Winter riding: a cycling post

After weeks and weeks of ridiculously warm winter weather, it’s finally gotten cold around here, so I’ve had the chance to go riding in below-freezing weather. This is the first year I’ve ridden regularly throughout the winter, and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in for a January. I owe my ability to ride in freezing weather to L.L. Bean’s Wicked Good Toe Warmers, inserts you can place between your sock and the shoe, made of all-natural something or other, and let me tell you — they are wicked good. For some reason I simply can’t keep my toes warm without them. I can wear layer upon layer of socks and layer upon layer of shoe covers and my toes still get numb and painful after about 30 minutes. The Hobgoblin has this problem with his hands, but my hands are fine, and his toes are fine. I don’t get why this is.

The first time I used the toe warmers was on a 3-hour-long ride, and they felt heavenly; simply keeping my toes warm kept me happy the whole time. Now that my toes are warm, I don’t have much trouble riding in temperatures as low as 20 degrees. Below 20 degrees, it would be hard to keep the rest of my body warm — at that point, I feel like I’m working just as hard to stay warm as I am to ride my bike; my mind turns inward, and I have trouble paying attention to the road because I’m busy monitoring how cold I am.

Besides the temperature, the main problems with winter riding are snow and wind. Snow hasn’t a problem so far this year, but even when we get some, the roads tend to clear out and dry up pretty quickly, so even a big storm will only keep my off the bike a few days. I think the wind is more of a problem — partly because of the wind chill and partly because I don’t want to get knocked over, especially not into oncoming traffic.

So far I’ve managed to ride four or five times a week, and I’ve only ridden indoors on the trainer once, and that was because of the wind. It was actually a beautiful day out, sunny and clear, but there were gusts of 50 mph according to the weather reports, and I did not one of those to hit me sideways.

One other problem with winter riding — if it’s below freezing, it’s only a matter of time before my water bottles freeze. The Hobgoblin and I rode for 2 1/2 hours last Sunday, and I couldn’t drink for the last hour because my bottle got clogged with ice. This wasn’t too much of a problem because I don’t sweat much when it’s so cold and so don’t get dehydrated quite as easily, but still, it’s not a particularly good thing.

So, so far my experiment with winter riding has gone quite well, but as this isn’t exactly a normal winter, I don’t really know what it’s like. Would I ride this regularly if temperatures were closer to average and we had more snow? I don’t know, but I hope I would.


Filed under Cycling

9 responses to “Winter riding: a cycling post

  1. I am surprised that you don’t stay warmer when riding right now as it sounds like you are not just out for a leisurely sort of ride. Though after a few hours even with continuous movement you must feel the chill. I should find those LL Bean toe warmers–actually I need the whole sock. I have the coldest feet–even inside! Do you feel like you will be more prepared to race when the weather turns nice now that you have been able to train outside so much?


  2. I love the idea of toe warmers. I could do with them at my desk on chilly days!! I think you are extremely brave to be out there at all!


  3. Good for you, Dorothy. I live with a cyclist, and I always feel a little sorry for him as he heads out in 200 layers of expensive cycling gear into The Weather. Glad to hear you have wicked toe warmers, though, they sound great.


  4. I’m sitting here indoors thinking about my cold feet and how nice those wicked toe warmers would feel. Do they have wicked finger warmers too? I can cope with cold feet better than I can cold hands and my hands are always cold. I admire your winter riding. That’s dedication!


  5. Brrrr. You’re a far braver woman than I. I don’t mind walking in cold temperatures (especially with all the great clothes now that keep you warm without making you look like the Michelin Man — must get some of those toe warmers), but anything that creates the slightest wind, like biking does, would be something I’d avoid.


  6. Danielle — the exercise does keep me warm, but it’s still tricky, largely because I try to find a balance between feeling cold and getting too hot, and sometimes I get the balance wrong. And then there are times I ride down a long downhill and am not working hard and get chilled. And then sometimes my body will be warm or even hot, all except for my toes. It’s very complicated! And yes, I do think I’ll be better prepared for the races because of all this training — at least, that’s what I’m hoping. Thanks Litlove — I agree about the toe warmers; they make a person happy! Charlotteotter — yes, you do understand, don’t you? It does feel like 200 layers sometimes. Stefanie, they probably have wicked finger warmers too, or if they don’t, they should! Emily, yes, it’s the wind, both self-generated and regular wind that’s the problem. Mountain biking would make more sense, as it’s slower and therefore a bit warmer, but I just don’t like it as much.


  7. Strange how winter seems to have settled in in America and Europe at the exact same time. I’ve been riding my bike to/from work in temperatures of 20 to 30 F (-7 to -4 °C) for a week now (at night, with moonbeams illuminating the fields and woods covered in snow), and I need both the toe warmers and the finger warmers, as well as a chest cooler (if such things exist).


  8. Riding at night — that’s pretty serious! It sounds lovely, actually. And that’s exactly right — hot torso, cold fingers and toes.


  9. Well, it’s not like I have much choice (apart from driving). My train leaves at 7:09 AM, so I must leave home at 6:30. And I return at 7 PM. It will start to be real fun around March, when I get to ride during crimson sunrise and sunset hours.


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