If you have lived through a Minnesota winter, you know about the importance of layering. Versatility and adjustability are vital to dressing for winter riding in a cold climate. Light layers can be used when it's more mild, or combined with more layers when it is colder. Zippers are handy for on the fly adjustments. At the risk of stating the obvious, there are an infinite number of weather conditions. In addition to temperature, sun and wind play a large roll in affecting a cyclist's body temperature. Each of our bodies is different. So, no matter how much advice you get and what kind of clothing you buy, you still need to experiment. That can be part of the fun. Personally, I like to ride in the winter with a bag containing some clothing options so I can add or subtract a layer and have a place to store them.
Starting next to skin, you want base layers, which will wick perspiration away from your skin. Wool is an excellent material because it wicks, stays warm when wet and does not get that funky smell that synthetics get.
Many of the winter clothes you might already have will work on your bicycle. However some things we have found to be different than other outside winter activities. Because of the speed of the bicycle, wind chill factors can multiply. If you are riding at fifteen miles per hour into a fifteen mile per hour headwind, that is an effective thirty mile per hour wind, which is a very significant wind chill. The trick is to block the wind on the front facing parts of your body while leaving more venting on the rear facing parts.
Other areas of your body, which are different than other outside winter activities, are the hands and feet. Both these areas are exposed, resulting in major wind chill. You need feet and hands to power and control the bike, so you do not have opportunities to move fingers and toes the way you might in other activities. There are also considerations in connecting your feet to the pedals. Whether you choose to ride clipped in or on a flat pedal, you will need to consider the outer surface of your shoes. Cleated shoes have holes for the cleat bolts. I find it useful to remove the insole and put some duct tape over the cleat holes to help seal that area. Dedicated winter riding shoes are great, but can also be a large expense. If you choose to use a summer shoe, remember they are usually designed to have good ventilation. Shoe covers will seal off most of the air holes while providing another layer of wind protection and warmth.
Keeping my hands warm has been my biggest challenge personally. The only thing I have found to work in really chilly weather, are handlebar covers. These odd looking items come by many names including Pogies, Bullwinkles, and hand warmers. We make our own here at County Cycles and, of course, sell them, in addition to our custom ear warmers that attach to your helmet.
A combination of layers, and some key winter items make winter riding in Minnesota not only bearable, but also fun!