If I stop moving, I might not be able to start again…
Ever heard of the Wim Hof method?
The Wim Hof method consists of a meditation practice and some specific breathing exercises that let your body withstand extreme cold. People who practice the Wim Hof method go hiking in the middle of winter in bathing suits, and regularly meditate out in the open when temperatures drop to well below freezing.
Lots of people do this without a new-agey practice. Marines and coast guard rescuers subject themselves to ridiculously cold temperatures to keep themselves alert and able-bodied in extreme circumstances. And there are plenty of examples of cultures on the very edges of the world’s hemispheres; it stands to reason that living above the arctic circle takes a certain level of physical adjustment.
Far be it from me to claim any clairvoyant connection to my own temperature control, but spending as much time as I do outside in the winter definitely spins my internal thermostat. This week, temperatures finally dipped below exposed skin comfort. The forest is frozen, too; my friend Rob and I noticed all the ferns keel over and die today. It’s officially winter, even if the calendar doesn’t know it yet.
I spent all day today on the bike. Daylight is a precious commodity, so I used as much of it as I could, braving temperatures skirting 20ºF. In the summer, riding a bike can be a relief because you’ve got a constant breeze; in the winter, that same wind sucks the life out of you. In the winter, you have to push against gravity, aerodynamics, and the sapping fatigue of extreme cold, dragging on your ability to climb like a boat anchor.
Here are a few of my tips for cycling when the ferns keel over and die:
- Start cold and ride to warm up. If you start sweating on your first hill, you’ll regret your layers for the rest of the ride because that cold, clammy feeling is the worst and it never leaves you.
- Block the wind. A simple wind shell and windproof tights go further than three layers of insulation. If you have a good wind shell, you don’t need much under it.
- Don’t restrict yourself. Let me break this into two categories:
- Don’t wear too many gloves or too many socks. If you restrict your blood flow, you won’t warm up. Your winter shoes often need to be a full size larger to accommodate, and I always buy XL mittens even though I’m a large.
- Don’t pack too tightly. Needing to stuff a backpack or a bikepacking bag until it forms a singularity is a no-go in the winter. Keep everything loose so packing up with gloves on isn’t a chore.
- Get used to it. Keep riding, every day. Even when you’re not riding, make it a point to go out with a light jacket so your body feels cold. The more time you spend cold, the easier it’ll be to be cold.
Today’s ride was absolutely bitter cold, and absolutely beautiful. I had on a wool balaclava and a wool base layer, plus my wool vest. My outerwear consisted of windproof tights and jacket, and double-layered wool gloves with wool socks and MTB shoes. My toes and fingers got cold because I wasn’t blocking the wind, but I kept my heat up with a quick pace for about 30 miles. Next ride, I’ll wear better-equipped shoes and I’ll break out my rain shell mitts for a little boost in warmth. But, overall, I was comfortable and just absolutely stoked to spend the day riding.
I’m also really pleased with how the new Nature Boy is breaking in. With the Nitto R10 rear rack and Swift Industries Zeitgiest seat bag, I’ve got my “portage” back and I can pack an insulated jacket without carrying a backpack. My new framebag from Rogue Panda Designs really reflects how Nick has evolved his work over time. This bag is reinforced on the drive-side to prevent pedal strikes and uses one-piece metal roll-top buckles; it’s definitely a big step up from off-the-shelf picks from big manufacturers. I’ll come back with a full review after I’ve put some miles down with it, but my Pugsley framebag has survived a straight year of abuse without a hint of wear.
The Nature Boy is awesome. I’m definitely using this “race” bike in an unconventional way, but the soft bags, Klamper brakes, sturdy wheels and wide tires make this the perfect vessel for exploring these snowmobile trails and quiet mountain roads. It’s an adventure bike, and definitely shows where a good steel frame can take you.
We’re braving sub-20º’s tonight and going camping, so expect some more content this weekend!