Friday, January 13, 2017

Slower In the Cold? Facts and Psychosomatics



It seems like I've had a few conversations lately where cyclists have mentioned off-handedly the notion of being "slower" in the cold. Since I don't experience this phenomenon myself, my gut reaction is to question it, which, in turn is met with insistence that it's a well known fact, complete with Reasonable Explanations.

Here are some popular explanations I've heard:

1. Cold air creates greater resistance and is more difficult to push through.

2. The cold affects tyre suppleness, increasing their rolling resistance.

3. The cold affects the performance of moving parts, making the bike less efficient.

4. The body loses energy in trying to keep warm, detracting from performance.

5. Road surface conditions degrade in winter, slowing down the bike.

6. (from people who mount mudguards and lights in winter only) The mudguards and lights create extra drag.

7. (from people who switch to a "winter bike") The bike itself is heavier and slower.

So firstly, let me make it clear that I do acknowledge the first 4 explanations have merit. But they have merit in true winter conditions, not in hovering-above-freezing, at worst, Ireland. In fact, typically the difference between summer and winter temps here is quite modest. I believe the average temperature in winter is around 8°C (47°F) and in summer around 17°C (65°F). And it isn't unheard of for those to reverse: An 8°C day in the middle of July is not out of the ordinary, and neither is a 17°C day in January. In short, cyclists in this comparatively mild climate shouldn't really be experiencing the sort of detrimental effects on their body's and equipment's performance that are associated with true cold.

Likewise, I believe the Road Conditions argument is exaggerated: The roads here are covered in farming debris, loose chipseal, and slippery oily residue year round, especially after it rains. Since it rains more often in winter, sure it gets a bit worse now and again - but it's not the sort of dramatic difference that should cause seasonal shifts in speed.

Finally, while the mudguards/ winter bike argument might make sense, it is one that applies to few cyclists these days - as most simply carry on riding their favourite roadbike year round, and choose to remain fenderless.

So why do cyclists report feeling slower in colder months, even in places with comparatively subtle seasonal changes? Is it cycling lore, absorbed from stories that take place in Continental winters, then internalised and expressed psychosomatically?

There is some element of that, I am sure. But I wonder also, whether our temperature sensitivity is reflective of the climate we're adapted to - so that a 3°C winter's day, for someone accustomed to a steady 8°C average, might actually be a shock to the system.

I remember dragging my husband out cycling one February morning. It was a couple of years ago, when he hadn't yet become the avid winter cyclist he is now. I remember the temperature was fairly mild, and yet he genuinely had trouble breathing - in the same manner I'd have trouble breathing back in Boston, once the temps dipped below freezing. It is true that our bodies - and minds - adapt to whatever conditions we are faced with.

Then again, I think the most reasonable explanation could be this:

With the shorter days, we tend to get out less in the winter. Consequently, our fitness decreases - so that when we do go out on the bike, we feel slower, temps and road conditions and draggy accoutrements notwithstanding.

What do you think? Do you notice a difference in your cycling performance in the colder months, and if so what do you attribute it to?




64 comments:

  1. I'm definitely slower in the winter, mostly because I'm less in shape, riding only commuting miles. Secondary, but also affecting my "performance" is being cautious of road conditions, wearing bulkier garments, and less visibility in the darkness.

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  2. I read 'Bicycling Science' a number of years ago and the most consistent message in the book, as I recall, is that the human body is the single most limiting factor in bicycle efficiency (aero dynamics). Some of the biggest gains in performance can be recognized and measured from position on the bike and clothing. Winter gear is bulky, winds are more fewarce (Chicavo), and your memory of how fast you were last summer are you winter riding combatants 😀

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    1. I suppose that would depend on one's winter attire. Around here, winter cycling gear can actually be more "aero" - i.e. slick long sleeve jackets, full leg tights, and overshoes.

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    2. It's not just the aerodynamic effects of extra clothing. Those extra layers and thicker layers are simply less flexible. I think I mentioned in a previous page feeling "light" when living in a hot climate and rarely wearing more than shorts and t-shirt.

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  3. For me the biggest change is when I put on the winter tires; I'm about 10% slower I think. And I go slower in the dark, or in rain or snow, which would also apply in Northern Ireland. And I'm slower still when I've got my winter boots on.

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  4. Agree with your conclusions in the main. Yesterday, my time for my dawn run was a minute off, which I attributed to a slight loss in biomechanics due to a bit longer interval from my last run but also to cold weather (though when dressed properly for cold weather-30s-my times are comparable). BTW, a bit shocked to read that "most simply carry on riding their favourite roadbike year round, and choose to remain fenderless." I would have thought that in your climate, most everyone would use fenders. Wonder if this is sorted by age, i.e., the young go fenderless and the not so young use fenders! Love the (what my sister would call) the ninja pix:)! Thanks! Jim Duncan

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    1. This year I've noticed mudguards are starting to come back as a "thing." But on the whole only the old school guys use them. It is sorted not so much by age, as by when the person got into cycling. There has been a huge influx of new (road)cyclists of all ages within the past 5 or so years, uninfluenced by traditional or even commonsensical practices.

      ...Oh! In writing this, I remembered that I actually wrote a post on this topic 2 years ago.

      Changing Notions of the Winter Roadbike

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    2. I rejected mudguards for years as too heavy and noisy but finally gave in partly due to your influence, I think, and also because of experience randonneuring. Plus I found the Berthoud mudguards were pretty acceptable in terms of weight and sound.
      Now I just use them all the time. Call me old-school, a commuter, whatever. I don't mind. I'm dry.

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    3. Never noticed fenders as a fad (or thing), either in or out, as much as a preference. As to the influx of new cyclists here it's the same as always, they go in with certain ideas and if they stick with it they eventually evolve towards an equilibrium which works best for them. Some add fenders and others shed them.

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  5. Really cold air can cause lung spasms, but I think that's only when it's well below freezing. And joints can be less responsive if they start to go numb. But generally I think people just feel like they're slower because they find the cold air more uncomfortable.

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  6. Exactly when, if ever, do you 'go slower' or are you just like a car, a machine on the bike capable of riding in all weather and never missing a beat of speed?

    I must be in the minority in that the thought of performance does not go through my mind while riding, summer or winter and I've no idea what my speeds are or should be. Some days I certainly feel sluggish and other days the opposite but I've discovered that in order to make this riding experience sustainable, day in and day out, year in and year out, to let go of any notions of performance. While talking to a bike shop employee, last week, I was surprised by all the equipment now available to monitor one's performance -- he idea of getting better and faster -- and it seemed so beside the point but then I remembered, I'm beside the point.

    We have severe whether changes here (it's crazy everywhere it seems) where one day it could be 11 degrees F and a few days later it's 70 and then back again. As conditions change so does my clothing and I suspect my speed, too. It seems all I care about and am grateful for is that I get my heart rate up, which is not that hard to do, because I'm thinking that during the last forty years of riding it's kept me healthier than if I had not ridden. But I don't know.

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    1. I go slower when my fitness decreases, and when I'm tired. Also when it's hot and humid. Oh and perhaps more than anything, when I'm cycling somewhere for the first time. The latter I think is in part due to wanting to take my time sightseeing, and in part from being cautious, not knowing what to expect around the next bend. Everyone is different.

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    2. I certainly go slower when the temperature gets up into the high 30s - low forties (ÂșC) it's worth trundling along slowly and not dying of heatstroke.

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  7. I am certainly slower, "weaker", and have lower endurance when my body feels cold. I attribute that to the body's attempt to keep blood out of the extremities to preserve heat mostly. This will reduce your muscle response and the vascular system's ability to flush lactic acid, etc. So while you feel cold, I suspect there is a real hit to your physical ability. But once I warm up, I can't feel any appreciable difference in overall ability. I can see those first 5 or 10 minutes of extra warm up time hurting your timed results if you're comparing your times on some moderately short route that you run year round.

    I'll also say that if I have cold hands/arms, even when the rest of my body is warm, I tend to slow down based on feeling less capable of quick handling, maneuvering, braking response.

    Finally I suspect cold air does cause people to breathe as deeply or freely. Sucking large volumes of cold air into you does not feel good in general. And if you are restricting your breathing even to a small degree, it is going to hurt your aerobic efficiency and thus performance as well.

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  8. We can put a number on at least one of the factors suggested. A difference of 15ÂșC between summer and winter temperatures, realistic for where I ride, means a difference of 5% in air density and form drag.

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  9. http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6801.full

    You've certainly seen this, but it's a good article and the rider shows that season had more influence on speed than bike weight.

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  10. So, I do a daily two laps around a local public park. Each lap is about six miles and though there are many options to navigate around the park I usually follow the same route. My thought is to get some exercise as opposed to exploring nature and generally push myself. The other day I noticed that cresting a particular hill my speed was much slower than I remembered to be in summer even though in my mind it felt the same, it always feels the same. I don't normally keep track of this kind of thing but was surprised when looking down at my cyclometer at how slow the ride was, and remains during these cold months...strange.

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  11. I hope you don't mind if science rears its ugly head in this discussion —and it's several decades since I did my undergraduate training in physiotherapy and could cite the studies from memory (indeed some days my ability to cite anything from memory seems to be a bit suspect)— but there are some basic physiological responses at play here. Most notably as the body is cooled, peripheral circulation is reduced by vasoconstriction — the blood vessels near the skin and in hands and feet and eventually arms and legs constrict, thereby directing more blood flow to the internal organs (because if those organs get too cold they cease to function and, well, if it goes far enough you die … which is usually conceded to be Not Good).

    So: more blood flow to the internals and less to the muscles. Less blood flow = less oxygen to the muscle fibres = less capacity to put out power.

    As your cardiac output increases and your body temperature rises with exercise, the inhibition of the cold weather will diminish … but probably not resolve.

    No, you're not imagining it.

    That's not the only influence of colder weather, of course, and I do not discount any of the factors you propose … and a bunch more as well.

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  12. I think my performance can certainly be more Hit or Miss in the winter! But, certain factors are relative, it tends to be windier here in the winter. generally, speaking I actually ride better/faster in cool weather (down to about 50 degrees) below that I do think I struggle somewhat, partly because of heavier clothing and typically I'll run slightly lower tire pressure, due to slick roads.
    On the other hand sometimes In August when it's 95 degrees and 75+% humidity I ain't really tearing it up either! - masmojo

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  13. I don't think that cold air affects my speed. I regularly do a 30-mile roundtrip ride mid-week, year-round, and it takes me 45 minutes one way summer or winter. Only if we get blizzard conditions do I skip the long rides; otherwise, my ride habits don't change one bit in winter.

    I've found the three things consistently and objectively slow me down: strong winds, heavy snow and/or slush, and very heavy loads. Imagine my delight when one day I had to make a grocery run - two full bags - during a blizzard : ) And by "very heavy" loads, I don't mean 2-10 pounds, or even 20 pounds; I'm talking carrying home heavy tubs of cat litter - one per pannier - or car batteries, or cans of paint, or concrete pavers, or bags of sand. When I carry those loads, I basically crawl up the hills near my home, whether it's winter or summer. More moderate loads, such a one or two bags of groceries, or selection of craft beer and wine, don't slow me down nearly as much as the truly heavy stuff.

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  14. If I were to only concern myself with facts as opposed to perceptions, especially with regard to bikes, I'd probably chuck it all in and just dwindle towards nothingness. I like talking about feeling slower or faster or colder or hotter or smarter or whatever that riding a bike brings to my mind. Don't take my fun away!!

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  15. I was just thinking about this very topic on my ride this afternoon. As one who rides strictly for fun and for the occasional commute, I don't focus on "performance". However, when the temps dip into the 20s F and below here in Indy, I do notice that it becomes more difficult and painful to get air into my lungs on climbs, and my legs are much more tense which seems to make them tire more quickly...

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  16. This sounds like something I had tried to investigate for myself before but with no definite results. I will say that the first three reasons listed are hard for me to notice because my equipment is not very high-end and don't have close mechanical tolerances (as in old 3-speeds and beat up road bikes). As a year-round rider in Michigan, the only things I really notice are additional air resistance due to the fat winter coat, and if temps dip below 25F or so, wind chill to the face will be a speed limiter. Otherwise, it's flat-out all the time, and I don't truly notice additional effort needed in the same gears (especially easy to tell if there are only 3 to choose from!). I think you're right that it probably comes down to the body's willingness to adapt and function in different conditions. Breathing, joint stiffness, and other things associated with the cold will be experienced to varying degrees between different people.

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  17. 65*F average in **summer**?? Horrible!

    I also feel (note the word) slower in cold weather, but I can't believe any of your first 5 hypotheses are valid, unless perhaps the temps are well below freezing. (Points 6 and 7 don't apply in my case, since I ride the same bikes set up the same year 'round.) As to suggestion #4, I recall my 5 years in la ville de Quebec (grad school) where I happily ran outdoors all winter long, with January average highs about 10-15*F and often far, far lower. I actually felt more energetic, which I attributed to the fact that my body didn't need to spend energy cooling me down. (The coldest day I ran outdoors was a February afternoon with a high of -17*F, and I felt pretty spritely, if somewhat cold.) Of course, all this was long, long ago.

    I wonder how much of our winter slowness is due to psychological causes. At least here in 300-sunny-days-per-year high desert ABQ, NM, a cloudy day just makes everything seem dismal and sad and slow. Even my car seems slow. On the other hand, a 18*F morning with the sun can feel "normal".

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    1. Runners need to dissipate excess heat. Of course they like it cool. Hyperthyroid cases (includes many subclinical cases) will like it cool too. Very few will tolerate -17F. Cross country ski races are for healthy young people who enjoy cool weather. Even at World Cup level races are cancelled long before it gets that cold. Because almost no one functions well much less performs well at that temperature. Racing at that temperature would be equivalent to a thyroid exam.

      Cyclists dissipate heat very well. We do not need to expend energy cooling down until temperatures are quite warm.

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  18. I was thinking about this subject this morning as I made the decision to ride my rollers instead of heading out in the rain wind and residual snow (northern France).
    I rarely ride at the limit for long, the odd burst of course etc, and so my usual speed, between 23-30 kph does not require me to tailor my velocity according to the conditions. It is generally safe to ride around here at those speeds all year round. So, no excuse for being slower in winter there.
    My winter bike ( 1997 Peugeot Richard Virenque Replica - € 80 !) is not much heavier than any of my other bikes. No excuse there then.
    As A non medically qualified gent I blithely reject the theory that all my blood panics and quits the extremities to preserve my vital organs to such an extent that it affects my modest performance. I dress well for the conditions courtesy of Messers Rapha & Co and am never cold. No excuse there either.
    I adhere to the Sean Kelly mantra - If you're not sure if the weather is good enough to go out training, go out training and when you get back you will know the answer. I go out most days, demolishing the possibility of reduced mileage being the excuse.
    I do 'feel' faster in the warm and put it all down to air density and a fear of mockery from my Strava mates.

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  19. If I were able to get away with wearing what you are in your photo I wouldn't call it cold outside, I'd call it comfortable. Not sure if I'm slower or faster in our current temps of around ten degrees F but I will say I'm not gonna stop pedaling once I'm out there and my cadence is probably higher than in warmer temperatures!

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  20. Between the searing sub-zero cold and the ice patches, I go slower, and am less comfortable. ;)

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  21. As a dedicated commuter rider of around 150-200 miles per week, depending upon how lazy I am that morning, I find the colder temps make for slightly faster rides. I have asthma and cold dry air is best for me, contrary to what was hammered into me as a younger wheezing fellow. Humid air makes me feel suffocated in the hot, humid summers of the Memphis, Tennessee variety. So I breathe better in the colder seasons. My body also runs hot, so the colder temperatures are much more easy to handle than the brutal summer heat. I find fewer layers better, although I do pack cold layers just in case.

    The paths around here are also less crowded in the colder months, making for less dodging of those deep in their phones.

    Of course, one could argue Memphis does not exactly get cold, but I enjoyed the cold when I was living in my Yankee state.

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  22. You also have to account for 1. you are wearing heavier clothes in winter. I mean your down jacket is like an extra 8 pounds and you may be wearing heavier boots and socks. 2. Bigger clothing and hats and gloves = more wind resistance cause the wind has a greater hold on your clothes cause of more surface area

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    1. My down jacket does weigh 8 pounds but I get your point. Dressed like the Michelin man defintely means greater wind resistance.

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  23. When I lived in central wisconsin, I was slower in the winter. The slower you went the less windchill there was. When it was 5 degrees (f) anything above about 12mph was too freaking cold.

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  24. Almost everyday I go to the same coffee shop, at roughly the same time, and find the same group of individuals sitting around a large table discussing whatever topic wins out. This is a college town and most of them are academics or writers or some sort of fringe personality and they've all got something to say with their unique perspective. I marvel at the depth they go with these discussions. No detail is left unturned, obscure references to make a point or share another question are routinely brought to the table, and it goes on and on, day in and day out. They all know me as the weird, reclusive, artist who cycles to the shop everyday. Maybe I'll throw this topic towards their table to hear their academic take on it all and report back to you. ;)

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  25. Interesting conversation. I think maybe some of this could depend on one's definition of "cold" and on how long your ride is. I definitely slow down in the winter time because of all the layers - when it's really cold (like low 30's) I've generally got three layers of tights on, two base layers up top followed by a winter jersey, a jacket and an extra wind proof layer on top of that. Plus, no matter how thick my gloves are my fingers go numb and I have trouble working the shifters and breaks. I bought barmitts this year which really help with the finger numbness, but they present their own "issues" in terms of maneuverability. After a few hours my feet also go numb even with two layers of neoprene foot covers and chemical hand warmers in my shoes. Plus, in Denver at least, even if it's well above freezing there are always patches of thick ice to watch out for in the shady spots, so I find myself going a bit slower just for safety's sake. Plus the balaclava tends to obstruct my view a bit, and in the winter the sun is usually low and in my eyes, so I tend to ride a bit slower just because it's hard to see.

    All that being said though... last ride I got caught woefully unprepared - it was 65 when I headed out, but by the time I got home 3.5 hours later, the temperature had plunged down into the 20s! I don't think I've ever ridden home so fast in my entire life! It didn't make me any warmer while riding, but it did get me into a hot bath quicker! :-)

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  26. In college (Madison, WI) I regularly had to bring my bike indoors while at classes. If I didn't the wheels and crank wouldn't turn! My experience is that bike lubricants start to drag below 10F (-14C). Warmer than that and it's all biker fatigue due to the cold.

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  27. It was 35 C at 9PM last night here in Sydney. I have no idea what you are talking about with this cold thing. ;o)

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  28. The air density (and hence aerodynamic drag) decreases at higher temperatures. At 0C, the density is 1.29 kg/m^3, and at 30C, the air density is 1.16 kg/m^3. I am sure that this would play a factor. Similar to riding through mud vs the road.

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  29. I'm more a faster in the heat kinda person.

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  30. Indeed! I'm slower in the cold, I'm slower in the rain, I'm slower in the snow, I'm slower in the wind, I'm slower when depressed, slower at night, slower without coffee, so basically waiting for that time when I'm faster. Oh well, I enjoy riding in all those conditions and will continue despite my, or my bike's, limitations.

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  31. I live west of Boston, and it gets a bit cold up here at the start of the Worcester hills. I ride for enjoyment, and it is more enjoyable in hot weather. I like 85 F and humid is good for me. Cold air is denser, just ask any pilot, and being a bit older, the warmth helps. However, back to the enjoyment, on a hot day, you climb a hill and get really tired and sweaty, but at the top, I pop into the 56 X 11 and give 5 or 6 hard pushes and feel the luxurious cool air as I stretch out and enjoy that which I earned. A second plus, is the knee pain disappears as the temperature rises. He he, my doctor complains that 85 degree weather is polluted and bad to breath, and so it may be, however, I know it is more telling on my friends than on me.

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    1. 56 x 11 would give me knee pain!

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  32. I don't think that the "slower in winter" effect is that people are less in shape during the winter, since on a warm day during winter the effect doesn't occur, but on the coldest of days it does, at least for me. I always thought that it may have something to do with air density changing as temperatures drop and what that may do to the relative availability or oxygen or something. Anon 1-13/1:04 PM's physiology explanation sounds compelling.

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  33. I don't know for an absolute fact, but I think rolling resistance (when other conditions, and tire pressure, are equivalent) would actually decrease in colder temperatures. Both tire and road surface would have less give, and less energy would be spent deforming them. Of course other things like lubricants get stiffer, but once "warmed up" by the friction of movement, my bet is that the total rolling resistance is less in cold.

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  34. Has to be rolling resistance. One suggestion is that RR decreases by roughly 1% for eack 1C rise in temp. So easily a 15 or 20% change between summer and winter. More than enough to feel on the bike and see in average speeds.

    http://www.recumbents.com/mars/pages/proj/tetz/other/Crr.html

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  35. In Denmark where I live, it generally gets windier in the winter. I also cycle a lot with my kids and have noticed that they tend to think it's a lot harder in the winter. I also think this is because the wind, rain and cold often makes it harder to motivate yourself.

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  36. After weeks of sub-zero weather and more than a foot of snow, I finally was able to ride into work. Yes, I was slower than usual because of several factors: It's a little slower rolling on packed snow, even though the studded tires on my winter bike provide excellent grip. Over indulgence and slacking off in the exercise department definitely had an effect. It never occurred to me that colder, denser air would increase drag.

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  37. How would this translate to track and field? Do runners go faster in cold temps or warmer temps? Is there a best range for maximum performance? And, finally, who cares? Really, this is going off the deep end!

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  38. If you think that 3 deg celsius might slow you down, come for a ride with me in Brisbane in summer. The last few days have been 32-35 degrees, with 85+% humidity. It's like pedalling through hot, soggy, cotton-wool.

    That will slow you down more than a nippy single-digit chill.

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  39. The surface area of a pair of human lungs is 50-75 square meters. Over 800 square feet. That is quite a large radiator. Inhale cold air, exhale warm moist breath. Heat is energy. Being outside in the cold at all is a major expenditure of energy. Breathing deeply while riding means burning calories at a high rate. The answer is 4.

    After a hard ride in the cold don't you notice that you want to promptly take a nap? If not you should ride harder. One of the real hazards of riding in the cold is the possibility of coming to a full stop and lying down to sleep. I have taken that outdoors nap and roused others who began that nap.

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  40. I don't monitor my speed and have no interest in doing so, as far as weather affects riding all I can say is that when it is extremely hot here, 35 plus Celsius, I would voluntarily slow down as I have no intention of exhausting myself. Regarding those who live in colder climes, I could well imagine they might feel slower weighed down with all those layers and it is not improbable that they cycle slower when confronted with ice, snow and freezing rain, brrrrr don't know how they do it :(

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  41. I believe one of the many reasons one goes slower could well be down to various cycling media outlets which in the past have suggested using the colder months to put in base miles (ie slower riding) although this has changed over the past few years to include more intensity training during winter.

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  42. Its all the extra poundage I pile on due to less riding that slows me down. Also breathing in cold damp air seems to make me move slower than hot or hot humid air.

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  43. I find that I'm slower to start but once I warm up then I'm fine. I might even be faster overall when it's cold because I sometimes want to get my ride over with and warm again that much quicker.

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  44. Commuting in the midwestern US winter makes me feel like I'm hauling a boat trailer -- but this is my first winter to try anything less than fair weather commuting. Hoping I don't feel the same next year.

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  45. I'm sure I'm slower, due in the main to riding more cautiously if there is even a hint of frost or ice. I've never quite understood the difference between "ice" and "black ice", although I've been told black ice can be invisible. From late autumn to early spring I ride assuming it's there, waiting to get me! I also ride in thick duffel coat and boots, and I'm sure the weight of my coat, gloves, scarf, sweater and boots slows me up when in summer I can bowl along in a tee shirt, cotton skirt and keds. Actually, I'm pretty slow on a bike, full stop!

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  46. Without reading all the comments, and apologies if it's been mentioned, but I'll propose an 8th reason, one that applies to me: cold air wreaks havoc on my sinuses. They hurt terribly, like a toothache that spreads to the entire front half of one's head. The slower I go, the less I have to exert myself, and the less rapidly I have to breath in cold air. I also have to filter the cold air through a wool neck-gater or balaclava, and that also impedes the intake of fresh air. This is why I slow down in winter. I don't believe points 1-7.

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  47. Oh, and there's also mechanical resistance to flexing one's legs with additional warmth layers. I definitely believe this is true, but perhaps only to a minor extent.

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  48. The speed difference for me in winter compared to summer (or a sunny crisp bright winter day with a warm sun) is probably more mental than anything else. When it is really cold, it also tends to not be very sunny, and I feel like I am slogging through my ride a bit. When it is sunny, it is usually warmer, and I find spinning quite easy. Bright weather versus dark weather....totally impacts my mental attitude and thus my physical effort.

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  49. When it’s cold outside (i.e. sub-freezing temperatures), I intentionally adjust my riding speed to my body’s limited ability to dissipate heat through several layers of clothes. Years of winter road riding and cyclocross training have taught me that the worst thing to do is to overheat, and then go hypothermic in your clammy attire. I try to go fast enough to keep warm, but just so that I don’t sweat excessively. This means that I tend to ride on my own during winter time—keeping up with faster riders or waiting for slower ones wouldn’t let me keep control of my body’s temperature.

    In addition to this, winters in Berlin often go along with treacherous icy conditions, e.g. patches of black ice hidden under snow or roadside debris, so riding a bit slower and more carefully makes sense to me.

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    1. OMG I remember riding in wet clammy clothes. Once that happened there was nothing to do but keep going fast. Or find shelter until dry, then repeat the process. Only possible if young and vigorous. Any and all modern base layers will keep you dry. For a long time that meant 'wicking' polyester next to your skin. Now there are 'technical' wool and silk that do the same thing. Your body dissipates heat very effectively in cold weather. All you have to do is breathe. Dissipating sweat is the problem. It is not that hard anymore.

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  50. Decades ago, shortly after I bought my first "super bike" (a 1972 Schwinn Paramont), I was out with a fast group and found myself working very hard to stay on the wheel of a guy riding a Zeus with fenders. As I stared at the scratched up decal on his back blade, I tried to come to grips with the evidence that having a "faster" bike didn't translate into being a faster rider. In fact, apparently the bike didn't really have a whole lot to do with performnce at all. Being a teenager, just learning the bike biz, it took a few more years for me to wrap my head around the simple fact that most of what the bike magazines and sales reps were saying about bicycle performance, and which we in shops dutifully passed on to the buying public, was pure marketing hogwash. Today, I wouldn't think of not having at least one fendered bike in the stable. Last year, I rode at least 4k of my 7k total on fendered steeds.

    But even with that said, my average speed in winter is several mph slower than in summer. Living in northern Vermont, it's due to a combination of factors. The dirt roads are always wet, which means they are either icy or mucky. I have multiple layers of clothing to work against with every pedal stroke. My winter cycling shoes are heavy, as is the bike, which was specially selected as the fair sacrifice to the salt demon. But by far the worse conspirators in my winter slowdown are my 800+ gram studded tires, which make riding a lot like trying to run through molasses while wearing barn boots. Winter riding here is slow, but still way better than driving.

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  51. Curious about this post. My love and attachment to bicycles and the bicycling lifestyle has nothing to do with performance…..Zero. If someone says they cycle slower or faster in cold temps I could care less. Did you enjoy your ride…What made it special? That's what matters in my bike world.

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  52. Look at this from the other direction. Yesterday the high temp was suddenly 60, when we have acclimated to riding in 20 to 35 degrees. It felt good and it felt fast. It always feels fast when that warm day comes midwinter, it always feels fast when spring arrives.

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  53. There's another factor that, oddly, no one seems to have mentioned so far. Perhaps everyone's too refined to mention mucus but really, 'snot a thing we can avoid. I can't be the only one who finds that when the mercury is down and the hygrometer is up, my nose runs. It's not a problem when it's sub-zero or in dry air but in the mild, damp weather that is winter here (temperatures typically somewhere between -1 and +10), it can inhibit the amount of air you can breath in.

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