How Cold Is Too Cold to Ride Outdoors? Three Cycling Editors Weigh In.
Every cyclist has a different ride-or-hide threshold
It’s December, and the thermometer is dropping across the Northern Hemisphere, posing a familiar question for cyclists everywhere: Ride or hide?
It’s the seasonal quandary that rolls around each calendar. Do you stay inside or ride the trainer, or head out and brave the chilly temps and frozen appendages? This time of year, every cyclist must identify his or her personal threshold for venturing outside. For some, it’s that magical temperature separating knee from leg warmers. For others, the breaking point is when the snow piles high enough to block the front door. Below, our editors identify the conditions that separate indoor from outdoor cycling fun.
Bring On the Snow
My take: put on the Gore-Tex, Velcro up those booties, and go outside and suffer.
My ride-or-hide limit tends to be dependent more on precipitation than temperature. If it’s raining and warm, I’ll ride Zwift. If it’s snowing, I’ll make a judgement call based on the dampness of the snow.
If it’s dry, you better believe I’m riding outdoors. I’m a dad, and when my daughter goes down for a nap, I demand my outdoor time!
Here’s the thing: Colorado’s climate is bone-dry, and thus the cold air can be overcome by smart layering and a good pair of gloves and booties. The other week I pounded out three hours on the bike on a day when the temperature barely rose over 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.8C).
I wore a synthetic base layer, a long-sleeve wool jersey, a windbreaker, a thermal jacket, and then a wind-busting vest (plus thick hat, gaiter, ski gloves, ski socks, and neoprene booties). So long as my core and fingertips stay toasty, I’ll last as long as my legs will allow.
I’m continually reminded of my years living in New York City, where the damp air made riding in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit utter torture. My ride-or-hike limit there was at a much higher temperature, and much rosier conditions. I learned some lessons there the hard way. I still remember stopping at a restaurant in Piermont to steal paper napkins to help warm my, um, more sensitive appendages. —Frederick Dreier, articles editor Outside Magazine
No Biking After November
My “ride-or-hide” answer has to do with fruit.
I love peaches. And for a few short weeks in late summer—or months if I’m lucky—I gorge myself on peaches and nothing but.
And then, just as subtly as the season of peaches creeps up, it’s gone, and I don’t eat another peach for a year. In fact, I don’t even really think about peaches until the following summer, after the apricots and cherries have had their day. Then and only then do I start to anticipate the juicy, singular goodness of peaches.
Could I eat a peach in January? Of course, it’s 2022, and there is a peach growing somewhere. But do I really want the trucked-in-from-Chile peach that is completely divorced from exactly what makes me love peaches in the first place, the fact that they are synonymous with a very particular moment in time?
I do not. I can wait.
Can you see where I’m going with this? For me, riding bikes is a bit like eating peaches albeit (fortunately) with a much longer season. When it’s good, it’s so good. With reckless abandon I eat up the long days and warm nights with adventure rides, alpine rides, overnight rides, whatever—I’m gorging. There is nothing else I want to do.
But, come November when the shadows cast their gaze in early afternoon and the canyons never see the sun and that one patch of ice never melts? Or it’s warm but blowing 40mph from the south? I’m going to find something that tastes better.
Like skiing, or trail running, or hiking. Maybe even the gym. Or, if I’m lucky, I’ll travel to ride where it’s warmer.
Basically, I’ll stick to eating oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit. Winter is citrus season, after all. —Betsy Welch, VeloNews senior editor
If It’s Below 50 Degrees You’ll Find Me Inside
I’ll raise my hand and publicly admit declare my ride-or-hide threshold is well within pure wimp territory.
Like Dreier, I went to high school and university in Colorado, and the only real factor was rain or wind, which I also hold in equal disdain. And since it’s sunny in Colorado pretty much 300 days a year, not riding meant that I was hands down wimping out (or suffering from a terrible hungover).
Since being based in Europe, bone-chilling humidity has revealed my embarrassingly soft ride-or-hide threshold. Even here in northern Spain, it’s more humid than it is in monsoon season in Colorado — which lasts about three hours — so that chilly, wet, and damp factor has turned me into an outright wimp.
For a few years, I tried to ride and train like a Belgian, and insisted that I would ride no matter what Mother Nature was throwing at me. I’d even go out in light rain. Have you ever seen a Belgium use an umbrella? Nope, me either. So I figured if Johan Museeuw could do it, so could I.
Of course, that led to the worse adult flu/borderline pneumonia I ever had, and was flat on my back for three weeks. Never again, vowed I.
Since then, if it’s not sunny and relatively warm, I hit the indoor trainer.
I have serious second thoughts with anything under 10C (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit), truly within wimp territory. I’d rather be in a warm bar than outside bracing against an icy wind. Luckily, just like in Colorado, it’s sunny almost every day in Spain. So the wait is never that long. —Andrew Hood, VeloNews European editor