Winter (Temps) Riding

Good morning, dear reader! It has been so long since we last connected – like everyone else, my life has been full of the things that make our lives rich. Busy is an understatement for many of us and I am not immune to over-scheduling and finding no time for blogging.

 

In the past couple weeks I have gone out with my friends on Most-Of-The-Day rides – the ones where you head out on your bike to brunch around 9 and don’t get back until around 4. The goal is to hit 50-60 miles per trip for two selfish reasons: we are all very close to our cycling mile goals for the year and to keep our base miles up for spring. It’s getting more difficult to be motivated as autumn takes a final bow and winter starts to creep in.

One of the problems I had last winter was what I refer to fondly as Fish Stick Toes. I was using my summer cycling shoes with toe covers and thick wool socks. For temps 40* – 60*F, this setup is perfect – no issues. But should the temps dip below 40*, even “real feel” temps, within 10 miles my toes were frozen – every time. There is no greater dread than knowing it’s going to be painful to rewarm them so that hot shower you are dreaming about will ultimately be a lukewarm shower that will not be nearly as satisfying. Or that you are riding on frozen fish sticks. I tried everything – stuffing my shoes with plastic bags, doubling up my wool socks. Summer shoes are simply too well ventilated for winter riding.

 

Yes, I realize this is a DUH. But I was really stubborn about making my existing gear work instead of spending more money on specialty items. Especially winter shoes/boots – at $200+, I don’t know if I ride enough in low temps to make it worth the expenditure. But as we all know, there isn’t any bad weather – just poor gear choices.

Last spring I picked up a pair of Shimano Winter Cycling Shoes when they were on sale ($150). I decided to get 2 sizes larger than my summer shoes to be able to wear thick wool socks without constriction. The fit is good – I can easily layer my Woolie Boolies with a base layer sock without feeling constricted. And since it was late enough in the spring, I never got a chance to try them out.

 

A couple of weekends ago my friends and I decided to bike to brunch in New Jersey. It’s a 60 mile round trip and the temps were going to be mid-30s to mid-40s. Totes doable! Dressing for the 30s is not the same as dressing for the 40s so I tried a new layering plan that worked out well except for my toes. Frozen in the morning when it was in the 30s; totally fine in the afternoon when it was in the 40s.

 

Welcome to winter riding – where layers are king and somehow you don’t feel as strong or fast.

 

When we decided to bike to lunch yesterday, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to try my winter shoes. The day started with temps in the high-20s and wasn’t expected to get much above the mid-30s. My friend Heather and I had gone mountain biking on Friday and my layering was perfect for the mid-30s in the woods: Smart Wool shorts; Under Armour 2.0 Base (top and bottom), Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Tights (no chamois), Twin Six Woolie, Novara shoft-shell jacket; Sugoi thermal buffPearl Izumi full-finger gloves. I figured a more windproof external layer for the road and I’d be toasty warm. So I swapped my Novara jacket for my Bellwether jacket (more windproof) and brought along my winter cycling gloves for when it was too cold for my non-insulated gloves.

Definitely a layering win – my toes were only starting to feel cold when we rolled up to the restaurant after 22 miles and felt great the whole way home when the temps were “warmer”. Core stayed mostly cooler on the flats and descents, toasty on hills. Thermal tube pulled up over my mouth to keep my cheeks warm when needed. Overall a great ride for a hot lunch (with hot cocoa and whipped cream too).

 

What I didn’t anticipate is how heavy the winter shoes are. Every pedal stroke worked my legs differently than my lightweight summer shoes. While I most certainly hadn’t depleted my muscles on the 50 mile ride, my legs were tired. Hills were significantly more work. I felt incredibly slow and frustrated at my (perceived) inability to keep up with the guys. I felt wiped out by the end of the ride – but as soon as I stopped pedaling, my legs were clearly nowhere near obliterated. Even this morning, there is no stiffness or soreness. Clearly did not work as hard as I thought.

I suspect the heavier shoes working my muscles differently contributed to my feeling of less power, although I certainly liked not having fish sticks for toes. Definitely worth the trade-off – and I should adjust my expectations for my abilities on cold rides. I’m hoping I will adjust to the different feel of my winter shoes as the season goes on.

 

See you on the road or in the woods!

… Wherein I Buy More Stuff

For those of you playing along at home, you know I am not a fan of freezing my toes into fish sticks when I ride in sub-freezing temperatures.

This past weekend we rolled out at quarter-to-9 in the morning under cloudy skies and 28*F with winds around 15mph, gusting to 25+. In an attempt to keep my toes from freezing, I covered them into two pairs of wool socks and then stuffed my toebox with plastic bags in an effort to keep out the cold under my toe covers. By our first bathroom break a mere 10 miles in, my toes were gone. Fortunately the bathrooms were inside so I was able to warm them a bit.

In all, we rode about 35 miles (I shut off my Strava after 32mi and enjoyed the short ride home) – Great ride with great company!- but I had the worst re-warming pain yet this season.

Thank G-d spring is around the corner. I don’t know how much more I can take of wearing a million layers and still freezing my toes off.

 

So last night I broke down and bought Shimano MW81 winter cycling shoes. They were on sale, which means they cost as much as my road shoes and commuter shoes combined. I also bought some thermal insoles and thermal sock liners.

This sounds like overkill but I will not accept that I am unable to ride in the cold.

this needs to be me. but with toasty toes. and brakes.

I also did a bit more research and came across this helpful page with Tips for Keeping Feet Warm. A couple of gems stood out, such as keeping your core warm and being mindful if you have steel cleats (like I do). When I am out in sub-freezing, I wear four layers on my core:

  • long-sleeve base
  • wool jersey (men’s cut so it’s looser)
  • fleece-lined softshell jacket
  • lightweight windbreaker

It occurred to me that perhaps I should invest in a high-quality fleece-lined hardshell jacket. Three of my riding friends this weekend had hardshell jackets on over varying layers. They certainly did not look like an overstuffed sausage like I’m sure I did.

(Recommendations anyone? Please comment – I’d love your thoughts!)

 

I also have steel cleats … and it makes perfect sense that the metal plate is literally sucking my toes’ will to live.

 

Happily this weekend won’t be prime for testing my new gear as it’s going to be something ridiculously awesome like 50*F and sunny.

 

* * * * *

In other news, I also picked up a Garmin 510 so I can track my rides and Even More Data (like cadence!) without killing my phone battery or carrying a portable charger. Hooray!

In saddle news, I’ve now put 135 miles on the Specialized Ruby and am still not convinced I need to just keep riding on it to make it better. So back to the shop this week to hopefully swap it out for something that doesn’t make me feel each individual sit bone move with every pedal stroke. Seriously – that just feels weird.

seriously  - look how think it is!
seriously – look how thin it is!