Activation Energy

Guest poster Don Blount discusses how to deal with cold weather riding.

I feel it this time of the year. For that matter, I think we all do. When the temperatures fall, the wind howls and the days get shorter, we find it takes a bit more “oomph” or work to get out and ride.

The weather, which is much more dreary than in the spring and summer, surely plays a part in it. But so do a few other things.

For example, I have to keep a closer look at the weather. Instead of sunny and warm or sunny and hot, I have to monitor if it is going to be rainy, foggy or overcast or how low the temperatures will go. Thank goodness snow is not a concern for where I live in Northern California.

And instead of just putting on light base layer, jersey, bibs, gloves, socks, gloves, helmet and going, I have to decide what I am going to wear. Do today’s conditions require long sleeve or short sleeve base layer? What about warmers or thermal jersey and tights? Toe covers or shoe covers, medium or heavy gloves? After going through all of this, it takes longer to get dressed and out the door. And on some days there is additional time to clean the bike after a ride.

Spring and summer riding is fun. Most often my biggest concerns are getting out before it gets too hot and making sure I have enough food and water.

Preparing for fall and winter rides turn into work.

A New York Times story described it best as that exercise this time of the year requires more “activation energy.” That’s a chemistry term describing the amount of energy needed to start a reaction.

For cyclists and others trying to exercise it means the amount of effort needed to begin our activity. It takes more during these months. Some people crosstrain, others train less and still some just keep going no matter how much “oomph” it takes just to get out the door. I try to be in the last category, no matter how much work it takes.


  1. RamonH says

    Cold weather also means there will be a lot of no-shows at the rides, and let’s face it: riding below 50F is just not much fun as it takes a lot longer for the muscles to warm up.

    • says

      You’re right. (I’ve seen you mention no-shows on your Facebook posts.) I’m afraid I’m increasingly becoming one of the no-shows when it’s cold. But I will activate if I want it bad enough — and if the wind is reasonable — and if it’s above 40.

      • Mel Hughes says

        Above 40 sounds really good right now! So does no snow! We only got about 7 inches this weekend but it really put the damper on any desire I had to go out and ride, especially with the highs barely getting above the 20 degree mark. I am in the process of overhauling my old Bianchi Tangent. I just put 32mm Continentals on it. Once I repack all bottom bracket and headset, I am installing a set of full-coverage fenders. I already ditched the clipless pedals in favor of older “touring” pedals without toe clips or anything else that requires a dedicated shoe. I can ride this bike in hiking boots if I need to.

        I went out on my regular road bike before the snow storm in 48 degree weather. With enough layers, it wasn’t uncomfortable – or wouldn’t have been if I had found my toe covers before I left. But it was a lot of work to get out the door. I am hoping my Bianchi will give me the opportunity to ride more in regular clothes. Out here on the farm, it is not unusual to wear long underwear bottoms under jeans for regular chores. A thermal top is pretty normal as well. I can easily substitute my riding jacket for the fleece lined work jacket, pull on a thin silk or capilene ski mask under my bike helmet, slip on some heavier gloves and go out for a slower, shorter ride. But at least I will be getting out the door!

  2. says

    LOL, I find the same thing, except it’s for “Riding the resistance trainer/bike”. If it’s 30F and sunny, I’ll pile on the layers and RIDE, I don’t need the motivation but “having” to ride the trainer, just KILLS my spirt and I dread the thing. Finding the “Activation Engery” for that is really, really hard for ME! Jmho, Ymmv. 😉

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