Commuting to work by bike? What to wear throughout the year

Riding to work in all seasons requires willpower and the right clothing. You've got to stay dry, warm or cool to stop you looking for your car keys or railcard

Man cycling to work through the city streets dressed in cycling jackets and bib tights
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To maximise the many benefits of commuting to work by bike, it's essential that you've properly dressed to deal with weather conditions. Failure to do so will result in an unhappy you with less motivation to continue your work commute.

Travelling to and from your place of work using your own leg power is invaluable training if you're preparing for a race or event, while it's a great way to improve both fitness and bike handling skills. Psychologically, it helps clear the mind after a stressful day.

Choosing comfortable and effective clothing for your commute will make it more enjoyable. If it's fun, you're far more likely to stay motivated and make riding to work by bike part of your regular routine. You wouldn't tackle a 70 mile ride in a pair of jeans. The commute to work demands the same attention to detail.

There are a few factors determining your commuting wardrobe. You need to consider the length of your commute and the route it takes. It's also essential to take into account the vagaries of the weather and of the seasons you ride in.

There's other stuff, too. Do you need to carry, and keep dry, a laptop or change of clothes? Maybe you need to jump right off the bike and into a meeting with no time to change? Perhaps you want to take the long way home, turning your commute into a training ride? Here's our guide to what you need to commute through the seasons in style.

commuting cycling

The long and the short of it

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If you live in a city and your office is just a couple of flat miles from your apartment, then preparing for your commute is pretty straightforward. For a short and undemanding ride, your work clothes should suffice. Throw one of the best commuter cycling jackets, the best waterproof cycling trousers, a vest and a pair of winter gloves into the mix and you can probably tackle all four seasons in relative comfort - depending on where you live of course.

There's a growing number of brands designing cycling-specific casual clothing: shirts, trousers and jackets with a bike-friendly fit that work equally well on your commute as in the office or at the bar after work. Think breathable fabrics that look like cotton and odour-friendly solutions, such as merino wool. Read our top tips for commuting to work by bike for more.

Should your commute be a longer distance, take in suburban and country roads, and be used as part of your training, your regular work clothes aren't appropriate. By wearing clothes with a bike-specific fit you'll benefit from increased comfort. Let's look in more detail at clothing for longer commutes.

The basics: what to wear for bike commuting

Padded shorts

A good pair of bib shorts or padded undershorts are pretty much essential if you're going to be in the saddle for a while. As the weather changes you can easily adapt by adding leg warmers, a pair of thermal bib-shorts and some winter tights into your commute wardrobe.

However, if you don't want to arrive at work looking like you've just ridden a stage of the Tour de France, then a pair of overshorts is a sound investment. The fit is still bike-specific and designed to be worn over a pair of bibs or padded undershorts.

commuting cycling

Padded shorts are an essential purchase
(Image credit: Owen Rogers)

Base layers

A reliable base layer is a must have. Seasoned riders will attest to this, but for newbies - or novice commuters - your choice comes down to synthetic fabrics or merino wool.

Both work really well in controlling your core temperature but merino often gets the nod when it comes to odor control. Should your office or place of business not have shower facilities, then this is something to consider.

As the seasons change, adjust your base layer to match. You can buy vests, short and long sleeves versions. They also come in a variety of weights and even with windproof panels to keep you toasty.

Spring essentials: what to wear for bike commuting

One hour it's summer-esque, and the next it's right back into winter. Spring weather can be so very unpredictable that a spring commuting wardrobe should covera variety of conditions.

Adaptability is the key here. A wind vest is a solid starting point. A favourite of professional riders, it's a bit of a Swiss army knife. It takes the chill away from those early morning starts and provides some additional wind protection on the ride home.

A cycling vest is also designed to almost fold away to nothing, so as you heat up on your commute you can easily discard the vest and stuff it into your nearest pocket. 

Insulated versions, borrowed from the worlds of hiking and climbing, are designed for long-distance rides where the weather serves up a range of conditions. Sort of like commuting in spring.

Rainy days are to be expected in spring too, and so a lightweight packable rain jacket is as important as, erm, a bike. Don't forget it.

Summer essentials: what to wear for bike commuting

With average summer temperatures seemingly rising year by year, commuting to work during this season is a relative breeze.

A lightweight base layer paired with a breathable short-sleeved jersey accompanied by a pair of lightweight shorts forms the base of your summer outfit. Throw in warm-weather shoes, a cap, sunglasses and some sunscreen and you're good to go.

Summer commuting is a great time to take advantage of the extended hours of daylight, riding the long way home and exploring new roads. If you do this, you'll want to bring your trusty vest again, just in case the temperatures drop.

Sudden storms can occur in summer, though. On a weekend ride you can take shelter and wait it out, but a 9am meeting doesn't hang around.

A super lightweight rain jacket that fits in a jersey pocket or bar bag could just be your summer saviour. You'll want something close-fitting so that it pairs well with your summer jersey and shorts, rather than flapping around as you ride.

Autumn essentials: what to wear for bike commuting

Like spring, autumn can be fickle. Arm, knee and legs warmers progressively become your friend as the days tick towards winter.

clothing for commuting to work by bike

To non-cyclists, these warmers seem like an odd bit of kit but their versatility keeps them relevant year upon year. The beauty of arm warmers is they can turn your favourite warm weather jersey into an autumn commuting staple. They go on and come off with ease and are easily stored in a pocket or bike bag.

Merino wool arm, knee and leg warmers are highly recommended for their ease of movement, their next-to-skin feel and the ability to provide great warmth when you need it but also breathability when it's called for.

Winter essentials: what to wear for bike commuting

There's something special and charming about setting of on those crisp mornings with a hot shower and a cup of coffee waiting for you on arrival. And if you race or are preparing for a event in the ensuing months, winter commuting is a chance to catch your potential competitors snoozing. Remember the adage: winter miles, summer smiles. So what do you need to keep riding when the mercury plummets?

We've covered winter tights and base layers. In addition you can also add a pair of waterproof over trousers for when it's both wet and cold. A winter jersey paired with  one of the best winter cycling jackets is equally essential. There are a myriad of options here but considering the low light at this time of year a jacket with at least some reflective strips for visibility is vital.

commuting cycling

It's important to pay attention to your contact points. Cold hands and feet can make your commute miserable, so invest wisely in both winter cycling gloves (or even lobster-style mitts for the coldest days), winter socks (knee-length adds warmth) and shoe covers (neoprene works well on cold, wet days).

Other kit and considerations for bike commuting

It should go without saying that staying safe on your commute is your primary concern. The best commuter bike helmets, worn correctly, can save your life. If you plan on commuting year-round, choose one that has enough vents for the summer heat as well as room for a winter hat underneath.

Next up, invest in a set of reliable, bright lights to ensure you're seen on the road. Buying USB lights allows you to charge them at work. While lights are essential throughout winter you might also want to invest in day running lights to use all year round on your commute.

A pair of the best commuter cycling shoes for urban use will make pedalling more comfortable and efficient. They can serve dual duty both for riding and for getting around off the bike once you reach your destination. You'll want to match them to a pair of the best commuter bike pedals, too.

A change of clothes, a laptop, papers or your lunch won't fit in your jersey pockets. Traditionally commuting to work by bike has meant riding with a backpack, so look for a bag that has a dedicated compartment as well as one that's waterproof. Failing that you can buy hi-visibility waterproof covers that fit over most packs.

The advent of bar, saddle and frame bags designed for bikepacking offer you the option of carrying your work gear on the bike rather than on your back. Again if your riding through the seasons look for durable, waterproof options here.

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