Too cold to ride!

That excuse will no longer work.   According the this NY Times article exercising in the cold is not bad for you.   Contrary to conventional wisdom your lungs are fine in the cold.

…lungs are not damaged by cold, said Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of respiratory research and the human physiology laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. No matter how cold the air is, by the time it reaches your lungs, it is body temperature, he explained.

The biggest thing to keep in mind though when commuting by bike or exercising in the winter is to dress properly.

One mistake winter exercisers make is wearing too much clothing. You don’t want to sweat profusely because you overdressed.

It is really tricky to figure out how much clothing to wear the first few times you go out.   The rule I use is that when starting out if I am a little chilly to cold I will be okay on my ride.   But if I go outside and feel nice and warm I know that I will quickly over heat and start sweating too much.

Typically when I ride in right now the temp is about 35-40 degrees.   My clothing selection has been fine tuned over the past couple weeks and is lees than I had initially thought.   Here is what I usually wear:

  • Windstop vest
  • Long sleeve wool jersey
  • Sleeveless undershirt
  • Bib shorts
  • Leg warmers
  • Wool socks
  • Toe covers for my shoes

This tends to keep me just right on dry days.   When it is raining I substitute the long sleeve wool jersey and very for a short wool sleeve jersey and jacket.
If you are in the fence about going out in the cold in exercising or riding I say try it and you might be surprised how fun and invigorating it is.

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0 thoughts on “Too cold to ride!”

  1. doug says:

    the weather round here ranges from the high 40s to the low 30s. mostly i wear: cotton socks with my tennis shoes. wool knickers (they keep me pretty warm even though they are very thin), short sleeve wool jersey, arm warmers, wool flannel, wool gloves with bicycle gloves over those. this has kept me reasonably warm all the way down to about 29-30 degrees.

  2. Charlie D. says:

    I’m a year-round Boston bike commuter. I’ve often been surprised at how little clothing I need. My typical winter commuting outfit is:

    My usual work outfit:
    – Khakis
    – Undershirt and dress shirt
    – Medium weight cotton dress socks
    – Sneakers (I change into shoes at work)

    – Windproof, waterproof shell/jacket
    – Medium-weight gloves

    When it gets below 32 degrees, I usually add a hat under my helmet and use thicker gloves.

    When it gets into the 20s or lower, I typically add a face mask (one I usually use for skiing).

    When it rains or snows, I put my waterproof bicycling pants over my khakis and bring a change of socks.

    I’ve found that I actually like commuting in the winter more than the summer in many ways. Mainly, I like it because I’m rarely cold on my commute and when I get to work I’m hardly sweating at all. Compare this to our summers where it gets to 80 or 90 degrees and the sweat is pouring off when I get to the office. (A totally different clothing strategy applies then of course.)

  3. a.c.m says:

    The biggest help for me is something to cover my ears – I wear one of those ear head band thingees. Also, layering is good – I usually wear a polypro long underwear bottom layer with a light fleece and wind breaker – it’s warm but not too warm, which as the poster noted is important.

  4. d-a-n-i-e-L says:

    I’m a year round NYC bike commuter. People always comment “you rode your bike today, it’s 25 degrees out…” and my response is always, it’s quicker for me to bike than walk. My setup varies by temperature:

    <45 Degrees
    ” Full finger mesh gloves
    ” Thin wool socks
    ” Same jeans or khakis I wear the rest of the year
    ” My Langlitz leather jacket
    ” Helmet

    <35 Degrees
    ” Wool lined leather gloves
    ” Thicker wool socks
    ” Same jeans or khakis I wear the rest of the year
    ” My Langlitz + Wool zip up cardigan or Gore Windstop liner
    ” Thin Wool Hat

    < 25 Degrees
    ” Wool+Gore Windstop gloves
    ” Thick wool socks (smartwool)
    ” Boots (chelsea pull on generally)
    ” Lined jeans or khakis
    ” My Langlitz + Gore Windstop + wool sweater
    ” Thick Wool hat and maybe a scarf if it’s really windy

    < 10 Degrees (ialmost never in NYC)
    ” Wool+Gore Windstop gloves
    ” Thick wool socks (smartwool)
    ” Boots (chelsea pull on generally)
    ” Lined jeans or khakis
    ” My Langlitz + Gore Windstop + wool sweater
    ” Thick Wool hat and maybe a scarf if it’s really windy
    ” Face mask


  5. Jim Carson says:

    As with d-a-n-i-e-L, my attire varies by temperature, but also rain. The pervasive cloud cover keeps the Northwe’t in a narrow temperature band. The fenders stay on year-round.

    > 60 °F
    ” Shorts and a T-shirt.
    ” Cotton socks
    ” Half-finger gloves
    ” Helmet

    50 – 60 °F
    ” Light shell (jacket) until I warm up

    If rain, add neoprene booties over my shoes

    <50 Degrees
    ” Short-sleeve wool jersey
    ” Ear warmers (a polypro cap)
    ” Booties over my shoes
    ” Full-finger gloves
    ” Thin tights

    If heavy rain, thick tights, Gore jacket with lots of vents

    < 35°F
    ” Insulated tights
    ” Wool socks
    ” Long sleeve wool jersey with a jacket over it
    ” Close vents on my jacket 😉

  6. Michael R says:

    For 32 to 40 degrees my layers are:

    long sleeved wool t shirt
    Marmot Wind shirt

    knicker shorts
    thin wool tights (at the bottom of the range)

    two pair wool socks

    wool glove liners underneath cheap-o leather gloves from the hardware store

    Now I’m trying to figure out what to do as the temps drop into the low 20s.

  7. Hayduke says:


    For fifteen years I bicycle commuted in Alaska, down to 40 below zero. When it got below that, I walked.

    I never had problems with the cold air. As you’ve correctly pointed out, it’s important to avoid sweating, which can make you far colder than the ambient air temperature. Sweat goes through your clothes and allows the cold to penetrate. Take it easy up hills, don’t overdue. If you start to overheat, stop to blow and enjoy the scenery.

    Breathable clothes (especially those that are breathable in the back and non-porous in the front), shoe covers, pogies (large hand covers that cover the handlebars as well) and a good face mask are essential for temperatures below10 degrees above zero.

    At 20 below zero, you must relube your bike with low temperature grease. This keeps things moving in the right direction at accustomed speeds, further reducing the risk of sweating.

    At temperatures below 40 below zero, there’s no hope. All lubes seize up, metal parts become brittle.

    Remember that cold sinks. When you go downhill into a stream valley, it will be colder there than at the summits. I used to leave my house at 20 below zero, ride through 50 below in the valleys, then get sweaty riding back up to 20 below on the hills.

    The weather always looks worse from the inside of your house. Get out there and enjoy!

  8. Fishbones says:

    Well, it was 42 yesterday. Celcius. And my partner rang to say “I’m sick, save me”. So I got to enjoy the hottest part of the day. Had to do my best Floyd and pour water over myself on the last mile. Sad, I know. 🙂 But true.

  9. Quinn says:

    the other night it got down to 20 and I to am surprised at how little clothing it took to keep warm- wool pants and socks, under armour and jersey, arm warmers and mask and gloves, although I have really struggled with gloves this winter, the ones warm enough are too thick to shift STIs with.
    I think IM gonna have to flat bar the Jake.

  10. Spenny says:

    This morning it was -35 F (with wind chill) and never got warmer than -20!!

  11. Quinn says:


    What time did Santa open the workshop??

  12. Spenny says:

    No doubt, it really sucks commuting in North Dakota because its not only cold but it is also crazy windy because of how flat and treeless it is here.

  13. Jerome says:

    Cold is good. On Monday this week it was -38C with a windchill of -54C. I don’t ride more than 2 or 3 miles in that weather, but it is fun. You know it’s cold when you not only have to worry about your body being warm, but also about stuff like your freewheel freezing up and brakes not grabbing. Nothing worse than have to spin a few revolutions just to wake up the rear wheel. love the cold!

  14. Practical Cyclist says:

    Yes I’ve gotten used to having to deal with such things as iced over derraileurs and frozen brakes. It also makes me chuckle when people overreact to me riding in in subzero temps (haven’t seen less than -20 yet this year) wearing a long tee, a windshell and a balaclava, on the bottom half I just have tights and rain pants, sometimes I remember to put on the booties, sometimes I have to rub my toes a little when I change. I think we just adapt to the conditions where we live.

  15. CaptCanuck says:

    I stopped my daily commute at the beginning of December, when I hit my mileage target a month early. I always intended to start again in January but the warmth of sharing a ride seduced me. NO MORE! Back in the saddle come Monday!

  16. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    Being my first winter in Minneapolis, I have so far biked all but two days. Those days were because the roads and greenways were to slippery with snow and ice. Well, at least in the dark heading to work, as I threw the bike on the bus. But on the way home I have riden every day. That include -15F, but my ride to work is only three miles. In -15F my bike doesn’t want to shift toward the end. As for me, I keep pretty warm.
    I start off at room temp wearing my work pants and shirt, a medium weight jacket and wind pants, wool glove liners inside heavy cycling gloves, two pairs of wool socks with cycling shoes and cycling shoe covers, my helmet has insulation, a sweat band, face mask and arm warmers. The arm warmers keep the blood in my arms warmer so my fingers stay warmer.
    During the ride I do wiggle my toes and fingers every now and the to keep the blood flowing, other wise for the three mile (~10-15 min) ride in -15 I keep very comfortible. The only thing I need to add is googles. Side note, I ride along a bus route, just in case my bike breaks, and I am much fast then the city bus.

  17. James says:

    I live in Buffalo and almost all winter I have been taking the bus or carpooling rather than biking. Cold is one thing, sideways frozen rain is another. The sides of the road contain the most ice and also house the unsightly piles of plowed, dirty snow. I’m not the least bit ashamed (by other cyclist’s standards) to sit on a warm bus instead of forging my own path through the mucky muck. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to Spring. 🙂

  18. burnsey says:

    My favorite piece of clothing for a cold commute is a pair of Patagonia Expedition Weight capilene, the bottoms. They have a little looser fit, really sort of look like ordinary sweat pants. I typically wear bike shorts underneath. They have kept me comfortable down to about twenty degrees.
    Also, I really like my Buff, as it is really flexible, especially if the ears get cold.
    I finally broke down and went back to downtube shifters, as my old STI’s didn’t work very well in the winter.

  19. shorewoodmayor says:

    The best improvement i have made in my winter gear is a fixie. the hubs are sealed against salt and goop. there is less to clean because all the unnecessary hardware is gone. 23mm tires don’t pick up snow and are less twitchy than mtn bike tires. stopping isn’t dependent on friction. the coldest was -50 wind chill just last week. best advice would be to avoid sweating.

  20. Matthew says:

    Hi! I’m a Teen Entrepreneur and you should check out my website if you want to be able to keep your ears warm year round, wear your helmet, and be able to hear while biking. Once you try EarMitts bandless ear muffs, you’ll never be without a pair tucked into your pocket or bike back. Honestly! You don’t need to be uncomfortable or get sick because of cold ears when you’re out bike riding. This is NOT a gimmick!

    Matthew Shriner

  21. Really like this post, thanks for writing.

  22. The Cardigan sweaters can either serve as a jacket or as the usual gear.

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