Cold Weather Bicycle Rides

Ice forming on Groton School Pond

I live in New England and this year I decided to continue to ride my bicycle into the winter season. The exercise is more mentally stimulating than anything that I could accomplish in a gymnasium. The rides also feed my obsession by adding more miles to my total for the year.

To date I’m good down to about 32 degrees Fahrenheit with no snow on the trail. The biggest challenge as it becomes colder is clothing. The choices for me are much different than they are for warm weather. When its warm, I want clothes that get the moisture away from my body with the benefit of evaporative cooling. When its cold, I want to avoid having my perspiration exposed to the air because I don’t want the cooling effect.

It’s a fine balance between being warm enough and being too warm. As the season has progressed, I’ve added layers to accommodate the dropping temperatures. I started out using a nylon shell. I wore a t-shirt underneath the top shell and my regular underwear, but no pants under the pant shell. As it got colder I added cotton sweat pants and a long sleeved t-shirt over another t-shirt under the shell. To be comfortable at around 32 degrees, I wear a cotton hoodie on top. That may be good into the mid-20s.

On my feet, I gave up the clipless pedals because the shoes fit too tight for cold weather. Instead I use loose fitting cross-training shoes that are not ventilated. Two pairs of socks provide enough layers down to 32 degrees, but I need to re-think that for anything colder.

On my head I use a shell that covers my ears and forehead. It also has a flap that I can pull up over my chin and mouth. I haven’t found it necessary to cover my entire face, even with the wind chill of 15 to 20 miles per hour at times.

Hands have proven to be the most difficult to protect. On one of my early cold weather rides, I used five-finger gloves made from synthetic fleece. They worked fine until I removed them during a break. When I put them back on they were moist and caused my hands to freeze up as I rode. I didn’t anticipate that my hands would sweat as much as they do. Fortunately, I had a dry pair of mittens in my bag. The mittens have a shell and are lined with fleece. The shell prevents the evaporative effect. I use them exclusively at this point.

My training rides of about 25 miles are continuing successfully into the winter. I’m tending to use a rail trail that has a town every 4 miles or so just in case I need shelter. At the half-way point I have a favorite place where I can get coffee and a warm sandwich before I head back. I enjoy the sparsely travelled trails more when it’s warm, but that isolation is a risk during the cold weather because there is no place to get relief from the cold if necessary.

My favorite bicycle is my steel touring bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker. I’m using that as long as I can. I like to train on the bike that I use for touring. After the trail gets covered with snow, I will try my mountain bike with some aggressive tires. At some point I will be thwarted by snow that is too deep for a bicycle.

I don’t cover the distance as fast as I would in the summer, but that’s not important in the cold. What’s important is that I am enjoying the sport that I love well into the winter. When spring comes my hope is that I will be ready for a long tour earlier in the season.