Tips for cycling in awful weather - Part 2
This entry was posted on January 13, 2014.
This is part two of an article looking at riding techniques for the worst weather. In part one, we went over some tips for snowy, blazing hot, and heavy rainfall conditions. In part two, we will look at riding in high winds and freezing cold temperatures. Let's jump into it!
When high winds rage across the landscape, cycling can be extremely difficult. Right up front we'd better say that sometimes biking is impossible (or impossibly dangerous) when it's extremely windy -- but there are some windy conditions that can be ridden in. Here are a few tips for getting it done.
If the wind is blowing from directly behind you, congratulations! You're getting the best side of the wind without any of the drawbacks, and this article isn't for you. However, if the winds are blowing from the sides or the front, this advice will apply to you. Read on and learn.
First, you will want to make sure to have the right posture. Try to block as little of the wind as possible -- the less resistance you have, the better. Tuck your elbows in towards your body and bend forwards to show as small of a profile as possible. This will be tougher on a mountain bike, but try. Every little bit helps.
If other cyclists are around and are experienced with the technique, try drafting or forming an echelon formation to block as much of the wind as possible. If possible, try to take a route that sticks to low terrain -- higher elevations are more likely to get blasted by the wind.
Along the same lines, try to secure any parts of your bicycle or clothing that may flap around in the wind, creating an annoyance or safety hazard and increasing your drag. Tuck in your jersey, tighten the straps and buckles on your bags, and make sure that everything is securely fastened. You don't want a nasty surprise when a loose strap blows into your chain, do you?
Speaking of clothing, make sure that yours is appropriate to the conditions. Most often that wind is going to be chilly, so use a windproof or wind-resistant layer on the outside to help maintain body heat. Gloves and a hat or helmet liner can be pretty darn crucial in this type of weather.
Last but not least, let's talk safety. Cycling in the wind can be dangerous, no doubt about it. It can blow you around, but it can also blow dust into your eyes, debris across the road, and even cause cars and trucks to swerve and drive erratically. Variable winds can also make drafting pretty dangerous, so pay close attention to the conditions and the riders around you. Be sure to give extra space between yourself and any of these obstacles on windy days. Basically, be especially careful and you should come out ok!
Freezing cold riding
Believe it or not, some people ride their bikes in temperatures well below zero. It ain't easy, it ain't necessarily fun, but it can be done. It may take a bit of a masochist to ride in these conditions, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes, right? Here are some tips for those extra cold days.
First up, if there is snow or ice on the ground, riding can be difficult. This section will focus on cold, not snow and ice -- but when the two go together as they often do, follow the recommendations given in part one of this article for riding on these slippery surfaces.
The biggest thing to worry around when it is freezing cold is staying warm (not to put too fine a point on it, but duh), and this is where clothing comes in. When you ride in these conditions, you need a layering system that allows you to stay warm; transports moisture and sweat; protects against wind, rain, or snow; and can be removed in portions for variable conditions.
The foundation of your layering system should be a lightweight layer of polypro, silk, or long wool underwear. This layer provides warmth against the skin and helps move moisture away. The second layer should be a bit thicker and warmer -- perhaps a fleece layer or a wind-resistant insulated softshell. This layer starts to provide insulation and also allows you to stay somewhat warm if you have to take off your upper layers.
The third layer should be something beefy -- think a down jacket or something similarly puffy and insulated. This layer will provide the most warmth. Lastly, use a wind or waterproof outer layer to repel snow, rain, or other wind.
The reason a layer system works is because you can add or remove layers as needed. As you ride, you may warm up. This system allows you to remove the third (thick insulation) layer, replace the top layer, and go on your way with much more comfort. It's best to avoid up-and-down routes in the winter, as constantly taking off and putting on layers can be a pain in the butt.
To make this system work, you will need the accessories to tie it all together: thick warm gloves (mittens don't work so well for biking, so check out the "crab claw" designs), warm woolen socks, winter boots, and a warm hat or helmet liner (ideally wind-resistant to preserve your ears). With all that gear ready to go, you should be ready to ride. Enjoy it -- you'll likely have to bike paths to yourself!