An Expert Guide to Layering for Your Fall Rides
Looking to layer up as the temperature drops? Cycling Expert Jacob Cummings details his top picks of each layer for your cooler weather riding.
As the long days of summer near their end, the cooler temps amidst those lengthening shadows remind you of brisk winds and seasonal uncertainty. Suddenly, that jersey zipper you’ve been letting hang open for the last three months is begging for an upward tug! Thermal layers are calling you, and if you need to fill a void or find an upgrade, I’d love to show you some of my favorite swing-season options! Whether you’re out for pre-sunrise base miles, soaking-wet fire roads, or grinding the commute regardless of what’s in store, I’m hoping to show you at least one thing in each clothing category that might suit your needs.
For this year, I’ve put the focus on lightweight equipment that touts coverage and big pockets. I’ve included my favorite staples for covering the ears, hands, and feet as well. Most importantly, core and knee protection are the highest priorities on this list. We’ll start with base layers and work our way out to bibs and jerseys. Finally, I’ll show you some time-tested waterproof outerwear and accessories.
Fitting close with highly breathable fabric, base layers pull sweat away from the skin, resulting in reduced moisture build-up and regulated body temperatures. In cool weather, base layers work great underneath jerseys by adding a small insulating layer that reduces wind chill. They are perfect for layering on any day when inclement weather is uncertain. Once the sun has warmed things up for the day, we might need to peel away the jackets and jerseys, and a base layer can very much serve as the top layer providing some UV coverage and a little wind protection.
Rapha Pro Team Base Layer (Men’s and Women’s)
The Rapha Pro Team is a great all-season option for anyone who rides with a base layer no matter what. A combination of bonded and flat-lock seams keep this highly breathable fabric fitting close to the body with minimal irritation. The cycling-specific fit and unique styling almost beg for it to be used as a top layer on those warmer autumn days.
Specialized Merino Seamless Long Sleeve Base Layer (Men’s and Women’s)
Merino wool is renowned for comfort and performance in cold weather. It’s great for wicking moisture and regulating temperatures regardless of how wet the conditions might be. On rainy days where being soaked in downpours and sweat is inevitable, Merino will hold in some more of the heat. When the days get sunny, merino remains breathable and can be more than enough to function as a top layer.
Specialized Seamless Long Sleeve Base Layer (Men’s and Women’s)
The Showers Pass Body Mapped Base Layer is great for anyone pushing hard in colder climates and needs the most insulation where it counts while shedding heat and moisture wherever possible. An insulating Merino blend on the front and sides of the garment reduces wind chill, while the underarms and spinal sections blend lighter-weight, breathable fabrics to reduce heat and moisture. This layer is great underneath waterproof jackets.
We’ve chosen a variety of cycling jerseys that match fabric weights and insulating qualities for whatever swing-season weather you might face. Take your pick of arm length, fabric texture, zipper style, compression, and storage. For those colder rides, a mid-layer could be a heavier-knit sweater on top of a jersey. The dry and crunchy days might only need a long sleeve with a full zipper.
Rapha Pro Team Gravel Jersey (Men’s and Women’s)
The Rapha Pro Team Gravel Jersey is a high-compression race jersey with a three-quarter zip on the front. Lightly waffled fabric improves insulation for cooler temps while remaining breathable when afternoons warm up. This jersey may not be a good option to combine with a base layer, but it does work on its own as a base. For colder days, make sure to bring a breaker or a second insulating barrier. The large pockets on the back side, elbow-length sleeves, and taller neckline make this great for sunnier fall riding.
Rapha Classic Long Sleeve Jersey (Men’s and Women’s)
The Rapha Classic Long Sleeve Jersey is a polyester and Merino wool blend designed for cooler weather, yet the fully zippered front leaves it flexible to perform in the heat. The fit is low compression, with plenty of room for a base layer on those colder days. The wool fabric is naturally antimicrobial, and it’s great for anyone churning amidst unpredictable weather. Featuring three standard pockets and one zippered pouch for essentials, this jersey also includes a loop inside the pocket for securing a bike pump.
Specialized RBX Expert Long Sleeve Thermal Jersey (Men’s and Women’s)
The Specialized RBX Expert Long Sleeve Thermal Jersey is a great all-season layer. A thicker, yet highly breathable mid-compression fabric acts almost like a lightweight jacket. There’s plenty of room for a base layer, making this option a great choice as a top layer for cool and dry days.
Showers Pass Basecamp Hoodies (Men’s and Women’s)
Simply having the option of covering your head can be enough to want to wear a hoodie. This one is made with 95% Merino, making it great for anyone who might end up soaking their clothes in sweat on the chilliest days. A tighter fit than conventional hooded sweatshirts, the Basecamp Hoodie fits great underneath jackets without adding much bulk.
Depending on where you live, autumn can look like winter not long after summer’s end. Outerwear featuring high-thread-count fabrics and waterproof sub-layers do wonders for managing body temps and protecting from the elements. For this season, we’ve picked top layers that cover a variety of needs from a vest, packable breaker, short-sleeve anorak, or a vented raincoat.
Specialized/Fjällräven Adventure Vest (Men’s and Women’s)
Vests are amazing for bike riding. They protect the core from wind and chilling elements while leaving the arms free to maneuver on the handlebars. This vest is a polyamide-cotton blend that is durable and wind resistant, making it a cross between a mid-layer and outerwear. Lightweight and packable into one of its own pockets, this vest is an easy tagalong for any ride.
Specialized/Fjällräven Räven Anorak (Men’s and Women’s)
The Specialized Räven Anorak is a stylish, vintage pullover with modern fabrics. The lightweight waterproof torso has a cycling-specific fit, this jacket works great both on and off the bike. Zippered vents, a packable hood, and reflective detailing make this a great option for urban riding and hiking combined.
Specialized Trail Short Sleeve Rain Anorak
The Specialized Trail Short Sleeve Rain Anorak is meant for fun on gnarly days. This jacket is great for anyone who embraces getting a little wet but still needs to protect their core. Made with fully waterproof fabrics, the design has zippered split seams to give venting and mobility at the waist. Elbow-length sleeves keep water off the shoulders while leaving the forearms unrestricted. The hood is massive, it fits over a helmet during a downpour, and on the most frigid days, there’s plenty of room underneath for extra base and mid-layers.
Rapha Trail Lightweight Jacket (Men’s and Women’s)
The Rapha Trail Lightweight Jacket is a rugged, easy-to-clean, packable option that is perfect on and off the mountain. The cycling-specific fit keeps fabrics loose yet fitted to the body. When the weather isn’t calling for this layer, pack it into its own pocket to reveal built-in loops encouraging you to strap this jacket to the frame of the bike.
Showers Pass Elite 2.1 Jacket (Men’s and Women’s)
The Showers Pass Elite 2.1 Jacket is legendary for foul-weather riding. The loose, cycling-specific fit is fully waterproof, with ripstop fabrics and adjustable vents. Perfect for high-output training in nasty weather, the Elite 2.1 has plenty of room underneath for all the insulating layers.
For the fall, our favorite bottoms prioritize having options while out on a ride. Whether that means extra storage for gloves and hats, vented and waterproof panels, or removable sections, we’ve selected a few pieces that can help make autumn weather seem like a gentle breeze.
Showers Pass Skyline Pant
For heavy weather conditions, rain, wind, and even snow, the Showers Pass Skyline Pant is perfect for the longest, cruddiest days of late fall. These have a cycling-specific fit, putting waterproof panels on the top of the thighs, and the side panels aim to release the heat with vented fabric. Suspenders can also be added, making these pants popular with snowshoers, hikers, and Nordic skiers.
Showers Pass Women's Club Convertible 2 Pant
The Showers Pass Women’s Club Convertible 2 Pant is rugged, versatile, and waterproof for a variety of cycling disciplines. Popular for commuting in downpours, they’re easy to remove. Great for winter training rides that start cold and warm up, the bottom quarter of the pant leg is zippered to quickly convert from full-length to three-quarter—increasing mobility and ventilation.
Specialized/Fjällräven Adventure Bib Shorts with SWAT (Men’s and Women’s)
The Specialized Adventure Bib Shorts are for anyone who wants to pack some extra options without having to bring a bag. While these aren’t the warmest option here, they do have the most storage for holding extra layers like hats, gloves, and arm and leg warmers. The built-in body geometry chamois and four-way stretch fabric make this bib great for the longest training rides.
Rapha 3/4 Bib Shorts
Depending on the rider’s needs, the Rapha three-quarter bib shorts can be great for all-season riding. The fabrics are designed to provide more insulation in cooler conditions while the length of the leg drops just below the knee, offering warmth and protection where it’s needed, but enough ventilation for heavy riding.
Rapha Core Winter Tights (Men’s and Women’s)
The Rapha Core Winter Tights are a simple, full-length, fleece-insulated winter bib that is designed to protect the legs from chill and regulate temperatures while remaining breathable. These are perfect for anyone who wants the lowest-maintenance and warmest bib for filthy, wet commutes and training rides.
Longer rides during the fall can feel uncertain—especially when exploring new territories. Packing extra gear is a great way to increase confidence by having options and extra storage for the unknowns. By focusing on options that protect your extremities, we’re hoping this list will give you everything you need to go out into the autumn and early winter weather with full confidence.
Rapha Pro Team Winter Hat
The Rapha Pro Team Winter Hat has a built-in visor and earflaps perfect for anyone who takes off early in the morning. With windproof and water-resistant fabric, this hat provides breathable insulation and has 360-degree reflective paneling for increased visibility in low light.
Shower Pass Crosspoint Knit Waterproof Gloves
The Showers Pass Crosspoint Knit Waterproof Gloves are three layers of durability, waterproofing, and comfort. The knitted exterior keeps the glove durable and protects the waterproof and breathable membrane below. The Merino-wool liner is both comfortable to the touch and helps keep hands dry. These are perfect for the crummiest days on the bike.
Giro DND Glove
This glove is so durable and easy to wear that it’s almost worth having more than one pair. While they aren’t waterproof, they’re lightweight and offer enough insulation to take the edge off the wind on a dry day.
Specialized Thermal Knee Warmers
One of the most important considerations for cold-weather cycling is the need to protect the knees. Especially at the start of a long ride, cold joints that get pushed too soon can result in injuries. Knee warmers are one of the ways we reduce that risk. Once the legs warm up, peel these off and stuff them into a pocket.
Specialized Thermal Arm Warmers
Thermal arm warmers are one more layering option to reduce chill and stay comfortable during fall rides. These are great for anyone who’s starting out before sunrise; they’re easy to remove when things warm up and comfortable enough to keep on all day.
Rapha Wet Weather Overshoes
Cold, wet feet might be inevitable on the soggiest rides, but there are ways to lengthen the amount of time we get with dry, warm feet instead. Great for road and gravel cycling, waterproof overshoes paired with warm socks stretch that window of dryness and keep the grit out of your expensive cycling shoes.
Thanks for taking the time to browse this fall cycling gear guide, hopefully, it was meaningful! If there’s something you’re still looking for, check out our other Cycling articles on the Expert Journal here on Curated.