The Importance of Layering

This month has brought unexpected warmth and not the April showers we’re used to in the UK. But, as cyclists, it’s the unexpected that we should be on the look out for. On our recent trip to Mallorca, riders from all over northern Europe taught us a thing or two about layering – or the art of being prepared.

 Hot climbs with chilly descents in the Tramuntana mountains

Hot climbs with chilly descents in the Tramuntana mountains

Mallorca has a variety of terrain - that’s why it’s so popular with cyclists, but that does mean you can go from scorching shorelines to chilly Colls in less than an hour. Taking a break after a long climb to Sa Calobra we were soon shivering after a couple of minutes and were facing the prospect of a long descent with a chilly wind. How do you dress for every eventuality without packing panniers full of extra clothing or sweltering under winter layers?

Of course if you're Spanish, 23 degree heat is still a time for quilted jackets, multiple scarves and leather boots. Likewise, when going for a 'vuelta en bici', full on tights, over-shorts, long sleeved jerseys and day-glow winter jackets are essential. But for the majority of us northern Europeans, it's time to shave the legs and don the shorts!

A surprising number of riders actually carry little rucksacks with them for their forays into the Serra Tramuntana. We wouldn’t recommend this, having seen one Swiss guy sporting the Maglia Rosa, no less. Topping it off with a man bag isn’t a good look! No, the art is in subtle layering.

 Endura Photon Waterproof Packable Jacket on sale at  Chain Reaction for £39.99

Endura Photon Waterproof Packable Jacket on sale at Chain Reaction for £39.99

My personal favourite is a Castelli lightweight packable jacket. It’s the size of a small tangerine and lives in my saddle-post bag, ready to be whipped out at the onset of a mountain mist or chilly descent. When the sun comes out again, wrap it back up in its little bag and catch those rays.

The gilet is an item of cycling apparel that is very popular among savvy riders in the Balearics at this time of year. Zip it up and it gives you an additional layer of warmth and wind-proofing, or do like the pros and let it fly open as you burn up the sunny side of the street.

  Cafe Du Cycliste  - French chic gilets and jackets

Cafe Du Cycliste - French chic gilets and jackets

Of course, arm and leg warmers are a tried and tested favourite. They should be small enough to stuff into the back pocket of your jersey without exploding untidily or worse still tumbling into the carreterra in your wake. They can make all the difference when you’re flying down those switchbacks through shady pine trees. Make sure they fit, however, there’s nothing worse than tight elastic cutting off the circulation in your triceps, or being so loose that they wrinkle down your arms making you look like an extra from Flashdance!

 Love Love Love the  Endura BaaBaa  merino base layer

Love Love Love the Endura BaaBaa merino base layer

Can we talk base-layers? There are such a variety out there and really the keen cyclist needs a selection for every occasion. In winter months and chilly mornings I won’t be seen without by long sleeved merino, in summer I have a superfine white sleeveless polyester number. For averagely warm days it’s my regular short sleeved (and now very moth-eaten merino) that’s the most popular. Why do moths love merino so?? Just don’t do what I did on a surprisingly hot spring ride, removing my base layer and stuffing it into my spare bottle cage… yes it escaped and became entangled in the chain! The chain survived but my base layer was totally chewed up and when I needed it again as a spring shower caught us unawares, I had nothing to put on.

 It's not cool, it's not cool man...

It's not cool, it's not cool man...

My advice in a nutshell: 1. don’t wear rucksacks unless you are cycle touring or going to work, 2. Well-fitting arm warmers can work wonders 3. Have pack-a-mac subtly stowed away just in case. 4. Tunnels on your travels = take little lights. And the best piece of advice I can give you: check the weather forecast!