Get Layered! Dressing for Winter Cycling
For most folks, the key to getting through the winter is personal climate control. Your torso generates plenty of heat while your extremities suffer--sort of like an apartment with a central heater. The warmth just never seems to make to the bathroom.
Head: The wind can be brutal on our ears and eyes. A thin scarf wrapped around your head and neck under a helmet is all many people need during brisk fall days. (If you do wear a scarf, it should be a short one or one that you wrap around you well enough that the ends do not dangle. You don't want even the slightest chance of the scarf getting caught in your own wheels or caught up on a passing vehicle.) For colder weather, try a balaclava (face mask) that covers everything but the eyes. Use non-metal wrap sun-glasses or goggles to protect those.
Glasses: On frigid days, treat the lenses with a bit of gel toothpaste to prevent fogging. This toothpaste trick is a much cheaper alternative than getting the expensive lens spray sold at skiing stores. However, do not use a toothpaste that has baking soda in it or you will scratch the lenses.
Feet: On days with snow and slush, get some water proof boots that are tall enough to prevent slush from easily spattering onto your socks. On any days where the temperatures are very cold, wear wool socks or ski socks; on frigid days, your toes may get numb quickly if you are wearing cotton socks or dress socks. Make sure that your boots or shoes are big enough to accommodate thick socks; you want enough room for a warm air pocket. When your toes get cold, wiggle them or get off your bike and run briefly. Some cyclists prefer to have synethetic liners between their boots and their shoes. If you are using your bike to commute to work, you may want to leave a pair of regular pair of shoes at your work location or else use shoe covers.
Hands: The main challenge here is staying warm without losing dexterity. You need to be able to brake and lock or maintain your bike. A glove liner with mittens can work. You can use lobster gloves, which are somewhere between a glove and mitten. Some cyclists prefer to use a simple winter glove; choosing ones that have an insulation layer on the inside will help keep your fingers warm on long rides. If you use leather gloves, be careful of ones with dyes that smudge easily; you'll arrive at your destination with smudges under your nose, not realizing that you had been wiping it!
Torso: Many cyclists swear by the three-layer approach. The innermost layer is the wicking layer/base layer, the middle layer is the insulation layer, and the outer layer is the wind/rain/snow protection layer. Avoid cotton base layers because they retain moisture and will leave you cold and clammy. Instead, use synthetic or silk or cashmere fabrics that wick moisture away. The middle layer keeps you warm. It can consist of one or more sweaters, fleece shirts, etc. A waterproof windbreaker is useful as the outer layer. I like coats with armpit zippers to prevent overheating and a bit of a tail to cover my bum. One advantage of the layer approach is that you can add or remove layers as needed to keep you comfortable on the ride.
Legs: The layer approach can also be adapted to your legs. Rain pants or techno-pants can block the wind, keep you dry, and protect you from road spatter. Thus, they can work well as an outer layer on bad weather days. Some of these pants are also heavy enough to serve as insulation. Tights or light pants can serve as a middle layer. Synthetic long johns make a good base layer.
Where can you get stuff?