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

spring and autumn riding
(Image credit: Chris Catchpole)

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 Outfitters Skull Cap spring autumn cycling

Tough Headwear Skull Cap

Specifications
Sizes: one size fits all
Colorways: Realtree Edge, Black, Orange, Yellow, White, Dark Grey
Reasons to buy
+inexpensive+form fitting+just warm enough
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Castelli Pro Thermal Head Thingy autumn spring cycling

Castelli Pro Thermal Head Thingy

Specifications
Sizes: one size fits all
Colorways: Red, Light Black, Seville Blue
Reasons to buy
+versatile+easy to store
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Gore Windstopper shoulder Season Base Layer autumn spring cycling

(Image credit: MSAM.media GmbH - www.msam-media)

Gore Windstopper Base Layer Shirt

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colorways: Black, Light Grey/White
Reasons to buy
+perfect for extending a summer jersey
Reasons to avoid
-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 iswith 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.

Rapha Classic_Deep Winter windblock base layer autumn spring riding

(Image credit: Wig-Worland-2018)

Rapha Deep Winter Windblock Base Layer

Specifications
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colorways: Black
Reasons to buy
+Integrated neck warmer+windblocking
Reasons to avoid
-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'san 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.

Castelli Idro Pro 2 Jacket Lifestyle Image autumn spring cycling

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
Colorways: Black
Reasons to buy
+Shakedry technology is amazing+Great fit+Thicker for hardcore winter use
Reasons to avoid
-A touch less packable than other jackets

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.

Gore Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket

Gore Phantom Gore-Tex Infinium Jacket

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
Colorways: Neon Yellow/Black, Bright Orange/Black, Dynamic Cyan/Orbit Blue, Red/Black
Reasons to buy
+versatile+comfortable against the neck+zippered pocket
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Endura Pro SL Lite Gilet II autumn spring riding

Endura Pro SL Lite Gilet II

Specifications
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colorways: Black, Hi-Viz Blue
Reasons to buy
+pockets+packable+long dropped rear
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Gore C5 Thermo Jersey

(Image credit: Gore)

Gore C5 Thermo Jersey

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colorways: Neon Yellow/Citrus Green, Black/Terra Grey, Orbit Blue/Deep Water Blue, Bright Orange
Reasons to buy
+Warmer than most long sleeve jerseys+zippered pocket
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Castelli nanoflex knee and arm warmers autumn spring riding

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Colorways: Black, Savile Blue
Reasons to buy
+Extra warmth for in-between days+Persistent water resistant coating+No seams behind the knee joint in the new Plus version
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap for a short tube of fabric-Almost as long as a legwarmer-

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.

Endura FS260-Pro Thermo bib shorts autumn spring riding

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colorways: Black
Reasons to buy
+Quality pad+Plenty of insulation+High body for good overlap with top half+Zipper for comfort breaks+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-Leg grippers are a bit tight-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.

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

Specifications
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colorways: Black
Reasons to buy
+Fit+Pad comfort+Durability+excellent temperature regulation
Reasons to avoid
-Water repellent coating not as effective as on other tights-Price

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.

Giro Xnetic H20 Cycling Glove front autumn spring riding

Giro Xnetic H20 Cycling Glove

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Colorways: Black, Highlight Yellow
Reasons to buy
+waterproof but soft to the touch+plenty of grip+touchscreen compatibility
Reasons to avoid
-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.

GORE C5 GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ Gloves

(Image credit: MSAM.media GmbH - www.msam-media)

Gore C5 Gore-Tex Infinium Gloves

Specifications
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
Colorways: Black, Black/Neon Yellow, Black/Red
Reasons to buy
+fit is like a second skin+touchscreen compatible
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers in Yellow

(Image credit: Adrian Tamblin)

VeloToze Tall Shoe Cover

Specifications
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Colorways: Viz-Yellow, Viz-Green, Viz-Orange, Red, Black, Off-White, Blue, Pink
Reasons to buy
+A simple solution+lots of colors+tight seal
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Follow Hollow Alpaca Socks

Follow Hollow Performance Alpaca Socks

Specifications
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.

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.