The Best Laid Plans

Yesterday we both had a day off and planned to go on a long holiday ride. A mere 10 minutes into it, we decided it was time for Plan B and rode to a coffee shop instead. So it seems that I am officially a winter bike wimp! When the temperature is below 30° F (I think yesterday was a high of 25° F?) , I can't really handle more than a commute or an errand ride.

This conflicts with my daydreams of cycling serenely through snowy landscapes - not a soul in sight and my tires making a soft swooshing sound as they roll through the lightly packed powder. Right. The odd thing is that I love winter and have spent most of my life in cold climates. I have no problem cross-country skiing in much, much colder temperatures than this and with less clothes on. What's with this cycling discomfort? I was wearing more layers than a layered cake, including a thermal shirt, thick Irish wool sweater and a windbreaker trench, and the wind still pierced right through it all. And it's not as simple as being just "too cold", but more like going back and forth between being too cold and too hot every couple of minutes. I guess I could wear my XC ski clothes on the bike instead of my regular clothes, but this goes back to the whole "cycling in your regular clothes vs special clothes" debate. Well, at least I continue to ride my bike for transportation; short rides I can handle.

Unlike me, the Co-Habitant scoffs in the face of adversity with his skimpy outfit and no scarf. Tough guy.

According to him, only his hands and ears really get cold when he cycles, hence the wool hat and leather gloves.

I like these gloves very much, and they match his Pashley's leather accessories nicely.

Looking like a snowman in my overstuffed coat, I could only marvel at the Co-Habitant's tolerance of low temperatures. We are promised a blizzard tonight, so the real winter test will soon be upon us!


  1. "What's with this cycling discomfort?"

    You're using relatively little energy to go relatively fast.

    I'm afraid the first trick of cold weather cycling is giving yourself permission to be absolutely miserable for the first 10 minutes. After that things tend to get better.

    City riding is always more problematic than the open road, as it's harder to regulate your speed to regulate your temperature. Too much variation in speed leads to the whole hot, cold, hot, cold thing.

    A bit of snow on the road can actually help; effort goes up while speed goes down, making it easier to get and keep just the right amount of warm going. Don't give up on the dream just yet.

  2. HI Filigree, having just converted your temps to celsius I'd find it a bit chilly too! Love the beret! Great colour and great shape. Do you wear a balaclava when you ski? Perhaps you're feeling the cold through your face more than anything? I have the opposite problem to you - I'm a summer cycling wimp and won't ride when it's over 30C!

  3. I agree with kfg - the first ten minutes are the hardest. Also, it helps to get used to cold weather riding in general. On the first cold day of this season, I was surprised by how freakin' cold I felt. Since then, I've been riding in much colder weather with no problem. My body had to accept the temperature change before it could move on :) Part of winter cycling for me is accepting that I will be at times hot and cold. I try not to think about it, which is easier after the first few rides.

    The rich red bow is perfect for Eustacia Vye. You and Co-Habitant make a dapper couple!

  4. Carinthia - No balaclava. When I cross-country ski, I wear quite literally next to nothing: Insulated tights, a paper-thin shell over a sports-bra, wool socks, XC ski gloves, and a wool hat over my ears. I have skied dressed this way in temperatures below 0° F (-18° C), and I still get all overheated and sweaty. The only parts that get cold are my hands - no matter how high tech the gloves are - so I always have those liquid gel handwarmer things and stick them inside the gloves. XC skiing is very different from alpine skiing though; alpine requires the skier to dress much warmer.

    Dottie and kfg - What you say makes sense. I will keep at it, trying to cycle more and more each day. I am just disappointed at myself for not being as hardy as I would have liked! I am thinking of putting some velo-related stuff on my holiday wishlist after all and asking for some Ibex clothing - maybe that will work better than the wools I already own.

  5. "I will keep at it, trying to cycle more and more each day. I am just dissapointed at myself for not being as hardy as I would have like."

    I'm not surprised the first long ride didn't go as planned -- something similar happened to me. My winter riding on short routes had been so succesful I decided to make a 12 mile trip that proved an umitigated disaster. It was literally terrifying -- I was freezing my feet off trapped miles from home. So my advice: increase your trips lengths *very* gradually; that way you'll have a good sense of what you need to do to maintain the right temperature and ride comfortably.

  6. i'm sort of a cold weather wimp myself. i find that in temps below about 20-25F i really need to pack on the layers. i have a remarkably thin winter cycling jacket that's windproof and insulated, yet breathes very well. underneath that i find having a thin wool layer followed by a layer of polyester fleece does wonders. the trio keep my torso warm down to 14F with windchills below 0F, without feeling or looking like the michelin man. but i also find using a balaclava a must, and ear muffs to boot. my head is *very wimpy, and my sinuses kill me when i breathe cold air. but i still haven't found the perfect glove for ultra-cold temps. that's the only part of my body that still doesn't keep as warm as i would like below about 20F. any suggestions?

  7. somervillain,

    I guess I'm a cold weather wimp too... at the speeds I ride, a winter jacket over a sweater feels comfortable. I couldn't got without covering my face so I wrap my scarf around my head the way Dottie does in her instructional video -- no specialized gear for me! :)

  8. There's no shame in just riding for commutes & errands. Those are plenty to evaluate what and why the discomfort appears and find a solution. I also get colder cycling than when skiing. On the other hand, I don't ski without something to keep my eyes comfy.

    If you're looking for inspiration, watch "Randy" in "A Christmas Story." People told me I reminded them of him.

  9. somervillain - if you have problems with your hands freezing even with good gloves, try either a glove & over-mitten combo, or gel handwarmers inside the gloves. The gel handwarmers are the only solution that works for me.

  10. I also tend to agree with kfg... and as they say, "it's better to over-dress than under-dress"

    It's always the first 1-3 miles that seem to feel the "coldest". Yeah, I admit I do not subscribe to the normal clothes for commuting debate (though I absolutely do for 'round town' and 'casual' riding) ... but technical clothing built for extreme climates is best for extreme climates... he says after riding around today in his wool scarf and pea-coat -- but that was a 'casual' ride.

    Haven't missed a commute yet... even Wed. and Thurs... thank god for a tail-wind! ;)

    (not looking good for Monday, though...)

  11. Sommervillain -

    I have a pair of EMS "mountaineering" gloves that I have used for everything from shoveling and hiking to cycling and they are great. They've lasted, too... I bought them in the mid-90s!

  12. I say try the ski clothes, if you think it would make you more comfortable. After all, you already wear them to go skiing in, which makes them regular clothes in my book.

    My face, ears, toes, hands and legs get cold - the legs warm up after about 20 mins, I'm knitting myself earwarmers for my ears and a scarf sorts out my face, but nothing warms up my fingers and toes. I've got terrible circulation - I must look for gel handwarmers (any idea what the environmental impact of them is?)

  13. townmouse - I actually mis-spoke when I called them "gel". The ones I meant are powder, and as far as I understand they are biodegradable:

    "Heatmax warmers are made of natural materials, including iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal, and wood fiber. When exposed to air, these materials react together to produce heat through an extremely fast oxidation (or rusting) process."

    See "HeatMax Hand & Body Warmers" in local shops or on Amazon.

  14. Astroluc - So... Are you riding today? : ) The Co-Habitant rode off to work on his Pashley in the morning as usual!

  15. I think a sunny day post snow storm would be much nicer to ride in than a cold pre storm day. anyday. It was really cold out!! I'm impressed that the Co-H went out today!

    I had my car window smashed on friday. I was stranded ( Purse stolen no money and would have to bike the boy to the bank downhill before going anywhere... ) and I decided it was too cold. The boy child had a cold and I was cold just stepping outside to get mail etc. We stayed inside all day long except for school bus drop off and pick ups. I felt wimp-ish but that's how I roll.

  16. I forgot to say the too cold to too hot in a matter of minutes is my current issue withthe sorte. My first few minutes is downhill and freezing! Then I start to work up hill and begin to wilt. I hate the over hot feeling under the heavy coat that was needed a few minutes before.

    so I find it hard to motivate to cope with all of that. Grrr.

  17. Vee - For me the worst thing about being hot and cold, is that during the hot minutes you sweat, and then the sweat turns freezing and the wind blows through it. According to my mother, that's a good way to get pneumonia - though I suspect the pre-medical Co-Habitant will passionately disagree on that.

  18. ". . .during the hot minutes you sweat . . ."

    That is my counter to the it's best to overdress argument. While you certainly don't want to seriously under dress, it's better to be chilly than to sweat.

    As sweat evaporates in the cold, dry air, it takes some of your heat along with it, giving you that "chilled to the bone" feeling. Under the best of conditions it makes it very difficult for your body to regulate its temperature. Under the worst, even though it might not be able to cause an inflammatory infection, it can drive you hypothermic in minutes.

    Chilly might not be fun, but at least its only skin deep.

  19. kfg - so what do you think is best? Some sort of special wool that is ultra warm and ultra moisture wicking? My insanely thick Irish wool sweater was not enough, which surprised me, but maybe it was too porous and fluffy. Perhapsa tight knit out of the catwool we were discussing earlier might do the trick...

  20. Filigree:

    Thankfully I have nowhere to be today (Sunday), so I do not have to head out into the (end of the) storm... Tomorrow, however, I may just brave it! We shall see... (I just posted a blog post about this, too ;)

  21. Filigree & kfg:

    Whether I am cycling in my "normal" clothes or in my "commuter" clothes in the cold weather, I always wear a base layer of the Under Armor compression/wicking/cold conditions/etc... I think it's meant for jogging, but I have found that it is great for cycling. It has really worked wonders for a number of reasons: even if I sweat a little, it tends to remove the moisture to the "outer layer" and saves your skin from getting that chill. Also, it's nice since you can wear them like long-johns and no-one is the wiser!

  22. Filigree,

    Have you tried wearing a thicker and longer scarf? Having my neck and part of my head covered makes a much bigger difference to me than what I have on my torso.

  23. I don't know anything better than a thin merino or cashmere wool base layer. Bearing in mind that I lean more toward the Co-habitant, I was out doing my running around town a few days ago in 5 degrees wearing my wool base, a flannel shirt and lightest oil skin (wind PROOF) riding coat (Driza-Bone). I wasn't exactly toasty, but I wasn't unduly cold either. If I'd bothered to put on my Polarfleece(tm) vest I'd have been reasonably toasty without much risk of getting sweaty.

    For those who can't tolerate wool next to the skin silk will do; or maybe wool blended with cat will make it tolerable. Rabbit is pretty spiffy as well.

    I only wear my Irish (well, Bolivian actually) sweater when it's merely cool or really brutal out. As you say, it's too porous. You stay warm by heating air next to your skin and then KEEPING it there. The Irish sweater holds a lot of air, but it isn't very good at keeping it there if there's the slightest amount air moving through it. Its ability to keep you warm in a wind is entirely dependent on its being sealed by a shell, which you can't do adequately without overheating unless it's really, REALLY cold out. Even an open collar can spill all the air out of an Irish sweater; especially if your cuffs aren't strapped down.

    A thin shell that keeps the air in will be warmer and more comfortable, without sweating, than a mountain of bulk that doesn't.

    The same goes for what you wear on your head as well. A simple cloth scarf may prove warmer than your knit hat if the weave is tight.

  24. Listen carefully to the "pre-medical Co-Habitant will passionately disagree on that."

    BTW, now he's looking a bit like "Rocky Balboa" in contrast to the previous "John Reed" look. A VERY adaptable gentleman and an inspiration to a few of us! My own glove choices tend towards brown rather than black, but the priciple is still the same. Just tell him to stay away from that flapping tail look...

  25. I got some thin wool leggings from Ibex -- so far that is my only nod to "gear." They fit under skinny jeans and work well worn over regular tights worn with dresses or skirts. I like them very much -- the Ibex website and reviewers say they run small but that hasn't been my experience. If you're used to vintage and Europeans clothes, don't listen. I wish I had bought an extra-small.

    One other thing I've learned is that what keeps me most warm is my helmet. I went out without it a couple of days ago for a quick errand and I was freezing, even with my Icelandic wool hat with earflaps. But when I put my helmet over that hat I was absolutely happy.

    I have also found that my ultra-light puffer (the one I have is by Moncler) is not too hot. I wore it the other day for a two hour ride and was extremely comfortable. When I got a little hot I just unzipped the neck a little bit. I think the lightness of the jacket was really helpful wrt regulating my temperature quickly so I didn't get too sweaty or too cold.

    The gloves thing I have not figured out yet. I cannot consider the lobster.

  26. There exist reusable chem (non-fuel) heating packs, but I have only sampled (and liked) the commonly available disposable ones. It easy to keep a few (plus foot versions) in case of emergency in the bike bag.

  27. Oh, and here's a tip from back in the old days that I forgot to mention, although some moderns get weirded out by it for some reason.

    Take a piece of newspaper, crumple it up, sort of smooth it out again, stuff it under your top layer.

    The crumpliness holds air and holds it in place. Instant breathable wind proofing that can save your bacon when you get caught out by the weather.

  28. wear boots with lots of room for your toes! Helps them keep warm in winter.


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