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!

 

Smoke On The Water

In 2017 there were terrible forest fires in northern California but the air quality didn’t suffer for most of the state. The weather was clearing out the bad air and no one needed masks unless they were sick.

Then this fall, another fire started up north (only 100 miles away) and near LA at the same time. Now there were fires above and below the Bay Area. A windless, rainless front dropped into the area and would not move. Our air quality was stagnant with smoke and haze for weeks making history. Even now I wait for the air to clear which is supposed to happen tomorrow when we finally get some rain-if we do get some rain.

Screenshot_20181109-085043_WeatherBugDon’t go outside! This was not the worst air day it got much worse. I couldn’t ride my bike for over a week until I bought N95 masks.

People not living here wonder how this could happen. For decades we had a horrible drought that killed trees, brush, and dried out our forests. When this second fire started the high winds scattered the fire with plenty of fuel to burn. Perfect fire weather.

Although we had a year in between of rain that restored lakes, rivers, and creeks in the state it didn’t stay green for long. Just as we were hoping the drought was over we had another dry year. After weeks of historically bad air quality, closures and warnings we’re told it might clear up the end of this week. Only then can we begin to figure out what happened and rebuild.

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Me biking last Thursday. Behind me isn’t fog or cloudy, the air is that thick with smoke and bad chemicals. The sun was out you just can’t see it.

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Wearing the masks made me happy for the first few rides. After I found out how irritating they are to wear I only rode 3 times with them on (meaning I only rode 3 times in weeks.) I had to keep stopping to wipe the sweat off of my face and dry off the inside of the mask. My sunglasses would fog at the worst times and be hard to wear. Drops of sweat would hang on the tip of my nose under the mask and at times felt itchy.  My nose would run. I saw only one other cyclist with a mask on-no wonder!

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The windbag at Windsurfer’s Beach hangs limp for weeks. Coyote Point is the mass of trees to the right in the background. Further down the peninsula, the landmarks like San Francisco and the airport are lost in the smoke and bad air.

This week is Thanksgiving. I last rode my bike on Saturday and should have ridden yesterday but I couldn’t put the mask on. The landscape on these masked rides hasn’t been that pretty and I feel for the animals trying to go about their lives in this soup. Everything looks unfocused, the light is strange, colors not sharp and everything smells like smoke. I did see some of the regulars who ride the Bay Trail but were surprised to see them not wearing masks. The masks truly are hard to wear exercising but to me health is everything!

Even in our homes, our air is bad there’s no getting away from it. I wear masks everywhere I go even in my car but I don’t wear one at home. Having my bedroom window open all year helps me sleep better but all windows are shut tight until this is over. Anything you run in the home isn’t safe unless it’s on a closed loop. All one can do is wait and get through it.

This is the first time that I’ve missed weeks of biking. I’ve biked every other day 20-30 miles for almost 3 years and although I’m not in training, it’s like a training schedule. I like to stay in tip-top shape. Biking helps my depression and mood swings so it’s been difficult coping without it. I’m especially thankful that I didn’t lose everything in these terrible fires.

We have a few Spare The Air Days during the year but nothing like this. I hope the news is right and the weather does change tomorrow so all of us can have a good Thanksgiving and be thankful for the clean air and peace it brings.

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Have you ever worn a mask exercising or lost time biking due to circumstances beyond your control? How frustrated were you?

Enjoy what you do have, count your blessings and be thankful!

On Your Left, Safety Counts

When I’m riding the various trails around this area it’s always surprising to realize just how many people using them have no idea there are rules to follow. This often leads to negative interactions, and worse, accidents where people get hurt because people don’t take the time to acquaint themselves with the area they’re spending time in.

Whether on foot or on wheels when on the trails the rules are the same for everyone. If you have young children it’s important to teach them to be on the lookout for moving bicycles and staying safe.

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Rules Of The Trails

  • Stay to the right-no more than 2 across
  • Call out when passing
  • Pass on the left when it’s safe
  • Observe the right of way
  • Top Speed Limit is 15 miles an hour unless otherwise posted
  • Speed Limit is 5 miles an hour in crowded areas
  • Slow down to pass
  • If you stop pull off the trail
  • Use hand signals, even if alone
  • Be polite and smile
  • Keep an eye out for dogs and children.

Bikes follow the same laws that cars do whether riding on a trail or on the street. If there’s no bike trail you use the lane just like a car does. Make sure you’re seen before advancing in traffic. I use very few bike lanes on crowded streets but living near the Bay Trail I can get away with it.

Don’t be confused with the bike in the left lane (image above.) You won’t really stay in the left lane if others are using it. This is to show how to pass someone and the correct place to be.

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“On your left,” is what you should call out when passing someone. I always say, “Thank you,” as I pass by, people resent you less for intruding with your bicycle and makes most of them smile. Being a good “Bicycle Ambassador” (a person that promotes cycling in a good way) is something to be proud of!

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Hand Signals

Hand signals are something you should learn and get in the habit of using. They are universal and easy to do. I use the easy signal on the bottom right (for my right turns) because the other way confuses me.

I don’t see these being used much on the trails but I do because it makes the path I’m taking crystal clear to others. I don’t think cyclists use them enough. You need to use them always even if you’re riding alone. Hand signals make your intentions known, show the path you’re taking and make people notice you.

There are hand signals for everything, check them out at Mapmyfitness: http://blog.mapmyrun.com/10-cycling-hand-signals-need-know/

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Your Voice Is Important

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Know Your Place On The Streets

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This is what to expect from the bike lanes. I have ridden in all 3 by now. The diagram on the right can have a solid line between the car and cyclist or not.

Protect Yourself And Your Noggin

A bike helmet (or brain bucket) is your best friend for protection in case something goes wrong. Make sure you buy a good one and that it fits correctly. Most sports stores or bike shops will be glad to help you.

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Of course, you want to have your bike checked out once a year (more often if you notice problems) to make sure it’s in tip-top condition on the road. Happy cycling!

Know the rules, be polite, ride safe and stay safe.