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Defeat the Winter BLUES!
By Jim Wright
This article first appeared the Wheeling Area Bicycle Club Newsletter.
Winter is here and, with its entrance, comes the sinking realization that your summer fitness, however fleeting, is exiting. Have no fear, you can still get in some miles and stay in shape. The keys to remember are: 1) you are going to lose some fitness and power--mostly on the hills--and 2) it is possible and important to keep an "aerobic base." How is this done? By riding and that means you need winter gear. Here's a list and some riding tips that should help.
Extremities are Numero Uno
First, keep your extremities--hands, feet and head--warm. No need to order special bike equipment. Head to the sporting goods shop and get a pair of polypro glove liners and a thin polypro or wool "skull cap." With the standard issue tassel hat it is difficult to wear a helmet, so avoid this item. You really don't need a fancy helmet cover, just grab a few strips of duct tape and cover the vents. Before leaving the store, pick up a pair of calf length wool cross country ski socks. As for cycling "specialty" items, you will want to sink some cash into a pair of neoprene cycling "booties" to go over your shoes. Believe me, you will not realize just how vented a pair of mesh cycling shoes are until you're 20 miles from home and you run through some slush. Also, get a pair of cycling winter thermal gloves. If you are going to ride when it is really cold pick up a pair of Pearl Izumi's "lobster" gloves. Like a pair of mittens, this glove resembles a lobster claw as it keeps your fingers together for warmth. Button this neoprene face mask. Wearing all of this garb should keep your extremities warm enough to get 20 or 30 miles, unless it is real cold.
Clothe the Rest Right
Next, you need to cover the rest of your body. The key is layering. You will need a base layer, usually polypro, with an insulating layer. Depending on the temperature, this insulating layer may be a normal bike jersey to some fleece type of jersey. Finally, depending on the temperature, you will need a shell layer ranging from a simple windbreaker to a thermal cycling jacket. You will need some specialty gear if you are going on road rides due to the need for "aerodynamic" clothing. A large parka jacket flapping in the breeze just won't work. A word about polypro (a.k.a. polypropylene). This is a fabric that "wicks" away moisture from your body instead of becoming soaked and sticking to your skin, like cotton. Polypro seems to come in many forms and I am using the term generically to refer to any of the new hi-tech fabrics that are on the market. Just avoid cotton like the plague--it will become damp and freeze you out. Be warned, however, that these polypro t-shirts, etc., cost some cash. About 25 bucks or so for a quality t-shirt. Nevertheless, one ride home on a cold, rainy day when you are freezing because your old cotton t-shirt is sticking to your skin will make you confess your sins at the nearest sporting goods store.
Working your way up, cover your legs with some fleece-lined tights, then pull your usual cycling shorts over top. If it's below freezing, you may need some polypro long underwear. I rarely need this, but my legs don't seem to get so cold. Just keep the knees covered and you will probably be okay. Also, if your are real sensitive to the height of your saddle, all of this mess may necessitate a very slight increase in saddle height.
Moving to the torso, however, is a different story. If it is under 60 degrees, a polypro t-shirt under a normal cycling jersey is the ticket. Toss some arm warmers in the rear pocket and you're set.
If the temperature is around 50 degrees, put a light (wind-breaker shell layer) jacket over the t-shirt and jersey. If it's between freezing and 45, wear a heavier thermal cycling jacket. These are usually fleece-lined and fit close to the body. Anything below freezing and you are into the Gore-Tex jacket (big $$) category if you are going to do anything serious in comfort--or as much comfort as you can have at 25 degrees on a road bike.
Mountain Bikes vs. Road Bikes
These recommendations are for road rides. The colder it gets, the more I gravitate toward my mountain bike. Even if it is 25 degrees, the slower moving mountain bike allows you to maintain a more constant body temperature. If you insist on riding a road bike, go into the headwind at the beginning of the ride with a tail wind on the return. The best thing to do, however--and I dare you to try this around the tri-state area--is to avoid the hills so that you don't get the climb-sweat-descend-freeze routine.
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