The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 4: Cold Weather Riding

Volume 4: The Sprinter’s Guide to Cold Weather Riding “I love to ride – as long as it is sunny, downhill and with a tailwind” – anonymous sprinter

Today in Chicago it was 53 degrees when I left work… and windy… and cloudy. Despite my bike being in the trunk and a reasonable departure time from work, I went straight home. No ride.

Machismo aside, lets face it, when it comes to riding in poor weather, sprinters are pansies. Here’s one sprinter’s guide to riding in less-than-optimal weather organized by temperature:

  • <20 degrees = no riding. I hate balaclavas and other than using chemical heating pads I’ve not found shoe insulators that would keep my toes warm below 20... in the sun. Spin bike in the basement here I come. Clothes: bike shorts, no shirt in the 50 degree basement
  • 20-32 degrees: Must be both of the following: sunny and no wind
  • Clothes: two cycling caps – one w/ ear covers, warm “3 finger” gloves, wicking t-shirt, thin under-armour type long underwear – tops and bottoms, full heavy bibs and heavy long sleeve jersey. Start w/ windbreaker and remove after 20 minutes.
  • 32 – 43 degrees: Must be at least one of the following – either sunny, or no wind
  • Clothes: Same as above if either cloudy or windy. If sunny and calm, same as above but no vest, only one hat, and no t-shirt.
  • 44 – 55 degrees: Can be cloudy and windy but I won’t like itClothes: Same as above if both cloudy or windy. If sunny and calm, knickers and long sleeve jersey, hat and light gloves. Remove hat after 20 minutes.
  • 55+ degrees: Riding in most conditions… except rain

Rain Rules: Never start a ride when it is raining. Turn around if it rains in the first 5 minutes. However, once warmed up, continue riding regardless of conditions (even thunderstorms, hail, tornados). For racing, if rain is 100% assured, just don’t go. If traveling less than 45 minutes, don’t register if it starts raining – go home. Otherwise, if you’ve traveled more than 45 minutes, or if it starts after you’ve registered, (grudgingly) race in the rain and complain bitterly after...

Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to bike maintenance

Walden Race Rule #3: Win it at the line!

Race Rule #3: Walden says: “Win it at the line!” 

Translation: in a sprint finish, master the timing required to come around or just get caught at the finish line.

The Science:

1) As the level of competition increases - from local to state to national to international, the differences in abilities between riders becomes more compressed, and winning by a huge margin in the sprint becomes less of an option. This is where strategy and skill replace the minute differences in ability. By mastering the 'surge to the line' technique using the draft to its maximal effectiveness, a racer with less endurance or with less sprint horsepower can make up for those weaknesses, and maximize their strengths using this technique.

2) Gauging the distance to the line, the movements within the pack, and knowing which wheel to follow - this is the science of this rule.

The Art:

1)       Learn to read the race patterns - and know exactly where to be in the pack to avoid the to antithesis to "finish at the line" which are a) being hung out to dry - out front to early fighting the wind or b) getting caught in the back - no place to go, energy available with no outlet

2)       Intuitively understand how corners, wind, gradient (uphill/downhill), heat, and race speed combine with the twitching mass of riders in the pack to create final sprint conditions. In one race it might be a single file leadout string where being in 3rd place with a lap to go is the winning strategy. In another, being 20th and following the pending surges might be the right position.

3) The best way to predict a sprint finish other than real time intuition, is to participate in prime sprints. I usually surf the prime sprints (I rarely contest them) in order to gain more information around how the sprint will play out. No guarantee that if the prime sprint surged on the right that the final sprint will as well, but odds are probably 60/40...

This race rule is much more art than science ultimately requires experience to develop. Back when I was racing on the 7-11 team, my teammates used to try to set up leadouts for the sprint finish and I found time and again that I could read the race better than I could utilize their leadouts and I usually abandoned the leadouts (much to their chagrin).