Best shoulder season cycling gear: what to wear in the fall and spring

Hot, cold, or both in the course of a few hours. Here's our pick of the best clothing for fall and spring riding.

Go out on a ride in the summer and winter and you can be pretty sure of what to expect. If it’s warm when you leave, it’s probably warm when you come back, and likewise with cold conditions. You pick clothes that fit the weather and there’s not much to worry about.

Riding in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall is different. It rarely seems to be quite warm enough for summer clothes but then it’s too warm for winter clothes. And then comes the challenge of variability.

Cold mornings give way to warm afternoons or an overcast day suddenly clears and heats up. For some people a single ride might mean a wide range of temperatures plus rain. Even if the range on a single day is somewhat stable there can be big swings from one ride to the next. Whatever you choose for shoulder season riding, the emphasis has to be on flexibility.

Our pick of the best spring and fall riding gear

Here’s our pick of the best shoulder season-specific clothing on the market right now. 

With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

Tough Headwear Skull Cap

Tough Outfitters Skull Cap spring autumn cycling

  • RRP: $21.95
  • Sizes: one size fits all
  • Colorways: Realtree Edge, Black, Orange, Yellow, White, Dark Grey
  • Pros: inexpensive, form fitting, just warm enough
  • Cons: one size fits all

Not everything good has to be expensive. Commonly found for $10 despite its RRP of $21.95, the Tough Headwear Skull Cap is better than a $10 hat has any right to be. It’s thin enough that it’s not going to alter the fit of your helmet and the flat seams ward off any hot spots. There’s only one size but for a small to medium helmet size it covers the ears and stays close to the head without being too tight.

Once you put anything under a helmet it’ll require a stop if you change your mind. With this in mind a cap has to be able to handle a wide range of temperature. The Tough Headwear Skull Cap uses a lightweight material with less insulation at the top. It’s warm enough for a winter ride if you run warm but has the ability to transition as the weather changes. 

Buy Now: Tough Headwear Skull Cap at Amazon for $9.95

Castelli Pro Thermal Head Thingy

Castelli Pro Thermal Head Thingy autumn spring cycling

  • RRP: $19.99
  • Sizes: one size fits all
  • Colorways: Red, Light Black, Seville Blue
  • Pros: versatile, easy to store
  • Cons: sublimation graphics feel cheap

Sometimes a name just nails what a product is about. The Castelli Head Thingy is the perfect name. What is it? It’s a head thingy that you can use all kinds of ways. For the coldest of rides pull it up over the back of your head and front of your face. If things warm up, pull it down so it’s only around the neck. It looks like a neck warmer but with a simple design tweak and extra length it has multiple uses.

The Head Thingy uses the same Thermoflex material found on Castelli arm and leg warmers. It’s a wind resistant outer with a soft brushed inner. It feels good against the skin while being versatile and warm. If things really heat up it’s easy to stow in a jersey pocket.

Buy Now: Castelli Pro Thermal Head Thingy at Amazon for $19.99

Gore Windstopper Base Layer Shirt

Gore Windstopper shoulder Season Base Layer autumn spring cycling

  • RRP: $80.00
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Colorways: Black, Light Grey/White
  • Pros: perfect for extending a summer jersey
  • Cons: not that stretchy for a base layer

It’s always a shame to put away your perfecting fitting and awesome-looking favourite summer cycling jersey, but a good way to extend the use of a summer jersey is with the Gore Windstopper Base Layer Shirt.

In the places the wind will hit you – front, kidneys, and over the shoulders – Gore has added a Windstopper insert that is enough to cut the windchill without overheating. Take away the wind chill and a sunny, but cooler, day is a lot more tolerable. Pair the Gore Windstopper Base Layer Shirt with a good set of arm warmers and you’ve got all the warm of a long sleeve jersey but more versatility.

Buy Now: Gore Windstopper Base Layer Shirt at Backcountry for $69.95

Rapha Deep Winter Windblock Base Layer

Rapha Classic_Deep Winter windblock base layer autumn spring riding

  • RRP: $180.00
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Colorways: Black
  • Pros: Integrated neck warmer, windblocking
  • Cons: expensive

This is a seriously warm base layer designed for deep winter, but it can also go beyond the very coldest of rides and be useful in the transition to and from winter. When temperatures are milder than winter, but not sunny and warm, a lightweight jacket paired with only a warm base layer is a great choice. The combination of a light jacket and a warm base layer keeps bulk low.

Because the Rapha Deep Winter Windblock Base Layer includes wind protection, it’s more versatile. It will prevent you from being overly cold, while allowing plenty of ventilation, too. Plus, there’s an integrated neck warmer that can be pulled up over the mouth on those cold mornings. While it’s sold for deep winter, its use stretches beyond January and February rides.

Buy Now: Rapha Deep Winter Windblock Base Layer at Rapha for $180.00

Castelli Idro Pro 2 Jacket

Castelli Idro Pro 2 Jacket Lifestyle Image autumn spring cycling

  • RRP: $399.99
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
  • Colorways: Black
  • Pros: lightweight but warm, hardshell with pockets, form fitted
  • Cons: Not much pocket space

The Castelli Idro Pro 2 Jacket is almost as small as a typical packable emergency jacket, but built using Gore-Tex Shakedry technology, Castelli has put together a unique jacket that also pairs a hard-shell outer with pockets.

If you plan to spend all day riding in the rain a softshell jacket isn’t the best choice as the DWR coatings will get overwhelmed and mud is much easier to clean off a hard outer jacket. In the spring and fall, the Idro Pro 2 just needs the right base layer. If the temperatures are mild choose a lightweight base and let the jacket do the heavy lifting. If things are looking colder then choose a winter base layer. Whatever makes sense for your ride there’s nothing that will keep you as dry and warm with so little bulk.

Buy Now: Castelli Idro Pro 2 Jacket at Competitive Cyclist for $399.99

Gore Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket

Gore Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket

  • RRP: $200.00
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
  • Colorways: Neon Yellow/Black, Bright Orange/Black, Dynamic Cyan/Orbit Blue, Red/Black
  • Pros: versatile, comfortable against the neck, zippered pocket
  • Cons: small pockets

Gore’s Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket feels a lot like a long sleeve jersey – all that soft and comfortable goodness – but it’s packing a couple of tricks.

The initial form of the Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket is long sleeves that can be zipped off when things heat up. Removing the sleeves leaves a short sleeve jersey-built from GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ fabrics with GORE® WINDSTOPPER®. It’s windproof, extremely breathable, and there is some light rain protection. This is an easy choice for dry but chilly mornings that warm up but stay overcast. Even without the sleeves it’s warm for a jersey but the versatility is undeniable.

Buy Now: Gore Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket at Backcountry for $200.00

Endura Pro SL Lite Gilet II

Endura Pro SL Lite Gilet II autumn spring riding

  • RRP: $129.99
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Colorways: Black, Hi-Viz Blue
  • Pros: pockets, packable, long dropped rear
  • Cons: not a slim fit

A quality cycling vest, or gilet, is like a set of warmers. It’s inexpensive, lasts forever, extends the use of other clothing, and offers you a range of versatility with your other clothes to combat the weather conditions perfectly. 

The Endura Pro SL Lite Gilet II is a lightweight and very sensible option: it’s good enough to add some wind, or water, protection to whatever it gets paired with but it’s still very packable. If things heat up it’s easy to stow in a jersey pocket.

Buy now: Endura Pro SL Lite Gilet II at Wiggle for $123.49

Gore C5 Thermo Jersey

Gore C5 Thermo Jersey

  • RRP: $130.00
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Colorways: Neon Yellow/Citrus Green, Black/Terra Grey, Orbit Blue/Deep Water Blue, Bright Orange
  • Pros: Warmer than most long sleeve jerseys, zippered pocket
  • Cons: small pockets

Anytime you reduce flexibility and versatility it should introduce extra comfort, and in that area the Gore C5 Thermo Jersey hits it out of the park.

This offering from Gore falls into the just-below-a-jacket category. Gore calls out a range of 41 degrees to 59 degrees (F) but expect to use it closer to 50 degrees. Most of the jersey sports a heavier than most jerseys fleece backed fabric but without windstop. The result is good insulation but with tons of ventilation. We recommend pairing it with a vest or the right base layer for colder weather.

Buy Now: Gore C5 Thermo Jersey at Backcountry for $130.00

Castelli Nano Flex 3G Arm Warmers and Knee Warmers

Castelli nanoflex knee and arm warmers autumn spring riding

  • RRP: $49.99 for arm warmers or knee warmers
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Colorways: Black, Savile Blue
  • Pros: Inexpensive, double sided silicone gripper, fleece inner
  • Cons: least comfortable solution

A good pair of warmers stick around for a long time and extend your summer gear into cooler temperatures. In terms of available warmers, the Castelli Nano Flex 3G are among the best: the inner has a soft fleece lining that feels great against the skin and they feature a double-sided silicone gripper. Silicone on both sides helps keep them in place against your skin as well as against your jersey and bibs.

Castelli also offers the Thermo Flex line of warmers but if you think you might encounter a bit of rain the Nano Flex is a better choice. They work well in the dry but the added water repellency helps keep them dry if you encounter unexpected rain.

Buy Now: Castelli Nano Flex 3G Arm Warmers at Backcountry for $49.99

Buy Now: Castelli Nano Flex 3G Knee Warmers at Backcountry for $49.99

Endura FS260-Pro Thermo bib shorts

Endura FS260-Pro Thermo bib shorts autumn spring riding

  • RRP: $129.99
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Colorways: Black
  • Pros: good price, high body for good overlap with top half, zipper for easy up and down
  • Cons: Can get sweaty when working hard

An insulated bib short sounds like an odd choice but you have to consider it as part of a system. Wearing all summer gear but swapping out only the bib shorts isn’t going to make a big difference. Instead, pair insulated bib shorts with warmers, a warmer base layer, and a light jacket, and you’ve got a system that will see you through a wide range of temperatures.

The Endura FS260-Pro Thermo bib shorts have Thermoroubaix® fabric to work for the main construction. It’s got a fleece backing against the skin and it’s treated with DWR to keep road spray from soaking you. For additional warmth the upper comes well up the torso and to make it easier to get in and out Endura has added a zipper.

Buy Now: Endura FS260-Pro Thermo bib shorts at Wiggle for $104.00

Assos Mille GT Winter Tights

Assos Mille GT Winter Tights Front and Back on White autumn spring cycling

  • RRP: $219.00
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Colorways: Black
  • Pros: good fit at the ankle, excellent temperature regulation
  • Cons: no road spray resistant panels

A good choice of fabrics for winter tights means excellent temperature regulation without shedding layers. The Assos Mille GT Winter Bib Tights use the perfect fabrics: at the front of Mille GT Winter Bib Tights you’ll find a fabric Assos refers to as RX Heavy while at the rear they’ve employed RX Light.

Both fabrics have a fleece feeling against the skin but the defining feature is the comfortable fit. The compression falls into that goldilocks zone of not too much and not too little. A very solid choice.

Buy now: Assos Mille GT Winter Bib Tight at Competitive Cyclist for $219.00

Giro Xnetic H20 Cycling Glove

Giro Xnetic H20 Cycling Glove front autumn spring riding

  • RRP: $50.00
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Colorways: Black, Highlight Yellow
  • Pros: waterproof but soft to the touch, plenty of grip, touchscreen compatibility 
  • Cons: hard to clean

Knit waterproof gloves combine everything you want in a glove and cover a wide range of temperatures. While a hard-shell outer handles colder temperatures and harder rain they sacrifice versatility. Using a knit outer allows Giro to achieve a better mix of breathability to warmth. The water resistance helps with rain but it also provides a wind barrier to keep you warm in colder temperatures without bulk.

The other big advantage of the knit outer is that there are no seams.  Without seams it’s easier to get a form fitting design that hugs the contours of your fingers and hands. Paired with the generous silicon grip features the Xnetic H20 Glove will handle a rain without getting slippery on the controls.

Buy Now: Giro Xnetic H20 Cycling Glove at Backcountry for $50.00

Gore C5 Gore-Tex Infinium Gloves

GORE C5 GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ Gloves

  • RRP: $60.00
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
  • Colorways: Black, Black/Neon Yellow, Black/Red
  • Pros: fit is like a second skin, touchscreen compatible
  • Cons: hook and loop closure can snag delicate cycling clothes

It’s amazing how much warmer you can be with only a light, windproof glove. Just reduce the windchill on your fingers and things feel dramatically better. Even on summer rides that start early in the morning it can be nice to keep fingertips a bit warmer – and this glove hits the spot.

The Gore C5 Gore-Tex Infinium Gloves fit like a second skin. There’s no padding and no bulk either on the palm or the back of the hand, and you can feel the bars with no distractions – despite the added insulation. Contact points on each finger feature silicone grip material and the thumb and forefinger work with smart phone screens. 

Buy Now: Gore C5 Gore-Tex Infinium Gloves at Amazon for $59.95

VeloToze Tall Shoe Cover

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers in Yellow

  • RRP: $20.00
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Colorways: Viz-Yellow, Viz-Green, Viz-Orange, Red, Black, Off-White, Blue, Pink
  • Pros: A simple solution, lots of colors, tight seal
  • Cons: hard to get on

The old trick of putting your feet in a plastic bag inside of summer cycling shoes is an efficient yet inelegant solution. The team at VeloToze have found a way to do the same thing but in a more stylish, and even more effective, way. Despite the upgraded usability, VeloToze are not an expensive purchase.

The fit is tight and the material is very stretchy, so it will take a bit of work to get the VeloToze on your foot but once you do it’s a simple solution to the problem. The seal at the ankle is better than any other shoe covers, there’s no zipper to fail, and they are completely waterproof. No more plastic bags.

Buy now: VeloToze Tall Shoe Cover at Amazon for $21.00

Follow Hollow Performance Alpaca Socks

Follow Hollow Alpaca Socks

  • RRP: $25.00
  • Sizes: M, L
  • Colorways: Black/Red, Grey/Purple
  • Pros: natural fiber holds heat even when wet, highly wicking
  • Cons: just a little on the long side

If you happen to find yourself in cold, wet weather, wool socks will retain heat even when wet. Merino wool is a common choice to keep your feet warm but Alpaca wool is an even better choice.

It’s less common but Alpaca wool is softer, longer lasting, warmer, and better at wicking than Merino. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool. The temperature regulation is so good that these could be a three-season sock. Double them up and the Follow Hollow Performance Alpaca socks can hold their own in the deep winter also. Whatever the ride throws at you there’s no need to worry about overheating or being cold.

Buy Now: Follow Hollow Performance Alpaca Socks at Amazon for $24.44

Do I Really Need All This Gear?

autumn spring cycling

You absolutely do not need everything recommended here. Fall and spring cycling gear is an area where there are tons of different approaches. Everyone has a different way to go about things and weather is different in different areas.

For most people the first exposure to shoulder season gear is fall weather at the end of a strong summer season. There is a lot you can do to extend the use of summer cycling gear and a good place to start is by considering how you can add warmth to your favorite summer pieces.

The next level of need will depend on what you are willing to ride in and what you are going to experience in your part of the world. Late fall riding, and early spring riding, is where there’s the biggest range of needs. Depending on where you live the weather you experience could be what some manufacturers consider to be winter. Choose clothing that makes sense for you.

Don’t try to buy everything at once. Think of a system. Pieces selected here can fit together in a variety of ways for a variety of needs. Pick a few things that work together and fit your needs. See if they work for you and make adjustments.