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What I’ve Learned about Riding a Bike in the Cold, or Alternately, when Everyone Else thinks You’re Freakin’ Bonkers, Nuts and Dumber ‘n Hell…

I don’t particularly like riding when it’s cold outside.  I like to sweat when I ride, and sweat is kinda bad when it’s cold out.  As is often pointed out, sweat, or water, sucks heat from the body 25 times faster than air.

There are two ways to ride outside:  Dress warm and sweat OR dress comfortably cool and don’t.  Both suck in my book.

Sweating isn’t so bad as long as I keep moving, except when there’s too much sweat.  Comfortably cool, and I’m never really warm.  It’s like a bullshit, sucky limbo.

Now, astute observers will devise a third option, though it is difficult for a person like me to even speak of it.   It’s… Gulp…  dress warm and…  Slow down.  That was a lot harder to type than I thought it would be.  Hang on.  Gimme a minute…

Okay, so the third option goes in the garbage can because we just don’t slow down (unless snow is involved – in that case, you’re a badass simply for being outside on a bike [for ice, you need to have your head examined or you have studded tires and you could still probably use a good talking to]), which leaves the other two:  Warm, sweaty and eventually cold, or “comfortably not warm and not sweaty”.  If I had my choice of the two, I’d rather the first (warm and sweaty), right up until I have to stop for something like a flat tire or to say hello to a friend.  Folks, that’s a downright dangerous scenario right there because you never really warm back up after you get going again.

That leaves comfortably cool – and comfortably cool when the temp dives below freezing kinda sucks.  However, it beats what warmth you do have being sucked from your body 25 times faster than normal.  For those who have a temperature cutoff for cycling above 45 degrees F or 7C, come back to this post a little later.  As much complaining I do about cycling in the cold, it’s not all bad – and you’ll definitely feel like a badass the other 22-23 hours in the day.

Here are the tips that have made an enormous difference in my enjoyment of winter cycling:

  1. Spend some money on a great pair tights.  I’ve got a $100 pair of Therminal cycling tights (no chamois) from Specialized that are simply spectacular.  Two layers of material on the knees and a perfect winter tight.  I hated winter cycling until I bought those tights.  My legs get too cold and they just don’t work right.  Once that happens, I’m not far from losing my will to live, and that sucks.
  2. A second pair of looser, fleece lined tights that you can wear over the first pair will help even more.  I’ve not yet encountered temperatures cold enough to get my legs to quit working with that second layer on and I’ve been down to 18 degrees F or -8C.
  3. The top layers that I like best are as follows:  Tech base layer, Heat 32 long sleeved base layer, thermal long sleeved jersey and a light windproof jacket.  This’ll keep me reasonably comfortable down to about 19 (-7.5C).  If you were paying attention, I’m a degree off from my coldest ride ever.  Yep.
  4. Balaclava.  Neck Gaiters are great, but when the temps nosedive, a balaclava is where it’s at.
  5. Wool socks and windproof cycling foot covers or “over shoes”.  The only way to keep the feet from feeling like blocks of ice on a ride.
  6. Helmet…  Dude, no matter what.  Especially when there’s snow on the road.  That bike will go out on you before you can even think about it if you hit some ice under snow.  That fast, slip, bam.  Your down.  If you think you’re quick enough to brace your head from hitting the road, well, enjoy having your diaper changed for you for the rest of your life.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.
  7. Oranges and jalepeno peppers.  Eat ’em like your health depends on it.  Vitamin C, baby.  Otherwise, enjoy that cold.  I mean, “sick” cold, not sucky cold.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned over the last three years since my cutoff temperature dropped from 55 to 20(ish)F is that if I’ve got the right clothing, it’s not as bad as I used to think it was.  Sure, it’s not the same as bombing down a paved road at 25 mph in shorts and short sleeves, but its not all bad either.

I can remember reading posts by The All Seasons Cyclist thinking he was absolutely out of his gourd…  Technically, he may be simply because he liked the cold.  I digress, after putting in some fairly decent winter miles over the last couple of years I’ve come to the understanding that winter cycling isn’t summer cycling, but it beats fat and lazy and the trainer – as long as I dress right.

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