Science of Cold Weather Cycling

Last Sunday, I managed one and half hours in a temperature of 2 degrees. I promised myself, that any temperature less than 2 degrees was officially too cold for outdoor riding. The weather forecast for the next seven days means I’m either going to do no cycling or will become very well acquainted with my rollers and conservatory.


Going cycling in very cold weather, is an ‘interesting’ experience. There are certain observations about the differences from cycling in cold weather.

  • When your body temperature is colder than usual, the body responds by restricting the size of the veins. (It does this to conserve heat near vital organs – known as peripheral vasoconstriction ) This makes blood flow slower than usual. It means that
    • Hands, feet and extremities more likely to be cold. If you keep your body warm, it will be easier to keep feet warm.
    • It’s harder to cycle. One reason you’re slower when cold is that there is less blood being pumped around your body. With less oxygen you’re bound to be slower.
  • Cold temperature inhibits aquaporins in various places throughout the body, including the brain and kidneys so that less water is taken up by the cells Therefore kidneys respond to cold by passing urine quicker through the body. (according to first year med student) This is why on a cold day, you’re more likely to be looking for suitable trees. It’s also a time when the colour of your urine is not a guide to dehydration. Because you’re going to the toilet more often, you can be more dehydrated than you imagine.
  • You burn more calories keeping warm. Cold weather cycling is good for those looking to burn calories, more energy is used in keeping warm. Keep eating to maintain enough fuel. The last thing you want to do is to ‘bonk’ in the cold weather.


Wind Chill Factor

Be careful when it’s windy. Also, cycling creates its own wind chill factor. Great for hot weather (cycling more bearable than running in hot weather). But, it means we get cooler quicker. For instance in calm conditions at -29°C a well clothed person is in little danger, a light wind of 10mph gives the same effect as a temperature of -44°C when exposed flesh can freeze in a minute or so. A breeze of 25mph gives an equivalent of -66°C . (cold air science)

Overall, when cold, you do go slower.

Weekly mileage in cold


will be a big drop off this week



just about on target at 4,500 km


7 Responses to Science of Cold Weather Cycling

  1. jonty pritchard January 22, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    woosies everywhere i am about to make myself very unpopular in my day before plus 2 and plus 4s and long wooly socks and later thermal wear and waterproof garments we used to ride in temps well below freezing on some days just wearing jeans and flimsy pullovers with racing socks ( thinnylon ) and unsuitable hand mittens but riding in the snow on a 69inch gear kept you a bit warmer and certainly taught you how to ride a bike ( STOP WHINGING ) apologies jonty

  2. Bob R January 18, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Couple of days ago I went cycling at -1 deg C with no concern about the above. My toes soon got frozen and by the time I got home I could barely feel them. Not good at all. The cycling experience was awful.
    Next day I went to buy some proper clothes, put two pairs of socks and proper trainers on (the one with upper leather) and cycling in cold weather was not that bad.

  3. tejvan January 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    There was me thinking I’m a big hard northern cyclist for cycling through the tough northern winter, when, after all, actually I’m just a big sissy cycling indoors with my central heating turned on. :)

    O well, I’m off to book a short holiday to Tenerife!

  4. Tricyklist January 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    That would be 2F would it? The secret to riding in cold weather, down to -15C, is to ride on snow covered roads. The soft stuff gets stuck firmly in your mudguards. So you have to work hard just to keep moving. This keeps you warm. I highly recommend it. Oh, and suitable clothing of course. Ski goggles, or foam lined skiing sunglasses, are pretty useful when it gets much below -10C. Just so you can see where you are going. They are also useful in a blizzard of course. BTW: How do you spell “sissy?” ;-)

  5. Becca January 16, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Any less than 2 degrees? don’t be soft! ;) I’ve been out cycling in -4/-5 but it isn’t pleasant, especially when it’s blowing a hoolie on the Pennines where it’s high and very exposed. Last weekend I was cycling through Stokesley having felt fine all ride, but the colder the air got I noticed I was losing feeling in my thighs and it really felt like I was trying to pedal through treacle! I had to check I hadn’t accidentally knocked the gear lever into the 12 sprocket or something :P It was a very odd feeling as I didn’t even realise I was that cold having layered up quite well. When you’re trying hard and out of breath it’s not too bad when your legs deteriorate, but when it’s an external factor it’s a bit worrying. An Eccles cake and a cup of soup and a bun at the cafe saw me right. Oh, and putting the ever forgotten gilet on for the journey home helped a bit too lol..

    • Rob M January 16, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      A couple of years ago I cycled the eight miles to work and upon reaching my destination I took a swig of my juice to find that ice chips had formed inside the transparent Robinsons one litre bottle that I had put in the bottle holder. Hey, a free slush puppy! How do you spell sissy? I had to look up Herculean.

      This week is all about at least three layers and studded tyres. On Monday the rear gear cable wouldn’t downshift unless I reached down and pulled on it with my hand. But it beats the bus. And today I had a chat with a fellow cyclist at the co-op society from where I work discussing our studded tyres and he enquired about the rechargeable speakers I’ve got on the handlebars attached to a phone for playing mp3′s. Whatever makes your ride more enjoyable (and safe) it felt good to pass on some advice.

      • Rob M January 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

        winter tyres

        you’ve heard of in-car entertainment? this is on-bike entertainment.

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