.
    – WornChain
    Jan 22 at 18:27
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    I can confirm that wool terrycloth + hiking trousers are very comfortable for winter cycling. In Sweden there's a company (Wool Power) whose whole product line is based around this stuff. Many languages call it frottée. The combination is not that warm, though, I believe the reason being that the trousers aren't completely windproof and keeps lettin some cold air into the pockets in the wool. -15°C is indeed about the limit where this works long-term; for even colder I find something like rain trousers more effective. Jan 22 at 22:40
  • @leftaroundabout I'm never cold on my torso/legs with the stated gear, but people are different. My lack of proper gear for my feet/hands and the constant cold wind in the face is what prevents me from riding comfortably in colder temps.
    – WornChain
    Jan 23 at 19:03

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