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Cold Weather Biking Tips

By Jay T. McCamic

This piece first appeared in the the Wheeling Area Bicycle Club Newsletter.

The weather was snowy with big, wet silver-dollar sized flakes that made everything wet but didn't really stick. These were the conditions when Brent Bush (on mountain bike) and Jeremy McCamic (on tandem) joined me in an impromptu "Tour de Turkey" on Thanksgiving day. On our route, we climbed and sped down a couple of giant hills in Wheeling and cruised along the city's fine riverfront rail trail. The wind chill was a real "attention getter." Here are some of our cold weather discoveries...

Test Your Brakes

In cold and sleet conditions, even if the road surface is not frozen, test the brakes occasionally because ours tended to freeze at the handles when road spray froze inside the fulcrum of the brake handle itself.

The Right Duds

Cold weather bike clothing is expensive and hard to justify if you don't ride all that much in lousy weather. But you can improvise. The best bargain on cold weather jerseys is an old wool cardigan. The button up or zip up feature allows for good ventilation (unbuttoned on the climbs, closed tight on the descents) and it really does breathe and hold the warmth even if wet. If you have a bunch of old crew neck sweaters maybe they can be adapted with a front cut, a cloth placket and velcro or zippers to be cut down part way like a bike jersey, or can become "homemade" cardigans.

Keep Your Head...Warm

Other helpful gear is a skull cap with ear flaps for under the helmet or a Balaclava (one of those Ninja-looking hats you pull over your head and only your eyes show). If your are not a fashion slave a shower cap pulled over your helmet works pretty good and sure beats the price of those fancy Goretex helmet covers. If the thing says "Marriot" or "Hilton" across it we find it adds a certain panache to a rider's ensemble. "Team Marriott" or "Team Rubber Ducky"? Only the equipment manager knows for sure!

No Cold Feet

Cold feet are a problem. We have heard of wearing plastic bags inside your socks but never tried it. How about an old set of those lightweight "Totes" type galoshes? (Call them rubbers if you want lots of snickering from your teenage sons.) Cut out the bottom for the cleat or clipless pedal connection and you've got poor man's foot protection. With the shower cap, field-adapted sweater and galoshes, you are not going to grace the cover of Winning magazine, unless they have a new "Geek of the Year" edition. But ridin' and survivin'-- not stylin'-- is the thing. Let's face it, if you couldn't handle a few catcalls you wouldn't ride a bike in public anyway, would you?

Experiment With Caution

Experiment, but remember there are some things that just can't be substituted. If wool is too "itchy," Polartec and other man-made fibers are great, but be careful. The other day I took a long, cold ride on a cold but dry day when I had run out of clean tights. Rather than go barelegged, I used the worst cold weather tights alternative--thick cotton sweatpants. They work okay for runners but when you are moving along at 15-20 miles per hour, forget it. They got wet from sweat, stayed wet and darned near gave me frost bite. I have to admit there was some serious cussing on the long ride home in those miserable things.

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