Cycling In Winter Can Make You Faster

First off, HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I hope that wherever you are, even if you’re not in the States celebrating our holiday, that you are surrounded by loving family & friends. Oh, and that you consume lots of carbs & protein!!

Cold Weather Confession


fullsizeoutput_55eOkay, I’ll fess up: I hate being cold. If I had a choice of being too hot or too cold, I’ll choose hot every time. And yet, I’m one of those odd birds that enjoy cycling in the winter. Weighing in at a whopping 148 lbs @  5′ 10″, I don’t have any extra insulation (as in fat!) to ward off the chill. Sure, go ahead and hate me for being skinny; I’m used to hearing: “Geez! Wish I had YOUR problem!” I’m merely sharing to establish the fact that I get cold easily.

Scientific Formula for Ideal Riding Temperature

Awhile back, before leaving on what would be a cold ride, a cycling friend shared this formula with me:

“One’s age determines the coldest temperature in which one will ride their bike.” 

Although he meant it as a joke, we both agreed there’s truth within the jest. When I started biking over 30 years ago, I’d don my cold weather gear & log winter miles in Ohio when it was freezing. Literally. In fact, on one ride, it was SO (cold “how cold was it??” 🙂 )that after 30 minutes, my water bottles were frozen solid.  True story.

Now that I’m in my late 50’s, my friend’s joke is more accurate! But this is more than just a psychological game; there’s science behind the myth.

  • Our cardiovascular system isn’t as efficient which means our heart works harder at this age to heat cold muscles & skin.
  • Since cold weather acts as a vasoconstrictor (narrowing the blood vessels), and our cardiovascular system isn’t as efficient, not only are we more susceptible to heart attacks but also to hypothermia.

Cold Facts

Training in the winter can be demoralizing. Why? Aside from the fact that it can be uncomfortable temperature wise, I’m slower in the winter. And NO ONE likes owning up to that fact!

For years I thought this was because I had stopped logging big miles (I taper off late fall for a psychological break plus there’s less daylight in which to train.) Some of which is true, but I’ve learned that cycling in cold weather, whether you’re 20 or 50, is more difficult when it’s cold.

Here are the cold-hard facts:

  • Cold air is denser than warm air, which increases the amount of drag on you and your bike—and thus increases how hard you have to work to maintain the same speed.” If you want the actual scientific formula, check out this Velo article.
  • Extra layers that increase your surface area create more resistance.”
  • As the blood vessels in your extremities constrict in response to the cold, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through them, which also translates into a more rapid rate of fatigue.”
  • It is possible that your leg muscles may not be operating at an ideal temperature — a one-percent decline in local muscle temperature may reduce muscle force generation by up to 10 percent, which would also make the winter rides feel harder.” I’d wager that for us “over 50 athletes,” this becomes more pronounced.
  • “You need your energy to keep warm.”  (FYI: This is a really good article, too, so check it out.)

Cold Weather Can Be Your Friend!

Me in cold gearI’ll address winter gear in follow up posts, but for now, I hope you can see that at any age, cold weather cycling can be a great training tool: more energy/watts/cardio is required to maintain one’s warm-weather pace & distance. Besides, you’ll get Strava bragging rights for riding in the cold while your warm-weather friends log wimpy Zwift miles!

Remember that those of us over 50 need to take extra precautions:

  • Since workouts are more intense in the cold, fatigue will set in quicker than when riding in warm weather. Make sure to factor this in when planning your distance, pace, as well as your recovery time.
  • Make sure you’re wearing enough clothing to stay warm but not too much that you overheat. This takes some trial & error as well as owning various types of clothing for layering purposes.
  • Monitor your heart rate since the cold weather will add more strain to your cardiovascular system. Even if you don’t own a HRM, you can go “old school” by listening to your body or adhering to the KISS adage: “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll discover, as I have, the beauty of riding during winter. You’ll spot a new lake or cliff or vista that summer foliage conceals or experience that Zen-like moment when, within your cocoon of clothing, you zip past frosty fields.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.