Cold Weather Disaster Rides

This is a throw-back article from the Fall, but it definitely applies to our "Spring" as well. As I said for the sake of this article, I break cold weather rides down into one of three categories:

1. You are fully prepared for the weather. Toasty. Hot, even! This ride is completely enjoyable. There you are, laughing at all the cars as they roll by. "Ha-ha-ha. I'm having the time of my toasty life!"
2. You are not quite prepared for a weather change. You experience a little bit of pain, but you're still amused. You feel quite proud of yourself for escaping an even worser fate, but happy that you dared riding outside at ALL!! This category poses little chance of death.
3. You are FULLY unprepared. Almost ridiculously so. Whether it's a rapid dip in the temperature or an onslaught of moisture, it doesn't really matter. At this point your limbs are stiff, you are on the verge of falling asleep on your bike and falling into a snow bank. This ride is quite reckless. Harrowing with a high death-factor. You definitely have frost bite. And you will show your friends and family members your fingers and toes later asking, "That's frost bite, right? RIGHT?!"


After getting sunburned at Sunday's downright balmy Zombie Cross, I was almost pleased to wake up to Halloween-like weather on Monday. I couldn't WAIT, in fact, to get out for a ride. I was envisioning crossing the train tracks in Golden next to Coors like Ichabod Crane crossing the bridge in Sleepy Hollow. Little did I know that I was in for a Category 2 ride.

Here's how my afternoon went down:

  • 1 p.m. I heckle a friend over facebook that said "it was too cold to ride." "That's stupid. it's not even cold. And even if it was, I love riding in the cold."
  • 1:45 p.m. I start out on a ride. Whistling. Happy as a clam.
  • 1:50 p.m. It begins to rain.
  • 2:00 p.m. I start whimpering.
  • 2:05 p.m. I bunch my hands up into fists inside my gloves like little penguin flippers. I ride resting my flippers on top of my bars. This of course meant that I couldn't shift, but no matter.
  • 2:10-3:10 I had a wet, soggy, cold category 2 ride. Not quite prepared, but at least Death was not sucking my wheel.

Luckily I had several key items:

  • Booties. I never underestimate how cold my feet can get.
  • A fleecy-lined skinsuit (I fancy the ones from Castelli. I'm not joking. It's way better than seventeen layers if I'm doing a short cold ride. That plus my...
  • Cold weather jacket (also Castelli). High neck, long arms. Toasty.
  • A hat. A good hat over my ears, and fuzzy on my head (Castelli wins again). I got it at a Pete Webber/Tim Johnson Cx camp last summer. Evvvvvvveryone else was choosing free socks. Suckers. I knew what was coming. Thank you, Pete.
  • A neck gator. My favorite is my blue and white snowflake patterned Pandana from Paceline Products. It's stretchy. I can pull it up and down. I can breathe through it. It doesn't strangle me if the weather does happen to get a bit warmer.
  • Mad Alchemy embrocation, Uber-secret coffee blend. I put this on my knees and toes and I should have put it on my fingers.

That last part. My fingers. My cold, dead fingers. Years of poor glove choices have caused my fingers to cry out in pain at any temps below 55 degrees. They even got cold and went a creepy-white at Water World this summer, causing my kids and husband to shriek back in horror while waiting in line.

I've yet to find the perfect set of gloves, mittens, bar muffler, etc. I'm on the verge though, with a double-up system. Castelli Donna Windstopper gloves under some Mountain Hardwear ski mittens. This seems to do the trick, but ONLY if I have them with me. On this particular stage 3 category ride I did not.

Now, I'd love a quick and dirty version of your category 3 ride. Totally unprepared. Near death. What did you do? How did you survive? What one piece of gear do you swear by so you will never repeat a category 3 ride ever again? And now if you'll excuse me, I must go wrap my tree branch fingers around a hot cup of coffee. I should also probably take off that Pandana.

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6 Comments

Category three rides

I've had two rides like this. One was a mountain bike ride where we were 7 miles of singletrack away from the car in the backwoods of Virginia on a pretty iffy day with dark clouds. Being a new rider, I didn't recognize the now-familiar feel of a flat back tire. As a result, my back tire tacoed. Right then, a massive thunderstorm hit with lightning and the whole bit. My husband threw his bike at me, I lowered the seat to almost comical levels and raged down the mountain with him running my bike in on his back.

Second, same mountain, but a much colder ride with friends. We were all dressed for the weather, until one person got a flat. Fixed and on our way, chilled but fine. Then, another person. Slower fix due to cold fingers and much colder weather and feel. Finally, one last person got a flat and we couldn't get the da*& tubeless tire off the rim. Thirty minutes later, all of us frozen solid, it was fixed, but the 8 mile downhill to the car was anything but pleasant.

Through all these experiences, I learned that dressing for the weather is fine and dandy but the combination of bad weather and mechanicals can really get you in trouble.

I've had two near-#3 rides

I've had two near-#3 rides this past year, both of which involved a decision to go longer when I should have known better. Inevitably, each time within 10 minutes of making that fateful decision the temp dropped from 43° to 33°, it started to rain, then sleet, then snow. It's was all good until my gloves and booties soaked through, then went rapidly downhill from there. On the first ride I, along with a handful of friends, had to stop short and call for rides as hypothermia was imminent. One the second ride, solo, I was smart enough to have brought a very thin jacket (an emergency 4th layer) which, despite not being able to feel my feet, bolstered me for the last 45 minutes of hard tempo to home. Now I think if I'm planning a long ride anytime between Oct-Apr and there's even a little bit of rain forecasted, it's probably smart to bring along some neoprene gloves and will probably take Dejan's suggestion about the baggies for the feet. Cheap insurance that will hopefully keep the "this is hardcore" ride from crossing over to the "I think I'm going to die" ride yet again.

I've had a few near death

I've had a few near death experiences but by far the closest was the day soon after I'd moved here from the midwest, had NO clue what "mountain weather" could entail, and took off with a couple of friends for a P2P excursion with only a set of arm warmers and vest as backup. It was April, but it was 80º on the plains, there's no WAY anything bad could happen, right? By the time we got to Raymond, it was looking threatening, and we should have turned back but we were ignorant and thought "we're nearly at the top of the climb, we'll just coast into Ward, right? yeah. 45 minutes later it started sleeting sideways and lightning (?!) and we finally decided to bail. Thankfully a local took pity on us and let us toss our bikes in the back of his pickup and we hitched to Ward where we cowered in the community center until someone came and got us. By the time our ride arrived there were 3" of snow on the ground and it was rapidly accumulating. I have never been that cold in my entire life.

Mt. Evans.

Mt. Evans.
Problem: Listened to the husband when he said, "It'll be fine! Just go really fast and you'll miss the rain/hail."
Realized there was a problem shortly after saying, "Huh. Boy. Sky sure looks dark all of a sudden. Did it just get cold, or is that me?
Coped with the harrowing descent by: drawing up divorce papers in my head. Didn't speak to said husband for a few days afterward, but remained married because fingers didn't thaw fast enough to sign divorce papers.