Cold Weather Cycling

Bundled up for a chilly early morning ride

Living in the Sunshine State has many perks, particularly if you are a cyclist, as our riding season is year round (barring the occasional hurricane and tropical storms). Our typical concerns when cycling are beating the heat, dealing with the relentless sun and staying hydrated, but as we encroach into the snow bird season we actually have to deal with chilly early morning temperatures. Now mind you, our definition of chilly is relative. Our cold weather is in the low 50’s during the early morning hours often coupled with high winds, which can make it feel downright chilly making our normal attire of short sleeve and shorts woefully inadequate. To complicate matters more, by rides end the temperature has easily climbed by 20+ degrees making easily removable, light weight layers a must.

So how do cyclists handle the cold as well as prevent overheating during the winter cycling season? First a little science…

During aerobic exercise your body only uses about 30% of its total energy output for mechanical work, with the remaining energy expenditure is liberated as heat. In theory, performance, when cycling in the cold, can be maintained without effect in temperatures as low as -22° F by regulating body temperature with apparel.

There are four separate methods of heat transfer, or cooling, to regulate your body temperature while on a ride;

  • Conduction or the transfer of heat from surface to surface by contact. For example Muscle to skin, skin to air contact.
  • Convection, which is the cooling of the body by the movement of air over the skin.
  • Radiation, the transmission of heat from one body to another with out contact.
  • Evaporation or the vaporizing of moisture through the skin or breathing.

Follow these easy steps to regulate your body temperature and maintain your performance level when cycling in cold conditions,

  1. Start with layers: Layer your clothing so that you can adjust accordingly to the level of exertion and cold that you are feeling. The goal should always be to keep the core of your body warm and dry using layers allowing yourself to add, remove or vent layers as your exertion or the temperature change. Avoid cotton fabrics: While cotton may feel good when it’s dry, it also naturally absorbs moisture and prevent air circulation. Use Polyester, Polypropylene, Silk or Wool for base layers. These natural and man made fabrics wick moisture, allow air circulation and dry quickly.
  2. Cover your hands, feet, head and neck: These are major areas of heat loss. Your head alone can account for up to 40% of your bodies total heat loss.
  3. Dress so you’re are a little cold before your work out: While layering your clothes you don’t want to over do it. Make sure before you start your ride that you are cool, but not cold. You definitely don’t want to be warm. Once your ride begins your body temperature will rise naturally making you more comfortable.
  4. Dress in apparel that can be unzipped or easily removed: Don’t be afraid to unzip different layers to different points to moderate air circulation and evaporation. A little air circulation can greatly help with the evaporative cooling effect.
  5. Don’t underestimate wind chill: While the ambient air temperature may tell you to dress one way, don’t forget that the air temperature will seem to decrease once you are moving. A good wind blocking exterior layer can greatly reduce this effect and keep you from having to dress too bulky.

Dressing correctly for winter rides in Florida is something I have yet to master especially since you can experience a 20 to 30 degree temperature change on a ride. I’m still searching for the ideal base layer, one that not only keeps your core warm, but also wicks away all the sweat. I’ve heard great things about merino wool as well as the synthetic Pro Zero fibers found in Craft base layers. Currently I have a riding jacket which shields me from the wind and keeps me warm, but it does not breath well leaving me soaking wet even on a cold windy ride like today’s.

I’m thinking a good base layer, a pair of tights or leg/knee warmers and a good pair of wool socks should cover me down to the low 50’s. For those rare extremely cold days in the upper 40’s (at least by Florida standards) I can just toss on a jacket, or better yet stay home and use the orbital instead.

Route: Coconut-40
Ride Time: 2:19:42
Stopped Time: 1:13:33
Distance: 38.43 miles
Average: 16.51 mph
Fastest Speed: 20.40 mph
Ascent: 1536 feet
Descent: 1572 feet
Calories: 2210

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