I am playing a game called Freezing Saddles, where teams compete to see who bike commutes more throughout the winter. It's definitely been helping me get out on the bike a lot more this winter. Just today, I rode home via a new route- more hills, more miles. It was pretty cold to start, so I was grateful for my layers. I rode with all my layers to start, and shucked the top one off about halfway through.
When I checked Strava later, I learned that the first half of the ride is pretty much all downhill, and all the climbing was in the second half! So I really did work harder.
As I've mentioned before, this is the Year Of Everything I Own Wearing Out. My old layers are disintegrating (after anywhere from 5 to 14 years). I mean, I have jackets and shoes that I've had since junior year of college. I am not kidding when I say I hate to shop.
I started replacing layers in October. One of my biggest needs, period, was a really warm coat for the winter. All last year, I typically wore two coats. I wanted one, warm, commute friendly coat. I'm still not sure I found the perfect one yet. I wanted something that worked for biking and for standing around at a bus stop so I could keep my commuting options wide open.
I wanted a 3-in-1 type coat, and I wanted it to cover my butt. That shouldn't have been so hard, right?
I learned a very important lesson over three damp, drafty months. When you buy a 3-in-1jacket, you are typically buying a ski jacket and the salespeople are thinking "SKIING". They are going to fit you with room to layer up for downhill skiing. They aren't thinking of bike commutes in DC, where I found that even in the coldest weather, I needed to layer far less than I thought.
I ended up buying an Alpine Alliance, size large... and changing it for a medium last week. This jacket really breaks in a lot, and once the newness and stiffness wears off, it feels a lot more roomy. What was snug-almost-tight a week ago is now perfectly snug-and-cozy. (The large had become loose and drafty and I was not happy.) Ultimately, I'd prefer if it were about 4 inches longer (cover-the-bum territory, to make standing around a little warmer), but I can live with this for now. I mean, it DOES have pit zips and built-in thumbholes, and I'll be able to use this for snowshoeing, so there's that.
I still need to replace my rain pants, which blew out earlier this season.
Every bike commuter is different and it WILL take you trial-and-error to figure out what works for you. For my 4 miles-ish commute, I prefer to wear my regular clothes. I roll my sweater and sometimes my nice shirt up and slide it into my bag. I usually commute in a plain tee. I've found this works even on the coldest days. Your mileage may vary; many ladies prefer to change once they arrive. You do you!
I recently added a tube scarf- keeping my nose warm turned out to be a big deal. I snagged one from Lululemon. I was very hesitant to shop at that company, but they did have a good scarf with an elastic top. It felt more snug than other options. I also got a TurtleFur brand scarf/balaclava, but loaned it to M and he promptly adopted it. So I'm going to have to go get another one!
Lobster gloves help keep my fingers warm. Mine are at least 10 years old and I will cry so hard when they die. (Probably next week, at the rate I'm going!) Pro tip- a male commuter says he uses "shooting mitts" for his commutes. He brakes with one finger. If this is you, then check for "shooting mitts" to get that split finger thing. I have reflective straps to go around my jeans cuffs. I just wear regular shoes, mostly, but sometimes boots in icky weather.
I have a nice skullcap (Pearl Izumi), though my new windproof ear warmer from Outdoor Research has become my new favorite- I don't like a lot of bulk under my helmet and I have a TON of hair to keep me warm, so really, it's just about keeping the ears toasty. The windproof thing is a miracle.
Finally, I found that plain safety goggles from Ames Hardware (about $10) do the trick nicely. I have already lost one pair (I think they bounced out of my pannier as I was packing things up to jump on the train) and losing those hurts a lot less than losing my fancy glasses. I'll keep my fancy ones for road riding.
So that's how I'm layering up for outdoor commutes. I've got the routine down so getting dressed doesn't take me anymore time than grabbing keys and getting the car. If I ride hard, it's about 25 minutes door to door, but I like to take my time and noodle through the nice neighborhoods and obey traffic laws, so it's usually more like 30-35. This actually isn't that much more time than driving, and a little less than the train/bus combos, and I never get stuck in traffic. So overall, I'm avoiding my major pet peeve.
Finally, the big caveat: I won't ride in pouring rain, driving snow, or icy conditions. I've had a few bad falls and I'm not eager for a repeat trip to the ER. And while I now have gear for those conditions, I am just not into suffering for suffering's sake. If it's pouring rain, I'm using my bus app to tell me when the bus is coming, and I'm jumping on the bus where it's warm and I can chill and read the paper.