Slower bicycling in winter

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005
By Yokota Fritz

In his post the other day about winter cycling, CycleDog noted that "you ride more slowly in the winter ... probably due to the extra clothing and the related drag."

ItsJustMe commented, "a surprising amount of the slowness in the winter is due to the air being more dense."

In addition to these factors, this article at IceBike also mentions stiffer grease, energy use in your body redirected to keep you warm, greater rolling resistance in the tires, and the discomfort of generating sweat in typical winter clothing.

The Real Reason

I have discovered the real reason for slower cold weather bicycling. During this morning's commute I wore tights and top and a fleece cap under my helmet. The clothing is snug but not confining so my motion was in no way restricted. I didn't wear a plastic shell -- everything I wore is very breathable, yet the midweight fabric was just thick enough to keep me warm. I rode my lightweight fixed-gear skinny-tire road bike in. The temperature was a comfortable 25° F (-5° C) during my 30 minute commute. I was all set to go fast.

Too cold to breath

But I went slow. I sprinted to 24 mph near the end of my ride to beat some cars to an intersection. The physical effort wasn't any more difficult than usual, but I felt like I was going to die. Why? Because it's too cold to breath hard. Sucking subfreezing air into my lungs hurts. Here it is three hours later and I'm still coughing up mucous and gunk from that sprint.

We go slow in the cold to avoid oxygen debt and hard breathing. So, like the CycleDog writes, take it easy, go slow, and protect your lungs.

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I've got one of these on order for that very reason:
psolar -- from what I've read from people who've used this and similar products, the airflow through these is restricted so that your effective ability to get oxygen to your legs is still impeded.

Anyway, let me know how it goes when you try it out. It doesn't really get cold enough where I live for me to need this.
I've got something like this. I can't remember the specific brand right now -- and it may be PSolar -- but it has the special filters to warm the air, etc.

It rarely even gets below freezing (32 degrees F) here in the Puget Sound region, so it's definitely overkill for me.

I have used it on a few very cold days. The problem for me wasn't that it impeded my ability to breathe -- although it was a bit harder to breathe than normal -- but that I got too hot with it.

I wonder whether a simple old-fashioned scarf might not be just as good for those days when it's just cold enough to hurt.
I ride slowly in the winter because I am out of shape from riding less and the cold wind hurts my face. Than again, it is pretty temporate where I live, so I guess the term cold is relative.
weird. it's been getting colder here in eugene. not COLD mind you (it's about freezing right now at midnight). but i've noticed as it's gotten colder my average has actually increased.
I've already had 18*F temps this year in the mornings, typical is about 25*F. I've ridden at -10*F. I've definitely had days where I'm coughing all day due to a scraped-up throat from the cold.
I've read the psolar air throughput is OK if you don't sprint. I am not a racer, I only maintain at most about a 16.5mph avg. Also I've found that just a 0.5mph drop in speed results in a cakewalk ride; averaging 15 is hardly sweating, 16 is some work, 17 is hard. So hopefully I can keep some level of speed up with this mask.
I'll report probably on bikeforums.
I have a neck gaiter I picked up from MEC that does the trick quite nicely - it warms the air up just enough for it to be breathable, and it's loose enough that it doesn't interfere with breathing. It usually doesn't get colder than around -20C here in Nova Scotia, so I don't know what you'd need below that; it might be worth checking some of the bloggers in Calgary if it gets that cold.
Thanks for the comments, all.

I have a full-face balaclava that works well. There's a pocket in the mouth area so my breathing is directed downward instead of into my glasses so fogging isn't a problem.
Too cold to breathe? This must be another non-Norwegian problem (such as cold crown-jewels). :) Come on, guys! It has to be REALLY cold before you damage your lungs during hard exercise. Think about the cross-country skiers...

Heh, you're a funny guy, Mags.

:) I'm a bit strange.... I will not argue with that.

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