Our guide to how to cope with changeable spring conditions
Most cyclists know that spring and autumn are the hardest seasons to dress for.
In summer, perfection is all about finding a jersey and shorts that combine breathability with comfort and aerodynamics in the appropriate doses. In winter it’s all about jackets and bib tights that balance breathability and warmth. In spring and autumn getting cycling kit right is all about layering.
Rides that begin with temperatures in single figures are often still underway when the mercury has risen by 10ºC, and despite seemingly cloudless skies, a spring shower is never far away and rarely predictable.
So what kit should you have at your disposal to make sure that you can cope with such changeable conditions?
Bib shorts for spring and autumn cycling
Comfort is your biggest priority. This is the time of year when you’re going to begin racking up the miles, so make sure you do a bit of shopping around to find a pair of cycling shorts with a comfortable pad.
Shorts can be paired easily with knee warmers (more on those below) if there’s a chill in the air, though if you want a more permanent layer over the knee, then 3/4 length bib knickers are an option.
B’Twin Aerofit bib shorts
The B’Twin Aerofit bib shorts are one of the options on the market that impressed us the most – gaining a 9/10 score in our review, and offering outstanding value for the price.
Read more: B’Twin Aerofit bib shorts reviewed
Le Col Cycling Aqua Zero Thermal bibshorts
If conditions are wet or particularly chilly, then thermal bib shorts are a nice option to have, adding just a little extra insulation. Le Col’s version features a soft fleece lining, and a treatment that means they repel water to keep the very worst off should you encounter spring showers.
Assos T.laalalai shorts_s7 women’s bib shorts
Addmittedly, these shorts are about as far away from ‘entry level’ as you can get. However, if you’re looking for a highly technical pair of women’s cycling bib shorts then these should be top of the list.
A magnetic clasp creates an easy solution to comfort breaks, and the pad is top of the range. Assos is well known for creating high quality kit, and we’d expect these to last several years.
Base layers for spring and autumn cycling
With temperatures differing greatly from morning to noon, you’ll want a quality base layer that will ward off the chill early on, but wick sweat when the sun begins to shine. Quick drying materials are essential, especially with the chance of a short shower rarely off the cards.
Lightweight mesh base layers should be reserved for the summer months – in spring and autumn you’ll likely be fine pairing your summer jersey with the same short sleeved base layer you’d wear through winter.
MAAP Seamless Base Layer Tee
A tight fitting but super stretchy base layer, the MAAP seamless tee sucks up sweat and is quick drying, helping to regulate your body temperature as conditions change.
Read more: MAAP Seamless Base Layer Tee review
Jerseys for spring and autumn cycling
Most riders will find that they’re fine wearing a summer weight, short sleeved cycling jersey throughout the shoulder seasons. If speed is your priority, then you might want to get an aero jersey, but for the rest of us, there’s no need to break the bank.
As you’ll see below, you should be wearing extra layers over the top if it’s cold or rainy, so you don’t need a super-breathable or super-warm jersey, just something that fits well and has enough pocket space to carry all your essentials. However, if you have the means to invest further, there are some windproof and water repellant jerseys that might save you packing your pockets with extra garments.
Sportful BodyFit Pro Race Jersey
If aerodynamics are important, then this BodyFit jersey from Sportful could be right up your street. A stretch mesh is used at the shoulders, and there are no seams to chafe or get in the way. The garment weighs just 108g, so when summer arrives it’ll be light and airy too.
Read more: Sportful BodyFit Pro Race jersey review
Gore Bike Wear Power WS SO Jersey
Whilst a summer jersey with additional layers will tick all the boxes required for most riders, if you want the ultimate in comfort then a thermal, water resistant jersey created with changeable spring conditions in mind is a nice-to-have.
The Gore Bike Wear Power SO jersey is one such example. It breathes well, but beads water droplets and provides a thin layer of insulation.
Read more: Gore Power WS SO Jersey Reviewed
Waterproof jackets for spring and autumn cycling
Unfortunately spring isn’t all sunshine and daffodils, and there are inevitably going to be weekends where, if you want to ride, you’re going to find yourself toiling away in the rain.
For days where it’s wet and cold and the rain is set in for the duration, then a wet weather jacket such as the Castelli Gabba can be a good option. However, when it comes to tackling short spring showers, you really want a lightweight jacket you can roll into your pocket and produce only when it’s required.
As the temperature is hopefully in double figures and the rain usually not torrential, you can go for a lighter waterproof jacket that can offer breathability, and is easy to take off and stuff down small enough that you can fit it into a jersey pocket when the rain starts to subside. And if your jersey pockets are full, then you can always stuff it up the back of your jersey instead.
Sportful Hotpack NoRain jacket
With excellent waterproofing qualities and adequate breathability, the Hotpack from Sportful is a comfortable option with some nice details – such as thumb loops and a zip garage.
Being lightweight, it’s easy to stow away in your pocket and competes will at a competitive price point.
Gore ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry jacket
A top end option, this 98g jacket is incredibly easy to pack away, and provides the level of waterproofing you’d expect from a hardshell with the breathability of a light race cape.
Gilets for spring and autumn cycling
For drier days where the forecast tells you that it’s safe to leave the waterproof at home, then a gilet is a sensible option. A gilet is perfect for those big days, where you’re leaving before the sun has had a chance to warm the earth – but you know it’ll be dazzling by lunch time.
Your main priorities when looking for a gilet for spring and autumn riding is finding one with a windproof front to keep the chill off your torso early in the ride, and, as with the waterproofs, that will pack down small enough to be dispensed with and stuffed into your back pocket when the sun comes out to play.
As an added bonus, this type of gilet is great if you’re planning a riding trip to the mountains. Yes, you might like to think that you can leave all your spring and autumn kit at home when jetting off to the Alps in July, but a gilet such as this is a must if you want to properly enjoy the long descents, which can be rather chilly even at the height of summer.
dhb Classic Windproof gilet
A gilet doesn’t have to break the bank – and this vest from dhb is light and breathable, packing down easily yet providing a good level of protection from cold breezes. Sizing does come up large, so it might be worth opting to go down a size for a close fit.
Read more: dhb Classic Windproof Gilet review
Perhaps the most under-rated pieces of kit in any cyclists wardrobe. Although they’re going to see the most use in spring and autumn, you’re still going to be pulling them out now and again through summer and winter. And yet, they seem to be a piece of kit that many manufacturers struggle to get right, with many riders unable to find arm warmers that are tight enough around the bicep so as not to fall down, while still being long enough to go all the way to the wrist.
This means that if you do find a pair that fit you perfectly, then it might be worth getting a couple of pairs, as you’re probably going to be wearing them on most days in spring and autumn. Beside the sizing, make sure you find a pair that offer some light thermal and windproof protection, and there are also some slightly pricier offerings with water-resistant coatings for drizzly days.
Sportful NoRain arm warmers
Also available in black or white, the NoRain arm warmers from Sportful are treated with a water repellant finish so that water beads on the surface. They’re light, breathable and comfortable to wear – making them one of the most popular arm warmer choices on offer.
Read more: Sportful NoRain arm warmers
Once April arrives, many riders will shed their leg warmers and expose bare legs to the world. However, if this disrobing feels too sudden for you, then filling in the gap until summer with knee warmers might be preferable.
Like leg warmers, you want a pair with good silicon grippers around the top to stop them from falling down, and also a pair with a decent fit so you don’t end up with material bunching around the knee. As for the construction, you should look for a pair with thermal and windproof protection, and, like arm warmers above, there are also knee warmers that have a water-resistant coating applied.
Castelli Nanoflex Plus kneewarmers
Though not the cheapest knee warmer available, the Nano Flex tubes from Castelli offer insulation and protection from the rain. Silicone grippers hold them in place, and the newest ‘Plus’ version sees the removal of the previous rear seam, resulting in improved comfort.
Read more: Castelli Nanoflex Plus Kneewarmers reviewed
Lusso NiteLife Thermal Knee Warmers
Made in Manchester, these knee warmers feature a Roubaix thermal lining, with a stretch cuff and grippers at the knee to prevent them riding up.
Finishing mid calf, these represent a clear distinction from full leg warmers, though they don’t offer any waterproofing.
Read more: Lusso NiteLife Thermal Knee Warmers
While in winter you need a pair of overshoes that will keep your feet warm, this is less of a priority in spring. Instead, you need to look for some overshoes that will keep your feet dry (or at least dryish) in light or moderate rain, and will also keep your shoes clean when riding on wet roads.
For this task, yourovershoes should be thin so as not to make you feet get too hot, have a waterproof outer, and fit snugly around your ;eg so water doesn’t run down you calves and into your shoes.
Endura Road II overshoes
Made using a waterproof neoprene fabric, these overshoes feature reinforced sections at the toe and heel, making them much more resilient than other options on the market. We found them to be incredibly warm and were impressed at their ability to keep the rain out.
Read more: Endura Road II overshoes reviewed
Again, like knee warmers, gloves aren’t an essential part of your spring cycling wardrobe, and it’s really up to you if you want to wear them, or think that you’re Belgian enough to make do without.
If you do feel the need for gloves, then you should invest in some with full fingers, but without much in the way of insulation so as to make sure that your hands don’t overheat. Recently woollen gloves have begun to come back into fashion, although make sure you get some with some grippers on the palms so that you can maintain grip on the bars even in the wet.
If you’re not quite ready for summer mitts (or to forgo the gloves all together!) then these E-Touch Dura gloves from DeFeet are a good option. Made from a mixture of polyester, nylon and lycra, they’re a mid weight construction that will suit early spring and autumn days.
Designed to be touch-screen friendly, they’ll please mid-ride happy snappers and those navigating their way via a smart phone.
Read more: DeFeet E-Touch Dura Gloves review
If it’s raining, then it can be a good idea to slip a cotton cap on underneath your helmet. This isn’t really there to keep your head warm, but is mainly useful for its peak, which you should flip down to stop the rain from falling directly into your eyes.
Cycling caps are fairly simple constructions, but they’ve long been vessels for sharing brand loyalties, encouraging (or otherwise!) slogans and other leanings. When it comes to choosing the best cap, it’s largely down to choosing one that most represents your personality on the bike.
Surprisingly, sunglasses are a great addition to your riding kit whatever the weather. Most pairs now come with interchangeable lenses, which mean that you can wear normal lenses when it’s sunny, yellow lenses to brighten things up when it’s a bit gloomy, and clear lenses when riding after dark.
They’re also useful when riding in wet weather. Combine them with a cotton cap and they should do a perfect job of keeping the rain out of your eyes, and if you’re riding fast enough then water shouldn’t collect on the lenses either.