Winter Biking: An Extreme Joy

By: Aaron Joseph. If you really like exercise and your choice is outdoor biking, there is nothing more extreme then winter riding. With sub-freezing temperature and the beauty of a snow-white coated terrain, the otherworldly realism is place for a winter adventure.

I begin my prep for a sub-freezing bike ride with a drink, nothing specific, but cold weather is much more demanding on hydration than you would think. Of course, I bring along bottled water as well.

Next its suit-up time. Thermals over the usual’s, 2 pairs under 20 degrees, then the usual sweats, and 2 pairs of tube socks. I don’t worry about the extra weight or cumbersomeness of the added clothing, as it adds to the strenuousness and overall dimension of the outing. Know that regardless of the great shape you may be in, your outdoor sub-freezing excursion will be about half as long as your usual outing. It’s simply twice as strenuous on the body, at least.

Cold air contains fewer molecules; they spin slower, the colder the air, the fewer and slower. That is why there is no humidity in cold air, but briefly appears as vapor when hot air is applied and then settles and adheres to a warmer surface as moisture. (In hot weather, that vapor cannot be seen, but rather is contained in the air as humidity.) There is less oxygen in cold air as well. Your body reacts accordingly and, well, exerts itself far more to compensate, hence real exercise. You run out of breath faster, and after a shorter-while your mussels begin to strain and ache (not long term). If this is your first time on such a ride, pace yourself. There is nothing wrong with you, it’s simply just the lack of abundant oxygen your body is used to and craves for during exercise. I deal with it by applying less strain, and well, shorter rides.

I personally don’t apply upper thermal wear or wicked (special sweat absorbing/expelling cloth) clothing. I go with the usual undershirt, Tzitzes, and tee-shirt for starters. Regardless of the under 50 degree temperature, I personally wear 2 hooded, zip-up sweaters and a lightweight breathing, waterproof windbreaker; this does a phenomenal job at keeping all the wind out, and hence all of the cold. Somewhere in the mesh of zippers, I wear an inner-scar folding over my chest, and during sub-freezing weather, a ski mask. Also necessary is an outer elastic scarf that fits over my neck up to whatever remains exposed by the ski mask. I then pull 1 hood over the entire headgear apparatus and do my best to shove a helmet over it all. (My second hood remains bunched up behind my neck as an added protection, and used in case my first hood gets wet, which in cold weather is dangerous.)

In sub-degree weather, a pair of goggles or ski-glasses is imperative, as wind combined with your own motion can create a minus-zero wind shear that will freeze your tears on your eyes, and boy does it sting. Did I leave out gloves? Under 20 degrees and you may need 2 pairs. I find gloves necessary in less than 55 degrees.

Now the fun begins. The beauty of your frozen surroundings during the winter is enhanced by the unusual appearance of the landscape. Frozen lakes and streams, icicles dangling from trees and snowscaped surroundings all add to the unusual and refreshing panorama. The air while cold is ever clean, (although car-exhaust or a wood burning fire is very detectable from long distances. Sounds are more muted in cold air, and this is besides everything covering your ears. Be careful on that note, as approaching vehicles don’t seem as loud.

Biking through Pine Park may allow you to observe deer who seem dismayed that you would ‘dare’ venture out biking on a day like today, if you get close enough you may even see the faint glimmer or respect in their eyes! Biking around the lake can be challenging, and although I haven’t seen them in a while, but there used to be ice-fishermen that seemed perpetually frozen in place awaiting their catch. Don’t ever go out on ice it is suicidal- even if you do see those fishermen- it is a freeze mirage. (If you C’V see someone in trouble on frozen bodies of water, call Hatzolah and 911.) It is ever relaxing to peddle through snowcapped Ocean County Park and watch those squirrels and brave ducks as you share the sounds of silence.

Pedestrian traffic is not a concern in sub-freezing weather. Always have a phone with you, as assistance if necessary in such cold weather, constitutes an emergency. After a few minutes of biking, you will be sweated-up, and if unable to continue and away from shelter, you need help to get out of the cold. Naturally try to curtail any stops to the briefest amount of time, and like swimming in a cold swimming pool, biking will generate body-heat that will allow you to adapt to the cold, and keep you warm. By the way, during the initial few minutes, the cold air may sting your nostrils.

Prepare your route beforehand, perhaps with a drive through to make sure that conditions are viable for a bike through. Biking on more than a half an inch of soft snow is as if biking on sand, and is difficult to impossible, and is always slippery. Ice of any kind is downright dangerous and is to be avoided. If forced onto a patch, don’t peddle, and concentrate on balance and steering. If going out after dark, wear reflective clothing and a reflector. Flashing lights on you or your bike make you even more visible. Use caution, and always assume others don’t see you. Make someone aware of your intentions (you should do this before any bike ride), and on emergency standby in case you call.

While I enjoy biking during warmer days far more than during the white (or blue) days of winter, and winter biking is not a three-minute snap decision and change-up, it is rewarding. I always return invigorated and refreshed. While not as colorful as a summer’s ride, observing the Neflois Haboreh up-close in their frozen habitat and navigating once familiar terrain in extreme circumstances allows for an intense adventure and a refreshing perspective.

Go out and bike through Hashem’s wonderful white world of winter. It is unique it is refreshing and it is rewarding.

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  1. i dont think there is less oxygen on a cold day. please cite a source for that thanks. i biked wed and thurs, it was just fine out, just i almost froze my toes off even with two pairs, ordered a couple of thermal pairs…expect warmer weather!

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