Archive for December, 2009

Secrets of Winter Cycling, Base Layers and Perspiration Management

There is no getting around it, no matter how expensive your gear is. Winter cycling is about perspiration, and how you manage the moisture. When exercising hard it’s inevitable, you’re going to sweat. Perspiration is being burned off by the heat of your body, it’s vaporized, like steam, and needs to travel away from you skin before it cools and condenses to water droplet form. The first layer of clothes that is in direct contact with your skin is responsible for repelling the chill. That chill is the feeling of your skin’s surface cooling as the moisture leaves it. Sweat should be wicked away from the skin’s surface by capillary action in the base layer’s fabric, so that evaporative cooling is minimized.

I find the quality of your base layer really comes into play at about 5 degrees Celsius to -15 degrees Celsius. I’ll use a single polyester jersey, preferably long sleeve. Few of them are actual “cycling jerseys”, and are more general sports wicking tops. I prefer the ones with a full neck zip, as they mate up to my balaclava better than the crew neck style. Polyesters won’t absorb moisture, they’ll “wick” to transport it through to the next breathable layer where is can be vented. It’s important that your base layers have a clinging fit, so that your skin is always in contact with the fabric therefore eliminating any air pockets.

Light to heavy weight polyester jerseys

In colder weather, -20c.  degrees and lower I’ll double up on the base layers to increase the wicking power. Two jerseys the finer knit one first. I’ll usually be dressed for cooler weather all around, so there is a better chance that I’ll start sweating if I have to go indoors or climb some snow hills.

Even at relatively warm winter temperature, a base long underwear layer is a must. Synthetic boxer briefs will give you the support and wicking you need to keep dry. Even padded cycling shorts will do the trick, but tend to absorb moisture in the chamois.

Full synthetic boxer briefs

Poly tights or mid weight long undies over synthetic briefs will move the moisture away from your legs and groin. Depending on how cold it is I will wear either waffle knit thermal or wicking long underwear. In extreme cold I’ll layer with both.

DC Sports thermal long underwear

A touque or “snow cap” as the Americans would put it, is a must have item at freezing temperatures. A base ball cap simply will not do. I prefer a fleece lined polyester variety, as they dry quickly and are not bulky so they fit under a helmet quite easily. Make sure you get one that offers good ear protection, you’ll thank me later.

MEC fleece lined touque

I wear a thin lightweight fleece balaclava on all rides under -5 degrees. It’s the Outdoor Research “Ninjaclava” Balaclava. I don’t really need it on my face until -10 -15 degrees, but it sure helps to block the wind draft around your neck no matter what the conditions. Just make sure you pull it off before you go to the bank to make a deposit!

Outdoor Research Ninjaclava

A truly great piece of gear for all outdoor sports in cooler zones. After -30 degrees look for something a little heavier like a wind blocking fleece balaclava, it won’t breath as well but will stop the wind chills.

In winter cycling, the base layer concept should apply to your hands and feet as they are a source of a lot of perspiration. Polypropylene or better liners are must. Dirt cheap, 100% synthetic.  If you’ve ever had to change a flat in sub zero temperatures, you’ll definitely appreciate the dexterity that you have while still being protected from the icy cold of the rims. You can’t change a tire with with mitts or gloves on. But you can with a thin liner.

Polypropylene glove liners

Get something cheap and disposable so that you won’t feel bad when you shred them. Even if you just carry them as emergency gloves, its good insurance..

As a base layer, polypro liners for your feet make a lot of sense too. I prefer something more like WigWam’s Gobe liners, as they are really gentle on bare feet, and move moisture very well.

Wigwam’s Gobe sock liners

If your using a vapor barrier like plastic bags or VB socks, remember to put on the liners first. Vapor barrier second. Then put on your insulation. Your feet will feel way less clammy wearing the liner first. The vapor barrier will prevent your perspiration from soaking your insulating layer and will keep your feet warmer if you’re outside for extended periods.

Wool Theorists

Where’s the socks?

The “Wool Theorists” out there will swear by wool, but I prefer polyester or polypropylene. Don’t even mention cotton…

Yep, I said it. I agree that wool stays warm when it’s wet, but as a base layer the whole goal is to move the moisture outward, not absorb and trap it. For me wool can be a chore to care for as it can stretch and shrink depending on how you wash it. I have washed my synthetic jerseys hundreds of times with virtually no visible changes to the fabric, no piling, no fading. There are some newer “smart wools” on the market that retain their shape, but are too delicate for me to wear. They are made mostly of synthetics anyway. I take my polyester jerseys out of  the regular laundry and hang them to dry. Ready to commute in a couple hours. Have you ever tried to dry a wool sweater?

I have one exception, and that is for socks. The insulating qualities of wet wool work well for that application, since the perspiration is trapped in your boot and cannot be vented.

There are actually quite a few designer “bike suits” on the market that may be quite good if you can afford them. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get out there and ride. Just keep the idea of synthetics and moisture wicking in mind as you shop for a base layer. In fact most of your summer riding gear will make a great base layer for winter, so don’t feel as though you need to go out and get winter specific base layers.

Other than adding a second jersey, I don’t change what I wear as a base layer regardless of how cold it gets out there. Simply ensure that you have good coverage from head to toe. The base layer is there to move moisture and protect against the chill of evaporative cooling.

Even at relatively warm winter temperature, a base long underwear layer is a must. Poly tighs or midweight long undies over sysnthetic breifs will move the moisture away from your legs and groin. A pair of breathable, lighweight nylon pants will dry off quickly in the wind as you ride. The’re are actually quite a few designer “bike suits” at this level that may be quite good if you can afford them. But you don’t need a lot of money to get out there for a ride. Just keep the idea of sythnthetics and moisture wicking in mind as you shop.

Secrets of Winter Cycling, Introduction

Why Winter Cycling?sein river cycling

Cycling in sub-zero temperatures? “You must be crazy!” Any one whose ever rode their bike in the winter is sure to have heard this from some one. When people ask “why would you ride your bike in this weather?”. I have a few answers for them. First off, yeah I’m a little bit crazy, but remember, people do all kinds of winter sports. Imagine commuting to work every day on your snow board or hockey skates. Imagine going to get grocery’s by cross country skis, or tobogganing with your friends on the weekend? How fun would that be right?

Here in Winnipeg most people are content to hibernate in their homes all winter, only leaving the cozy couch to bundle up, pray that their cars will start, then spend 15 minutes practicing their Lamaze breathing, shivering as the frozen auto warms up. This includes most cyclist from “pros” to fair weather cyclists. Even the local bike shops may have only one or two brave souls who will gear up in ride in the ice and snow, if any.

If you’re environmentally conscious you’ll be interested to know that driving your car in the winter is up to 50% more polluting than driving in the summer. The engine is always running a rich fuel to air ratio because of the higher density of cold air. The extra time it takes to get anywhere is testament to that. Think about it? You warm up the car at high idle for 10+ minutes every time you decide to drive. The oil is frozen solid in the equally frozen engine block creating mass friction, and sucking down fuel. Traffic is most certainly slower as ice and snow reduce your traction in braking and acceleration. The catalytic converter isn’t working until the engine reaches running temperature, so until then, the exhaust is spewing out of the tail pipes untreated. I won’t even go into your odds of getting into a fender bender compared to summer. Besides there is great bike parking at the unused bike racks!

There are many reasons why you might want to get out there and ride. Winter cycling allows you to enjoy your favorite sport year round. For a lot of people winter is the off season. A time to increase you BMI, and catch up on all the latest snacks and sit-coms you’ve been missing during the training season. Come spring most cyclists will regret this. Trust me. In the spring you’ll see all kinds of cyclists hitting the streets as clumsy and weak as a new born fawn. Come spring, winter cycling will have helped you become the predator, the wolf, eager eat any gear skipping slow moving commuters. Seriously though, winter cycling will ensure that you stay fit through out the off season, and will give you time to perfect your technique, without having to train for any specific event.

Speaking of technique, winter riding will increase your sense of balance as you navigate rutted ice and take slick frosty corners knowing full well that wipe out is closer than ever. Of course the crashing is less daunting when you have layers of insulation and end up barreling into a 3 foot deep snow drift. Nearly every day the course or route will change as snow drifts form, roads are plowed, (or not plowed) creating new features to play on.

Riding rollers, or spinning endless circles at the local gym gets old pretty quick and you will soon lust for terrain, scenery and challenge. Outside your strength and endurance will increase by leaps and bounds as rolling resistance is increased due to frozen bearings, studded tires, deep snow or having to carry your 50 pounds of winter beater bike up stairs and to the top of snow hills. Just think about how easy riding in the warm summer rain or riding into a relentless headwind will be once you’ve braved your first winter of riding!

Winter cycling requires a paradigm shift in thinking. Winter cycling is not about racing, or stunting (well it can be) but more about survival. The most important thing to remember is to dress for the conditions. And always pack an extra layer in case you have to stop for any extended amount of time. A lofty vest is perfect, made of down, or synthetics like primaloft is great if cases of bike failure. You want to be comfortable, well at least mildly comfortable? With the temperatures and wind chills you have to deal with, winter cycling is closer to mountaineering than any other sports I can think of, well at least in Canada. In fact I have to laugh at what bike companies call winter cycling gear. The could learn a lot from mountain climbing crowd.

So get out there and get some fresh air! I grow tired of breathing the same recirculated air in the home and work place. In the next articles I’ll go into my philosophy of winter riding, clothing and gear so that you too can get out there and be one of those crazy guys who rides his bike all year round.

PS: don’t forget a thermos of hot chocolate!


Panaracer RiBMo Road Slick By Pannasonic

I mounted the Panaracer RiBMo  26″X 1.50″ on a set of Ryno Lite rims with Deore hubs. I got the folding version and didn’t require a set of tire irons to get them on the rims. Sweet. I had so many flats with the previous set of rubber that it was time for a change.

First things first. RiBMo stands for “ride bicycle more” as clearly stated on the sidewall. It’s not some Japanese technical acronym to describe the technology invested in the tire as you would have thought. From a marketing stand point, it’s just weird.

The first thing that strikes out at you is the shape of the contact patch. The center, or the rib? Is literally two CM wide. This creates much less rolling resistance compared to a comparable slick.

The RiBMo’s unique shape is nearly a complete slick with mild siping similar to that of motorcycle slicks. The rest of the tread doesn’t even make contact with the road surface until the tire has to absorb a bump, or your carving in to a turn. The RiBMo’s are nearly silent for such a wide tire.

Not to jinx myself but I have never had a flat. It must be Panaracer’s new “protex” lining. According to their website here , the Protex is 3x time stronger that existing Kevlar technologies. I have about 3500-4000 km on these tire now, they show very little wear.

Considering that I have taken these tires off roading on too many occasions, driven through glass littered construction sites, broken concrete, curbs, drops you name it. They have taken a beating. I’m a heavier rider at 200 pounds, and usually commute with another 20 or so pounds in the pannier.I run them at 80psi, which is the max rating according to the sidewall. I can really tell the difference if they are running low, even at 70 PSI you don’t get the full feeling of acceleration they are capable of, but the ride softens up considerably.

How to describe the feel of the tire. It pretty subjective, but all I can say is it feel almost like riding on a very stiff foam. Panaracer calls this the “mile cruncher compound”. They claim it is more durable than their competitors hard casing tire without the harsh ride. It’s hard to tell if i’ve worn any flat spots in them from emergency braking.

My only concern is how long the center rib will stay pronounced. After so many kilometers the rear tire only appears slightly more worn that the front.

In Canada these tires retail for well over 60$ a piece. Pricey considering the dollar has been nearly at par for a couple of years now. US pricing varies from  33$ at Jenson USA, to 42$ and up at REI and other cycling specialty shops.

All in all I can with certainty that I love these tire. The puncture resistance and low rolling resistance has me sold. They weigh in at a modest 440 grams even less in the skinnier version which makes them easy to spin up.  At 4000km they show no signs of throwing in the towel and I anticipate getting at least two full seasons of use out of the pair.

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