Most riders need to deal with extreme weather if they train year round. Professional cyclists certainly do. They’re subjected to blinding snowstorms, hail, rain, and terrific heat. Lousy weather is just another challenge in a very difficult profession.
As a recreational cyclist you are not under this same pressure to get on your bike no matter what. However, if you limit yourself to riding only on sunny, mild days you won’t ride very often. Training in extreme conditions doesn’t have to be unpleasant if you have the proper attire and preparation. This eArticle will discuss how to cope with cold weather.
It takes time to acclimate the body to cold weather. The first few days of riding in the cold will be the worst. With time the body adapts by producing more heat at a faster rate. The more time spent exercising in the cold, the faster this adaption occurs.
As we age, however, our bodies become less tolerant and slower to adjust to weather extremes. Older cyclists generally have decreased peripheral circulation and they produce less body heat, making it harder to keep hands and feet warm.
Air temperature is not the only factor determining how cold you might feel on a given day. Other variants include wind speed and direction, humidity, and cloud cover. A common method of measuring the temperature sensed by the skin is the windchill index.
When the index temperature (chart below) is above -25F degrees, no unusual precautions need to be taken. When it goes below -25F degrees, you’re the zone of increased danger. Special care should be taken with regard to clothing and exposure in order to maintain a safe body temperature. When the windchill reaches -74F degrees or below, you’re in the zone of great danger. Exercise should be severely limited, postponed or done indoors.
A key factor affecting windchill is wind direction. Riding into a crosswind has but a fraction of the impact of a headwind. Of course, riding into a headwind can dramatically increase the windchill because your road speed adds to the wind speed. On cold and windy days, try to ride in parks, neighborhoods or on sheltered road with natural wind breaks such as trees, buildings or hills. Also consider dividing a ride in half so you can get warm in between. During cold conditions some riders choose to start the ride with a tailwind so they can warm up, then face the headwind on the return trip. Other riders prefer the opposite — fighting the headwind when they’re fresh, then U-turning to let the wind blow them home.