mild adjustments for cycling in extreme weather

photo: adamscarroll flickr

For many cyclists, the arrival of winter marks the end of their season.  And that’s a shame.  Winter cycling can be some of the most scenic, refreshing and adventurous of the year.  Sure, a shift in the weather presents a new set of challenges.  But with the proper equipment and skills, dealing with the elements on your city ride can be as simple as adopting the right mindset and embracing the change in seasons.

velojoy welcomes Neil Bezdek as a contributor. Neil, an NYC bike messenger and cycling advocate before he signed a pro-racing contract, breaks down city cycling as only a rider who has experienced the most demanding conditions can. For dispatches from the road cycling world, read Neil’s Rambling Man blog on

Make the following adjustments to your cycling to stay safe whenever the streets are cold, wet and slick.

Your bike

Burly, treaded tires and fenders are smart choices for winter, but not all bike setup requires new equipment.

  • Let some air out of your tires.  Softer tires have a larger contact patch with the ground and better traction.  When the pavement is wet, I set my 23mm tires as low as 80 to 85 psi.
  • Drop your saddle.  A one centimeter reduction in seat height lowers your center of gravity and puts you in a more nimble position.
  • Tighten your brakes.  Wet rims require additional stopping power to slow you down.  Pads also wear quickly in foul weather, which effectively loosens the brakes. To tighten your brakes, simply rotate the barrel adjusters (near the calipers on road bikes and levers on flat-bar bikes) counter-clockwise. Or, ask the mechanic at your local bike shop to do this for you.

Your body

Biking in the rain and slush is like taking a cold, gritty, 360-degree shower.  Waterproof clothes, shoes and bags are helpful, but particularly on long rides, sometimes you have to accept that you’re going to get wet.

  • Avoid down and cotton.  As the saying goes, cotton is rotten, at least for cycling.  And here’s why: unlike synthetic fabrics or wool, cotton and down fibers fully absorb water and hold it right against your skin.  This layer of water conducts heat away from your body, while other materials, such as wool, maintain at least some of their insulating properties when wet.
  • Protect your extremities.  Your body’s circulatory reaction to cold weather is called shunting; blood is directed away from extremities to protect more vital organs in your core.  My favorite wet-weather accessories are fleece-lined, neoprene gloves available at bike shops and outdoor stores and neoprene socks, which can be found at scuba shops.
  • Hydrate.  Ever notice that being cold sends you to the bathroom more frequently?  Not only does shunting render your limbs cold, but it can dehydrate you.  With more blood directed to the core, your body acts like it’s holding more water than it really is.
  • Preserve your vision.  A standard cycling cap is the perfect rain awning, while glasses keep water and debris out of your eyes.  Cycling specs with no frame on the bottom of the lenses are less likely to fog up, especially if you pinch the nose piece to elevate them away from your face.
  • Stay visible.  Wear bright clothing and turn on those bike lights.

Coming next Tuesday: In Part 2 of his winter riding series, Neil shares tips for handling your bike in slick conditions, how to find the safest route (hint: follow the subway lines) and must-dos on arrival at your destination.

photo: adamscarroll flickr

Tags from the story

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *