In years past, I have noticed people riding bicycles even when it was as cold as 5 above with minus 20 windchills. Above 50 degrees is okay, but when it gets down into the 40s and 30s, cyclists risk catching hypothermia. Dressing up does no good as cyclists still sweat regardless of how cold it is. And eventually that sweat will saturate all layers of clothing and render their insulating capabilities ineffective. And in fact, there is even an extreme likelihood that once all layers are saturated, the sweat begins in fact conducting the cold right to the body, and the heat away from your body. And once that happens, you are in deep trouble! Being in that cold sweat, you may as well be staying in the water during a polar plunge for a prolonged length of time, or even have fallen through the ice on a pond and just came out of the water. And that is the absolute surest way to catch hypothermia!
Bicycling when it is colder than 20 degrees above zero is downright suicidal! And I mean suicidal! At those temps, not only does sweat-saturated clothes conduct the cold to your body, resulting in hypothermia, but the sweat can even freeze and turn into solid ice! Snowsuits may provide temporary protection, but not for much more than maybe 10 miles, 15 tops, or until it too gets wet with your sweat, whichever comes first. Not to mention massive and extensive frostbite caused by the constant wind rushing past as you ride, which at temps especially colder than 15 degrees, will affect every single square inch of exposed skin. Also, bicycles, on only 2 wheels, are nowhere near as stable as a car, and if you hit a patch of ice on only 2 wheels, chances are, you will end up doing a faceplant right on the ground! Even one severe enough to cause death and/or even permanent paralysis!
Seriously. Save yourselves from the awful consequences of bicycling in the winter! If you don't drive or have a car and need to go somewhere, either have someone who has a car take you, or take the bus! The attached drawing describes the dangers of winter cycling.
I was one of the bicyclists you saw this week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday morning and tonight. Of course, I'm only going five miles, but I was toasty warm upon arrival at work, and once I got home, I continued to do some errands.
There's a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering here. Sure, its possible to dress inappropriately and get hypothermia, but its also possible to avoid these situations.
As a long-term winter cyclist who has learned some lessons the hard way, I can tell you that the information provided in this article can be true, if you are unwise with your clothing choices. Cotton clothing soaks up a ton of sweat, and will readily conduct your heat away when it gets wet. Many many cyclists learn this pretty quickly when they're getting started.
That does NOT have to be where the joy of riding a bike in the winter stops, however. Wool clothing, readily available at your local thrift shop, can make a huge difference with a small investment, but the real key is great rain gear, which can be expensive in the short term, but save you BUCKETS of money in every area of your life, from health care to gasoline to anti-depressants.
Wool retains much of its' insulating properties when wet, making it an ideal choice for winter activities of any type. A good rain jacket made for cycling or running use will keep water from snow or rain from getting IN, while still allowing moisture from sweat to get OUT. It's POSSIBLE to find them used, although the water resistant nature of the fabrics does degrade with use, so I generally recommend just spending $100-200 on a great jacket that can easily last you through 5 winters.
Hope that's helpful!
I also need to point out another extreme hazard of winter bicycling; ice patches.
Unlike a car which has 4 wheels and remains upright even on ice, a bicycle, with only 2 wheels, has no chance at all of staying upright if you hit a patch of ice. A car might just skid if it hits a patch of ice, but hit a patch of ice on a bicycle, and those 2 wheels will slip right out from under you and cause you to immediately flip right over and smack the ground, potentially with enough force to bust your nose, fracture your skull, bust your hip, or even snap your neck like a twig. And in the winter, even falling over on to a grassy area (if you are riding on the sidewalk and/or a bicycle trail) will do just as much damage as falling over onto concrete as the ground is usually so frozen that it is as hard as cast iron! And believe me! Sidewalks and bicycle trails are just as prone to ice patches as the street. Same thing with alleys.
This is my 11th winter as a cyclist, and I've fallen a fair number of times, and I've never even hit my head. Also, I wear a helmet, which is designed to absorb the very sorts of impacts you're describing.
Tell me, "He who knows", are you appalled that people ski? Does it keep you up at night knowing that people fly down hills at tremendous speed in awful cold, despite the possibility of avalanches?
The simple fact of the matter is, if you pay attention and gear yourself well, you can have a terrific time on a bike, in the winter, on the street, with a high degree of safety. Is there danger? Of course! Is it an unreasonable amount of danger? That depends on your personal preferences.
Well there is the fact that many people who downhill ski wear ski masks, which are designed to protect the skier's face from the cold. But in urban areas, the ski mask is often seen as a synonym with violent crime, especially armed robberies. Also, many ski areas have ski lifts that people sit on a seat and it carries them right to the mountain top, so they don't sweat so much and wreck their clothes' insulating capabilities. But I am appalled at instances where skiers choose paths that have obstructions such as trees and boulders. And falling off a bicycle due to hitting a patch of ice is no different than colliding with a tree or boulder while downhill skiing at high velocities.
What kind of winter cyclist would not wear a face mask? Many shops have free ones made and distributed by volunteers, in all kinds of non-threatening patterns and colors, like pink bunnies, or adorable kittens, if one is concerned with being perceived as "about to commit a crime".
Also, you completely dodged what I said earlier about wool clothing and good cycling jackets.
Many, many cyclists wear ski goggles in the winter as well. For precisely the same reason skiers wear them: they protect from the wind and keep snow and spray out of your eyes. Then again, many skiers chose regular sunglasses rather than googles. I don't recall anyone calling them "insane."
All that aside, I think you have to be the height of paranoid to assume that a person riding a bike in the cold with a ski mask or balaclava or scarf over their face is "about to commit a crime."
And by the way, all ski areas have lifts to carry skiers to the top of the run. Otherwise, skiers would have to walk, which may be almost impossible and insanely time-consuming. The lifts are not there to keep people dry and warm or protect the linings of their clothes. They are the only way to engage in the sport.
It may be true that a helmet offers protection, but a helmet only protects your head. It does not protect your neck, hips, arms, or your legs. And suffering a broken neck or even a busted hip can be just as bad as having a concussion from falling without a helmet. Especially if you have busted your hip so bad that you need a hip replacement, which can cost many thousands of dollars and can also keep you from making your flight at certain airports!
OK, this has to be a trolling exercise. I shouldn't feed the trolls, but here goes.
When cars skid on the ice, they tend to hit things. Cars are fast and heavy. When they hit things they cause a lot of damage. When they hit people, they tend to kill or maim them. When a cyclist falls on the ice, he or she tends to get some bruises, maybe an injury or damage to the bike in a more severe case (being covered in winter clothing provides quite a bit of padding) but rarely, if ever, causes property damage or endangers the public. And bikes don't "flip" on ice--they slide, and the same lack of friction that causes slippage also tends to cause the rider to slide.
Most cyclists I know are, unlike drivers, pretty incapable of speeding.
I find your concern to be unsettling.