Author Topic: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?  (Read 8785 times)

Thegoblinchief

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Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« on: January 03, 2014, 04:31:58 PM »
I've been biking through a colder than normal winter in WI but the next few days are going to be the coldest yet: -10F for a high temperature and my DW thinks I'm insane for keeping my biking up during this cold snap. (Thus far she's been supportive.)

Other relevant facts: I wear layers, pack tools, and just broke down and purchased some insulated boots (toes were freezing with non-insulated boots, even with triple socks). My commute is 8-9mi each way. I also do training rides a couple days/week. Currently okay at 20mi, been pushing to 25mi.

I love this thread, and it motivates me to continue what I insist is a BADASS activity:

www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/share-your-badassity/i-biked-to-work-in-a-snowstorm/

Help me settle the debate!

Ziggurat

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2014, 05:17:04 PM »
You're kidding, right?  Badass of course! (But it's dumbass if you don't experience your way to colder temperatures a few degrees at a time -- no one should start this in a cold snap).

I just came home at -18 C (around -1 F), feeling it was very balmy compared with the ride to work at -26 C (almost -15 F). As I said in the other thread, your limits keep getting reset as you get more experience.

I wonder about your triple socks, though. I'm wearing two loose-ish "thermal" socks in loose boots. I tried a third pair, regular socks, under those but it made it worse -- sometimes too much constricts the blood flow.

You've got a much longer ride than me, though. But for me the worst is about 5 minutes in when the cold penetrates to the fingers and toes; after about another 5 minutes the internal heat from the exercise seems to take that away. So maybe distance is not much of a factor.

So for me it's "badass", but ... for the record, my wife is here beside me, and her answer is "dumbass".
« Last Edit: January 04, 2014, 07:15:02 PM by Ziggurat »

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2014, 06:22:56 PM »
I've tried everything from single to triple socks in the previous boots. At 10F the toes get real stiff around mile 7, have to get off and walk a couple blocks just to get normal range of motion back. Avid cyclists often recommend chemical warmers, but at $1 a pop that's neither budget nor environment-friendly.

I'm still struggling to find the balance between cold and not much sweat and comfortable but super sweaty when I arrive, which of course is a moving target along with temperature...

The insulated boots just came today and seem quite toasty (1000g Thinsulate insulation). Eager to try them on my ride tomorrow.

oldladystache

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2014, 06:26:25 PM »
Or maybe Badass AND Dumbass.

Russ

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2014, 06:43:16 PM »
meh, probably kinda both. I don't think riding now is any more badass than riding in the summer... it's just a thing I do, NBD... but the dumbass factor is probably catching up to us as it gets colder.

I commute 11 miles each way every day in Madison. It's already been -15F twice so far this year (not including wind chill, which really doesn't mean anything on bikes unless you also account for your own speed and direction), and that wasn't bad. Comfort-wise, just make sure you wear enough stuff , and maybe make some extra effort to cover your entire face just in case for frostbite. Big scary numbers aside, it's really only five degrees difference.

Safety-wise, you're pretty safe no matter the temps AS LONG AS you're dressed properly, and you're on the bike & moving. Biggest worries are falling and mechanical failures. Obviously watch out for slippery places, and if you do fall, get up and movingas soon as possible. I would ditch the tools, because if anything breaks there's very little chance you'll be able to make it through the repair without getting very cold. Better IMO to be able to call your wife or a co-worker in case of emergency, or flag down a passing car (this is why I only ride on well-traveled roads in the winter). Make sure your bike is in good working order (just working... no need to try and make it look pretty with all the salt you're riding through daily), and get some very good flat-resistant tires.

I definitely wouldn't be going out for fun rides in these temps (there's plenty of other stuff to crosstrain with besides bikes), but if it works for you, it works for you!

As far as your sock situation goes, I agree that you probably have too much compression, not only of your bloodflow, but also the socks themselves. As you cram more sock in there, you squeeze away the air pockets in the knit. That air is what provides the insulation, not the sock itself, so one or two loose and lofty socks are often better than three squished socks. Another trick is to throw a thin layer of plastic (grocery bags are good) in between your sock layers, to add some more air layer separation. Insulated boots are really the most effective way to go though.

Finally, I'm not married so I don't have to worry about this, but maybe it would be better to drive for a few days just so nobody has to worry? Like I said earlier, there is a dumbass factor there somewhere, it's just on a sliding scale and your breaking point is probably way different from your wife's

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2014, 06:54:56 PM »
I definitely wouldn't be going out for fun rides in these temps (there's plenty of other stuff to crosstrain with besides bikes), but if it works for you, it works for you!

No gym membership or other exercise machines for cardio, and back can't really handle running anymore. So far it's been okay. I thought face would be the hard part, but it's been just fine so far once the blood starts pumping. First 25 miler happened to be on a day around 0F. That ride did actually kind of suck.

Quote
Finally, I'm not married so I don't have to worry about this, but maybe it would be better to drive for a few days just so nobody has to worry? Like I said earlier, there is a dumbass factor there somewhere, it's just on a sliding scale and your breaking point is probably way different from your wife's

Touche. I've been driving when it snows after having a couple miserable snow rides early in the winter. I'll think it some but y'all have made good points :)

Eric

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2014, 07:02:03 PM »
I'd vote badass.  What's the old saying?  There is no bad weather, only bad clothing?  Something like that.

Ziggurat

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2014, 10:24:51 PM »
Safety-wise, you're pretty safe no matter the temps AS LONG AS you're dressed properly, and you're on the bike & moving. Biggest worries are falling and mechanical failures. Obviously watch out for slippery places, and if you do fall, get up and movingas soon as possible. I would ditch the tools, because if anything breaks there's very little chance you'll be able to make it through the repair without getting very cold. Better IMO to be able to call your wife or a co-worker in case of emergency, or flag down a passing car (this is why I only ride on well-traveled roads in the winter). Make sure your bike is in good working order (just working... no need to try and make it look pretty with all the salt you're riding through daily), and get some very good flat-resistant tires.

^-- Great advice there. I carry minimal tools (and a bit of duct tape) all year, but the best is to have a well-charged cell phone with someone to call. I also know the bus routes and stay closer to them where possible, knowing some good places along my route to lock up the broken bike if necessary.  My tires have Slime in them for puncture resistance. As recommended in some old thread on endless-sphere, I use the chunky automotive stuff. No problems since using that.

As to cold on the face, I have three levels of head clothing -- a skull cap for milder temps, a thin cycling balaclava for medium cold, and a thicker cycling balaclava for deep cold, and I wear goggles with the last one so there is no exposed skin anywhere.

And for the sweat/cold balance, what works well for me is to have a scarf around the neck, plugging the neck area of the outermost shell. If I'm overheating, a shift of the shoulders can usually gulp in a bit of cold air across the layers inside. If doing that occasionally is not enough, then I can either loosen the scarf or stop and remove it completely, and/or unzip the shell a bit.

Touche. I've been driving when it snows after having a couple miserable snow rides early in the winter. I'll think it some but y'all have made good points :)

Yeah, I've avoided riding on fresh snow unless its quite thin ... that is some really difficult riding, and at my age my recovery time from a fall is not what it used to be. So I guess that is my personal dumbass threshold. I've been able to cope with the cold step by step, but overly slippery is a valid safety concern IMO.

Rural

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2014, 07:45:27 AM »
I'm going to vote dumbass largely because this week is going to involve temps outside everyone's range of experience and expertise. Assuming you're somewhere in a the eastern part of North America, for this week at least, something you don't even know you don't know about could maim or kill you.

jnik

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2014, 08:28:46 AM »
Badass.

I agree that you may be overcompressed in the feet. Other things to ponder: can you put on some more leg insulation so that the blood is warm when it gets to your feet? Is there any dampness in your socks? If so, try a breadbag in there: foot, sock, breadbag, sock, sock... I have a tendency to sweat like mad out of my feet, which soaks the layers, and then I freeze, so I always wear vapor barrier socks when cold-weather hiking.

cdttmm

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2014, 08:46:11 AM »
Definitely badass. Like others have mentioned, it's all about proper attire. I'm not currently in a situation where I can bike to work, but the cold temps haven't stopped me from running, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing so they certainly wouldn't stop me from biking if that were my usual method of getting to work. You're clearly a seasoned Midwesterner so you know all the cold weather safety rules. As for the socks, agree with the others about the compression factor. Personally, I swear by one pair of heavy Smartwool socks in shoes or boots that are a half size too big. Keeps my feet toasty warm and eliminates the too tight footwear problem that often leads to cold toes. But insulated boots should do the trick as well!!!  Good luck!

NinetyFour

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2014, 10:54:58 AM »
I agree that 3 socks is probably defeating the purpose.  Less is more?

My only concern about biking in such cold temps is that you be prepared if you have some sort of breakdown and end up on foot.  If your clothes are wet from sweat, you'll get really cold really fast, which could be quite dangerous.

iwasjustwondering

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2014, 01:09:10 PM »
Dumbass.  What Rural said.  You don't know what you don't know.  Part of being frugal involves avoiding financial problems.  Getting hurt on the bike, getting frostbite, possibly damaging the bike, are risks I woulnd't take.  Take a few days off, and then get back in the game.  It's more badass to protect your health and your things, IMO.

YK-Phil

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2014, 01:10:40 PM »
It is badass. I also bike all winter. It's been hovering around the -40 mark and lower in Yellowknife, and that's without any windchill factor, and I still bike to and from work and to run errands. My main problem is not how to dress, but how to keep my bike working properly.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2014, 02:18:37 PM by ykphil »

Paul der Krake

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2014, 01:48:27 PM »
As soon as the temperatures are such that you're too cold to think clearly and notice problems, it becomes dangerous and should be avoided. In other words, not taking the chance of missing a warning mechanical sound because I can barely feel my face and have the frame snap from under me. Everyone has a different comfort zone- for most of our coworkers it's going to be 55 degrees, for Russ it's... clearly lower.

Like others have said, repairs as simple as changing/patching a tube go right out the window really fast below 30 degrees. That being said, I'm more afraid of trying to start my old car in 15-degree weather (funny sounds all around!) than ride the bike.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2014, 07:10:56 PM »
It is badass. I also bike all winter. It's been hovering around the -40 mark and lower in Yellowknife, and that's without any windchill factor, and I still bike to and from work and to run errands. My main problem is not how to dress, but how to keep my bike working properly.

Yeah, my rear derailleur is so stiff in the cold that I've resorted to using a visegrip clamped onto the index shifter to get enough leverage. Otherwise it puts too much stress on my wrist to shift. One of these days I'm going to pull the bike in the house and give it a nice lube job but it will track so much salt in that I keep putting it off.

I've read that tires (more properly, inner tubes) can shatter at -40. Never gets that cold here, but have you had that problem?

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #16 on: January 05, 2014, 05:52:16 PM »
Decided to go ahead and ride today. AM commute was fine, about 10F. PM commute was brutal but manageable. -10F and a pretty steady 20mph headwind the whole way. Cold really saps my endurance and I struggle to get enough oxygen.

If I'm going to be biking in temps like this, I need a better balaclava. My existing one was cheap, thin neoprene. It's warm enough but there's no proper mouth vent. I feel like hyperventilating breathing through the fabric. It water logs and freezes pretty quickly.

All in all I am glad I did it, and equally glad I don't need to be anywhere tomorrow (-20F and below) :)

Russ

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #17 on: January 05, 2014, 06:09:29 PM »
If I'm going to be biking in temps like this, I need a better balaclava. My existing one was cheap, thin neoprene. It's warm enough but there's no proper mouth vent. I feel like hyperventilating breathing through the fabric. It water logs and freezes pretty quickly.

I've been riding in the Trash Messenger Bags face mask, hat, and mittens and can't say enough good things about them.  The face mask and mittens are actually too warm for me anywhere above 10F. Only downside is the hat doesn't come down quite as much as I'd like in the front so my forehead is cold the first 5 minutes or so, but that warms up eventually and has been fine down to the -15 previously mentioned. Excellent coverage otherwise; the facemask is cut right up to the eyeballs and then even higher up around the sides.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #18 on: January 06, 2014, 06:10:42 AM »
Thanks for the recommendation! That's really reasonably priced compared to comparable stuff I've seen even on discount sites like Nashbar or Sierra Trading Post.

YK-Phil

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #19 on: January 06, 2014, 04:26:41 PM »
It is badass. I also bike all winter. It's been hovering around the -40 mark and lower in Yellowknife, and that's without any windchill factor, and I still bike to and from work and to run errands. My main problem is not how to dress, but how to keep my bike working properly.

Yeah, my rear derailleur is so stiff in the cold that I've resorted to using a visegrip clamped onto the index shifter to get enough leverage. Otherwise it puts too much stress on my wrist to shift. One of these days I'm going to pull the bike in the house and give it a nice lube job but it will track so much salt in that I keep putting it off.

I've read that tires (more properly, inner tubes) can shatter at -40. Never gets that cold here, but have you had that problem?

I never had problems with the tires yet but I am always expecting something to happen every time I'm on the bike. In my case, it is the freewheel that stops kicking in because the grease in it freezes as soon as the temperature plunges below -10. The cure, when I find the time, the tools. and a warm place to do it, is to clean it completely and repack it with extreme-low temperature snowmobile grease. Even that may not garantee that it will not slip and fail.

beanlady

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #20 on: January 06, 2014, 06:23:48 PM »
I have a thinsulate balaclava that I overheat in when it's over 10F. I'm experimenting with a wool bandana to reduce the condensation freezing issues... Since it's not held as tightly to my face, there's more room for air to get in from underneath, while still protecting me from the cold.

Ziggurat

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #21 on: January 06, 2014, 06:58:50 PM »
Since people are sharing their clothing choices, I'll throw my headwear into the discussion. I'm very happy with these choices.
The temperatures I quote below are guesses, I usually just stick my head out for a minute and I know by feel which one is right (the others are in the coat pocket anyway to switch to).

Skull cap for milder cold, maybe at around a few degrees above freezing (covers ears and helps with wind):
CTR Mistal Vapor Skull Cap (unisex): http://www.mec.ca/product/5016-874/ctr-mistral-vapor-skull-acap-unisex/

Medium cold (maybe down to -7 C or so?): Bula balaclava, can't remember where I got it, has "Polartec" on material tag and a code CA11217. May be similar to this one:  http://www.amazon.com/Bula-Mirage-Balaclava-Black-Size/dp/B00DT1NX0Q/

Deep cold: Outdoor Research sonic balaclava
http://www.mec.ca/product/4013-186/outdoor-research-sonic-balaclava-unisex/

They all fit nicely under a bike helmet, just need to adjust the chin strap a little. As I mentioned before, the last one I wear with goggles over top.

The two balaclavas do dry out quickly, as the ads promise, if left out loosely at room temperature. They are fine by the end of the work day.

Ottawa

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #22 on: January 06, 2014, 07:12:35 PM »
Definitely Badass! 

As long as you're not a dumbass, which could happen if you don't think carefully about:
1) How to dress for different conditions
2) Adjusting your route depending on conditions (i.e. less slippery roads, less busy roads, bailout places en route in case of mechanical failure etc)
3) Adjusting your riding behaviour depending on conditions
4) Having the right bike setup depending on conditions

I agree, a cellphone is a pretty useful backup device if you get into trouble.  Repairing a flat etc is pretty much a no-go waaay below zero. 

GuitarStv

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #23 on: January 07, 2014, 06:00:27 AM »
A little trick that I read from Sheldon Brown which makes a huge difference in teh winter is taping over the air vent holes in your helmet.  The helmet becomes WAY warmer without icy breeze blasting into your head and hat.

rocksinmyhead

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #24 on: January 07, 2014, 07:14:03 AM »
I lean towards dumbass, but generally concur with Russ's sentiments. I guess ykphil does it though... that is incredible in those temperatures.

capital

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #25 on: January 07, 2014, 09:00:32 PM »
This is one of my favorite cold-weather bike accessories:
http://www.uniqlo.com/us/store/lifewear/men-premium-down-ultra-light-jacket/072570-71
Not for on the bike, but it's a warm jacket that packs down small and weighs a few ounces for when you get where you're going.

TrMama

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #26 on: January 08, 2014, 03:05:04 PM »
Badass.

Disregard any warnings about how cold will make you stupid (???) from people who don't deal with cold regularly. If you're cold, you're not dressed properly and that's an easy problem to fix. Good call on getting warmer boots.

If your wife is worried about you, just text her when you get to your destination that you're OK. I'm a seasoned bike commuter, but my DH is not. He's started riding (on a new bike that make me a bit nervous) and I've asked him to check in with me for the next little while until he's got a few more rides under his belt.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #27 on: January 08, 2014, 09:14:10 PM »
Completed my 25 mile training loop with some gear revisions. Feel great - was really surprised when I got home and checked the temperature (-10F!).

PindyStache

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #28 on: January 09, 2014, 10:05:35 AM »
I stated this next door in the Jan cycling challenge, but I personally would take the recent -20 to -45 F windchill temps over lots of snow clogging the roads and creating icy ruts on roads & paths. I've commuted by bike every day this week and have felt great, if a bit puffy from all the extra layers. This morning it was above 0 F (not counting windchill) for the first time and I was thinking how balmy it felt.

As others have said, as long as you have backup plans and plan carefully biking in this cold doesn't seem dangerous to me (or at least any more dangerous than driving in similar conditions--you're much more likely to be unprepared for the cold if you're in a clown car).

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #29 on: January 09, 2014, 10:54:57 AM »
I stated this next door in the Jan cycling challenge, but I personally would take the recent -20 to -45 F windchill temps over lots of snow clogging the roads and creating icy ruts on roads & paths. I've commuted by bike every day this week and have felt great, if a bit puffy from all the extra layers. This morning it was above 0 F (not counting windchill) for the first time and I was thinking how balmy it felt.

I'd even take snow over 33F rain.

AlmostIndependent

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Re: Cold Biking: Badass or Dumbass?
« Reply #30 on: January 17, 2014, 09:32:18 PM »
People bike all winter in Anchorage. Even into the -30s F. Go for it. Wear good clothes. Be safe.