Many road bike riders feel that once the temperature drops below 50F, they are finished riding outdoors for the season. With a little preparation and a ‘can do’ attitude, you can continue riding all throughout winter. The hardy rider pictured above is using over size tires in the snow. Now, I’m not suggesting riding on snow or ice covered roads. Once the temperature is at or below freezing, even wet roads can be dangerous for skinny road bike tires. Here in Arkansas there are not many days when there is snow and ice on the roads, but the temperature can drop into the teens and even rarely into single digits. I pick days with dry roads and then choose my layers according to the temperature (recalculated for wind chill).
Most importantly, all layers need to be moisture wicking. You will need to experiment on your own to find what layering scheme works best for you. My rule of thumb is 1 extra layer for every 10 degrees below 60F. I have never used more than 5 layers, although I have never ridden in temperatures below 0F. At 5 layers, your movement becomes somewhat restricted so I don’t think I would ever consider more. For my legs and as the first base layer, I have 2 pair of full leg bibs. Both are fleece lined, but one has a ‘wind proof’ layer on the front side for days that are not only cold but windy as well. I also have lighter vs. heavier base layers. The lighter base layers are usually crew neck and the heavier mock turtleneck styles. I use heavier base layers for the coldest temps and also taking into account sunny vs. overcast. Full sun days allow me to either use 1 less or lighter layers. Conversely, overcast days will often prompt me to add another or a heavier layer. Humidity and wind chill also are factors. High humidity will make colder temps feel warmer with low humidity making colder temps feel more so. There are calculators on the internet to help you determine wind chill values.
The layering I’ve mostly been discussing until now is for chest/core. Your core is the most critical, but the extremities have to be taken care of as well. For me, my ears, hands, face and feet get cold and in that order. Even with temps in the 50’s, I find I need to cover my ears. If I cover my ears then I also wear gloves. Just like off the bike, mittens or the bike specific ‘lobster claws’ are better at keeping your fingers warm than those with individual fingers. I start covering my face when the temperature approaches or is below freezing. Once the temperature falls to 20F or below, I make sure that there is no exposed skin. My head, neck, nose and mouth are covered with a balaclava (my ear covers underneath) and some eye protection to eliminate the tears that come normally in the cold wind. I use inexpensive light weight ski goggles. You will want something that has anti-fogging properties. Almost everything works fine while you are moving, but as soon as you stop the fogging will render you blind. I’ve never needed them, but many people find they want shoe covers because their feet/toes are more sensitive to the cold.
Here are a few important tips I can offer as a regular cold weather rider:
- Finish putting on your final layers in the garage (balaclava, gloves, jacket, etc.). Nothing is worse than getting completely layered inside and you are already sweating before you even get outside.
- You should feel cool when starting out. If you are warm or comfortable starting out, you have too many layers and will sweat too much. This will cause your layers to become saturated and as the sweat cools it will chill you to the bone.
- Ride every cold weather ride as if it is a recovery ride. Easy spinning will generate all the heat you need and minimize sweating. Some sweating is normal, but if you recognize you are breathing hard or sweating a lot then back off on your effort.
- When the temperature is 20F or below, it is imperative that your effort be minimal and your breathing shallow until your lungs can acclimate to the frigid temperatures. Breathing frigid air deeply before your lungs acclimate can in some cases stop your heart. At the very least, it puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your heart. Use caution and acclimate slowly. My rule of thumb is that after the first mile I can begin regular breathing. Again, I want to stress regular breathing. If you are breathing hard or notice your throat is feeling raw you are working too hard and I refer you again to tip 3.
- Keep your rides to half (or less) of your regular summer rides. I usually keep my cold weather rides in the 15-25 mile range, but at times I only do 6 or 7 miles.
Obviously cold weather riding is not for those that lack physical conditioning. You should not attempt it if you are unable to tolerate strenuous activity. Even easy spinning in cold temperatures is considerably more strenuous than riding in moderate temperatures. Listen to your body. The first few times you may only want to do a few miles to see if it is something you might enjoy. It is not for everyone, but I find it far more preferable to indoor trainers or stationary bikes. Organize a ride for a group and make a coffee shop your halfway point. Grab a hot cocoa or cup of java to warm up and then finish off the ride. Happy trails!
For anyone interested in completing a long distance bicycle tour, it is important to be ready to accept whatever obstacles the road tries to put in your way. Whether it is road construction, severe weather, mechanical breakdown, or something that you could never expect such as a charging buck intent on crossing the road directly in your path , having the right gear and the right attitude will go a long way in helping you make it to your ultimate destination. The key is being prepared and being willing to search out help that is appropriate for each unique situation. Of course you can’t pack everything you might ever need on your bicycle, although I have seen a few unfortunates that have tried. Instead, study your route, the types of roads you will encounter and be diligent in watching the weather. If you are aware of your terrain and weather, you will know best when deciding what to bring and what to leave behind. Talking with people that have ridden the route previously is another way to gather ideas of what will or will not be useful. If that is not possible, “Google it!” The internet is a great way to gather information about your route. Your research will dictate what to bring and what to expect. If riders on a particular route speak about all of the thorns and resulting flats they encountered along the way, read up on puncture resistant tubes and tires. If you find out that there are few services along the way, carry extra water and food. Carry a portable charging station for your telephone. Be prepared for rain and possible cold weather. If a hurricane is about to hit in the area, don’t go! And…don’t forget your first-aid kit. Just be smart when planning for your tour.
Of course, if you are going on a supported tour, much of this planning will de done by your support team. They will know about the road conditions and weather forecasts. They should also be able to tell you about services and points of interest along the route. If they are doing their job, they will warn you of possible problems you might encounter. On a supported tour, riders should be able to rely on their support team to keep them from running out of water and snacks along the route.
Whether it is a supported or self-supported tour, make the most of your time in the saddle. Before the tour begins, gather as much information about the terrain, the weather and potential problems as you can. Knowledge is power and it goes a long way in helping a rider successfully and enjoyably arrive at their destination.
The reasons for a person wanting to tour for long distances vary by individual, however, after speaking with several folks who have ventured out on their bicycle for extended periods of time, I have found that we all share some common traits.
First, we all love being on a bicycle. If one doesn’t enjoy cycling by itself, then what would be the fun in touring. Second, the tourists I have met, all seem to enjoy meeting new people and sharing with them their experiences of the road. It also helps when a cyclist has an almost childlike sense of adventure, always looking forward to discovering what is hidden around the next curve. For me, it’s almost impossible to make a wrong turn because many a missed turn ended up with me finding some unexpected interesting stop, such as a great vista, or an incredible BBQ shack. With the right attitude, a wrong turn should just mean that you have found an unexpected way to get to your destination. Finally, for me and I might guess and say for most touring cyclist, the most enjoyable part of the road is meeting the local people and learning about their part of the world. People who might shy away from strangers seem to be more willing to talk with us, the odd folks on bicycles. Perhaps they are just curious as to why we choose to pedal while most others race through on gasoline powered machines. My guess is, they think we are a little different from most, and they would be right!
Proper hydration is paramount in staying strong and healthy during long bicycle rides. It seems almost all experienced rides have an opinion on this subject. If you’ve been riding for several years and in multiple weather conditions, you probable have a good idea of how your body works and what methods work best for you to stay properly hydrated. However, it’s always good to learn more.
The article linked below addresses this important issue. I think you will find it an interesting read.
Drink up! BUT NOT LIKE THE PIC : )
Some folks wonder about bicycle saddles and which ones are the most comfortable. Finding a single saddle that’s a good fit for every rider would be impossible, however, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding on a saddle for touring. First and foremost, for any bicycle saddle to be comfortable there is a break-in period and keep in mind that the break-in refers to you and your body, not just your saddle. If you have been off your bicycle for a period longer than two weeks, it’s almost a certainty that if you jump on your bike for a full day of riding, by the end of it, your bum will be, at the very least, tender. Your saddle might be to blame but most likely your bottom had not been conditioned for such a long ride. Especially when riding a new saddle, start off with a series of short rides of no more than 20-25 minutes and then slowly add more time. After a few weeks your bottom should be able to handle rides of several hours.
Now, let’s talk about saddles. Should you use a padded gel saddle, go for the firm variety or maybe one that’s between those two? If you elect for a very soft saddle with thick padding, you will lose power in each pedal stroke and it may create a bouncing sensation while riding and that’s why I would suggest that you avoid this type of saddle. That leaves the slightly padded and the very firm saddles to consider. Both of these work well and the power transfer is good for either. Most folks, like me, require some cushioning between their saddle and themselves. I ride on a Brooks leather saddle which is quite firm, but I use gel padding in my riding shorts and sometimes for very long rides I might wear a padded liner in addition to my cycling shorts. Leather Brooks saddles are world renowned for being comfortable touring saddles, but that is only after they have been completely broken-in by a rider. They conform to each riders specific anatomy, but this takes a lot of time. Some riders report that their saddles were not comfortable until they logged in 1,000 miles or more during the process.
Good luck on finding the right saddle for you! Take a hard look at all of the choices. It’s one of the most important pieces of equipment you will buy and it plays an extremely important role in successful touring.
Final thought – Don’t forget to use chamois lotion in you biking shorts. For any ride over 30 miles, it’s a must have and it helps prevent chaffing.
For all those that ever dreamed of taking off on a cross-country bicycle tour, Trans-America Cycling is here to help you turn that dream into a reality. Check us out at http://www.transamericacycling.com
Check back often for touring tips, suggestions and updates about tours. Please share your thoughts and suggestions for improvements. We welcome all input.
By the way, it’s not always going to be serious! We believe biking is as much about fun as anything else. For example: