The Chicago Bike Winter organization is a group of local cyclists that banded together to encourage all-weather cycling, hosting dozens of cold-weather bike events. The group's website, www.bikewinter.org, has a variety of tips about cold-weather riding as well as a schedule of upcoming events.
I really applaud the work that the group is doing to promote winter biking, and there are several interesting comments that I gleaned from its site. The group feels that winter biking raises your tolerance for cold; is more comfortable than standing around waiting for the bus; and because pollution rises faster in cold air, it's safer to breathe the city air than during the summer.
Bike Winter member Gin Kilgore teaches classes on winter cycling and points out that among the many advantages of cycling year-round, you don't have to re-condition your rear-end for sitting on a bike seat again in the spring.
During a meeting that the group held to share ideas about proper cold-weather clothing, it was generally agreed that for less than $50 one could assemble a perfectly functional outfit.
The group's feeling is that the three most important areas to consider when dressing for cold-weather riding are the feet, the hands and the head. It's often just as tricky to keep from overheating, as it is to stay warm.
Every year brings new advances in synthetic fabrics, and there are a wide variety of fall/winter cycling clothes available. I'm not an expert on the different materials, but I can tell you what has worked well for me over the past 10 years.
In fact, I've ridden relatively comfortably in temperatures down to 14 below.
Layers are indeed the key to cold-weather riding, and I wear thermal long underwear as my first layer on the coldest days. The traditional cotton type work well, but three years ago I got a set made of "Thermastat Polyester" that work great. Called Ventalayer, this fabric is more adept at keeping perspiration away from the body.
On top of the long johns, I wear thin stretch tights that I purchased at my local bicycle shop. The tights are great for temperatures from 30 to 50 by themselves.
I cover my shoes with a pair of stretch "booties" from my local bike shop. Feet tend to get the coldest, and while the booties may look dorky, they really help keep in the warmth.
For my hands, I have winter cycling gloves that are composed of two independent layers. The inner liner is fine for temperatures down to about freezing, and I wear the two of them together in colder weather.
I wear a ski stretch headband over my ears and a ski face mask from my neck up to my eyes when it's really cold. This lets me remove the face mask independently if the air warms up during my ride.
The beauty of riding in the clear air after a fresh snowfall far outweighs the extra work involved in getting dressed appropriately.