As the weather gets cooler and cooler the issue of how to dress for the weather becomes more important. What to wear is always a personal decision and over the years I have ridden with lots of people with vastly different ideas on how to stay comfortable in the cold. Some riders prefer to put on heavy warm jackets while others don't wear anything more than they would in the summer. Regardless of which camp you lean toward here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Layers, layers, layers! Just like many outdoor activities riding a dirt bike or an ATV can be hard work. Also depending on the time of year the temperature can vary quite a bit throughout the day. So instead of wearing warm bulky clothing I have found it's better to wear several thin layers. By doing this, you can take off layers as it gets warmer or add more as needed. Not to mention, if you do need to cool down a bit, thin clothing fits in a pack much better than a heavy jacket. Believe it or not, when the temperature is below freezing, getting too hot can be a real problem. Remember, the more you exert yourself the more you are going to sweat if you are too warm. Once you stop moving, all that moisture in your clothes and on your skin is going to get very cold and uncomfortable.
Avoid cotton if at all possible. Cotton is a great material when it's dry. It's soft, comfortable and warm. The problem is that cotton absorbs and holds moisture. In the summer time, that's not a bad thing. But in the winter it can be very uncomfortable, or worse lead to hypothermia. Instead try to wear clothing that is either a wool blend or some sort of nylon, this includes your socks! You want materials that will wick the moisture away from your skin while at the same time still providing protection from the cold. As much as I hate to admit it, Spandex is your friend. But, do us all a favor and wear it UNDER you riding clothes.
I have ridden with people that swear by heated gear, particularly gloves. These are really nice when they work. But my concern with anything that relies on electricity is what do you do if the battery goes dead? You can't always count on being back at the truck on time. Will the gear you have keep you warm if your bike breaks down and you are stuck out in the cold longer than you thought?
Now that you have the basics, here is what I wear and carry with me when the weather is below freezing. I wear my normal riding boots and pants. But, for socks I like to wear two pairs, a thin pair and then a thicker pair. Both of some sort of nylon/wool blend. The thin pair helps to wick away the moisture while the thick pair offers good insulation. Under my riding pants I wear either a thin pair of spandex tights or if it is really cold I go with a pair of nylon long johns. Under my jersey I wear sometimes two shirts. First a short sleeve nylon shirt, then a long sleeve nylon blend shirt and finally an insulated jersey. Under my helmet I wear a spandex baklava, which not only helps to wick the moisture but protects my face and neck from the worst of the cold. I usually carry two pairs of gloves. Typically I will start the ride with a pair of heavy gloves; once I get going and my hands warm-up I switch over to regular riding gloves. I try to switch gloves BEFORE the they get sweaty. That way, if I have to stop riding for an extended period of time I have something warm for my hands. Finally a thin windbreaker with a hood. I actually don't ride with the jacket. I have found that the combination of the jacket, base layers and chest protector is just too warm for me while I am riding, even in 20 degree weather. But, I always carry the jacket in my pack just in case I have to stop for an extended period of time.
Dressing for the occasion can be the difference between a fun day out on your bike and a miserable experience, or worse a trip to the ER.