Bike Forums

Bike Forums (
-   Winter Cycling (
-   -   How far is too far & how cold is too cold for distance commuting? (

genesorjeans 01-14-09 01:17 AM

How far is too far & how cold is too cold for distance commuting?
I live in Wisconsin and my commute is 18 miles each way.

In November 2007, I tried commuting when it was around 15 degrees, but had to stop at about 10 miles because my toes felt like they were going to crack off. Haven't tried it again at those temps since.

But I got some nice cold weather gear today :
- For my hands, Lance Garneau 2/1 Vital gloves
- For my feet, LG Wind Cover booties to go over my regular socks, Storm Socks, and shoes

Given that, in your experience, how cold would you say is too cold to make that long of a commute? When I do it in summer, it takes me about and hour and ten minutes. I know it will take longer in winter. Would my new gear + a balaclava protect me from frostbite?

I usually carpool in this kind of weather, but I'm damn eager to get back on the bike!

Thanks for any advice!

Teemu Kalvas 01-14-09 07:56 AM

I would probably ride that kind of a commute down to about zeroish F degrees, if the weather is otherwise agreeable (i.e. not if it's too windy). But like you found out, feet tend to get cold on longer rides in the cold. Sufficiently thick booties help, and you also need to wear shoes which don't restrict the circulation in your feet. I don't ride in my summer road shoes in the winter, no amount of overbooties will make them warm, because they are a tight fit.

However, the distance is so long that you need to have some sort of emergency plan for the case where your bike suffers a catastrofic breakdown exactly when it's 0 F. Will you start running or do you arrange for a car ride? Both would work, but it's good to figure it out in advance.

arcticbiker 01-14-09 08:46 AM

For me it's not the distance, it's the time on the bike. Regardless of how well I dress, I'm only good for about 2 hours. My normal commuting distance is either 20 or 12 miles. I have 2 main routes I use. Sometimes deep snow results in average speeds of 5 or 6 mph.

Pogies and warm gloves or mittens work pretty well for hands. Good boots w/ a heat source work well for toes. Heat source can be as simple as a chemical toe warmer to elec devices. My Sidi Toasters crapped out after a single season.

When the conditioins are right with good trails, I can ride down to 0 deg F on the longer route (20 miles) with no problem. This ride takes about 1 1/2 hrs. When trail conditions are poor (deep snow), the shorter route kills me at 10 deg F w/ wind. It's a dynamic that you'll have to try. I can ride down to pretty low temps (-20F or so) w/ the right gear and for short durations (5 miles). There are a lot of commuters riding at -40 F or lower for a few miles (I don't do it anymore). The bikes don't like it either.

An emergency plan is definiely recommended. Keep your batteries charged and warm for lights and cell phone. My cell phone seems to work at cold temps if it's well charged. Once, I crashed and lost the use of my head light while riding on glare ice. Another time I arrived to work early on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The security system was changed so that I couldn't access the building. Damn near froze outside waiting to get in. I finally rode to a coffee house and called my wife to pick me up.

Be careful out there! You never know what's going to happen.

Dangerous Dave 01-14-09 11:13 AM

For me, too far would be anything over about ten to twelve miles. Unless, I had a decent backup plan, a breakdown and a need for repair could turn it into a very long commute. There would also come a point where I would tire myself out so I was actually less productive at work.
Too cold, I couldn't say. I have never ridden in anything less than 24F, where I could just wear street clothes plus gloves and a balaclava. Probably, below about 10 would be too miserable for me, for any length of time. That said the only other alternative is too walk which is colder or get a bus which involves standing still and so being even colder again.

Dangerous Dave 01-14-09 11:14 AM

Oh yes, I would say have a backup plan. The colder it gets, the more important this becomes and if your commute is more than a few miles, take spare clothing, over and above what you can actually wear on the bike. All conventional wisdom, I suppose.

cachehiker 01-14-09 02:44 PM

I've gotten myself down to 15F for my 10 mile commute. That's wearing smartwool medium cushion snowboard socks beneath sealskinz and pearl izumi amfib shoe covers over some uninsulated but waterproof Lake MX255 shoes with Superfeet Wintergreen insoles. That's about as cold as I can get until I can find some spd compatible insulated riding shoes that look more like work boots. I hate changing clothes here at work. There just isn't a good place to do so.

As long as it's not wet, I can do about 25F for rides as long as 2-3 hours with smartwool mountaineering socks in place of the snowboard socks and sealskinz. The sealskinz just don't quite breathe well enough for me to ride for more than 45 minutes or an hour.

As far as a backup plan goes, I have a full complement of tools, spare tube, patch kit, chain link, a shifter cable, and a half dozen or more warm places to stop for an emergency repair. Jack's Tire and Oil got a good laugh last time I sat in their lounge and fixed a flat. I take my car there so why not? Post offices are warm and most convenience stores are used to people wrenching a bit on their cars. There's one stretch of about 2 miles near the end with no place to stop. At that point, walking would leave me less than an hour late.

dcrowell 01-14-09 03:18 PM

I did my 16-mile one-way commute in 6F temps once. My feet were so cold they hurt.

I bought some boots since that are a little large, and I wear three pair of wool socks, and took the clipless pedals off the bike.

I rode today in 17F temps and did just fine. The next few days look to be a lot colder... so I'll be testing the single-digit temps again.

Anyway, larger boots, lotsa socks, and chemical warmers would probably be a good idea. I don't have the chemical warmers right now... I'll have to look into them.

Jim from Boston 01-14-09 04:42 PM


Originally Posted by genesorjeans (Post 8178142)
I live in Wisconsin and my commute is 18 miles each way.

In November 2007, I tried commuting when it was around 15 degrees, but had to stop at about 10 miles because my toes felt like they were going to crack off. Haven't tried it again at those temps since.

Thanks for any advice!

I have commuted my 14 miles a few times in single digits, in particular less than 5 degrees, and - 3 is my personal best, but at those temperatures I'm never sure and always start out with some trepidation each winter until I build my confidence. A back-up certainly is essential. My commute is through city and suburban Boston, so I'm never far from shelter (and a cab), and BTW, I ride one way and take a commuter rail home with my bike.

The Friday forecast is for 3 degrees at my usual early morning ride time and I'm thinking of taking a train part way, and riding only about 4 miles to try my gear out for the first time in single digits this winter. Plus, I will have to answer that incessant question at work, "You didn't RIDE today, did you?" ;-)

pyze-guy 01-14-09 08:04 PM

I do a 17km commute, about 10.5 miles and the coldest do far for me was today when it about -4F. takes me about 50 minutes and my feet were a little cool when I arrived, most likely from the sweat cooling. I ride through the city and along bus routes. I have locks, a pump, patchs, bus tickets, a $20, thin gloves to do repairs, and my phone. No extra clothes.

DogBoy 01-14-09 08:48 PM

my commute is much shorter, at 5 miles one way. I have done it down to -17F, and it looks like the next couple of days may get me colder than that. I wear a lot of clothing layers, wool socks, regular winter boots (not cycling shoes), massive mittens made for ice fishing a skull cap, a balalcava and ski-goggles. It's quite a workout, but I don't have too many issues unless I have really bad headwinds. I don't think I'd do it if my ride was much longer than it is. I won't do weekend rides of more than 10 miles unless the temps are closer to 15ish. Then I wear lake mxz300 boots, wool socks, thermal cycling tights, wind-blocker lined sweat pants, UA winter base layer, long sleeve jersey, jacket, balaclava, ski gloves (mittens don't work with ergo-shifters) and wrap around glasses. I'm usually fine for 10-20 mile rides in this setup down to mid-teens. Everyone is different though.

Lebowski 01-14-09 09:16 PM

hello fellow Wisconsinite,

my commute is relatively short, but i do take some lengthy excursions into the back roads to venture to other areas to visit friends.

in super cold weather the only real limiting factor is the depth of the snow and the amount of clothes you can logistically put on.

the gnarliest thing i ever did was 12 miles on ice covered roads drifted over with that dry powdery squeaky snow (you know what im talking about) the windchill was about -30. i survived but would not want to do that every day let alone twice a day.

balaclavas and sub zero air severly hinder my ability to take in the amount of air i need to sustain high speeds so i stay around a safe 12 miles per hour. i say safe because many of the roads dont get plowed, just driven on to the point of being lumpy treaterous ice roads.

if temps are around 20'f or up time is the only real concern. 20 degrees and up is what i consider comfortable this time of year in wisconsin. thats when i can comfortably bike in minimal clothing. (hat, sweatshirt, one pair of lighweight gloves, long underwear)

and i agree about taking extra clothes. that is a must on long rides. i always count on hiking my way out of the jungle if my bike fails. (i dont live in the city)
i also went the route of wearing boots and using big platforms instead of clipless. i want to be able to hike my way out of a s***y situation, and sheboygan county doesnt take care of their roads at all so i like to keep my legs ready to brace my self for avoiding a fall.

kingnutterrick 01-14-09 10:01 PM

Hello winter community

My commute is 7 miles, and last night was my lowest temperature ride of -17 degrees for the season. I had a baselayer, foxwear jacket, and rain jacket. I wore a balaclava, a foxwear hat, and ski goggles. I was a little cold, but my roads were well plowed. Today was a different story, the road crew threw sand on the street, and did not plow very often. So I was fish tailing in many spots of my route. The worst trip of the season. But the trip home, I toke a different route, and the streets were plowed. My ride was a pleasure, and the scenery was beautiful.

I do carry tools, an extra jacket, rain pants, chemical warmers, and socks.

MNBikeguy 01-14-09 11:06 PM

Depending on the wind, I wave the white flag somewhere around -5.
I can still layer and be comfortable, however at those temps my air passages constrict and I find it more difficult to breath, even with balaclava filtered air.

Atrain 01-17-09 09:26 PM

Yesterday morning I did 23 miles (-14/-25 wind chill). The only major problem I had was fogging on my goggles. I tried to wipe them down but the moisture left over on my gloves froze (making my fingers feel like they were stuck in ice cubes). Luckily, I had an extra pair, so I swapped them out. Needless to say, I decided last night it was time to order my first pair of Pogies. Also, one of the gates I normally go through at work was locked, so I ended up having to back track 3 extra miles to go through another gate. I won't lie, with two pair of wool socks and hiking boots, my feet were really beginning to hurt.

tsl 01-18-09 10:08 AM

I find acclimatization is just as important as gear. I'm riding around now in single-digits and below (F) in the same stuff that I was a bit chilly in back in November. The gear didn't change--my body acclimated.

In other words, I'm not sure you can buy your way into comfort if you're starting out in the depths of January. Your body has to adjust as well.

Probably your best bet is to test ride your gear in a loop closer to home. If that works out, then go linear and do the commute.

Distance winter riding is nothing to mess with based only on anecdotal reports from Internet forums.n Do your own due-diligence testing first.

As for your gear selections, I've had uneven results from Louis (not Lance) Garneau stuff.

I have a pair of LG Magma lobster gloves that are too hot to wear until the single-digits (F). But I was unable to wear them at all until I re-engineered the liner.

I have a pair of their booties (although not the windproof ones) that are unable to keep my feet warm in the upper 30s (F) and began to fall apart from the very first ride.

I have a jersey, arm warmers and knee warmers that are all okay.

cyclezealot 01-18-09 10:11 AM

Terrain has lots to do with it. My commute has been 26 miles. But, I had 3 significant hills to climb.. Normally 90 minutes, I'm fine with... Cold. Calif. no problem there.

johe 01-18-09 03:53 PM


Originally Posted by genesorjeans (Post 8178142)
I live in Wisconsin and my commute is 18 miles each way.

- For my hands, Lance Garneau 2/1 Vital gloves

"Louis" Garneau my friend. Don't risk injury or harm to commute but I believe it's always doable with the right gear and clothing.

johe 01-18-09 03:57 PM

I add, anyone who bike commutes is automatic on my hero list. You people are the best.

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 09:03 PM.