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Winter Cycling Don't let snow and ice discourage you this winter. The key element to year-round cycling is proper attire! Check out this winter cycling forum to chat with other ice bike fanatics.

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Old 10-23-10, 08:14 PM   #1
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How does cold air affect your breathing? Say...50 degrees?

If you had to sprint in 50 degree air, and could wear a wind breaker if you wanted, would it be more difficult to breath than in 70 degree air? Ignore wind resistance and skin temperature. I'm just curious how the cold affects breathing, and how cold a cyclist can likely handle without it impacting their performance.
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Old 10-23-10, 08:45 PM   #2
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Generally, 50 degree air is not cold enough to effect most people unless they have a sensitive respiratory system. Your body can easily deal with all temperatures above freezing as long as you are warmed up properly and you have adapted yourself to it gradually. The colder the air is the more dense it is. So while it is harder to ride through it also packs more oxygen per cubic volume which should help your aerobic system.

Generally, you just need to go out in the cold on a regular basis. But ease into it at first by not doing long intense workouts until you get a little used to it which may take a couple of weeks. If you have been going out several days a week as it cools your system will easily adjust to it with no problems.
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Old 10-23-10, 11:02 PM   #3
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Ever heard of xc skiing, that is where people who have higher vo2 max abilities than many roadies dream of compete - at -20 celsuis.

Cold will tend to bring out any issues though, exercised induced asthma will be made worse as the temperature drops.
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Old 10-23-10, 11:34 PM   #4
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50 degrees is not cold.
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Old 10-24-10, 10:23 AM   #5
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Haha 50 F is a summer morning up here. and the daytime high for nice weather fall/spring riding.
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Old 10-24-10, 11:58 AM   #6
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You will have less lung capacity as your lungs get cooled down. You're breathing through your mouth and not your nose, which doesn't give enough time to warm up the air inside your head before the air reaches your lungs.

It's best to breath through your nose when possible, as this allows the air to warm up and be moisturized before reaching your lungs as your lungs do have an optimal operating temperature. But I'm sure we all know your nose doesn't allow proper breathing when doing sports.
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Old 10-24-10, 12:01 PM   #7
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if cold air is making your lungs burn, you might try looking into a balaclava that you breathe through. typically, the temps, I go to that are more in the 20's-30's though.
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Old 10-24-10, 09:31 PM   #8
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50 degrees is not cold.
its still kinda nippy
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Old 10-24-10, 11:20 PM   #9
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Gotta warm (haha) up to it. Taking a big gulp of -20C air will probably make you cough and sputter. Back in the biathlon days you just got used to it... definitely get the slobbery, scummy, snotty action going on, though. I raced in -35C one time, and it was unpleasant, but air temp. for breathing seemed to be the last of my worries.

50F vs. 70F, though? I'd take 50F any day of the week. Cooler = more efficient.
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Old 10-25-10, 04:34 AM   #10
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Still, cold air is pretty easy to deal with as opposed to the same cold air getting forced down your gullet by a 30+mph headwind.
Since my bike is basically my car though, I'll have to deal with it as needed.

Now 120Deg vs. 40 or less, I'll take 120.
Quicker and easier to throw on and ride in shorts/t shirt as opposed to looking like I'm suiting up for a SWAT team operation.
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Old 10-25-10, 04:57 AM   #11
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It may not be cold but it's dry, which is good for my sinus problems.
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Old 10-25-10, 05:21 AM   #12
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As mentioned already ... 50 degrees is not cold and should not affect your breathing. The only exception to this might be if you've got EIA ... I find that the cooler temps can trigger my EIA, especially if it is a damp, humid 50 degrees.
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Old 10-25-10, 11:41 AM   #13
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Still, cold air is pretty easy to deal with as opposed to the same cold air getting forced down your gullet by a 30+mph headwind.
Since my bike is basically my car though, I'll have to deal with it as needed.

Now 120Deg vs. 40 or less, I'll take 120.
Quicker and easier to throw on and ride in shorts/t shirt as opposed to looking like I'm suiting up for a SWAT team operation.
happiness at 40F - cycling shorts, maybe another pair of regular shorts or just tights, two tshirts, arm warmers

I will sweat profusely with anything more on.
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Old 10-25-10, 12:06 PM   #14
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I don't know, at ~40, my ears are getting cold, so it's about time for me to get something to cover them (under the helmet). Other than that, you sound about right, hubcap. Oh and maybe some full fingered gloves.
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Old 10-25-10, 12:15 PM   #15
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50 degrees doesn't bother me at all. Starting somewhere around 10 F or so chances of snot freezing in my nostrils with each inhalation increase, and that kinda hurts a little.

Altitude hampers breathing way more than cold for the un-acclimated.
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Old 10-25-10, 03:34 PM   #16
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I just heard recently that they ban X-C skiing competitions in Finland at temperatures below -50C as, from their experience, the combination of temperature and excessive physical exertion begins then to hurt the body. It may be useful to keep this in mind as a reference.
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Old 10-25-10, 03:55 PM   #17
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I don't know, at ~40, my ears are getting cold, so it's about time for me to get something to cover them (under the helmet). Other than that, you sound about right, hubcap. Oh and maybe some full fingered gloves.
Yep, you are right hime. Since I always wear gloves, I unintentionally left them off that summary. In fact, I would likely opt for full-finger gloves too at 40F, but definitely not a windproof pair. It has to be under freezing for those or my hands get hot too quick. The head gear is another story and it is completely dependant on how my body is feeling each morning. The first head-thermal layer would be a stretchy running style band one for my ears (and yes, all this goes under my helmet). The next layer is a stretchy running style cap. If I need more than that, it is time for my thin balaclava. It all goes uphill from there with variations of thicker headwear vs. doubling up gear. It is easy to go overboard on the head insulation though, just as it is with your torso.
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Old 10-25-10, 04:02 PM   #18
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happiness at 40F - cycling shorts, maybe another pair of regular shorts or just tights, two tshirts, arm warmers

I will sweat profusely with anything more on.
I've also got to ride with my security gear on when riding to work.
No place to change, aside from a staff bathroom on post to wipe down.
After that, I get to do my impression of a Russian border guard for 12 hours.
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Old 10-25-10, 04:04 PM   #19
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I just heard recently that they ban X-C skiing competitions in Finland at temperatures below -50C as, from their experience, the combination of temperature and excessive physical exertion begins then to hurt the body. It may be useful to keep this in mind as a reference.
Yah, but -50c is like... SO cold. Riding around at -30C does add a new level of bitter crispness to the air. I don't want to try at -50C, well at least for very long.
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Old 10-26-10, 05:25 AM   #20
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I just heard recently that they ban X-C skiing competitions in Finland at temperatures below -50C as, from their experience, the combination of temperature and excessive physical exertion begins then to hurt the body. It may be useful to keep this in mind as a reference.
Seeing that the lowest officially recorded temperature in Finland is -51,5C (in 1989 without wind chill), we'd be skiing competitively all the time then.

Actually, national competition rules are based to the FIS international XC rules with a -20C limit (FIS: "the competition will be postponed or cancelled").

Competitions aside, it's nothing unusual to ski below -20C for fun.

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Old 10-26-10, 07:38 AM   #21
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Actually, national competition rules are based to the FIS international XC rules with a -20C limit (FIS: "the competition will be postponed or cancelled").

Competitions aside, it's nothing unusual to ski below -20C for fun.

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Thanks for fixing this. The limit was claimed by a Dutch living in Finland who might have not been resolving temperatures down from some threshold. On that note, a while ago I read a novel relaying experiences of prisoners in the Russian Siberia that gave methods of telling temperature without a thermometer such as 'If you spit and your spit freezes before arriving to the ground, the temperature is below something', etc.
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Old 10-27-10, 02:48 PM   #22
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I would love 50f temps to ride in, I wouldn't get all hot and sweaty.

Breathing 50f isn't bad, it doesn't start to suck till sub 30's when your snot and spit want to freeze in your head.
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Old 10-27-10, 03:11 PM   #23
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Yah, but -50c is like... SO cold. Riding around at -30C does add a new level of bitter crispness to the air. I don't want to try at -50C, well at least for very long.
-30C is about the lowest we get in Toronto and it's only a day or two in the entire year.
Now, -30C factoring in wind chill is not uncommon. It's only about -15C to -20C in actuality.
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Old 10-27-10, 09:25 PM   #24
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-30C is about the lowest we get in Toronto and it's only a day or two in the entire year.
Now, -30C factoring in wind chill is not uncommon. It's only about -15C to -20C in actuality.
Yeah, windchill to -30c feels nowhere near actual -30C! Even though there are a only a few days, i ride anyways.
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Old 10-28-10, 08:50 AM   #25
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50F/10C isn't cold. I'm using fingerless gloves and shorts at those temperatures.

32F/0C is starting to get cold. I will have a buff round my neck and pull it up over my mouth if I start to wheeze. (I get asthmatic sometimes.)

14F/-10C is a bit nippy. Thick wool socks with spd sandals + overshoes. Wool buff over mouth to breath through. Buff pulled down over forehead to stop sinus pain.
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