Embracing the Cold- Fall Cycling
by Kathleen Hannah
Cycling in Central Washington is a wonderful form of transportation and exercise during the warm months, but how do you stay motivated to keep riding during the chilly months? With these tips – many of them gleaned from local experts –you can take advantage of your bike well into winter to save gas, get exercise, and enjoy the changing seasons.
First some general comments. To ride during late autumn (or even into the winter), the clothing needed is less about heavy layers and more about multiple layers. Cycling is no different than other outdoor sports in this respect: You’ll use multiple layers in different combinations to match the conditions of the day. You also want clothing that wicks moisture away from the body and moves it outward. During much of the year moisture moved to your outer layers evaporates in the wind and sun. During the cool, moist months of fall and winter, however, you can hit the saturation point of your clothing where the outer layers are damp and no more moisture is being wicked away from your skin. At this point the cold is conducted through all that moisture back to your core. This is not a big concern for short rides but on longer rides (around 1.5 hours or more) it’s not uncommon to discover that you can’t stay ahead of the cold. At such times you need to be carrying extra dry clothes to change into. Now for more specific tips.
During the cold months it is tempting to bundle up before your ride. Resist! After ten minutes of hard riding, your heart will be pumping and your body will be generating lots of heat. Consequently, our local experts maintain you want to start your ride with a lightweight cycling jacket that is both wind and water resistant. If you run hot, a thermal vest that leaves your arms free to pull arm warmers on and off is an effective way to layer.
Biking Pants and Tights
Most cyclists who are out during the warm months own cycling shorts, but these are usually inadequate for keeping legs warm in the cold months – especially if you’re a road rider because you’ll be generating much more wind than a mountain biker. Many cold-weather riders like using longer cycling tights as their breathable base layer. Another strategy used by many is to combine a three-quarter-length pant with knee warmers or leg warmers. Sometimes mountain bikers won’t need leg warmers on the uphill, but they’ll want to slip them on quickly before starting a long downhill.
Lots of vents in your helmet are wonderful in the summer when you need to bleed heat, but these same vents make you frigid in cold weather. To combat the problem, wear a skull cap under the helmet that is water repellent and has good thermal properties. If you’ve already got a beanie for other outdoor sports, try it before shopping for something new. Caps that cover the forehead aren’t quite as stylish but give you a lot of extra warmth for almost no extra weight.
Bike Shoe Covers
In cold weather it’s hard to keep feet warm. And once the feet feel cold, the rest of the body feels cold. Enter bike shoe covers (aka booties) – your entire body will notice an immediate difference in comfort when you use these on cold-weather rides. Booties aren’t always part of a mountain biker’s quiver, but for the increased speed and wind exposure of road riding, they are important. It will only take one toe-freezing ride to convince you that these goofy looking items are mandatory equipment. A cheap trick to keep you’re feet warm until you sure you’re willing to committed to cold-weather biking is to wear plastic bags over your socks but inside your bike shoes.
It’s tough to shift when your thumbs are numb, but when you combine cold temperatures with bike-generated winds, unprotected digits get numb fast. Leave the fingerless gloves at home and go for full-fingered, wind-resistant gloves or lobster-claw mittens. ‘Thin’ but ‘insulated’ (i.e., Thinsulated) handwear is the best for this application.
Many counties now have laws requiring cyclists to use bike lights in dusky or dark conditions. Frankly, the law should be of less concern to you than getting hit by 4,000-pound piece of steel. Regarding lights, you don’t need to spend exorbitant sums on top-of the line LED lights to make yourself visible. At the very minimum, you need a white light for the front of your bike and a flashing red light for the rear that make will make you visible from at least 500 feet away. For an extra boost — and to make you much more visible to cars waiting at intersections — consider some spoke lights for your wheels. This discussion of different bike lights on the WenatcheeOutdoorsForum has some very useful information.
General Safety Rules and Miscellaneous Tips
– Keep in mind when you are braking or cornering that in the fall and winter it will take longer to stop on wet or frozen surfaces. There are studded specialty tires that make a huge difference in traction and safety if you intend to be riding in icy or frosty conditions.
– Wear bright colors and clothing with reflective strips, it’s hard to make yourself too visible to vehicular traffic.
– Bike on the appropriate side of the road. If you’re walking the bike through a dangerous area, walk on the side of the road facing traffic. If you’re riding the bike, however, ride in the same direction as motor vehicles.
– Clear glasses or sun glasses are particularly useful this time of year to keep your eyes from watering and to keep water, sand and road grime out of your eyes.
– Commuter bikes will benefit from fenders, which will keep water, sand, and grime from spraying your face and skunk-striping your cycling jacket.
-Stay hydrated. In cold weather you’re less likely to feel thirsty, but your body still needs fluid to keep working hard. Force yourself to keep drinking.
– On longer cold-weather rides, use a pack to carry extra dry clothes. If you don’t remember why, you better re-read this article.
You’ll find some good information of cold-weather mountain biking at this forum thread on the WenatcheeOutdoors Forum.
Also, personnel at the following local bike shops helped with this article. These stores all carry different models of the items discussed in this article. Do some comparison shopping to see which products seem to best address your needs.
– Cycle Central, www.cycle-central.com, (509) 888-2453
– EuroSports Cycling,www.bikeleavenworth.com, (509) 888-5336
– Full Circle Cycle, (509) 663-8025