Tuesday 21 October 2014

Cold Test Ride Conclusions

A cold penguin, chilling.
So after testing out my gear for three rides, I feel like I've learned a lot.  I've compiled my findings below.

I'm sure this won't be the last time I do some testing.  I will probably have to record and make minor revisions every time the mercury drops another 5-10C.

Whenever I plan a ride, I try to watch the forecast for how strong the wind is and where it is blowing.  It can normally have a big impact on your ride.  I've discovered that in colder weather its even more important.  The wind can make the ambient temperature feel a lot colder.  It can happen abruptly when you change direction.  Based on my experience with wind so far, I will definitely prioritize wind-proof gear in my cold weather planning.

Another thing I noticed is how cold it gets when you simply accelerate.  Its like having your own personal "wind chill factor".  It's not simply a linear matter of faster = colder.  Hard pedalling will generate heat.  So you have to balance things.  I have a feeling this will be a bigger deal while road biking in the fall.  In the winter I'll be on a mountain bike, and I simply won't be able to achieve speeds where it'll be a huge problem.

Cold air is denser air and I can really feel it as I move through it.  I feel like there is more of an aerodynamic drag on me when the air is much colder.  I also feel like its harder to breathe the denser air when I'm pushing myself.

The rain jacket really saved the day but it has one big problem.  It's not "breathable".  There's no fancy material or vents on it to let the heat release.  I sweat a lot in the arms.  Mind you, much prefer sweaty arms over frozen arms.  Might be better to use when its really cold or when I have thinner base layers on underneath.  I've been shopping around for something that is water resistant and breathable, or something waterproof with zipper vents on the back/underarms.

Cold Feet
Feet get cold fast!  The first set of socks were meshy and breathable so I wasn't surprised to be cold.  My thicker sports socks seem to do well until 15C and below that my smart wool seem to be pretty good up to 10C.  Any lower (including with wind chill) and they seem to have an issue.  I can either get toe covers to put under the shoe covers or I can use my MEC Drencher covers over the top of the shoe covers (the latter is really bulky but I already own some).  Either way, this is strictly an autumn road bike issue as I won't be using the cycling shoes for outdoor winter cycling.

Cold Hands
My gloves have zero thermal properties.  On all three days I found my fingers cold the entire time.  Anything below 15C and they're just useless.  I will have to get some better gloves.

I also discovered that my cycling gloves can be adapted for colder weather simply by wearing  pair of blue nitrile gloves underneath.  It does end up making your hands sweat.  But that sweat is kept close against the hands and it ends up heating up the sweat.  So in other words, you feel warm, but its pretty disgusting when it comes off.  I can't recommend the blue nitrile gloves as a regular or long term solution.  But they are great in an emergency.  I've started keeping a pair on my bike just in case.

Pit Stops
Throughout the summer I did lots of rides and the issue of urinating just never came up.  I liked to joke that it was because I was sweating so much, my body didn't need to.  Maybe it is true; since I've been sweating less due to cold, I've needed to pee a lot more.  Every cold ride I either needed to have a private pit stop moment, or I am charging at the bathroom once my ride ends.  If this continues like this I'll have to avoid bib tights or anything else that makes it difficult to have a pit stop.

Two's Company
I think I need to stop making cycling such a solitary activity.  I do ride with my wife but in the winter she has no intentions of going outdoor cycling.  I've been thinking it could be very hazardous if I take a bump on the head and freeze to death in the woods, because I was too much of a loner to have someone around.

Winter means shorter days.  While I had full days to myself for my test rides, my normal weekdays are eaten up by things like work.  The sun rises too late and sets too early for me to avoid night cycling.  I may start riding shorter rides on the road bike in the autumn; I really don't like riding in the dark on rural roads.  In the winter I'll be off-road and I will have to have enough lights to be seen by off-road vehicles.

The headband really didn't work out.  But I have a feeling it will work just fine when I wear it with goggles.  So it's not great autumn wear but it will work out in the winter.

Bicycle helmets aren't great winter design.  They've got great big cooling vents in them.  Throughout the testing, my thick ginger hair kept my head mostly warm but I need a solution for when it gets colder.

My sunglasses worked out fine for the testing.  But I know eventually it will get too cold and I will have to switch to goggles.

I have a mirror set up right now that I like.  Unfortunately it mounts to my sunglasses.  When it starts getting very cold and I switch to goggles, I can no longer use my mirror.  I need to find a good alternative.

Measuring Effort
There are a lot of ways we measure our progress.  Some people measure by how far they've gone or how fast they've traveled.  In my case I need to not focus on how fast I'm going.  Quite frankly I'm not going to be setting Strava segment records in the cold weather.  But if my cadence is high (80-100) and my heart rate is going (140bpm or higher) then I'm doing good.  No need to beat myself up about going slowly through cold dense air with a headwind!


  1. What is this thing "cold" you speak of? Is it anything like a pan-searing hot chip seal road?

    I remember being cold once, in Kansas I think.... hmmm.

    I love Gore Windstopper gear. Warm but not bulky.

    1. That's the sort of material I've got my eye out for now. Windproof and water resistant. And not bulky. I have a bulky coat for when I lose my mind and go biking at forty below. :D

  2. Having nitrile gloves would drive me crazy. I hate the feel of those!

    1. The feel of them when they're dry going on, or when they're gross and wet coming off?

      They only gross me out coming off. Usually by then they're gross from whatever I'm doing (bike repair, handling garbage, cleaning cat litter).

  3. I'd be interested to hear how you deal with your feet in the snow! What kind of boots do you use, socks, any chemical warmers?

    I'm really struggling at the moment. I bought a reasonable set of snow boots, and I've tried lots of different sock combos, but I can't keep my feet warm. I've even been using YakTrak chemical toe warmers but they don't seem to do much, if anything.

    What kind of boots do you have and do they work?

    1. I've had a few combos I've had success with.

      When it comes to boots, they're directly in the wind. I'm frequently in places with zero cover from the wind (such as on a lake or in open fields). So I try to go by temperature that says "feels like" or "wind chill factor".

      If "feels like" is -15C or warmer, and I'm out for 1 1/2 hours or less, I use merino wool socks with a pair of Merrell windproof hiking boots.

      If it is colder than that, or I'm going out for longer, I have a second pair of Merelle boots that are for winter use (Opti-Warm). I put on a pair of wool socks, then I put a pair of merino wool socks on top of that. So far this has worked up to a "wind chill" of -25C while I was out for two hours.

      Worse than that, I'd go with 4 layers of socks. I'd start off with some thin cycling socks or toe covers, then wool socks, then merino wool socks, then heavy wool socks. If you really want to get hardcore, I'd put a plastic bag on each foot before putting them in your boots. Your feet will get hot but the layers should soak up the sweat.

      I do keep chemical toe warmers in my emergency kit. Just in case I'm out there longer than I should (mechanical breakdown, impassable terrain, etc).