Why winter cycling? Simple: It's brisk. The bike paths in my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, are epic and empty, especially at night (a good lamp gets you anywhere!). Also, my allergies vanish after a couple of hard frosts, which explains why I have loved winter sports since my teens.
I'll spare you the details of why you need safety equipment like a helmet and lamp. This post focuses on comfort so you can get out there! Here are a few items you should include in your winter cycling kit:
I resisted this funny piece of apparel for too long, thinking the thinness wouldn't be effective. It has to be thin, of course, to fit comfortably under a helmet. Merino wool does a great job of keeping my head temperature even and my ears toasty without impairing my hearing or impeding the fit of my helmet.
Cycling Tights with Knee Warmers
You wouldn't think knee warmers are helpful, but they are, and if you get too warm (say, during a morning ride when temperatures rise), they remove easily and stuff into a pocket fairly well. I have an old pair now, and they're not a favorite. They don't stay up despite the rubber grips inside the cuffs. It might be that my tights are too smooth. I don't know, but it's not a big enough problem for me to splurge on a new pair yet. (Lots of brands make arm warmers, too, which I love for morning rides and runs in winter because, again, they remove and stuff easily).
A convertible jacket is a must have because it functions well for cold mornings -- zip off sleeves! -- and an evening or cold day ride. The key feature, in my opinion, is a jacket with sleeves that zip off in one piece instead of two separate sleeves. It creates bulk, but the sleeves definitely stay together. The one-piece, zip-off sleeve is a superior option because you can tie the sleeves around your waist or stop and stuff it into a pack or pannier. I also insist on a windproof jacket, and rely on smart layering for temperature regulation.
There are a host of other apparel items I could list, including shoe covers, lightly insulated and windproof padded cycling gloves and a polyester Buff to keep the chill off my neck but still allow me to zip and unzip my jacket for temperature control. Of all those items, the Buff has probably made the biggest difference for me ... and it makes a great stocking stuffer or small gift.
I don't ride when the temperature dips below 35 degrees Fahrenheit or when wind speed is greater than 15 mph. If you're lucky enough to live in an area that meets those conditions, you're set to cycle once you have these few basics and some bike paths!