Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cold Weather Riding: How is it different?

Over the last week or so, the USA Cycling Coaching yahoo group has been discussing cold weather riding. It all started when one of the coaches presented a question about a junior rider who said that he didn't feel as powerful riding in the cold. There were many good possibilities as to why the rider was feeling this way as well as solutions to each of these issues. I will summarize a number of issues that come up with cold weather riding.

- Clothing / Staying Warm. This is the most obvious thing that is different when riding in the cold. Most people can figure this out. You must dress in layers and feel slightly cold when first starting on a ride. Also, keeping hands and feet warm are the biggest challenge. See my previous post on my new winter gloves. Here are the things I hadn't thought of:

- Wear bib tights. This prevents bunching of tucked in layers around the waist. With reduced bunching, sweat doesn't gather thus not causing a rider to get chilled. The dryer a rider is, the less chance of getting chilled.

- Go out on a ride and get cold. You know how in the spring a lot of people start wearing shorts when it barely turns 60. This is because our bodies have been conditioned for the cold over the long winter. Cold weather riding is the same thing. The more you go out and ride in the cold, the more your body will get used to it.

- Line your helmet with something to keep the wind out. Along with a good skull cap or balaclava, lining your helmet with plastic or covering it with tape, will help to keep the air out. Those vents are used to help you stay cool so if you cover them up, it will help you stay warmer.

- Focus on nutrition. In the winter, our bodies don't receive the same amount of Vitamin D due to less sun exposure which can lead to a deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can cause overall achiness, muscle soreness and the feeling of decreased power. Also, Vitamin D is related to Calcium absorption so Vitamin D deficiency can lead to other problems. The best way to alleviate this is to take a good multi-vitamin, especially in the winter.

- Focus on hydration. As we head into cooler weather, our thirst mechanism seems to be turned down a bit. I know I have trouble making sure I drink enough in the fall on and off the bike. While the amount you drink while riding can be reduced a bit due to lower sweat rates, the amount you drink off the bike should probably be increased a bit due to the low humidity environments in the winter.

- Increased chance of getting sick. Riding outside in the cold has its own set of problems. In the Fall, riders with asthma and/or allergies tend to have more problems. Also, as the temperature drops, some riders tend to have noses that run all the time. These problems can lead to Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI). If you have any of these problems, make sure you take care of your sinuses. One solution that has worked is a neti pot. Decongestants can help also once you feel a URTI coming on.

- Looser fitting tights. Some people develop knee problems because tights or leg warmers do not allow the knee to move the same while cycling. This is caused by increased pressure of the tights on the knee cap. If you have this problem, try looser fitting tights or make sure your tights are not pushing the knee cap up or down.

- Appetite. You may notice that you are hungrier while riding or after riding. This is due to 2 things. Generally, winter rides are not the hammer fests that you may be used to in the summer. Also, in the summer, your body doesn't want to waste time digesting food because it is too busy keeping you cool and keeping your muscles working. In the winter, your body isn't worried so much about keeping you cool and thus your appetite is increased.

I am sure I have left out some issues, but hopefully this will help you to keep riding through the winter. Feel free to add thoughts in the comments.

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