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  1. #1
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    how cold is too cold to ride ?

    I am from Los Angeles and I lived for many years in Hawaii so you can say I am a warm weather person. However, I am going to be moving to Western Montana and I really want to be able to ride during the winter months.

    As far as I am concerned, "cold" is about 45 degrees F. I have never ridden in anything colder.

    So my question is, what temperature is it normal, acceptable, tolerable to ride in for cold weather areas ?

    Looking at the weather trends where I am going to live the average winter temps will be 32 high and 17 low. They also have cold snaps where it gets down to - 25 F.

    I would hope I could ride when its in the 20's. What do you think ?

  2. #2
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    Depending on the length of the ride, I will go down into the low 20s, but I don't like to go below that. If I'm going to be on the bike for more than an hour, I prefer 30s and above.

  3. #3
    cyclepath daredevil's Avatar
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    20's and 30's are a piece of cake and that's what you'll mostly see in W. Mt unless you're at altitude. I've been to -5f and that wasn't even that bad. It's all about preparation. This winter forum is packed with ideas to stay comfortable and safe in the winter.

    Studded tires, cold weather clothing, layering, keeping extremities warm (ears, fingers and toes are the biggest challenge), lighting for the shorter days, you name it, it's here. Winter riding is a blast imo.
    Last edited by daredevil; 05-26-12 at 12:27 PM.
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  4. #4
    The Fat Guy In The Back Tundra_Man's Avatar
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    As Daredevil said, 20s and 30s are a piece of cake. By the end of your first winter riding season you won't even consider those temps "cold weather riding."

    My record is -14F. My fingers and toes were cold, but the rest of me was fine. My fingers and toes weren't any colder than they would have gotten shoveling snow at the same temp. Below zero I've yet to find a solution to cold fingers and toes.

    We've had colder days but my wife puts her foot down and doesn't let me ride below -15F. Mainly because around here in the winter the wind is also steady at 30+ mph.
    '81 Panasonic Sport, '02 Giant Boulder SE, '08 Felt S32, '10 Diamondback Insight RS, '10 Windsor Clockwork

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  5. #5
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    I was in a warm weather location for 3 years. Got back to Canada and winter seemed unnatural. It didn't take long to get over that though.

    It takes a bit of time to get used to the cold, and to learn how to dress. I do it all without much expense. Just a regular winter parka and a couple of pairs of mitts. (one inside the other on the cold days.)

    My coldest ride was -33 C for 18 miles, with 2 stops to warm up. A lot of it was through snow that hadn't been cleared, so slow going. By the time I was getting home I was so cold I thought that even some ice cream from the freezer would warm me up.

    At least a few people here have ridden in colder conditions, and my doctor mentioned that he once rode at -40 F. (Good man )

    Anyway, it takes a bit of learning, and a lot of that will happen as it gets colder.

    The main thing might be to enjoy it.
    Last edited by Closed Office; 10-08-12 at 06:08 PM.
    mainlytext.com/bike.html Bicycling in winter, the entertainment version

  6. #6
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    The coldest temperatures I have ridden in was almost -53F... or -46C

  7. #7
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    Never too cold to ride. Last winter I rode a motorcycle in -15c and it wasn't that bad. You do have to watch out for black ice though! On a bicycle it should be even easier to stay warm as you are moving slower and generating more internal heat.

  8. #8
    Senior Member MNBikeCommuter's Avatar
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    If you're moving to Montana before winter hits, the drop in daily temperature is generally gradual. You'll be able to learn and adjust your clothing accordingly, rather than having a big learning curve (and body shock) right away. Lots of us bike through the winter in Minnesota. It beats treadmills and rollers and bike trainers.

  9. #9
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    I had a friend in Buffalo once tell me that its too dangerous to do cardio exercise in cold weather because the lungs cant handle cold air. I asked her "how do people climb Mt Everest then ?"

    So none of you guys have died from cycling in -20 below, right ? lol

  10. #10
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    I've ridden down to about -35F and lived to tell about it. At -20 you'll probably want something covering your mouth, whether it's a scarf, balaclava, or something else so you breathe in warmer and more humid air.

    Your definition of riding may change slightly in the winter as well. Around here some folks will just throw studded tires on a CX bike, some will ride a MTB with studded tires, and some of us will break out the fat bikes. A good excuse for N+1.

  11. #11
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I've cycled in -40C/F ... on a commute.

    And then there was my coldest century (100 mile ride) ... http://www.machka.net/brevet/Coldest_Century.htm I started at -32C and the high for the day reached -25C.

    People ski in those temps ... so why not cycle. But just be prepared for S-L-O-W.

  12. #12
    The Fat Guy In The Back Tundra_Man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    But just be prepared for S-L-O-W.
    +1

    One big thing I noticed with winter riding was how much slower I was for the same amount of effort. Even on completely clear roads I notice that for every 10 degree drop below 40F I lose about 1 mph off my average speed. On really cold winter days my typical 35 min commute would take an hour even though the streets were dry and I felt like I was working hard.

    Between riding slower and taking 10 extra minutes to layer up and then more additional time to un-layer, the increased time investment is my biggest dislike to winter commuting (but obviously not enough to make me quit, lol.) In the summer, bike commuting only takes me about 15 minutes longer than driving which includes prep/unprep time. During the winter however I typically spend nearly an additional hour each way compared to what it would have taken me to drive, and that doesn't account for days when I have to blast through unplowed snow.
    Last edited by Tundra_Man; 05-28-12 at 07:00 AM.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member OldsCOOL's Avatar
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    Here in Michigan we get our share of winter. I just do indoor spinning/training during the winter. Props to those tough guys that ride in the snow and ice but it aint me. I love hot weather for riding.

    The coldest for me was this spring in the low 40's.
    Having a flat tire as part of the total cycling experience is highly overrated. Knowing how to fix one quickly is not.

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  14. #14
    BALM Co. 2005trek1200's Avatar
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    I train year round here in Colorado. Unless it is sub 10* F, ill be out there with a healthy dose of Embrocation on.
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  15. #15
    Senior Member lenny866's Avatar
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    I live in on the outskirts of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate NY. Last year was my first year winter riding. I went to 12 degrees and a was sweating. I would have gone out when it was colder, but I was limited to weekends only. Mother nature kept her coldest days during the week.

    Keep a log on what your wear at different temps (include the wind). It helped me a lot. I knew what to wear at every temperature and it saved time.


    My average speed was down, but it was still great to be out there. I'll be doing it again this winter.

    Good Luck!

  16. #16
    Woof! venturi95's Avatar
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    +28 degrees F


  17. #17
    Senior Member digibud's Avatar
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    no limit

    So by now you should know there is no bottom limit if you are motivated. You will have to learn for yourself how motivated you are and part of that learning process will be to learn how to dress at various temps. My wife and I also keep a winter chart of temps and clothing layers that work at those temps. +1 on lenny866. Every 10F or so requires some change to your layering system. Pogies become very helpful for the hands at some point (we ride to about -10F when we feel tough. Rarely but occasionally below that and regularly to +10F). Cycling shoes give way to lightweight boots and hand-warmer packets become very useful inside gloves/pogies/boots when it gets seriously cold. Panniers are important to carry extra clothing. Changing a tire at +10F when you are sweaty is a serious problem if you can't add some layers. Winter riding takes time to learn. Good questions. Keep that up and with the right clothing and equipment it can be a lot of fun. PS. My forum pic was after an hour or two ride at -20F. My breath collects on my beard and makes a pretty well encrusted beardcycle.
    Last edited by digibud; 06-13-12 at 12:36 AM. Reason: add detail

  18. #18
    Bike rider alexaschwanden's Avatar
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    When your fingers fall off.
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  19. #19
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    I am from michigan I ride all year long and mostly at night so it is cold,,,you gotta make sure your gloves are good,,,I dont wear a mask but i put vasiline on my face.

  20. #20
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    And make sure your ears are fully covered. Got a nasty frostbite on my ear as a kid, from about 3 mile ride in sub freezing temps. My wooly hat left the bottom of my earlobes peeking out.

    My throat doesn't like sub-freezing air either, I usually spend my winters doing indoor stuff - indoor cycling classes offer plenty of, um, different kind of sights

  21. #21
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I am from Los Angeles and I lived for many years in Hawaii so you can say I am a warm weather person. However, I am going to be moving to Western Montana and I really want to be able to ride during the winter months.
    some people born & raised further south are never acclimated to northern latitudes.

    I only adapted to 90 degree dry summers by having a cold pool to jump into at regular intervals.

    Cannot layer any better than naked swimming, then.

  22. #22
    Still spinnin'..... Stealthammer's Avatar
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    I think Daredevil and Digibud pretty much nailed it.

    I too was raised and spent about 30 of my 55 years in SoCal and I also spend six out of the past 10 years living in Las Vegas, but 3 1/2 years ago I moved to Indianapolis where winter temps can drop into the -10* to -15* range with a lot of high winds. Since I spent several years when I was in my 20s and 30s in Colorado, Washington, and New Jersey though, I am very well versed in wearing the proper cold weather clothing in layers and keeping all areas of my skin covered, and I equip my bikes with Nokian studded tires and I use a good lighting system. I'm cool riding in -15* weather, but at 55 years old I prefer 15*-25* with light wind, and I love riding in those conditions because the roads and trails tend to be less crowded.


    Most of Montana gets snow and icy conditions during the winter so I'll add a few recommendations as well so you can get your head thinking about how you can prepare:

    Clothing wise I recommend Pearl Izumi AmFib tights and gloves and a good jacket, and many that are designed for snowmobiling are actually better than those designed for cycling in sub-zero temp. A polypropylene base layer including undershirt, tights, and socks is also highly recommended as it will "wick" moisture away from your skin, and it is almost impossible to stay dry in most winter condition, because ofter the moisture is your sweat. Neoprene or Lycra shoe covers help as well, as does a good balacava, neck gaitor, and goggle if the snow or wind are blowing.

    If you opt for studded tires I highly recommend Nokian A10s (72 studs - in either 32/40x700c) or Hakkapeliitta W106 (106 studs - if you can fit a 35/45x700c) for road bikes, and either the Nokian Mount & Ground 160 (160 studs - 1.95"x26") or Hakkapeliitta W106 (106 studs - 1.95"x26"), or Schwalbe Marathon Winter (200 studs - 1.75"x26"), and I suggest you pass on the Nokian Extreme 294s (294 studs - 2.1"x26") and Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro (304 stud - 2.1"x26") unless you want to ride across a frozen lake.

    Also, the one tip that I seldom hear about living in a snow/ice-laden environment is "studding" your riding shoes if they are clipless. What good does it do you to have studded tires when you are going to go down when your foot slips out from under you when you put a foot down. I use eight #7 slotted hex-head sheet metal screws in the soles of each shoe, and I get nearly as good traction as I woukd with crampons. Here's the bottoms of my Bontrager RL winter shoes:
    Just your average 'high-functioning' lunatic, capable of passing as 'normal' for short periods of time.....

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  23. #23
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    the one winter I commuted through I think the coldest morning was 17 degrees. by that time I was a seasoned winter commuter so it was no problem. granted my commute was only 13 miles. longer rides would require retooling. I did have an epic 3+ hr ride in a snow storm that required warmuup stops for my feet.
    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

  24. #24
    Senior Member digibud's Avatar
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    Within a month or so, +17F will be a distant memory. Hell, +anything will be history for several months.

    +1 on the 294's. If you don't need them, don't bother with them. Get as little as you need. Riding on dry road with the 294's is noisy and slow. They are what I use because from Nov. through March our roads are pretty much a sheet of ice at least half the time and sometimes that is a very literal sheet of ice and those Nokia 294's are just about the only safe bet on glare ice. My wife's bike won't take them and she uses Schwalbe Winter tires that are studded and they work well, but they are not nearly as aggressive and a good deal more care has to be taken. We're both over 60yrs so a bad fall on ice would be a more serious thing than it would have been 40 years ago. Off to Denali Park for a ride back into the Park before the snow flies. Second Denali ride this week... . What a hoot.

  25. #25
    7-speed doomsday prepper ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    Those shoes are awesome, Stealthspinner! I'll definitely try studding my shoes this winter.
    Quote Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
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