How Cold Will You Go?

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Met a small contingent from the club this morning for our ride. No other B riders showed up, so it was me and seven A’s. They pretty much disappeared by about eight miles into the ride, and I was on my own again. No problem — I enjoy riding by myself.

But I did have to attend to some housekeeping. The temperature when I left the house was a cool 45 degrees (7C). I might have overdressed a little, and by now I was feeling overheated. I stopped in a high school parking lot, and traded my full-finger gloves for my fingerless, and stashed my ear warmers in my jacket pocket. I figured I would shed some more layers when I reached my turnaround point, another six or seven miles down the road.

I really enjoy riding in the kind of weather we had today. It was a beautiful fall day, with bright sunshine and temps on the cool side. It reminded me that the cold weather still has yet to reach Central Texas — but it will. January and February often see winter-like temperatures, even if we rarely get snow.

I started thinking about my northern friends, who have been riding in colder weather than this for some time. I’m from the north myself, although when I lived up there, I wasn’t really a cyclist. I wondered if I would have what it takes to face the kind of cold conditions they regularly deal with.

And that got me wondering — just how cold am I willing to go to get in a ride?

For me, it’s about 40 degrees (4C). Mainly, that’s because the biking clothes I own won’t keep me warm at lower temperatures. I think the coldest it ever was when I started a ride was 38, and that warmed into the 40s fairly quickly.

Thirteen years in Austin’s mild (and ridiculously hot in the summer) climate has had its effect on me. I’m not as cold-tolerant as I used to be. But I’m not the biggest wimp on the block. One of my cycling acquaintances, who has years more riding experience than I do, told me he doesn’t ride when the temperature gets below 55. What?

Meanwhile, a couple of the guys came to this morning’s ride dressed in just base layers, a short-sleeved jersey, and arm warmers. It would have to be in the 60s before I dressed like that.

How about you? Have you started riding in really cold morning temperatures already? How cold does it have to be before you decide to stay indoors? Or do you ride all winter long? And if you do — how do you cope?


  1. says

    I’m in the Chicago suburbs and I commute by bike to the train. Coldest so far this year was 23 (wind chill) when I left. I’m planning on riding as much of the winter as I can possibly do this year, which means whenever it isn’t actively snowing if I can.

    As for coping, I have a hole set of winter gear that I can layer on to keep me warm pretty much no matter what. About the only thing I am missing right now is a nice pair of lobster gloves, but I’m resistant on those. The topper for my winter gear is a huge, blaze-orange hoodie that I can fit over as many layers as I need.

  2. says

    I live in New York City. There are many winter cyclists here, and official DOT counts show that winter bike commuting is on the rise here. I’ve tried cycling in snow, but I have a regular road bike and it is not fun to ride when it’s snowing. Sometimes I’ve set out when it’s just flurrying and I end up walking the bike half the way (pretty much any uphill or downhill) if it gets any thicker.

    As for cold, so long as it isn’t actually snowing or there isn’t ice on the ground, anything above 20 F is just fine by me. I wear an ordinary wool sweater between my thermal jersey and my thermal cycling jacket when it’s below freezing, but the jersey alone is fine in the 40s, and the jersey + jacket fine in the 30s. I also have thermal tights, semi-lobster gloves, a balaclava, and toe covers for the shoes. I often try to underdress slightly. I prefer to be a bit cold as the ride starts and warm up through my efforts.

    I wrote a blog post about my fall riding, and will probably write a follow-up with winter advice as it gets colder.

  3. Tim says

    In college I rode around in Missoula at 15 F, on the snow. Not sure I could that now but I don’t normally let weather dictate if I ride or not (witness riding last Wed night). But then I’m certified crazy.

  4. says

    Living in Chicago and riding year ’round, I go down to the teens. I don’t ride on snow or ice if I can help it. At 70+ years, I don’t want to lose months waiting for my cast to come off. Been there; done that.

    The trick is layering, I start with a long sleeve synthetic undershirt, long sleeve winter jersey and add a winter cycling jacket for temps down to the 40s. Below that, I add a vented wind breaker. Long johns go on in the 40s.

    Two vulnerable points I have found are finger and toe tips. For the fingers, I use fingerless glove mitts. Somehow the four naked fingers together stay warmer than anything else I have tried. The $80 duck down ski gloves did not work as well. For my toes, I use wool socks and the latest discovery is silver-lined insulated insoles. They reflect up the heat from my feet and my toes don’t freeze.

    I wrote a post on it for my blog :

  5. Josh says

    I have lived and cycled in the DC and NYC areas. I commute into the low 20s. But I wont do long rides below freezing. and i will never ride in snow or ice. I will mix and match various layering combinations. The best piece I have isn’t even bike specific — I found a fantastic merino wool crew sweater at banana republic for like 75% off, and I love it as a base layer.

  6. says

    Philly representing here – I will ride down to 20*F but generally think twice (or three times) when I’m heading out in sub-freezing temps. I hang up my bike commuting between October and March because I am not a fan of commuting in the dark, even with lights – so weekend jaunts in search of hot food dominate the winter months. I have yet to figure out the frozen toes situation though – hoping my end-of-winter-season purchases last year will pay off this winter. 😀

  7. says

    Deep South Texas here with the 5AM Wake-Up Ride group. Our group will not ride below 40F. Rides at those temperatures are just not fun, with your muscles never quite getting “warmed up”. And, I can safely say that because I have done several rides at those temperatures. Now, on the other side of the spectrum, we have yet to cancel a ride due to “hot weather”, and it gets above 100F here quite easily 😀

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