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Home » Cycling » 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…

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…

February 2017
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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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25 Comments

  1. OmniRunner says:

    Men in tights. Gotta love it. I own 3 pair.

  2. mmpalepale says:

    $100 tights?! Ouch! Good thing I don’t live in Alaska anymore. I would probably have to wear two at the same time.

  3. Gail says:

    For me, I enjoy running in the cold. I don’t LOVE it, but I enjoy it once I’m out there. Proper tech clothing, as you outline, is key. Of course, I’m now dealing with mounds of snow on unplowed trails. I’m on my treadmill more often than I’d like, but it’s better than being on the couch.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I used to like running in the cold until it started dipping below 0 degrees (F). After that my eyelashes would freeze and it’d drive me nuts. Thanks Gail. 😉

  4. Hate turbos so I like to be out. A couple of things that might help as well. Don’t do your shoes up tight. Put shoes and gloves on a radiator before you put them on & head out. If it’s really cold I wear a Ninja type neoprene mask, works for me. I have managed quite a few miles this month and the sunsets have been glorious, seem to be way better than most summer ones. Now maybe I should just pop out and see if the aurora is out?

  5. Paul S says:

    Right up my alley – I ride all year round up here in Toronto, so that means that I will ride in temperatures down to -40C (with windchill…now that hasn’t happened yet this year, the coldest I have ridden is -30C or so far). I agree about overheating. I leave my house at 6am, so obviously no sun. I am fine on the ride down, but when the sun has come up in the afternoon, I am sweating bucket by the time I am halfway home (35-40 min ride – and that is because of traffic).

    I agree with your thoughts there – I have 3 different kinds of balaclava, and for gloves, I wear a base layer, then mitts. I have the lobster style for the very , very cold days. I layer the rest – tech or cotton shirt, then long sleeve, then a wool or fleece jacket, then a shell jacket (for wind / precipitation). I don’t wear my tights (I use those for running), but wear long johns, then my yoga pants (don’t laugh). I use my thermal socks and then my shoes, then the toe covers . It all works for me, and yeah, people think I’m mad, but I love it. It makes me feel alive. Sure, it does kind of suck at times (like when I wiped out on freezing rain a few weeks ago), but overall I dig it. The only thing is that on my last bike, sometimes the gears didn’t work as well, and sometimes any moisture in the brake cables froze and my brakes weren’t as efficient. This newer bike doesn’t have those issues as much.

    Great post! Keep riding there!!!

    Paul

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks Paul, will do. But I’m keeping my cutoff at -10C… -30?! You’re a special brand of tough!

      • Paul S says:

        Ha! It’s more of a necessity for me, in some ways. I failed to mention that I probably don’t ride the way you do. I do it as transportation to and from work. 25 min ride down (downhill and quiet at 6am) and about 40 min back (uphill). So it’s a good basic exercise, but nothing like when I run or do any intense intervals etc.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Gotcha! Still, my winter riding is pretty basic too. Mountain bikes, 14 or 15 mph. -30 is really tough man. You get points in my book.

  6. Sue Slaght says:

    Some great tips Jim!

  7. buckyrides says:

    Nice write up, you should check out my review of teh Shimano MW7 boot, they are great in the winter. Elimininates the need for an overshoe and makes for a really great experience. wet or cold. https://buckyrides.com/2017/01/05/first-look-shimano-mw7-2017/

  8. fitnessgrad says:

    Jim.
    God, what I don’t want to do, be out in the cold working out at all. LOL. I learned that some people can handle the cold just fine and then there is people like myself who can’t and stay indoors at all cost! haha.

    Shay-lon

  9. Tony says:

    You didn’t mention gloves. One of my biggest problems was freezing fingers. Tried $60 down ski gloves, but they only worked for a while. Finally settled on glove mitts. they cost around $20 on Amazon. In case you aren’t familiar with them. They are half-fingered gloves with a mitten flap. You take the flap off to use your cell phone, etc. I guess the fingers all being together keeps them warmer. For some reason very few guys wear them. Maybe they are considered women only. I see women wearing them a lot.

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