Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Polar Bear Pedal - tips for those of you braving the cold

This Saturday marks the 3rd annual Polar Bear Pedal here in Indianapolis and to those of you who are braving the early morning cold, I salute you.  I would like to join you, but previous commitments to leading Saturday morning spin classes have me inside all day (whew) 

The temperature is likely to be hovering somewhere south of 30 degrees Fahrenheit at 10 am Saturday morning when the pedal commences.

There are 2 ways to approach this type of ride.  The first is my preference because I don't like to carry a bunch of extra junk with me, but it requires a lot of advance preparation, so that you can arrive at the ride ready to ride immediately instead of standing around waiting for the start.

This strategy will work with most cold weather rides and the major difference from the second approach is in the layering and planning for the reduction of said layering.
If you are wondering why I am starting with the way most of you are not likely to do this, it is because you will just do some extra stuff to keep from turning into an Ice cycle before the ride starts.

First of all I try to dress just warm enough so that I will be cold at the start and maybe wonder if I should have brought more clothing, then you know that you have planned perfectly. 

Remember the trick to staying warm is to not get so warm that you sweat and you do this by unzipping initially just as you start to feel a little perspiration.  This may initially be to cool due to the phase change caused by evaporative cooling, most people wait a little too long and will suffer this initial evaporative effect.  Tough it out for a few minutes though and everything will be just fine!

So my strategy for my minimalist approach is to wheel up to the start line with plans to see the front already rolling, so that I don't even have to stop. Since I rode to the line, I am already warm and there for do not have to ride a bit harder to get initially warmed up, prompting some people to make comments like, "What's your hurry?"

With this strategy, for any just below freezing ride down to as cold as 25, I start with some good base layers
  • a base shirt with no zipper
  • arm warmers
  • leg warmers
  • Bibs or bike shorts
  • full zipper jersey
Next the peripherals
  • balaclava or some sort of head cover
  • gloves - should be a bit on the loose side and can be as simple as work gloves with cycling glove worn underneath or wool liners, up to nice lobster claw mittens. Just be sure that they are not too tight.
  • toe covers, whole shoe covers and/or winter shoes
  • Wool socks
Layer 2 is
  • winter jacket - it's good if it's bike specific because it will have wind protection of some sort built in - but it must have a full zipper to facilitate temperature control
  • tights - can be the runner variety and they are to be worn over your shorts
Layer 3
  • Wind Pants or you can wear rain pants, but unless they are a really good pair they don't tend to stay together in the cold
  • wind vest - one with large back pockets is handy as you warm up and shed some layers - likely with the predicted temps and brevity of this ride, you will not get to the shed a layer part
Finally - performance enhancing materials
  • Hot hands - chemical air activated hand warmers to be worn inside your gloves you can buy them here
  • Toastie Toes - same type of chemical warmer but with adhesive, should be adhered to the bottom of your wool socks you can buy them here

If you show up right as the ride is rolling out you can be already acclimated and avoid the obvious questions, when you are trying to get warm at the start, i.e. "What's the big hurry?"

A couple of fine points here, Leg and arm warmers should be on the very bottom of everything you wear.  Nothing sadder than seeing someone show up with their underwear on the outside,,,, unless they are some sort of cycling super hero. Also depending on whether you are riding with clips or not will dictate what your footwear looks like.
The Wool socks are a given. Wool is a great insulator and retains 95% of it's insulating properties, even when wet.  So should you accidently let those feet sweat, your toes should still stay toasty.  If you are using clips, I recommend winter cycling shoes, but in the event that you do not have time to invest in that at least have toe covers and don't forget your chemical warmers, adhered to the bottom of your wool socks.
If you are riding on platform pedals use something like what I have pictured to the right.

Head gear should also be layered.  The hat is a nice start, the balaclava will keep your ears warm and can be rolled down to fine tune your head temperature. The helmet..... well it protects your noggin obviously, but this is the time of year to wear a cheap one that is not ventilated as well, so as not to be designed to keep your head cool.
Finally, the rain cover is also a great wind block and will definitely keep you from getting brain freeze while you ride.  See handy illustration with handsome model below.

Ok, so I realize this is a lot to take in, but I still have a few more things.

I can't stress enough how important it is to layer, stay warm enough not to shiver, but not so warm that you start producing moister to cool yourself back down. 

Use those zippers to properly manage your body temperature, adjust early and don't be afraid to adjust often.

If you have insulated water bottles, fill them with hot water before you leave.  I rather enjoy warm electrolyte solution, but if you just take plain water and don't sweat, you will be fine on this length and type of ride.

But remember, just because it's cold, doesn't mean that you don't still need to drink and keeping that beverage hot, makes that a lot more pleasant proposition.

Finally, if you insist on showing up early, wear the same stuff with some sort of outer shell to keep you warm until the ride actually starts.  Just be sure to wear a backpack too, so that you will have a place to carry that pre ride warm up layer.

Also, even though this is a big event, there will likely be a lot of first timers there, despite the fact this is a cold weather ride.  So be sure to give yourself extra room to react to anything that they may do.

There may be snow and ice still on the ground on Saturday, so be prepared.

I'm sorry that I have a previous commitment leading an indoor spin class in a toasty 70 degree environment or I would be right out there with you guys.

Ride safe, have fun and let me know if you have any questions about anything I have covered here or anything that I have left out that you feel the need to know.

Start the New Year ride season off with an awesome ride everyone!