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The Fun and Unfun of Winter Riding

See Cold Weather Riding.

We had a nasty cold spell for about two weeks earlier this month. It became a chore to don three wool layers and my Pearl Izumi AmFib tights and come home just adequately warm, body somewhat chilled, toes cold, etc. Well, it is no fun at all compared to an 80° summer day.

The problem is that with road cycling, cold weather doesn’t keep one from sweating, and with speeds of 20-30 mph, the wind chill factor at 40°F drops below freezing; one has to wear enough clothing to stay warm, but this traps perspiration. And thick clothing just feels much less pleasant than a summer jersey ruffled by a warm summer breeze.

Riding in heavier clothing, a special purpose base layer still gets soaked with sweat, and I am not persuaded that it is superior to a wool base layer, since it adds no insulation value, and still feels damp. Still, it is better than most summer jerseys as a base layer; those get soaked and stick against the skin.

As long as one keeps pedaling to generate body heat the level of discomfort is acceptable, but stopping generates a chill within a few minutes— one trick is to carry a dry base layer, and swap at the top of a climb before descending— and put on a good windbreaker or at least a vest or even a down shirt under a windbreaker. All of this helps but doesn’t change the “soaked” fact.

But there is relief and joy in a bright sunny day— and recently the weather has warmed by ~15°F and it is a promise that the train is on the tracks to the summer solstice, and that warmth is not that far off. Still the shadowed canyons remain quite chilly here in late January.

Well, a little warmer is fun on a sunny day. And it’s a lot better to get out and move and stay in reasonable shape than to start to feel sluggish.

Really cold weather can actually be easier, since one can slow down and set reasonable expectations (not training pressure, just have fun). Unfortunately, I did not make it up here to the White Mountains late in 2012 as here in 2011 (below). Temps here were dropping into the teens, which is not so bad at a slower speed on a mountain bike. Just don’t dip really cold pedals into a creek or they’ll become blobs of ice instantly.

White Mountains, Nov, 2011

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