Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NJ: Preparing for Cold Weather Riding

I edited the following article a bit to target it for general road riding during daylight hours.

Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Lawrence Walsh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's decision time for bicyclists.........

Do they outfit themselves and their bikes for cold weather riding or store their wheels for the winter?

The days of riding in jerseys and shorts are gone. As the temperatures drop, the number of layers bicyclists need to wear to stay warm goes up.

To get a cross-section of advice on cold weather bicycling, I spoke to Peter Greninger of REI on the South Side, Barry Jeffries of Dirty Harry's Bicycles in Verona, Bob McKinney of Iron City Bikes in Oakland, Kevin Peters of Trek bike shop in Shadyside and Brad Smith, a retired meteorologist who owns Confluence Cyclery in southern Somerset County.

Here's a summary of their advice.

Bicyclists should wear a skull cap under their helmets to prevent heat loss. The thickness of the cap depends on how cold it is. The helmet vents, wide open during hot weather, should be closed or covered with tape. If the tape reflects light, so much the better.

A balaclava, which covers the head, ears and neck and has an opening for the eyes and nose, is ideal for cold weather. It typically is made of wool, though some may be made of acrylic, cotton or fleece. If it becomes too warm, the scarf portion in many models can be rolled up into the hat.

Sunglasses with a dark tint for bright snowy mornings will help to reduce glare and protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays and debris. A pair of goggles is a good idea on windy days and when the temperature drops into the single digits.

The layering concept that applies to other sports holds true for cold weather biking. And some of the same clothing used for downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can be worn for the sport.

A complete set of long underwear that wicks away moisture from the body is the first layer. A vest with a mesh back for ventilation or a thermal jersey goes on next. It can be covered with a fleece top and then a brightly colored jacket with ventilation zippers under the armpits.

A pair of fleece-lined tights with zippers at the ankles goes on next. Look for tights that are articulated for movement and have front panels that are windproof and waterproof.

A fleece gaitor protects the neck and can be pulled up to cover the mouth and nose. A full face mask will prevent frostbite when the temperatures plummet.

Full-finger gloves that are windproof and waterproof are a must. Look for a pair that come with a set of liners and/or have a zippered opening on the top to insert a set of hand warmers. Avoid mittens. They're awkward, especially when trying to switch gears and/or use the hand brakes.

Neoprene booties that fit over biking shoes will help to keep your feet warm. Some booties are thicker than others and some have varying thicknesses of insulation. Wear wool socks. Foot warmers also will keep your toes toasty.

Use brightly-colored, eye-catching clothing. The goal is to be seen. Motorists don't expect to see bicyclists during the winter, so get their attention before they get yours.

Wet weather decreases the life of brake pads. Inspect them every week. Use tires with a good tread. Keep your chain clean and lubricated. Carry a repair kit with you.

The hardest part about riding in cold weather is getting out the door," said Greninger of REI. "If you can force yourself to get dressed and get on your bike, you won't regret it."

Confluence Cyclery's Smith, a biochemist who earned a master's degree in meteorology and oceanography during his 24-year career with the U.S. Navy, said bicyclists have to be aware of the windchill factor, especially on days when there is no wind. For example, bicyclists who maintain a modest pace of 10 miles per hour in 30 degree weather have to be prepared for a windchill of 21 degrees. If they aren't properly covered up, they could suffer frostbite in 30 minutes. See chart, above.

Not riding in the winter?
Take time to winterize your bike
If you store your bicycle for the winter, you owe it to yourself and your bike to give it a thorough cleaning -- or have a full-service professional bike shop do it.
• Hose off all the road and/or trail grit and grime. Pay particular attention to the chain, gears, rims and derailleur -- the mechanism that moves the chain from one gear to another.
• Put the chain on the small sprocket so as to loosen the derailleur as much as possible
• Loosen the brakes.
• Clean and lubricate the chain, gears and the derailleur. A light coat of WD40 will protect it for the winter.
• Use a large plastic-coated hook to hang the bike from a joist in a dry basement, garage or shed.
• If that space-saving option isn't possible, check the tires every week or so and add air when necessary.
• If you haven't yet "adopted" a professional bike shop, winter is a good time to shop around -- literally and figuratively.


  1. Funny how we acclimate to a climate. I moved from the northeast to Arizona several years ago, and where I once rode in NY/MA/CT/NJ/PA in shorts on 55 degree days, I now wear tights when it hits 55 in Arizona. I suggest Ibex for wool garments (I've no affiliation to Ibex). It's no mystery to older cyclists how well wool functions. Being "stink-free" and not getting too hot, or too cold is a must on long rides. Ibex makes a wool cap, perfect for cold rides, that is the best I've ever used. I've been after them to make a long sleeve wool pullover baselayer sans neck zipper, and when they finally oblige, I'm buying a bunch of 'em.

  2. Another woolie person!! Swobo, Kucharik.....yeah