Cycling in the cold can be a bit like Whack-a-mole in that you’re only as good as your weakest (coldest) link. As a rookie cyclist, my cutoff used to be 50° (10 C). Now it’s 18° (-7 C)… There’s a lot of Whack-a-mole at 18°.
My worst used to be my neck. I found neck gaiters.
Then my ears. Earmuffs are the best!
Core layers were next. Three or four, depending on how cold we’re talking about, usually does it when it gets nasty cold.
Then there are the feet. The furthest point from your heart. Cold feet can suck the life right out of a cycling adventure.
The feet were the toughest to crack by far when we went out below 32° F (0 C). I stuck with it, though, and my wife supplied the missing piece.
Now, it must be stated ahead of time; I’m an exceptionally healthy 48-year-old male. I have great circulatory health. I don’t have awareness of abnormal body temp issues.
The base-layer key are the socks. Defeet’s Woolie Boolie winter socks are my favorite. Specialized also makes a great wool winter sock. Without a great, thick wool sock, I wouldn’t be comfortable riding below 40° (4 C).
Next, are the shoe covers. I chose Specialized’s Deflect H2O covers. They’re water resistant, so they block the wind, too. They’re exceptional. I did go one size larger… I wear a 44, so I go with the 45/46 cover. It fits better than the 43/44. If you’re going to ride nine months of the year in Michigan, you’re going to need shoe covers.
That’s not all, though. The shoe covers are a great start and they, with the wool socks, are good down to 32-ish degrees (-0 C). The kicker, when you want to ride down to 20° or even lower (-7 C), is that I also use Specialized’s Therminal 1.5 Toe Covers under the shoe covers. I use the combo for anything below 33° (1 C). The toe covers were the missing link that really kept my feet comfortable. Cycling with two blocks of ice as feet is no fun.
That’s all there is to it for me. I really don’t relish the idea of riding below 20° and 18 is my cutoff anyway – below that I’m riding the trainer because I get no enjoyment out of riding when it’s that cold out. I don’t know why, really, the combination of the toe and shoe covers works so well to keep the toes warm, but it does and I highly recommend it if you’re having a problem with cold toes.
There are other ways to go, of course. A few of my friends ponied up the big bucks and bought cycling boots. Those are good down to about the same 20-ish degrees but they add on another $200-$300. For me, the toe warmers and shoe covers are enough, though.