Winter Riding-How To Deal With The Cold

For some of you, ( like me in California ) riding a bike at any temperature below 50 degrees ( Fahrenheit ) is really cold. For this post, “really cold” is defined as below 32 degrees. There’s no reason why winter riding has to be miserable.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.

When it’s really cold, there’s simply no point in fighting the elements because there’s a fine line between building toughness and getting sick. That doesn’t count the built-up snow and salt on the roads that make traction hazardous. It also provides less room and visibility for drivers and can corrode your bike’s drivetrain fairly quickly. Within reason, exercising outdoors even in the extreme cold is both doable and enjoyable.

Most of the time, you can think of winter activities as “exercising in less heat,” rather than being too different from exercising in warmer temperatures. That’s because the body is still producing heat from exercise that will keep you warm. The difference is that you’ll lose heat from your body quite quickly due to the colder temperatures. Therefore, staying warm during exercise in the cold is really about balancing how active you are, wearing the right clothing, and taking some common-sense precautions.

 Breathing Cold Air

Most people have no problems from breathing in cold air during exercise, even with activities such as during cross-country skiing that requires rapid breathing. Your nose and airways are very good at warming up the air, so even very cold air is warmed up to nearly your normal body temperature by the time it reaches the more delicate lungs.

The main exception is athletes with asthma, as cold air might trigger an asthmatic episode. The same is true for athletes with exercise-induced bronchial-constriction. In this situation, heavy exercise can cause the muscles around the airways to react and make breathing more difficult. If this is a concern, one thing you might try is to wear a light bandana, scarf or mask. This will help warm up and add moisture to the air before it reaches your lungs.

Another way to help lessen the chance of breathing problems is to slowly warm-up before beginning heavier exercise. Not only will this be better for your body as a whole, but it will also help your breathing get used to the extra work that it’s being asked to do.

Wind Chill

Wind chill is the biggest risk when exercising in the winter. Negative 10 degrees in calm air may not feel too cold, but zero degrees in a strong wind can feel extremely cold. This is because wind greatly increases the rate of heat loss from your skin. This can cause you to lose body heat much faster, so you must take extra care. There are many weather apps that can help you track the wind where you live during your rides.

Really Cold Weather Tips

  • Be extremely careful when it’s cold and raining or when you’re near water. Water conducts heat 25 times as fast as air, greatly increasing your risk of hypothermia. If it’s a cold and wet day, consider doing something indoors instead, or make sure you have excellent rain gear. When it’s cold and wet, also try to keep stops or rest breaks to a minimum, as the act of exercising is generating a lot of valuable heat to keep you warm.
  • If you have the option, consider finding routes away from open exposure to wind. Ideally, find routes with lots of cover from trees or buildings and consider heading to the trails for something different.
  • Make sure you wear quality winter clothing with base layers. Wear garments closest to the body that wicks away sweat. Trapped sweat that can’t evaporate will also cool your temperature rapidly.
  • Layering definitely does work. Each individual layer acts as a barrier to the wind, and the sum of a few layers is usually greater than one single layer of the same overall insulation. Layering also lets you customize the degree of ventilation during exercise.
  • Last but not least, you lose most of your warmth through your head. Wear a hat or balaclava* under your helmet, especially with all the super-ventilating helmets out on the market.

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Me in my balaclava*. It can be pulled over my nose and mouth if need be. Be aware, they come in sizes and for women that is usually a small. As you can see it tucks into my furry pullover keeping cold drafts at bay. 

Dress For Success In Layers

The secret to all-year-round cycle clothing success, both on or off-road, is layering. It might be tempting to go and buy that awesome cycling jacket but that alone won’t provide enough performance to keep you truly comfortable in all weather. What every cyclist needs to do is dress in a way that can deal with changing external and internal conditions. Nothing is more miserable than over or underdressing.

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Dressed for success. Today I’m wearing a furry winter sports pullover. It’s very warm but not windproof. Underneath I wear a sleeveless undershirt, a sweat-wicking long sleeve base layer, a Pearl Izumi ( water-resistant and windproof ) shell, and if it’s really cold a thermal underwear top. This is finished off by long workout leggings, and Pearl Izumi gloves with gel insert.

I don’t subscribe to dressing like everyone else when it comes to cycling. Road Cyclists have their cycling jerseys, shorts or bibs, and more. Cycling clothes are expensive but it doesn’t hurt to get a few good pieces to add to your riding ensemble.  I look for sales and am partial to the Pearl Izumi and Fabletics brands. The important thing is to layer what you do wear correctly for comfort and function.

How Should I Layer My Garments?

  • The first garment, which will sit next to your skin is the base layer. Base layers wick sweat away from your skin while also keeping you warm. A good base layer will help you stay cool and dry in summer, but warm and insulated in winter. I find a sleeveless undershirt made of a good sweat-wicking material under my base layer keeps my body extra warm without overheating on freezing days.
  • Softshell jackets make a good layer over the first garment. They have wind-stopping material and some elements of rain-resistance. A good shell is often your first line of defense against true winter riding elements. Some shells have removable sleeves and vents if you get too warm.
  • For really cold days I add another layer over the softshell. A waterproof or water-resistant coat long enough to cover your backside ( especially if you don’t have fenders ) is good. You don’t want the coat to be too heavy and that extra layer will help you stay warm and dry rain or shine.

These are only suggestions because there are so many variations depending on how you layer your clothes and what you like to wear. Just follow these outlines and use common sense.

Warm Leggings

Leggings ( or tights ) are made from different materials for the seasons. Most leggings are also sweat-wicking and will keep your legs warm and protected. If you get a sore rear-end while riding find leggings with sensible padded inserts. You can find workout leggings almost everywhere they have become more popular than blue jeans for everyday women’s wear, however, make sure they are thick enough to keep you warm. Bib tights for cycling are another alternative ( that men usually prefer, ) made for women too.

Protect Your Hands, Feet, Head, & Neck

Nothing has the ability to create quite as much pain on the bike than cold and wet feet or hands, so make sure your extremities are protected. Being dressed for cold weather success means nothing if a cold draft is blowing down your neck or through your bike helmet.

For your hands, swap fingerless mitts for full-finger gloves. If you use your phone while riding as a bike computer some gloves have fingers that work on touch screens that are very handy. Then, on the feet, use overshoes or oversocks to help keep toes warm and prevent water from getting into your shoe.

For your noggen, you can use any soft winter cap that fits over your head and ears and fits underneath your bike helmet. When you need something more I suggest the balaclava* which is excellent because it’s adjustable to protect any part of your face, ears, and neck. They are great neck warmers and tuck into your top layer. In winter I keep mine at the ready in my bike bag.

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This is a moto jacket that I use as my warmest winter outer layer. It has the features you want to look for in a good cycling jacket. It’s waterproof and windproof without a bulky lining. Those cuffs fit over my gloves keeping my wrists warm with no drafts. It has a high neck that keeps me warm. It looks heavy but is light enough so that my layers underneath don’t make me overheat. Fabletics makes the moto jacket, many of my baselayer tops, and my leggings.

Layering up can work if you cycle to work or are going out for a longer ride. What you wear will depend on what the temperature is, where you are riding and how long you will be cycling for. It might seem that there’s a lot of gear suggested here but it’s worth remembering that all of these garments are the types of products that will stand up to many years of riding. Also, layering is a total cycling clothing solution, suitable for all outdoor sports.

Dealing with cold weather during any season can make one miserable but winter is the worst. Really cold, cloudy, windy, dark short days that make even the best bike rider want to stay inside and hide. As long as you have the facts and know how to layer even you can turn that frown upside down and get back to what you love. And let’s face it, winter can be so beautiful!

*A balaclava, also known as a balaclava helmet or ski mask, is a form of cloth headgear designed to expose only part of the face, depending on how it’s worn. 

Stay warm and dry, be safe, and stay happy!

 

Hardest Thing I Ever Did/Dual Knee Replacement

My date for surgery was August 26th. I was at my doctor’s (orthopedic) at Standford on May 10th. I was hoping for another cortisone shot to the ligaments in my legs and more physical therapy but I was sorely mistaken. I was limping yet again because my left knee had moved inside and was causing me a lot of pain when I used it.

Dr. A (everyone calls him that because no one can pronounce his name) wasn’t having it, “It’s time we replace those troublesome knees. Let’s set a date for the surgery.”

What could I say? I had one terribly bent knee that caved in because of the pressure of supporting the other damaged knee. It made me walk funny, limp, and people always noticed it when they saw me. It was very painful and had gone on for decades now causing problems with my hips and other leg structures. I sighed a big sigh.

“When I do surgery I can straighten your legs and you’ll be better than ever,” Dr. A offered with a smile.

So the day before my 65th birthday I said yes to having both knees replaced at once. Dr. A felt that I was in great shape for my age and would do well after surgery. So did I but I was hesitant.

The week before surgery I got a call from Dr. A’s assistant. He said if I came in for a special scan that they could use robotics during my surgery. I felt lucky to be picked because it would help correct my windswept knees.

The scan was nothing special they taped a bar to each leg and scanned them. The bar was part of the reference that the robot would use. It was really space-age cool stuff. Of course, I would be asleep and that was fine with me.

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Happy rides! Because of my dual knee replacement, I’ll be taking a 4-6 week break planning to be back at it real soon.

Tick tock….time flew by and one night I got the call to be at Standford Hospital for check-in at 6am with surgery at 8:15am. It was….

~Go Time~

Everything went smoothly I was in a daze and after drugs, I barely remember anything before surgery. I was under for 3 hours, (it took a little longer with the robotics) and then I woke up to a world of WTF!

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I had nerve blocks in each thigh and pressure cuffs on my lower legs for clotting. Those are pressure bandages too. I was glad for the nerve blocks when they were working.

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When they removed the pressure bandage this was what I saw. Later they got me up with a walker and make me take a few steps. I barely remember it now. Those bandages are waterproof and protect the stitches keeping them dry and together while they heal.

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With all of the drugs, I was trying to keep it together but little did I know…..

One of the nerve block boxes wouldn’t stay together (I had one in each leg) and would stop working putting me in great pain. They wouldn’t give me a new one so I had to put up with it. They even had a technician look at it. He put the battery door back on it and deemed that it would now stay put and work. It did not and when I pushed the bottom nothing happened. Each time a hapless nurse would fumble with it so I could finally get some rest.

They were very stingy with the pain meds and kept me in more pain than I should have had to put up with. When I asked for pain meds they acted controlling and secretive. I didn’t get a lot of information out of them until I pushed the subject.

I was very unhappy with the Standford Hospital and felt treated like a second-hand patient. For being a top-rated hospital they seriously treated me badly and there was a lot of broken equipment. I got no shots in the belly for clots nor did I get the plastic thing to blow in to make sure your lungs are ok after being under. Pretty shocking looking at my age and considering its standard operation after major surgery.

They left my catheter in for 2 days (until I left the hospital) and stopped giving me IV fluids for a whole day knowing I was anemic from losing so much blood during surgery. Hospitals aren’t supposed to release someone who’s been under until they are using the toilet but they pulled the catheter and sent me off in the medical transport.  This messed my kidneys up sending my potassium levels sky-high.

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Now that I’m older I’m very hard to IV as you can see. I’m glad I was out when this happened. You should see the other hand….

By the time I got to El Camino Rehab Hospital in Los Gatos, they had to IV me again and give me liquids to save my life. The high potassium levels were damaging my kidneys and they were afraid I’d have a heart attack. Luckily, they got another IV in without harming me because they got their best person from the hospital to do it. I still cried because my veins hurt badly in my arms.

The potassium levels went back to normal and I was relieved. I lost blood during surgery and the hospital should have never stopped giving me IV fluids. I was thankful but my kidneys were recovering slowly. They told me I lost a lot of blood during surgery.

Lucky I’m recovering (per the strength of my own body reserves.) My doctor is monitoring me as I speak to make sure I get back to normal body functions.

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Every dark cloud has its silver lining and this was mine. Little things keep one going when recovering from surgery or an illness.

The rehab hospital I was in was excellent! We got 2 hours of Physical Therapy and 2 hours of Occupational Therapy every day except for Sunday.  They worked us hard and helped me reach my true potential. They joked that PT really stood for Pain and Torture. I had to agree (in a good way.) The therapists and nurses really did a good job of preparing us to do our best when we get home.

Every time it was something different with a few group therapy classes thrown in. It was fun sharing exercises (and war stories) with other people who have similar goals. They let me ride the stationary bike 15 minutes at a time a few times.

I will say it now. This surgery is the hardest thing I ever did.

The support staff there were polite and helpful and the nurse’s helpers would braid my long hair. I don’t know how to do my own hair so I really appreciated little things like that. It wasn’t for fashion I needed to keep my hair out of the way in PT.

Almost everyone working at the El Camino Rehab Hospital in Los Gatos, CA were first-rate. It was the best experience I’ve ever had with a hospital. Refreshing after what I went through with Stanford after surgery. I plan to write El Camino Rehab a great review on their website after a few months of recovery.

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Soon my waterproof bandages were wrinkled and peeling off from exercising and showering. I was finally home it was a little shocking at first.

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I took to my apartment building sidewalk with my walker enjoying the flowers. My neighbors looked at me like I was crazy since they had no idea about my surgery. 

After 9 days at the rehab hospital, I was sent home with a mess of medicine, instructions, and a walker. Now I could walk around my apartment on my own. I never needed the extra equipment I got for the toilet and shower stool because our apartment is that small. I was so happy to be home with my own bed.

I can ride my bicycle again?!?!

On Sept. 13th I had an appointment with Dr. A’s assistant to have my bandages taken off. At this time I didn’t know what to expect under the bandages I was shaky about it. She was gentle with me.

She covered those stitches about with a light tape that helps the wound stay protected and heal while the stitches melt. She told me I could walk without the walker and use a cane if I wished. She also gave me the ok to ride my bicycle again and drive. She told me to be careful but if I felt strong enough I could do it.

She told me at 4 weeks I was performing at a 6 or more week level. All along, my team of health care people involved in my dual knee replacement knew the plan was to get me back on my bicycle ASAP. My job was to push myself and heal. They were very happy with my performance.

Before I left she showed me pictures of the robot working on my knees with Dr. A and the other doctors. I could see what the robot saw on the screen. I only saw 2 pictures but they were amazing.

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The scar on the right is shaped like that because I had an old surgery scar there and Dr. A used the same scar so I wouldn’t have 2 scars. They are pretty much healed.

My new knees work well, my legs are straight and I’m taller. Both legs are the same length (which doesn’t always happen) and I can bend them as much as before. I can do stairs and I’m learning to walk normally. I’m so thankful but have a lot more healing to do. Talk to me after 6 months.

I can’t believe the taller part it’s freaky and I notice it.

I’m taking PT at Standford’s Clinic once a week for a few months using their stationary bikes so I can learn to walk again, get stronger, and get back on my bike confidently. My next post will be about this so check back!

For anyone who’s going to have this surgery, I say do both knees at once. Get it done and you won’t have to do it again. It helps to be in shape. Make sure you have a doctor that you trust that talks to you. Do your homework and go to a good rehab facility. They really help and if you don’t have anyone at home because they can get you ready to go home.

Anything worth doing is worth working for.

I hope I didn’t offend with my surgery photos. Got any advice? Stories about your experience? Questions?

600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the US.

Summertime Blues

The summer riding season has flown by so fast! Where does the time go? I had the best intentions to write about biking and health but ended up just enjoying myself. I have a good reason though, let me explain.

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It was a wonderful summer riding the Bay Trail here in San Mateo, CA. From Coyote Point Harbor you can see San Francisco down the peninsula.

I’ve had bad knees for decades starting with a motorcycle accident in the early ’70s that caused me to have surgery on my right knee. Now that I’m 65 that surgery has grown old making that knee unstable while the strain on my left knee (the good knee) caused it to fail and become crooked. This took years to happen, years where I was fine to outdoor roller skate, jog, play sports, and pretty much do anything I wanted. Now I’m paying the price.

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I am going to miss riding my bicycle! In most pictures, I try to hide my knees or I stand to the side so it’s harder to see. One knee is bigger than the other because of scar tissue.

If you read my blog you’ll know my history, if not you can read about it here. I was overweight, depressed, walking with a cane and in bad shape until I decided to exercise regularly by riding my bicycle every other day. Now, almost 4 years later I’m in great shape and my knees are the best they can be. Unfortunately, the best is far from functional. Losing the extra weight and riding my bicycle made my knees stronger and less painful but the damage was done.

I put off doing something about them for far too long but on May 10th something shifted in my left knee and I could barely walk. After seeing my doctor we decided enough was enough. On the 26th (this Monday) I’m having both of them replaced at the same time. They’re also going to straighten my left leg. It’s going to be a long recovery and hard work but I look forward to the end result. Not only that, but my doctor chose my case to use robotics which is going to be awesome.

I will be in the hospital for 2 days and in an acute rehab facility for 1 to 2 weeks so I’m going to be busy. In the rehab facility, they will make sure I’m comfortable and know how to deal when I get home. They will be teaching me how to walk all over again with straight legs. I don’t like to admit it but when I walk now I have a side to side movement and people can clearly notice my bent leg.

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This is how you keep your bicycle from being ripped off.

I’ll be so glad to get rid of these knees. They click, move on me, give out on me, I can’t do stairs, and cause me a lot of pain. I fall way too much when I stop my bike because putting a leg down doesn’t always mean that leg is going to hold. I fell just last Sunday which I shouldn’t be doing with my surgery is coming up.

Despite all of this I’m very nervous and not sure how long it will take for me to recover fully and get back on my bike which are my main objectives. I’m in good shape because of my bike riding so my doctor says I should recover fast.

I’ll be off my bike for at least 6 weeks and will have to start all over again. It makes me sad when I think about how much work and time it took for me to get into this top physical condition. As long as I come out better and stronger it will be worth it.

I’m not sure how I’ll feel about blogging while this is going on so I won’t make any promises I can’t keep. We’ll see how I feel. I look forward to getting this over with and getting back to the things I love.

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Hoping for the best on Monday and looking forward to better knees, better health and being a better bike rider!

Take care and stay healthy. You can do it! Keep riding your bicycle and eating your spinach. You’ll be hearing from me soon, I still have a lot to share.

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
― Tom Bodett