Tools for winter cycling
Pogies for the mountain bike
Bar Mitts for the road bike
For the Hands
Hands get cold when you bike, particularly if it is below freezing. There are many types of heavy gloves, but they can make shifting cumbersome. I find that big mittens that stay on your handlebars work the best.
Pogies are my absolute favorite, but they are only for flat handlebars, such as on a mountain bike. They are like giant mittens that stay on the bars, allowing you to slip your hands in and out. They rise about halfway up the elbow and have an elastic drawstring that blocks drafts without keeping your hands stuck inside.
The best pogies I've found are by Dogwood Designs in Fairbanks, Alaska. They can be ordered through Relevate Design. Coming from frigid Fairbanks you know they must be warm. They are not cheap at about $120 per pair, and they're not available in stores. They're worth every penny though, and far superior to any I have found in stores. These Dogwood Designs pogies are rated to as much as -30 degrees Fahrenheit!
If it's really cold out I will throw a couple hand warmers in the pogies, and will keep so toasty warm that I can go with just regular cycling gloves inside! They're also handy for holding other necessities such as energy gels (they stay warm and soft in your pogies), phone, and wallet. There's really a lot of room in them.
Alas, if you're riding a road bike with drop handlebars there are no pogies that fit. But there are some other options. I like Bar Mitts. Made of neoprene, they fit much more snugly than pogies, but are still easy enough to get your hands in and out of. And there's still room for a hand warmer in the bottom if you think you need extra heat. Again, I find that I can wear regular cycling gloves and stay toasty warm in my Bar Mitts.
High wind warning! Bar Mitts can make your bike a bit skittery in the wind, especially if it's a cross wind. Be prepared to slow down a bit and stay safe!
Foot warmers for regular cycling shoes
Louis Garneau winter cycling boots
Bogs Boots keep the toes warm
Power grips for pedals
For the Feet
Toes get cold too, and regular biking shoes probably won't be enough to keep them warm.
If it's not very cold out you may be able to get by with just toe covers. But if it's too chilly your heels and ankles are going to get cold too, so in this case full shoes covers are helpful. If you are wearing mountain bike shoes you need to make sure you get covers specifically for them, as the road bike shoe covers won't go on over the wider mountain bike shoes. You can also get winter cycling boots, which are very warm.
My road bike and foot covers work great in fairly cold weather, but if it's snowy I'm going to be on my mountain bike. You have a couple of foot options for mountain biking. The cycling boots can accommodate your mountain bike cleats, and are toasty warm. I didn't want to spend the money on mountain bike boots though, when I had good winter boots already.
I wear my waterproof Bog Boots when I winter bike. Made of neoprene, they are rated down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and are pretty compact so as not to be clumsy on the pedals. Now I won't say that they are actually good down to that temperature. I find that my toes still get cold after a couple hours in near zero degrees, but I think that's because my toes don't really move much when I bike. A toe warmer pack helps considerably.
Plus, Bogs come in all kinds of cute colors! Don't worry gentlemen - the men's version comes in basic black.
I think Bogs are great for biking - warm, waterproof, and when you get where you're going it's easy to walk around in them.
Power straps for your pedals will help keep your feet where you want them if you aren't wearing cleats. These are wide straps that go on the pedals. Your toe slips under them kind of like toe clips. They are adjustable and are easy to slip your foot in and out of.
Col d'Lizard tights - warmest tights EVER
For the Legs
Having lived in Alaska for more than 35 years, and continuing to run and bike throughout the winter, I have tried more than my share of tights and other methods of keeping legs warm. I finally found what I call "Lizard" tights. Made of thick fleece, I can wear them as a single layer even at below zero temperatures.
Col d'Lizard products are not found in stores, but they're worth ordering. It's a small company, and they make the products as they are ordered and send them out. Order by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. These are by far the warmest pants I've ever owned, and as I said, I own a lot of athletic bottoms.
For the Body
I don't do too much special on my top half except pile on the layers! I like a Smartwool base layer, followed by fleece (one or two layers) and topped by a windproof jacket. I don't find it real important to wear an actual cycling jersey in the winter, especially if I have my pogies to store things in.
For the Head
I wear a waterproof cover on my helmet most of the winter. Even though it's not insulated, it's thick enough to keep out the wind and provide some extra warmth. A hat underneath is important though. I like the simple thermal hat, with a separate neck gaiter. That gives me more flexibility if I get too warm. Many people prefer the balaclava style though, with the neck gaiter and hat as one.
I'm sure it looks dorky, but when it's REALLY cold out I wear my ski helmet and ski goggles! I can't keep my regular glasses clear of steam and ice if it's too cold, and when too much cold air creeps around the glasses my eyes water madly. Ski helmets are warmer than bike helmets, and goggles are better eye protection against a cold wind.
Winter tires with studs
For the Bike
Before I got my fat bike I did my winter biking on my Turner 29-inch mountain bike with studded tires. I still prefer this method if there's a lot of ice and the snow is pretty hard packed.
But you can't beat a snow bike with 5-inch tires for staying on top of the snow. You'll still have to work hard on loose snow, but if you can keep up your speed (and your nerve!) these bikes will go just about anywhere.
I did not realize what an advantage the fat bike was until I went for a ride two days in a row, on different bikes. Snowpacked bike paths, such as those groomed for cross country skate skiing, are ideal for the snow bike. I went for a ride one Saturday on the fat bike and had a ball, flying along with almost no effort. The next day I took my husband back to do the same ride again, since it was so much fun. This time I rode the mountain bike with studs and let him ride the snow bike. Just like I had done the previous day he flew along effortlessly, while I slogged along behind. Even digging into the snow a half inch slows you down and makes for more work, so floating on top of the snow on those giant tires makes a huge difference. For conditions like these I run the snow bike with only five to seven pounds of pressure in the tires. If I ride on bare pavement I'll put them up to the 35-pound maximum.
It may be sacrilege, but during the warmer months I ride the snow bike as a cruiser, for quick trips to the grocery store or to run to the post office. With 35 pounds of air in the tires it's a pretty comfortable ride, and it definitely turns some heads. It's a lot of fun to ride!
Winter - don't stop biking because it gets cold or snows!