Friday Group Ride #189


I don’t know why I woke up. Maybe one of the kids called out in his sleep. Maybe my wife shifted in the bed. It was raining. That could have been it.

The alarm was set for 5:30, the coffee maker locked and loaded, and my kit laid out on the dining room table. I had mounted lights before turning in for the evening, affixed a fender.

The rain was forecast, those little drizzle icons slotted into the hours 5 through 7, but we were resolved to ride anyway. With the temperature hovering around 60F a little rain wasn’t going to kill us. And sleeping in…well that just might.

As it turned out, the real precipitation had long since fallen when we rolled out. The roads were all puddle and shine, but the sun, as it rose, burned off the low-lying fog and dried the asphalt in short order. It turned into a gorgeous morning.

I commented on just how perfect it was to my riding companion, and he smiled and said yes, and that it was almost disappointing how much better it turned out than anticipated. We’d have to put off feeling tough for another day.

This time of year (Fall in New England), consistency and rhythm and that pure, pig-headed, Yankee perseverance become the valuable currency of winter riding. Nary a flake has fallen. The wind hasn’t yet drawn its daggers, but if you’re not riding now, you’re probably not riding later.

Just like any Grand Tour, if you miss the transition, you don’t ride the next stage.

So I wake up in the night, hear rain and instead of mentally cancelling a planned ride, I lay my head down and sleep lightly, anticipating the alarm. It’s only October, but it might as well be January 1st. It’s time to locate warmers of every shape and application, to begin devising layering strategies, and above all, to keep riding.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how do you manage the fall/winter transition? Do you pack it in or gear up? How do you maintain motivation as the going gets tough? Can you take time off and get back on when the weather is inclement?

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  1. TominAlbany

    I go as deep as I can (usually sometime in mid-November) and then start up again when the roads clear in March. I live in Albany, NY and I have always had trouble keeping my toes warm. When it gets into the 30s, I’ve had them go numb regularly despite my best efforts at layering and insulation and various neoprene booties. So, I pack it in and do the gym/running/spinning thing.

  2. Rod

    I commute year round on a bicycle. No big deal except for the freezing rain. Studded tires work well. As such, I’m never conditioned not to ride.

    I used to go fairly deep. One of my favourite rides was up the local Park, already closed to motorized traffic for the winter, and it started snowing when I was on my way back. So quiet even a few deer and foxes surprised me – very close to the pavement. Temperature was around freezing, but bundling up works.

    Last year was my first with a snow bike. I rode at – 20 C. That opened a whole new range of options – very necessary, since I became a father and my riding has been restricted. Lots of lights, going slow, getting some fresh air.

  3. Randall

    I keep a spreadsheet of temperature bands and what I wear – by band and whether the temperature will increase or decrease during the ride. That way, I remember from year-to-year.

  4. Souleur

    fall is all about quality, rest, down time, and reminding myself as to why I ride. I’m reminded of all the rides I have just done, ears pinned down, staring over the stem, straight down, sweat in my eyes, missing seeing the birds, hearing their calling, and the magnificent things around us everyday. Here in the midwest, I don’t have aspen, but I do have hickory trees and they are turning a brilliant yellow, and my squirrels are storing the hickory nuts for winter. My bald eagle will be migrating soon, I’m planting daffodils, and when they spring, I know I’ll be happy with the promise of warmth again

    And that keeps me going

  5. Steve P

    Autumn is the good stuff. Cool breezy colors. All the big rides are done, no more goals. Just time to ride for the sake of riding, or not riding maybe too.

  6. John M.

    I ride year round. The only thing that keeps me in is below 40 and wet. I love year round riding. Every season has it’s own special aspects that I relish.

  7. ScottyCycles62

    Well here in San Diego I MIGHT have to put on arm warmers and knee warmers during the Winter riding season ;)Actually it can be quite cold here in the mornings during the Fall/Winter.

  8. Patrick

    Riding during the fall is always amazing. The colorful leaves, the alternating sun and shadows through the trees, and crisp but not cold temperatures. In winter, however, numb hands and feet were always my biggest challenges. Over the last two winters, I’ve splurged on windproof-ier gloves, dense but not bulky wool socks, and a graduation from toe covers to full on booties. Anything above 30F is now in play. Wind + cold is my biggest remaining de-motivator.

  9. Brad

    I keep going, but worry less about the workout and more about the tunnel of light in the morning (soon evening, too), what’s going on around me, what goals for next year, and enjoying the simple pleasures of riding a bike. My kit gets changed out, too: Fall brings out the knickers, and thermal bibs, various jackets and gloves, and a raft of base layers and tops — it may be dry in the morning, pouring on the way home, so no morning selections are made without understanding the forecast and odds. Winter brings out the boots, bibtights, lighter base layers of fall give way to Craft’s best, and the lobster claws, too. Full fenders with long flaps, ‘natch. Lights: handlebar, helmet (front and back), rear of bike. With all this said, the warm bed and car tug on cold and wet mornings — all of which is resolved after the shower at work. The season of Fall, at least in the northwest, makes it much much easier.

  10. Ransom

    I have most of the gear to be reasonably okay in pretty much any weather we get around here, which gets down to 30s and raining (but mercifully usually 40s or higher). I need some cold-weather gloves that don’t leak. Damp from sweat is one thing, frozen from having a half-pint of rain in each glove is something else.

    I’m as sporadic through the winter as any other time, but not much more so. Mostly I plod along, wishing for daylight, and missing the easy looseness I never have below 70 degrees in shorts and a jersey.

    At least I think I’ve finally found glasses that won’t fog if I put the special secret sauce on them…

  11. Linda

    A few years ago I plunked down a couple hundred bucks for insulated winter riding shoes. Oh what a difference those make. A far better solution than anything else I have tried. To keep my fingers warm, I use chemical hand warmer packs in my lobster gloves which allows for a 2-3 hour ride at 20 deg F. Other than that, just lots of layers and like Randall, I have a spreadsheet that tells me what I wear for typical conditions. That’s so much better than trying to remember from year to year.

  12. christopheru

    I keep riding. The bike changes – I only ride my commuter bike – and the tires change too. Gone are the slicks, and out come the heavy duty studded tires. Workouts change from longer rides with a lot of spinning, to slow and heavy slogs through the snow.

    Part of me cannot wait.

    You see, it is not snow that stops me. Rain is my kryptonite.

  13. Les.Bo.

    Let Fall, Winter and Spring come, let them stay forever! Just please skip the heat of Summer.

    What to wear for a particular weather isn’t the problem for me. It’s dealing with a 30-40 F degree range of temperature over an all day ride that creates the challenge.

    Stuffing appendage warmers and base layers into a Camelback (sans bladder) is my best technique. A Wib fits nicely into the saddle bag, stuffed in there next to the patch kit.

  14. Michael

    We have had our first snow in town and the mountains seem to be holding onto it. Fall for me is dirt – cross and mountain bike rides, not racing but just enjoying the trails and dirt roads. Right now, the now is shallow and sticky – good for riding. Once it snows a lot, I pull out the big-tired road bike and ride roads when they are not pure ice. If they are, rollers in the back room are my choice, but I can get out often. Below 20 degrees is tolerable for riding, but I worry about flat tires, as taking off my gloves to pull the tire of the rim is dicey. Hitchhiking home in those circumstances is allowed. Still, I love the quiet and how small sounds carry well in that cold air.

  15. Aar

    As long as I get the transition(s) right, I ride 5 days a week year round. I prefer temperatures under 70 and have ridden in temps down to -15. The only thing that puts me on the trainer is wet roads.

    My keys to riding outdoors in colder and changing weather is an assortment of skull caps, creative use of zippers and a recognition that a human body will automatically reach a comfortable temperature within 5-15 minutes of starting exercise even if dressed inappropriately.

  16. Chris Edie

    What do I do when it is transitioning from Fall to Winter in The USA? Smile a big smile, don my short sleeve jersey and pack an extra water bottle. No I am not a masochist , I live in Tasmania, Australia…..summer is arriving, slowly but definitely warming up.
    Autumn here, I’ll do either my windproof fronted merino shirt gradually transitioning to warmer layers. Only frost keeps me off the roads, having grown up in Scotland where the winter roads were salted, the ice frightens me almost as much as suicidal kangaroos (not joking).

  17. Timojhen

    Love the quote from Steve P – I”m at that point now – big rides are done, annual mileage goal met, riding just to ride. Loving it.

    Similar to many others, I aim to be a couple of times a week throughout. Northern Virginia, so there can be a couple of dicey months. Skip it when it’s less than 30 and wet, largely because I can’t see where the black ice may lie.

    I’ve discovered that I can do almost anything for an hour, so I modify my commute accordingly. Full distance is about 1:40, but I can drive some of the way and ride the balance. Surprised myself, as it’s not in my nature to compromise.

  18. David

    This year is the first in which I committed to riding through the winter. I did three pouring rain rides, loved it almost more than summer and then pdx returned to sunshine and I’ve kept going. I don’t think it’s snot layering properly or planning the best, it’s about committing and just waking up to do it. The rest follows and hopefully will be fine tune w d and learned. This winter, I ride!

  19. armybikerider

    Here in Northern TN it really doesn’t get that cold. I’ll ride into the mid-20’s and rarely does it get that low, if it does it’s only for a day or so and then I’ll ride the rollers. Wet roads keep me inside too.

    I don’t race, or “train.” Every ride is for the pure enjoyment of it or for whatever the psyche might need at that particular time.

    I hale from South Texas and much prefer the heat. Hopefully when I retire next year, I’ll get back there permanently.

  20. Jason D @ IS

    It’s just now getting to the best part of the year here in Phoenix for riding. I love to ride in the fall, earlier in the morning when it’s in the 60’s. It can get a little cold with the wind, but it’s worth the ride.

    Great pictures in this post by the way. Just as good if not better than what we see here in AZ very early in the morning which is some of the best sunrises in the country.

  21. Aaron

    The one day I was riding home from work a couple or three winters ago and it started to hail – straight down – that hurt as the pills of ice bounced off my skull in between the slats of my helmet. Up until that point, I thought there was no such thing as bad weather, just being poorly dressed for it. After all, that’s why they make all those super technical fabrics.

    Because I commute to work by bicycle every day, I’m not really riding for a work out (although it’s a great side benefit). If it’s raining, I don rain gear, slap the fender on. I keep dry clothes at work (in a converted steel file cabinet – think old, tall as me, gray, colored cold like the weather). Mental note, pack a towel in to work to dry off now while the weather is still fantastic for riding.

    Like others on this thread, the speed goes down in favor of safety and just getting to work. And, each ride is a challenge, not as dramatic as Shackleton faced on his voyage across the Antarctic straits to save his men. Even so, at least we can carve out a slice of adventure once or twice a day, and feel like on notch can be carved onto the achievement post. Huddled around a warm dinner table with the family, the gleam in your eye hints that, unlike the sloths in their hermetically sealed vehicles, you have once again conquered the elements.

  22. vrqnate

    This is the time of year I stop riding consistently. I look outside right now and know that in 2 months I would give anything for a 45-50 degree day, but with the memory of riding in perfect 75 degree weather, it just feels too cold. Besides, there are trees to trim, leaves to rake and any number of projects I put off all summer that have to get completed before the snow flies. Then I start craving to ride. I’m desperate enough that I’ll wear whatever I have to.

  23. oldschoolzeus

    Lack of daylight reduces my riding this time of year! Weekends draw me out to play! Hit the rollers or trainer a couple of times during the week to maintain!
    When icy roads come its trainer and weekend rides at the LBS on their computer controlled setup!

  24. Adam Johnson

    I ride all year round here in Western NC. It’s pretty mild in the winter in terms of snow, but we get some relatively cold temps for the southeast. I also do a lot of night MTB rides in the cold. One trick I’ve learned is to wear latex gloves under my winter gloves. They don’t breathe, but after the glove fills up with sweat it insulates much like a wetsuit. Love this time of year!

  25. Winky

    Commute year round here in Vancouver, BC. It’s not really possible to stay dry on many days, so I just concentrate on dressing warmly enough. There are a few frost/snow days each year that I’ll skip, but otherwise the 240km per week I get in is a great winter base, even if I do nothing much else.

  26. Todd

    The day I pack it in for the winter, is the day I should just “pack it in” for good. Keeps me young and appreciative of the little things in life. That which doesn’t kill me makes me stranger. Yes, stranger.

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