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Biking in a Winter Wonderland

David Meltzer | Published on 11/30/2016

A Guide to Cold Weather Riding

The days are shorter, the temperatures are colder, and one's concentration goes to the holidays.  For many, this means that it is time to hang the bike up on the wall - to be taken out next spring.  But...there are those among us who not only ride all winter, but actually enjoy it.  There is something very satisfying about going outside and conquering the elements. Here is a guide for those who are curious about how to do a winter ride.

WHAT TO WEAR:     In a word - layers.  Layers help trap the air that serves as insulation.  They also help regulate body temperature as you can put on and take off layers as your body temperature heats up or cools down while you ride.  Last year, Nathali Pham, Bobby Moleti and I had a 40 mile ride on the coldest day of the year.  The thermometer was reading 0, and the wind gusts were over 40 MPH.  Here is what I wore from bottom to top.

Hands and Feet - If your extremities ain't happy, you ain't happy.  I wore silk liner socks, heavy woolen socks and insulated hiking boots.  Eschewed clipping in for warmth.  Other cyclists like using toe caps or neoprene covers for your feet.   On my hands I wore a pair of liner gloves and winter cycling [semi lobster] gloves.  Cyclists have also been known to use chemical hand and foot warmers.

Below the Waist - A pair of silk long underwear.  A pair of thermals.  A pair of wind resistant sweat pants.  

Above the Waist - Silk liner, heavy jersey, polar fleece, Columbia wind resistant jacket.

Neck and Head - Neck Gaiter [my favorite piece of winter wear, as it can be pulled up for extra coverage of the ears], balaclava and/or cap with ear flaps, helmet cover.

:     Another great winter investment is a Thermos.  Having a hot beverage during the ride helps to warm up the core.  I normally have something non-alcoholic, as alcohol actually thins the blood and can make you colder.  [Of course, sometimes I break this rule].  When I feel the chill, a hot cup of herbal tea, coffee, mocha or my favorite - hot apple cider always helps.  I put warm water in my water bottle and hope that it does not freeze.   Water is just as important during a winter ride as you still will sweat owing to the exertion and the layers.  Make sure that you continue to drink water, as dehydration can occur on winter rides as well.

A nice hearty lunch stop is also a great way to warm up.  On the zero degree day, we stopped at a Korean BBQ place.  Other wonderful places to stop at are Russian restaurants like Cafe Glechic for some hot borscht, pho in Vietnamese places, rib sticking Polish food.  One of the monster burgers at the Bay House in Hook Creek was another popular winter ride lunch stop.

Whether on a club ride compression stop, or just riding with friends, seek the sun.  The direct rays of the sun will warm even through the winter.

After the ride, make sure to take care of your bike.  Salt on the road can have nasty effects on the chain, derailleurs and frame.  Make sure to clean and lube the chain and clean the frame on a regular basis.  I stick with Tri Flow - but there are others who swear by wet lube in the winter.  

Take your Metrocard.  Sometimes stuff happens.  Take the train and live to ride another day.

WHEN NOT TO RIDE:   When road conditions are not safe, do not ride.  Riding on icy road conditions is flat out dangerous.  Not only is it more difficult to control your bike, but it is also more difficult for motorists to control their cars.  Unless you are Brian Hoo with his Fatty Bike, best wait till it thaws.

Know your body.  I am fine with really cold temperatures.  Must be the Russian blood that courses through my veins.  But YOUR body may not feel that way.  If you are asthmatic, how does the cold weather effect your breathing?   If you have any circulation issues, how does that effect your body?  Arthritis?   The above tips will make it easier - but if you are in discomfort or pain, it's just not worth it.  Head to the gym and take a spin class.

IN CONCLUSION:    There is no need to hibernate during the winter.  Dress warm.  Gear up.  And ride.   The 5BBC has rides that will be [hopefully] going out throughout the winter season.  Make sure to check the web site and FB page as winter rides do get canceled more often than summer ones.  For many winter warriors, these are some of the best rides of the year.  We have smaller and more cohesive groups, we warm up at a great lunch stop, and we laugh at the cold.  Sooner or later, the weather will break, and the Spring Training Series will be upon us.  Every mile that you do this winter, is a mile easier in the spring.  

See you [bundled up] on the road.