Twelve tips for cool weather bicycling

By Dan Sheridan

Originally Published in Marion Star October 22, 2008


Some of my most memorable bicycle rides have been on beautiful winter days. On one New Year's Day ride in 18 degree temperatures a few years ago, Lucy Lehner and I stopped on a bridge on Keener Road to have a snack and enjoy the gently falling snow. We were comfortably warm, and so were surprised to see that the water in our bottles had turned to slush.


In the early 1990s, I went for an hour-long ride with Dave Wigton in temperatures that were just above zero. We still laugh about the pig farm that we passed, where the pigs were huddled together to stay warm.


Cool autumn days cause many cyclists to put away their bicycles until the first warm days of spring. However, cool weather cycling can be a great way to stay active and ward off cabin fever. I try to ride year round, and usually start building up my miles in late February so that I'm ready for long rides in April and May.


Use these tips to enjoy cycling when the temperature drops:


Wind chill - Since bicyclists move faster than pedestrians, they create their own wind chill in cool weather. If you keep almost all of your skin covered, you will negate the wind chill.


Keep your head warm - Cool air in the ear canal can be painful. Experienced cyclists often wear thin balaclavas to keep their heads warm when the temperature is below about 55 degrees. Balaclavas easily fit under a bicycle helmet, and can be adjusted to cover the mouth if desired. Several balaclavas can be layered when the temperature drops further.


Eyes - A pair of wrap-around sunglasses will keep the cool air out of your eyes.


Hands - Many cyclists keep their hands warm with their regular winter gloves while riding. Others wear thin “liner gloves” under their bicycling gloves, and (as the temperature drops further) pull on a pair of “lobster gloves” over their cycling gloves and liner gloves. Lobster gloves are a cross between mittens and gloves, with thumbs and two “claws.”


Dress in layers - For a short trip, a winter jacket works fine. For a longer trip, a wicking material near the skin (such as polypropylene long underwear) will help to keep you warm and dry. A brightly colored jacket that blocks the wind makes a great outer layer, and a wool sweater will provide insulation.


Legs - Cycling tights will help to keep your legs warm, and it's easy to add a pair of long underwear underneath on cooler days. Sweatpants will also work. Some riders purchase cool weather tights, which have thick windproof material in front and a fleece-like material in the back.


Feet - Many cyclists ride in winter hiking boots when the temperatures drop. Others pull neoprene booties over their cycling shoes.


Cool first mile - It may take a mile or so for cyclists to start generating body heat, so they are often a little cool at first. In a few minutes, they will usually be comfortable.


Accept slower speed - For many reasons, bicycle riders tend to go slower in the cooler months. The thicker clothes on our legs add resistance to the pedal strokes, and we may be wearing heavier footwear that does not stay on the pedals as well. We're not riding as often, so our conditioning is not as good. Cool air is a bit thicker than warm air, so there may be a little more wind resistance.


Spin - If short days or treacherous road conditions won't permit a bicycle ride, or you just can't bring yourself to go outside in the cool weather, consider riding a trainer (an indoor bicycling device) or joining a spinning class at the YMCA. My cycling friends who take spinning classes are in great shape when spring arrives.


Hike - Many organizations offer peaceful hikes during the cooler months. The Heart of Ohio Tailwinds Bicycle Club offers winter hikes, as do Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, Columbus Metro Parks, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.


On the web - Icebike ( is a Web site with many excellent tips for cool weather cycling.



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