The days are getting longer. The sun keeps peeking out from the winter's gray. The roads are clear of snow. You're tired of the indoor suffer-fest called “The Trainer.” The thermometer says, “Bbbbrrrrr.” Look at your trainer, look out the window, now look at your trainer again. Sadly, your trainer is indoors and the sun is outdoors. Push yourself out the door. You are only a few layers of clothes away from an epic day. Here is what I recommend:
Upper body base layer should be long sleeve and moisture wicking shirt. I prefer wool next to my skin, though any of a variety of the “fancy-named” polyesters will do. On top of the base layer, I wear my favorite jersey. Below about 25 of, (-4oc) I will put arm warmers on, too. The mid layer should be a middle to light weight fleece, again weight depends on temperature. The outer layer should be a breathable yet waterproof shell. Pit zips, back vent and a 2-pull main zipper are features I look for. These aid in temperature regulation.
For the legs: A pair of non-padded thermal tights for conditions down to about 25 of, (-4oc) Below that I will put leg warmers over the tights. Below 0of (-18oc) Simply stay home. It is bad for your lungs. I will wear padded shorts under the tights. Bibs are fine, but it is a difficult extra step when natures calls! ( or get on the National “Do Not Call” list and you'll be good to go)
Keep your head warm. Most body heat escapes through your head. A good wind blocking skull cap under the helmet is good. Or a breathable cap with a wind-stopping helmet cover. A balaclava or neck gator are good for below freezing
A decent pair of insulated gloves that fit well are critical to riding enjoyment. Two fingered gloves are warm like mittens, but allow enough dexterity to shift and brake. They are a good choice under 30of (-1oc).
Feet, two words: Wool Socks. Period. A medium weight merino wool is soft, warm, and moisture wicking. Thick socks may seem like a good idea, but if it makes your shoes tight, blood flow is restricted; less blood = cold feet. DO NOT wear cotton socks! Cotton absorbs moisture, Wet Feet = Cold Feet! On top of the shoe, toe caps or a good neoprene booties will keep in additional warmth, resists the wind and will keep you feet dry from road moisture.
Drop it in the little chainring and go. You are not setting any speed records today. 20 miles outside will take longer in January than it will in July. But you will be outside. Savor the moment. Don't push, there will be plenty of time for that during shorts season.
The initial investment into winter apparel may be steep, but then how much did you spend on that trainer ( and you hate that thing...)
L/S Base Top $60~100 Jacket: + $100 Skull cap: $20 ~ $35
Balaclava: $30 Gloves $35 ~ $75 Tights: $ 60~120
Toe caps: $15 Booties: $45
My list will run you form about $300 ~ $475. Some of this stuff you already have, and some you can find on the clearance shelf. But it is a worthy investment as early season can be some of the most beautiful rides. You are in it for the scenery, not the training. Last week I enjoyed an epic ride that included a bald eagle spotting just south of town. It doesn't get better than that!