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I got my first “how do you do it?” of the season today. Overnight, temperatures dropped to about 25°F.

Riding a bike in the cold isn’t really any less possible than snow skiing, ice skating or any other activity that you’d expect to see in the cold. Stay active. Dress right. Stay warm. Still, it blows some peoples’ minds that a person can be outside when it’s below freezing.

I won’t get into the whole layering thing, but I used to have a problem, and I’ll tell you how I fixed it.  At the first sign of colder temperatures, I was always tempted to go overboard on warm clothing. Example: 40°F, two shirts, a windbreaker, long johns and jeans, ski gloves and a balaclava. For me, that’s TOO HOT. For people used to warmer climes, people with less “natural insulation” or higher metabolisms, it might be perfect. Some people get cold toes easier. Some peoples’ knees are really sensitive. That’s why it’s hard to tell people exactly what to wear. Everyone’s different.

I started logging what I was wearing, and what the temperature was, and how well my clothing worked. Not every day, but as temps got 5-10 degrees colder or as I encountered things like freezing fog, high winds, snow, etc, I’d note them. This works for everyone.

Here’s an example: The forecast calls for an overnight low of 16° in KC with light winds and no precipitation. Some day last year, it was 19° and the setup I chose was perfect. There’s a 12° day I logged in ’07 where I was a bit overdressed, but in my notes, I kept track of what I’d change. Using my notes, I already have my warm clothes laid out for the morning, and I’m almost sure it’ll be perfect. It’s a little mix of what I wore at 19° and 12°.

I’d show you my log, but it wouldn’t really do any good. I can say that choosing the layer closest to your skin is the most important part of your winter riding apparel. Always use a good, wicking fabric. Technical polyester base layers, lycra leg/arm warmers, running shirts, jerseys, wool jackets, wool socks, and the like are all good choices.

Experiment and learn. Take notes. At the very least, the lessons you learn this winter will carry over to next season and you won’t find yourself re-learning how to gear up for the cold.