A Noob’s Guide to Winter Cycling; Dealing with Cold Toes – Or Better, How to Keep Them Warm Below Freezing
Cycling in the cold can be a bit like Whack-a-mole in that you’re only as good as your weakest (coldest) link. As a rookie cyclist, my cutoff used to be 50° (10 C). Now it’s 18° (-7 C)… There’s a lot of Whack-a-mole at 18°.
My worst used to be my neck. I found neck gaiters.
Then my ears. Earmuffs are the best!
Core layers were next. Three or four, depending on how cold we’re talking about, usually does it when it gets nasty cold.
Then there are the feet. The furthest point from your heart. Cold feet can suck the life right out of a cycling adventure.
The feet were the toughest to crack by far when we went out below 32° F (0 C). I stuck with it, though, and my wife supplied the missing piece.
Now, it must be stated ahead of time; I’m an exceptionally healthy 48-year-old male. I have great circulatory health. I don’t have awareness of abnormal body temp issues.
The base-layer key are the socks. Defeet’s Woolie Boolie winter socks are my favorite. Specialized also makes a great wool winter sock. Without a great, thick wool sock, I wouldn’t be comfortable riding below 40° (4 C).
Next, are the shoe covers. I chose Specialized’s Deflect H2O covers. They’re water resistant, so they block the wind, too. They’re exceptional. I did go one size larger… I wear a 44, so I go with the 45/46 cover. It fits better than the 43/44. If you’re going to ride nine months of the year in Michigan, you’re going to need shoe covers.
That’s not all, though. The shoe covers are a great start and they, with the wool socks, are good down to 32-ish degrees (-0 C). The kicker, when you want to ride down to 20° or even lower (-7 C), is that I also use Specialized’s Therminal 1.5 Toe Covers under the shoe covers. I use the combo for anything below 33° (1 C). The toe covers were the missing link that really kept my feet comfortable. Cycling with two blocks of ice as feet is no fun.
That’s all there is to it for me. I really don’t relish the idea of riding below 20° and 18 is my cutoff anyway – below that I’m riding the trainer because I get no enjoyment out of riding when it’s that cold out. I don’t know why, really, the combination of the toe and shoe covers works so well to keep the toes warm, but it does and I highly recommend it if you’re having a problem with cold toes.
There are other ways to go, of course. A few of my friends ponied up the big bucks and bought cycling boots. Those are good down to about the same 20-ish degrees but they add on another $200-$300. For me, the toe warmers and shoe covers are enough, though.
I was asked to give a lead-in talk at a treatment center in downtown Flint last night. At first, because I really didn’t know what to expect (and because my first stint in treatment was at the toughest/worst place in the State – where they only sent hopeless repeat offenders), I wasn’t nervous about what I’d say. I had an idea, of course, but I vastly underestimated the crowd. There were maybe 40 men, many hardened criminals… and me. And the guy who asked me to give the talk, and two of his friends.
26 years ago, I fit in to that crowd a lot better than I do today.
It wasn’t cause to freak out, though. “Experience, strength and hope”, that’s all I have.
After I was introduced, I got right into it. I gave a brief overview of what it was like when I got sober, and I kept it to the first few steps. There was no pandering to the crowd, so I just said what I had to say and ended when I was done. I didn’t try to stretch it out and I didn’t embellish on anything. I think I spoke for all of fifteen minutes. I was supposed to eat up almost 45 minutes.
I really felt like I’d let the fella who invited me down, that I should have had more. Then he asked if anyone had questions… The first hand went up, and I answered his question. Then another, and another. They were fantastic questions, too. “Do you ever have urges to drink?” “How do you deal with those urges?” “Do you think you could have quit without God’s help?””How do you work the steps in the rest of your life?”
Questions filled up the remaining half-hour. Guys were still asking questions as they were filing out the door.
Folks, I had every chance to completely screw up that lead-in talk. I could have forced it and tried to stretch another fifteen minutes out of it, but instead just went with my gut. I said what I had to say and left it where it was still “real”.
I walked out of that meeting feeling better about sobriety than I have in a long time – and that was pretty hard to do, I’m in a very good place of late. I’m on a 90 day rotation to go back and I can’t wait. We have a little tradition in “the program”. When we are asked to give a talk like that, there is only one answer: “Where’s the meeting and when do you want me there?”
I give every chance I get because I never know when I’ll run into a meeting like I did Monday night. If one person heard something that will get them to come back, I helped change the course of a person’s life. I think it went vastly better than that, though. On my way home I got a text from the guy who invited me; “Tonight’s meeting was a meeting that reminded me why I keep coming back. Thanks.” Funny thing was, I had the same feeling. That’s how it works.
“Giving back” doesn’t have to be a huge philanthropic effort to make a big difference. Usually, all it takes is one’s experience, strength, and a little hope. Oh, and a lot of faith.
I was going to call it impossible, but it happened…
It was barely freezing outside and for a second day in a row, nary a cloud in the sky and we had a group coming out to ride. I prepped the tandem the night before. I changed Mrs. Bgddy’s saddle and swapped out pedals. It made sense, taking the tandem. More work for me, and less speed for my friends who just want some fun miles on yet another perfect day in January.
Three minutes to ride and my wife asked if we could switch to single bikes. She’d ridden a metric ton of miles in the last week and she figured she might want to cut it short… she didn’t want to have to hold me hostage if she wanted to head back.
That’s love right there, baby.
It presented a problem, though. I had the pedals on the tandem. I also, because I was sure I’d ride the tandem, put my trainer wheel on the Trek and mounted it on the trainer.
I could have, probably should have, put the pedals on the gravel bike and rolled. I wanted to ride the Trek, though. I love that bike, and missed riding it. I went to work. Swapped pedals, changed the wheel, dialed in the derailleur, inflated the tires and rolled the bike out the door.
Like the morning before, we were a little skittish over the first few miles as the roads were a little damp and the temp hovered right at freezing. Any worry was for naught, though. The roads were fine.
I was on a skinny tire, as was Matt, but everyone else was on their gravel rig. That meant I was going to spend a lot of time up front in service of the gang.
We settled in and the conversations started. That is the best part of winter miles. They’re bonus miles so it’s rare you get someone trying to push the pace too hard. Instead, the ride is more a celebration of being together.
The headwind picked up the farther north we got and it became a little like work getting through it, but we decided to keep pushing for bonus miles. No telling when we’d be outside and together again. We were better than 18 miles out before we turned back for home.
Heading home with a tailwind and the sun shining was something special. It was the best we could have hoped for on a January morning.
It was another reason to love cycling. I spent the rest of the day with a smile on my face.
Good times and noodle salad.
Saturday, January 5th… we should be buried in snow till March. We’re not, though. And we even had some sunshine.
It’s been a month or two since I rode my Trek outside. The Diverge gravel bike is nice, but there’s not much impressive about it. The tandem has been wonderful – especially with the new fenders that have kept the bike from getting too gnarly on wet roads… the tandem is a lot of work, though.
My road bikes, though… they’re spectacular. There’s just something about a lightweight, exceptionally fast road bike that puts a smile on my face…
Mrs. Bgddy and I decided to leave the tandem in the bike room, to opt for the single bikes. She’s got the new Specialized Power Mimic saddle and I wanted to see how she liked it. And I just wanted to ride the Trek outdoors.
We I readied the bikes, including dialing in my wife’s new saddle and swapping pedals from the tandem to the road bikes. I filled the water bottles and pumped the tires.
We rolled the bikes out… Chuck had ridden over and Doc Mike was parked on the side of the road and had his bike ready. It was cold, just 25° (-4 C), but the sun was shining in all it’s cloudless glory, a faint remnants of frozen fog hung in the air – just enough to make the first five miles a little skittish.
Not to mention, having ridden so many trainer miles on the Trek over the past couple of months, my first half-mile was almost comical how wobbly I was. I actually laughed out loud… through gritted teeth, of course. It seemed it might be a little slick in places.
Then the sun did its thing. In Michigan, we get a lot of cloud cover from October till April because we’re surrounded by the Great Lakes, so it’s a rare day we see the sun like that. A good morning for a winter ride became a great day, almost instantly.
We fought what little wind there was on the way out, over the first fifteen miles. Heading into Byron I hadn’t planned on going for the sprint but Doc Mike was up front and all of a sudden he was out of the saddle and going for it. I kicked it up to hold his wheel, but then my wife popped into my peripheral vision. She was going for the sign too. That’s all I needed.
I went straight after it. Out of the saddle and crankin’. Strava says I was only three seconds off of my personal best on that stretch. I got the 5200 up to 30-mph and took the sprint by a goodly margin.
A short stop at our usual gas station and we were headed home, tailwind almost the whole way. I wore a smile on my face the whole way. Just being in a pace-line, with the sun on my smiling mug, the pace just north of 20-mph, it was therapeutic. It made me remember why I like being me so much.
We added a few extra bonus miles so we could get Chuck closer to home before splitting off and heading for home ourselves. We pulled into the driveway with 30.6 miles at just north of an 18-mph average (29 km/h). It was an easy, fun pace the whole way.
It was a perfectly, wonderfully fantastic winter day. They don’t make them much better than that – and I needed it!
I’ve mentioned my enjoyment of bowling a time or two on the blog but I’ve never gone beyond the odd mention.
Friends, I love me some bowling.
I’ve been on an autumn through winter sober league for going on eighteen years. I’m not great, but I’m absolutely above average. I hold between a 170 and 180 average, my best being 183. Not great, but not bad.
Well, this year I was invited to the bigs as a sub. The Friday night league. I’ve participated six or seven times this year and it hasn’t been pretty. I went from the equivalent of the fun league to a league where a decent average is fifty pins higher than mine.
To illustrate, I’m happy when I get a messenger to shoot across and clip the ten (I’m a leftie) – it’s a cool shot. I saw a guy last night whose revs were so high he was getting a double messenger – one from each side. And on more than half of his strike shots. His worst game was a 233.
So I’ve had a double-whammy problem with Friday night. I don’t put a lot of money into bowling. I have three balls – a sixteen and two fourteen-and-a-half’s. They’re all hand-me-downs I’ve collected over the years. Two were already drilled leftie and just right and I had one filled and drilled for me. I’ve had the same shoes since I started bowling all those years ago…. and therein lies the rub. Those old-@$$ shoes.
They started sticking about six weeks ago, out of nowhere. I’d get four good shots and they’d start sticking (as soon as the soles warmed up). I went from six or eight inches of slide to having to plant my foot, trying not to fall on my face. I’d have good games and really bad games, and God forbid I bowl against someone who dropped the ball before the line, a little oil on my shoe would make it worse.
Well, I was a little slow putting all of this together – it takes a minute to read the post, but it took weeks to figure the order of the clues.
Last Friday I cleaned my shoes and scuffed the leather slide pad, hoping that would cure my ills. It was better, but not near enough. I ordered a new pair of shoes. I finally was going to have to put some money into my other hobby.
They showed up ten minutes before I pulled into the driveway yesterday, and an hour before I had to leave.
My first and second games were a little ugly, trying to get used to being able to slide again… and then I ran into one on the third game. Everything clicked and when I realized I wasn’t thinking about sticking anymore. I went from the 150’s to a 214. I was finally able to run into a few.
Like in everything else, if you want to get better, hang out with people better than you… and keep coming back after you’ve figured out you want to quit because you’re not good enough.
It’s only after that point I get better.
My friends, for the love of God and all that is Holy, there’s a new way to lose friends and shun yourself… It’s called Digital Doping.
I can remember a while back, a fella who commented on the most popular post I’ve ever written (How I Got Fast – A Noob’s Guide to a 23-mph Average) accusing me of lying about the fact that I’d done rides averaging 23-mph. He required that I supply him my Strava info as proof, because obviously, if it didn’t happen on Strava, it didn’t happen. Instead, I gave up some data from my Endomondo account (because I didn’t use Strava back then). I hammered him pretty hard, too, for being an @$$hole about it.
This year, our B Group managed 23-mph, or very close to it, several times on Tuesday night – and I’m hooked up to Strava now, so the rides actually happened (thank goodness). Long story short, I was pretty hot that the person who left the comment challenged me to begin with. After all, who would lie about such a thing?! You’d have to be a loser of epic proportions… and then I read there’s a site out there that scrubs and boosts one’s Strava data.
My friends, if you’ve come to a point where you’ve gotta artificially boost your stats on Strava, hang up your cycling shoes and melon protector for a minute, get your ass on a mountain bike on a trail somewhere and take a few hours to remember why you ride a bike in the first place.
While it is fun to write posts about what it feels like to be in a pace-line that averages 23-mph (and it’s even better to be able to be one of the horses of that group), eventually you’re going to have to back those bogus stats up in a club setting and “I just don’t have the legs tonight” isn’t going to cut it when you get dropped in the first five miles.
It’s better to be honest about the phone book full of people who can beat you than to lie and have it come out that it’s actually two phone books full of people who can beat you.
I had a fall Tuesday evening, taking the garbage to the curb of all things. We had better than 250 pounds in the can and I stumbled. The weight of the off-kilter wheeled garbage can pulled me down instantly. My skinned knees doubled in size. I have a fair gash in my right middle finger knuckle, and my thumb, pointer and ring fingers are skinned. My glasses were bent, but thankfully not scratched. To round it off, my back was tweaked pretty good, too.
The knees are bruised, but there’s nothing grinding around in there. Still, I was hobbled a little bit Wednesday.
So, I pulled into the driveway after work and contemplated whether or not to ride. Movement may hurt, but I know darn good and well it will also loosen me up.
I rode on the trainer and it sucked… until I stepped out of the shower. The pain dulled after sitting on the couch for ten minutes, continuing with my movie. My wife came home with the kids (from swim practice) and some pizza. We ate dinner together and I went back to the couch to finish Inception.
Awesome movie, by the way.
I drifted off to sleep shortly after 8, went to bed around midnight, and slept till 3 (that’s seven hours for the math challenged)… and woke up feeling 75% better than when I fell asleep. My legs, especially my knees, showed significant improvement on waking up. The twinge in my back eased up considerably and I almost feel pretty good again.
All in one night and because of one ride on the trainer – and I thought about quitting five times in the first ten minutes. I have no doubt, I couldn’t have improved that much in one night had I just taken a day off and “rested” on the couch.
The question, of course, is when one really needs time off from exercise to heal and when one should muscle through it. I like to err on the side of the latter, though I’m no doctor. I think there’s a little too much “take two weeks off” and not enough “rub some dirt on it, you’ll be fine.” But that might just be me.