Monday, February 05, 2007

Biking in the Cold

It’s really not such a big deal. I barely left the house in January, as I was writing. But now that I’ve got to go to school and it’s cold out, let me put in my two cents for biking in the cold. To repeat: it’s not such a big deal.

Most “normal” people think it’s crazy to bike in 15-degree weather. But then I would say half of the “normal” people on the street have their ears exposed and don’t have hats on. So no wonder they’re cold. And stupid, too.

Biking is not colder than walking. And it’s much warmer than waiting for a bus or sitting in car waiting for it to warm up. Sure I’d prefer it to be warmer, but it’s not like it’s going to be warmer if you’re not on a bike.

Right now in Chicago it’s minus one degree. Now that’s cold. I grew up in that. Below zero is cold. And now this is a little crazy, but I kind of miss it.

It never gets than cold in New York. But I like extreme weather. At least in short doses. Or more specifically beating extreme weather. I hate being cold. But I did used to bike all winter in Boston, which doesn’t get as cold as Chicago, but still gets pretty nippy. The problem with winter isn’t that it’s too cold. It’s that it’s too long.

But here’s the basic rule about biking year round: you just have to assume you’re always going to bike. If you wake up and debate whether you should bike, you’ll never bike unless it’s 70 and sunny. You don’t always have to bike. But you have to convince yourself you always will. Then it’s not such a big deal. You can always put on another layer to keep warm.

Ironically, the real risk of biking in the cold is getting too warm. Biking into Manhattan I got too warm and had to take off my jacket and ear muffs. I just had two layers on underneath. Not a whole lot, but biking is exercise, it keeps you warm. In the cold, it’s very important to have wool or some wicking fiber next to your skin. You don’t want a wet cotton shirt next to your skin. The key to biking in hot and cold weather is letting your body regulate your temperature. You can help by wearing clothes that wicking sweat away from your skin.

So bike in the cold. The essentials are to keep your extremities warm: hat, warm wool socks (I wore two pairs), gloves, and a scarf to breath through. I don’t go all-out biking in the cold. But it’s fine.

It’s most cold at the very beginning before the exercise warms you up. After a mile or two you will warm up. So don’t dress too warm. But it can help to dress inside and wait a minute or two to get nice and toasty before you start riding. That warmth can carry you through the first cold mile

One problem I can’t work around are glasses. If I breathe through a scarf (and I like to when it’s below freezing), I don’t wear my glasses. I can get away with that because my vision isn’t that bad. But I can’t figure out how to breathe through a scarf without fogging up glasses.

And of course be careful with ice. You can actually bike over ice without a problem. But... and it’s a pretty big but... you can’t steer or break while doing it. Just don’t freak out. And there’s not much ice out there. It’s only really potentially a problem when there’s snow actually covering the street perhaps hiding the ice. But that’s rare.

Still think it’s too cold? Remember people survive in much colder climates just fine. Though I did pass somebody on a moped and thought, “Now he must be cold!”


steve said...

Maybe a cheap pair of ski goggles would do the trick?

I wear a balaclava when it's really cold, or a neck gaiter when it's above -12C or so. The neck gaiter allows moist air to roll back towards the ears, so my glasses don't fog up at all. The balaclava isn't quite so good, I have to stop every 15 minutes or so to scrape the ice off.

Maybe try wearing the scarf looser so the moist air has somewhere to go?

rickyd said...

I love my wife's Buff when it gets cold. DR has 'em on sale now, so I got a couple for myself.

Fotaq said...

I was certain that anything about your wife's buff was a spam comment. But indeed, it is wise advise. I avoided listing all my personal favorite clothes items. But since we're at it...

A neck gaiter is my favorite. That's one of the first things to be put on. And also a hat that fits under a helmet and isn't big enough to cover my eyes (my wife says I look Moroccan when I wear it). And my ear muffs (180s) have some tension and naturally fold and collapse a bit. So when I get too warm, and can take them off while riding and put them around my wrist like a bracelet to hold.

I also found that my newish thin Craft gloves that don't look very warm are better and warmer than my old Boston lobster-mitten gloves I was saving for a very cold day.

Matt Tucker said...

I wear a thin hat and some winter bike gloves. I also find that wool socks are essential.

And now I'll actually get to bike in the cold! I went to a bike swap and I'm finally starting my commuter bike (I asked a question a while ago about what to buy). I found a couple year old trek 520 frame for $45. So I bought a wheelset with mavic rims for 75 and some other components for cheap. I still need a bunch of components (crankset, brakes, seat) but I'm close.

I'm thinking about putting it together myself- any advice or tutorials online? I'm a total newbie so it needs to be basic.

Fotaq said...

Putting a bike together isn't that hard. Read the early posts in this blog and use Sheldon Brown's website as a reference.

If you have something specific, post a comment and I'll try to help.

AV said...

I agree about the problem being more one of getting too warm than of being too cold. For me, the commute to the archive is uphill there and downhill home, which isn't too bad. Also, Granada's not that cold; it snowed last week, but didn't stick at all. My problem now's with full-fingered gloves: the fingers are too long, and it's scary. So I ride with the fingerless gloves and have cold hands.`

Fotaq said...

For what it's worth, I think my fingers are on the shorter side of average. The Craft gloves I have have very short fingers. In fact, if you *don't* have short fingers, I would worry about these gloves. Only the index finger on these gloves is even slightly larger than my finger.

Craft Tempest. I use a medium. Maybe you can find them in small?

Anonymous said...

I've used fogtech on glasses & the like. This willl prevent heavy fogging up.