Below are some of the things I (Jim Reed in Upstate NY) have learned during my 40+ years of winter riding.
KEEP THE WIND OUT
Your outermost layer needs to be windproof but breathable. We are blessed by many fabric choices that accomplish these goals and the key is to have a great outer layer.
KEEP THE HANDS AND FEET WARM
Nothing is more miserable than icy fingers or toes. For years, I could never seem to keep my hands or feet warm no matter what I tried. Finally, I learned a few little tricks that make all the difference in the world.
To keep your hands and feet warm you have to start by keeping your torso, legs and arms warm. This makes perfect sense: if your core is cold, your body’s wonderfully effective survival mechanisms kick into action and sends the warm blood to your brain and heart and NOT to your more expendable extremities. Hence, cold hands and feet. Break this vicious cycle by keeping your core toasty warm by wearing one more layer than you think you need.
Wool for inner layers is king. I have tried every microfiber known to man and I have always ended up back with good old merino wool. I have an IceBreakers base layer that I love almost as much as my dog. Wool can be expensive but I have a buddy who visits Salvation Army every year and finds old wool sweaters so cost shouldn’t prevent you from finding a good wool layer.
I have found that doubling up two layers of tights is much more effective than wearing a single thicker pair of tights.
“Lobster” gloves rule. These hybrid glove/mittens permit you to shift while being much warmer than gloves.
If you can afford them, winter riding shoes (more like boots) are awesome. A close second are the full-coverage neoprene shoe covers. I used them for many years with good results until last year when I finally bit the bullet and bought some winter riding shoes.
Keeping water off your ‘arse and face is nice when it is cold and essential when it is frigid.
PICK A SMART ROUTE
For winter riding, route selection can make all the difference in the world:
If possible, always ride into the wind on the way out and with a tailwind on the way home. This lets you warm up quickly by working into the wind and later in the ride when you are starting to cool down, the tailwind will be your friend.
Contrary to what most people prefer for summer riding, look for routes with long, gradual climbs and short, steep descents. In the winter, long climbs keep you warm and short steep descents don’t chill you as much as longer, more gradual descents.
BRIGHT LIGHTS AND BRIGHT CLOTHES
Most motorists don’t expect to see cyclists in the winter so light yourself up like a Christmas tree.
CARRY A PHONE
A phone is a winter essential. Don’t leave home without one!
IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG, DON’T PANIC
When the temperatures are frigid, even something small like a flat tire can be a scary experience because hypothermia can settle in quickly. So if something goes wrong and BEFORE you start shivering, consider your options: should I look for shelter, should I bail and call for a ride, etc. There is no need to panic but you must devise a good plan quickly.