It’s been almost a year since my post The Winter of Our Discontent; Cool Bikings. There were some good ideas in there (of course) but not quite enough tips. And since we’ve had a few low temperatures approaching 40 F, which is the high in some places, I figure it’s time to stop turning a cold shoulder to this topic. I shouldn’t complain; 40 F is warm for many people in northern climes. WINTER IS COMING, so I’m trying to acclimate, that way I won’t be overdressed when the temperature does plummet.
Weather can be deceptive; warm in the sun and cold in the shade. I titled today’s ride on Strava as “Shirt Sleeves Short Pants Saturday.” Usually I see people dressed as I was, but people were wearing long sleeves, long pants, and even light jackets or sweaters. So maybe I am adjusting, but I wasn’t that comfortable except for when I was in the direct sun. That’s a good motivation to ride during the daylight hours instead of at night as I often do. You’d have to ask one of the folks who cycle where it’s actually cold for true winter riding tips, but here are some of mine.
Warming Up: As I mentioned in the post linked above, if you can get though the first 10-15 minutes and warm up, you may find you don’t need as much clothing. Alternatively, you could do some calisthenics inside before setting out on your bicycle.
Dress for Success: There are tons of articles on the bike magazines about what this year’s hot gear is, but the short version is that obviously you need the right clothes for the conditions. Windy? A windbreaker, especially if lined, can go a long way. Rainy? I use rain paints, shoe covers, and a good poncho, and they do make bike ponchos. Good gloves and wool socks are key. A good head covering is also essential. I used a hood over a thin fleece hat when super cold. Budget comes into play, but in some ways you can only be so frugal. Even the high end gear you’re going to sweat or get wet some, though.
Food and Drink: If you have insulated water bottles, you could start with hot water so it’s not frozen later. Or maybe you stop for soup or hot chocolate. Be sure to eat before and during if on a long ride, although beware digestion could take some energy and heat from your extremities.
Bike Harder: This may be a no-brainer tip, but it’s an easy one to overlook. Nothing like being cold without enough clothes will make you pedal faster. Maybe a bear chasing you. But opt for a hillier route, or burn more calories on the flats. Just be careful if you sweat too much and then slow down to not let yourself get too chilly.
Emergencies: Hand and feet warming packs may be a good idea in case you have a mechanical and are stuck outside longer than planned in autumn or winter weather. Most of what I do is urban riding here in Austin, but sometimes I could get stuck on a trail. Knowing your bus routes is a good thing. Having a buddy or two you can call is also good. Strava has Beacon, a feature that texts your start and location (if you turn on your data). Pros riding in the Alps have used newspaper a fan will hand them before descending in crappy weather, It can be your friend in your shoes and under your jersey, and it’s easy to discard later when down in the warmer valley.
Respect Mother Nature: You need to know your limits for tolerating the cold, your abilities over whatever terrain and distance your traveling, and what the weather is likely to do. Weather Underground has a Minutecast feature, and hourly forecasts are also helpful. But notice I said likely. Climate change is real and last year’s Snowmaggedon here in Austin which dumped record snow and shut down the power grid virtually statewide for days was a seriously scary deal. If you live where it’s really winter, you’re probably way more prepared with back-up generators, firewood for wood stoves, and the like.
Wear a Mask! A Covid-19 mask — there are many varieties — is a smart thing to have in my book. They’re good to take on and off as needed (and your local pandemic public health advisory says). I was happily surprised to learn that a simple surgical mask that kept my face warm did a lot to keep me feeling warm overall on a recent chilly night. Of course a true winter biking or skiing face mask may be necessary at some point.
Trainer Time: In the worst weather where you just can’t even, putting your bike on a trainer to ride in the comfort of your home is probably the best option. If you have a speed meter, you’ll still count your mileage. Otherwise, a manual entry is required. Or if you have a stationary bike, that will record your data for you. It’s not cheating; miles are miles. Just not as fun as getting outside in nature to exercise in autumn or winter.
What do you do to stay warm and dry on the bike in autumn and winter?
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