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Winter Cycling

Posted Dec 15 2009 12:00am
I admit it, I’m a wimp when it comes to riding my bike in the cold.  I’d much rather go run, or if I have to bike, either use my indoor trainer or take a spin class!  But I know there are just sometimes when you have to get on your bike out in the cold, so here we go. 

I am going to focus on clothing and nutrition regarding training, not “commuter” type cycling.  For some good “commuter” winter cycling tips, see bicycling life and commute by bike

I am also not going to cover the technical aspects regarding “winterizing” your bicycle (if that is needed).  There is a really good website regarding these technical details that is put together by All Weather Sports in Alaska

Similar to tips for running in the cold, when cycling in the cold you need to protect your head and extremities, as well as stay hydrated and fuel properly. You also need to plan for how long you'll be cycling and if weather conditions may change while you are out riding. See my previous blog post for these particular tips.

Now on a bike, you are going to be generating your own wind, whether it is windy outside or not, so you have to keep this in mind in regards to keeping your body warm.  While some people may generate a lot of heat riding a bike, I personally warm up much more running than I do cycling (that’s one of the reasons I prefer cycling to running in the summer, and vice versa in the winter).  Most people will start to need “more clothing” on a bike as the temperature begins to dip below 50 degrees. 

The first thing to protect is your head and extremities.  Consider wearing a skullcap or some type of helmet liner, and wear gloves.  There are gloves made specifically for cyclists that are full-fingered.  When the temperature starts to get really cold, you may want to try the “crab-claw” type gloves that are similar to mittens, but still give you enough finger movement to be able to shift gears and brake easily.  Depending on what type of shoes you ride in, you may not be able to wear much thicker socks.  Consider purchasing “shoe covers,” or try the much less expensive option, which is to wrap a plastic bag over your shoe.  If you are someone who’s feet do not sweat much, you may even want to wrap your foot in a plastic bag, then tuck your foot into your shoe (I’m told bread bags or plastic newspaper “sleeves” work great for this, it’s not something I personally have tried). 

The next clothing items to consider are arm and leg (or knee) warmers.  These are good for rides that start cold but then warm up because you can either completely take off the warmers and tuck them into a back pocket once you warm up, or just push them down to your wrists and ankles. 

For much colder temperatures, you will likely be wearing full leggings, a long-sleeved shirt, an insulated vest, a balaclava (head wrap that extends to protect your neck and chin), and possibly a wind breaker (in addition to gloves and feet protectors) and sun glasses.  Polarized lenses that are vented can work great for protecting your eyes from the wind, as well as reducing glare (but if they are not vented, they may have a tendency to fog up). 

Finally, make sure that you not only have front and rear lights on your bike, but that you also wear reflective clothing and/or have some type of blinking light on your body as well.  Daylight hours are so short this time of year, plus the skies often tend to be overcast and gray, that it can be difficult for drivers to see cyclists even during the daytime. 

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