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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Winter months should not necessarily be the end to outdoor cycling in Memphis

Winter months should not necessarily be the end to outdoor cycling in Memphis
By:  Michael Lander
The Memphis area doesn't usually see much snow accumulation, but when it does
snow, even that doesn't deter some of the die-hard cycling enthusiasts from getting
out and riding in it.
With a cold, brisk wind hitting their faces, and the occasional tingling sensation of cold fingers and toes, there are some who do not let winter stop them from doing one of things that they love to do most.

The winter months are a time of shorter hours of daylight, colder temperatures, and for all, but a few, it usually means a lot more time spent inside than out.

Bike riding in the winter months in Memphis may sometimes seem like a true test of endurance, leading some to believe that some cyclists possess an extraordinarily high tolerance for cold weather than most Memphians otherwise seem to have.

These cyclists often earn the respect and admiration from those who want to ride in the winter months, but who just don't think that they could possibly tolerate a bike ride when it feels like they are spending that time in a walk-in freezer.

For these other cyclists, winter is the time when outside bike rides often trail off, and come to an end, and the indoor stationary bike or trainer gets the time and attention that it didn't otherwise get for most of the spring, summer, and fall.

As most avid cyclists would readily concede, however, the indoor bikes and trainers are barely an adequate substitute for the level of workout that they get, and the enjoyment that they experience, from actually being outside and riding.

Winter doesn't stop everyone from venturing out and riding.  After riding several hours on
the trails at the Wolf River Greenway, and Yssac Ramirez, (on the left) and
Jordan Reifler, (on the right), call it a day and head back to their cars.

Even though riding a bike throughout the winter months does present its own unique set of challenges, it might be well worth some serious consideration for those who might be interested in having an alternative to that indoor bike.

As those who ride throughout the winter will tell you, getting acclimated to the cold is certainly a part of it, but it is also a matter of preparation and dressing appropriately in winter weather clothing too.  This also includes dressing in one or more layers with a non-absorbent base layer next to the skin which helps to repel and whisk the sweat away from the body.

The inner base layer should be made of any synthetic whisking fiber and you should avoid anything made of cotton since it just absorbs sweat and keeps it next to your skin. 

The layering is absolutely essential in helping to trap a certain amount of body heat and keeping your body at a temperature that you are comfortable enough with.  As important as it is to do this though, it is equally important not to overdress either since that will cause your body to overheat, to sweat more, and to quickly make you feel much colder whenever you have to stop moving. 

It may take several rides to see just how many layers that you feel best with and you may require less as you become accustomed to the cold and whenever you increase the intensity level on your bike ride.

For outer wear, a light wind or waterproof jacket should be sufficient and, ideally, one that will allow excessive body heat to escape.  The jacket you choose should accommodate either cold and wet or cold and dry conditions.  When it is cold and wet, it is good to have a jacket that has vents with zippers on it.  When it is cold and dry, a soft-shelled jacket that allows wind to penetrate is best since it will help to counter-act the effects of your body heat.

For the head, a helmet with a liner and or a thin knit cap will help you to retain some body heat.  A balaclava (or ski mask) will help to keep your head and face warm and, if you prefer, it can be pulled down over the neck instead.

For the fingers, it is good to have a pair of well-insulated, foam padded gloves for the palms that are waterproof, that provide an adequate grip, and that have the flexibility to allow you to change gears and to squeeze the brakes.  A hybrid glove with a mitten design is especially good for helping to keep your fingers warm and a gauntlet length will cover part of your wrists and fit over or under the cuffs of your jacket.

For the toes, it is a good idea to have some warm socks (multiple pairs, if possible) so that they can remain as warm and comfortable as possible.  Toe covers and booties (socks that fit over your shoes) will provide additional warmth for your feet.

One other thing to consider when riding during the winter months is to keep a bike in really good condition with frequent maintenance and cleaning, so that everything remains in good working order.  Always remove sand, dirt, salt, or other debris that may have accumulated on a bike with special attention given to the chain and to the brakes.  Periodic checks of other parts of the bike, like the cassette and the rear derailleur, should also be done as well.

Braving the cold wind and 30-degree temperatures are Elizabeth Owen, her husband,
Curt, and his brother, Kevin.  They decided to take a late Saturday afternoon bike ride
from the Wolf River Greenway to Shelby Farms and back.  They joined about a dozen
other cyclists who also chose to ride in spite of the cold temperatures.

Because of less daylight hours in the winter, bikes should also be equipped with lights and reflectors for added safety.  Thick tires, with a sufficient  tread are definitely recommended and they should be under-inflated, with a little less pressure than normal.  This will put more of the tire on the surface of the road and should provide for better traction.

Throughout most of the winter months, the Memphis area is usually spared a significant accumulation of snow and ice so it isn't often a factor that cyclists typically have to contend with.

On those rare occasions when cyclists do encounter this type of weather, however, they should take some precautions and be prepared for whatever conditions that they might face.  This means not only have a bike that is ready and equipped for winter weather, with things like studded tires, but also allowing for more time to ride slower, trying to avoid riding where you cannot see the road surface, and being especially cautious on roads that have not been cleared, treated, or that have had very little, if any, traffic on them.

Finally, it is also important, whenever you ride out in cold weather, to eat enough in order to provide sufficient fuel for your body and to stay hydrated.  With the cooler temperatures, it is often easy to overlook this, but you are always at risk of dehydration whenever you sweat.  Also, since the air is usually drier during the winter, you are much more likely to lose moisture simply through breathing alone.

By just following these few simple steps, and by just dressing properly for the colder weather conditions, there is no reason that Memphis-area cyclists should always have to settle for just riding on an indoor bike when they can ride outdoors throughout most of the winter instead.

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