03.31.2008 | 8:23 am

I’m generally pretty good at being able to tell what I ought to wear on a ride just by looking out the window. A glance at the sky and the trees tells me what I need to know.

And so, last Friday, as I prepared for my inaugural bike commute to work, I put on tights, a long sleeved base layer, and a long sleeve jersey.

I rolled outside, got about 20 feet down my street, and turned around to go put on my Warm Front Chest Warmer (OK, it’s a dickey), a jacket, and some heavier gloves. It was cold out.

The Grand Irony of Cold Weather Cycling
Of course, just because I started out cold doesn’t mean that I stayed cold for very long. Two miles after I start riding, my commute turns up sharply as I ride up and over Suncrest — a four mile climb with 1500 feet of vertical gain.

Overweight, out of shape, and carrying a full messenger bag, I really felt that climb. Even with the strong wind and the cold day, I started sweating. A lot.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside (up to a point, which I do not intend to cross). As long as you’re climbing, you’re warm.

The Evaporative Effect
Feel free to file this in the “too much information” category, but I’m a whole-body sweater. Face, arms, legs, chest, back, everything. When I ride, I am an incredibly efficient evaporative cooler.

Which, on a cold, windy day, when you’re facing a four-mile descent, is problematic.

Flying down the North side of Suncrest, I looked over at a catchbasin pond. It was iced over. So I knew, at least, that I wasn’t being a total baby about how cold I felt.

The big, open feel of the North Suncrest descent lets you see way ahead of you, giving you time to think. Here’s what I thought about:

  • I need to reduce my riding distractions. Last year I really got into listening to an iPod while I rode. As I rode Friday, though, I didn’t have an iPod and realized that — at least sometimes — I prefer it that way. I think this is because when I’m listening to music, I’m thinking about music. When I don’t listen to music, I can think of other things. I’m not much of a multitasker; I can’t listen to music and think at the same time.
  • I really like riding my bike. I’ve been riding the rollers for so long I was beginning to think that’s what cycling really feels like. It’s not. At all. Even though I was suffering badly from the climb, I was happy to be out again.
  • My legs were channeling air into my crotch. My legs, due to their natural inverted V-shape that leads up to my crotch, are incredibly efficient at funneling as much frigid air as was physically possible right up to my nethers. On a warm, sunny day, this would be downright refreshing. But it wasn’t warm. And my tights were soaked with the sweat from my climb.

In short, my nethers became so cold it was actually painful. I became concerned about frostbite. And without becoming too descriptive, I think it’s reasonable for me to say that if it came right down to it, there are some digits I’d rather lose than others. And this was not one of the ones I’d put on the “OK to lose” list.

Eventually, of course, I got to the bottom of Suncrest, and rode into work. My nose, toes, tips of ears, fingers, and one other part were all well and truly numb from cold.

You know what really hurts? When a body part that was numb from cold starts warming up.

But you know what really really hurts? When an exceptionally sensitive body part that was numb from cold starts warming up.

And that is why, for the first twenty minutes of Friday, I kept my office door closed. I didn’t want my coworkers to see me curled up on the floor, whimpering.

And then, of course, eight hours later I got to do the whole thing again, but in the opposite direction.

And starting out with damp riding clothes.


  1. Comment by Harp | 03.31.2008 | 8:27 am

    Yeah I had a similar ride this winter. My kids got to see there father in full riding gear in anguish as I started to thaw. I’m sure it was real impressive.

  2. Comment by Turt99 | 03.31.2008 | 8:29 am


  3. Comment by brett | 03.31.2008 | 8:37 am

    my tip is to apply the brakes on the way down and keep pumping. sure this is counter-productive and will wear away at your brakes a little more, but it’ll keep your sweat going until you get to a point where its comfortable to let it cool off. I sweat a lot too.

  4. Comment by Jared | 03.31.2008 | 8:40 am

    Congrats on your inaugural bike commute to work! How far of a ride is it?

    I know where you’re coming from with the sweating…but it’s humid here so it just feels like it’s never going to stop.

  5. Comment by bikemike | 03.31.2008 | 8:44 am

    maybe you should invent some kinda male private parts
    warmer-upper device.

    i was thinking of maybe just using some heated coals from the charcoal grill but it just shows another reason why i don’ts gets paid ta think.

    pretty sure Turt99 covered it with ouch.

  6. Comment by Bob | 03.31.2008 | 8:53 am

    Just incase you have a similar circumstance again, I’ve decided to provide you with two key points on frostbite treatment directly from my military manual.

    1. “NEVER rub frostbitten tissue. Rubbing frostbitten tissue will result in more severe damage.”

    2. “Fill a shallow container with enough water to cover the frostbitten body part.” Use a plate or saucer if you have to.

  7. Comment by KT | 03.31.2008 | 8:57 am

    Bob! I laughed so hard, I almost spilled my coffee!!

    I’m a chick, I don’t have the same problems that you guys have…. :) Thank god!

    Great post, Fatty… good luck on the ride home!

  8. Comment by Mocougfan | 03.31.2008 | 8:59 am

    Very funny today Fatty. Hope you and your Nethers make it home ok.

  9. Comment by Uphill Battle | 03.31.2008 | 9:11 am

    I am certain that the instructions you provide are medically correct. But taken in this context, they are downright hilarious! In fact they are soda out the nose funny.

  10. Comment by Dave | 03.31.2008 | 9:15 am

    At first I thought you meant you were a sweater as in: when you take your shirt off you look like you’re wearing a sweater. Then it clicked, persperation.

    Back in January daytime high’s were 17 degrees. I fully understand about soft tissue warming up after a ride. That is seriously stingy. I was thinking about a custom fit smartwool sock.


  11. Comment by KanyonKris | 03.31.2008 | 9:19 am

    I want a dickey for my crotch (the name could stay the same and be pretty apt). The air ram scoop effect is real – yes, personal experience.

    40 degrees (F) is my limit for cold weather riding. This number was reach through extensive scientific experimentation during 2 winters. The key measurement was the CDF (Crotchal Discomfort Factor). Below 40 I have to wear so much clothing that it is very difficult to avoid sweating and dampness. It’s hilly enough around here that I couldn’t avoid sweating. And below 40 it’s too cold for me to enjoy the ride.

  12. Comment by dug | 03.31.2008 | 9:21 am

    you need a dicky for your dicky.

  13. Comment by Eric | 03.31.2008 | 9:21 am

    I had the same thing happen to me this winter on a very cold (~25 F) day. After the ride, Ispent a good long while in a 7-11 nervously shifting from foot to foot and drinking coffee waiting for the pain to end, wondering when I needed to take myself to the hospital and trying to figure out how in the world I would ever be able to tell my wife what had happened. Luckily, normal feeling returned before the panic threshold was reached. On the way home I speculated about whether an athletic cup would be an effective air barrier, but figured if I showed upon at a club ride proudly sporting a bulging cup under by tights I would be exiled as some kind of 1970s retro porno sicko. So I decided to stop at the LBS to the warmest base-layer leggings I could find. Luckily it has not been that cold since so I have never had to test them.

  14. Comment by Don ( | 03.31.2008 | 9:22 am

    May I suggest Assos Chamois Cream?!
    Oh, sorry, how about those hand warmers for pockets? Just jam one of those in your pants…
    I know I’m not helping, I’ll shut-up now.

  15. Comment by GenghisKhan | 03.31.2008 | 9:32 am

    Yeah, maybe this:

  16. Comment by KanyonKris | 03.31.2008 | 9:40 am

    :-O Maybe a change of subject:

    Who won the limerick contest? Or is Brad still judging the entries?

  17. Comment by HamRadioFlyer | 03.31.2008 | 9:40 am

    Tights only?? Try wearing cycling shorts under the tights. The chamois helps insulate and wick away sweat too.

    Full-fingered gloves are a requirement with temps under 32F for me. Same with a ear-muffs and/or baclava (spelling?). My commute is only 4 miles each way, with only a small hill in between. The best rides for me are when the morning temp is 35-45 and evening at 50-60. Hotter evenings are a problem, as I generally only bring one set of cycling clothing.

  18. Comment by mtnbker | 03.31.2008 | 9:43 am

    After a simular experience, I now have two rules for sub 20 degree riding.

    1. Double bag it. Seriously, two paris of tights with a chamois in both seems to effectivly break the wind, and absorb twice the persperation.

    2. Carry a knit hat. Good for keeping your head warm durring a mechanical, and good to stuff all your junk in if the unpleasant tingles start encroaching.

  19. Comment by bikedog | 03.31.2008 | 9:47 am

    Here in the Northwoods we know about XC skiing gear. Those Swedes know how to make underwear with an air block front panel, works good, esp at -10 and dropping. Check out Craft stuff. Can also try the old Italian trick of suffing a riding glove into the shorts, but then you have to make that tough decision about which digit(s) can you live without…

  20. Comment by Rick S. | 03.31.2008 | 9:49 am

    did you try using duct tape to cover it up? I use it on my ski boots and it’s blocks the wind. You should try it on your nethers.

  21. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 03.31.2008 | 9:57 am

    LOL Fatty, Bob, and Rick S. Great post.

    I am reminded of the Night Court episode where Harry had been gifted a hand knitted gavel warmer. Then the power went out, it was nighttime in winter in New York City, and everyone started getting really cold. They started worrying about frostbite and losing extremities. Harry picked up his gavel warmer said something like, “Not me”. And headed for the bathroom. :-)

  22. Comment by Bikerchick_IL | 03.31.2008 | 9:58 am

    Here’s a tip Fatty’s female readers in cold weather climes. I live in Chicago and try to ride outside as much as possible in the winter, down to about 20F. Below that, it’s a spin class for this kid.

    I don’t care what they say about those “moisture wicking bras,” none of ‘em work. The elastic simply collects the moisture and makes you c-c-c-c-o-l-d. I’ve dubbed this one “Madonna” for the visual. After much experimentation, I found that wearing your base layer next to your skin and your bra *on top* of that is much more effective at keeping the cold away from your chest and chilling your core. I wear Icebreakers (merino wool), then pile on the bra, then the midlayer, and the outer layer and voila! Warm and toasty. Of course, you gotta strip the bra off quickly and replace with a dry layer when you’re finished riding so you don’t get chilled.

    This should also work well for any woman who runs or skis outdoors in the cold weather too.

  23. Comment by Anonymous | 03.31.2008 | 10:01 am

    Maybe an embrocation for the boys…

  24. Comment by Earl | 03.31.2008 | 10:14 am

    We visited the Tower of London last week. Since we are on the subject, did you know that they made, iron/steel armor with cod peices built in? Some where rather substantial. I have pictures (much to my wife’s disgust)You should have heard the 6 and 7 year old boys on a field trip commenting on THAT armor.

  25. Comment by je | 03.31.2008 | 10:14 am


    you should have tried the triathlon in A.F. the next morning.

    Or maybe you and Jill can team up to do Iditarod together next February.

  26. Comment by Jen | 03.31.2008 | 10:16 am

    My friend from Michigan calls it the frozen fireman.

  27. Comment by Little1 | 03.31.2008 | 10:59 am

    i’d like to thank my forefathers for having the sense to immigrate to South Africa! I’d like to thank my dad for making sure i’m a girl!

  28. Comment by Clydesteve | 03.31.2008 | 11:05 am

    Been there, Fatty. Two full-finger gloves… and a mitten. With a windbreaker nylon shell.

  29. Comment by Ethan | 03.31.2008 | 11:07 am

    A few weeks ago, I requested more “penis-related content” in your blog. (I think it was a chafe-related entry.) Well, Elden, you truly give the people what they want. No wonder you’re an award-winning blogger!

  30. Comment by Clydesteve | 03.31.2008 | 11:08 am

    Lon Haldeman, the ultra long-distance rider who helps run the PAC tours cross the USA rides, advocates finding junk in the ditch that can help you handle 95% of all emergencies. Maybe an old sock, or a McD’s styrofoam fishsticks carton.

  31. Comment by Big Boned | 03.31.2008 | 12:14 pm

    I agree with Don – proper spalming would have cured this little (tiny, miniscule, itty-bitty) problem.

  32. Comment by Alaskan Dave Down Under | 03.31.2008 | 12:27 pm

    Slightly baggy windproof riding pants that are breathable on the back work quite well. They also come with sewn in padding for younether regions. Of course, I’d never use them till it started to get cold, about -30 is when I’d put em on.

  33. Comment by TIMK | 03.31.2008 | 12:47 pm

    You should get a cod piece like Cameo had back in the 80’s. Word Up!

  34. Comment by Rocky | 03.31.2008 | 12:50 pm

    Depends, a battery-powered athletic supporter, a family of finger puppets, Yukon Barbie’s ski parka or down sleeping bag, a microwaved ice pack – the gel kind(though you have to make sure it’s not TOO microwaved as that creates another set of problems altogether)top the list of my suggestions. Really, the options are innumerable.

    Whatever the device of choice, Jim and the twins must be kept comfy, as their complaints are more vehement than are those of the “lesser appendages.” My 9 degree commute last winter wherein survivors were doubtful, made that fact clear to me.

  35. Comment by XCTiger | 03.31.2008 | 1:02 pm


    The joys of frozen peas and carrots.

    From my XC skiing days, a little duct tape strategically placed on top of your base layer works as a wonderful wind break. Vapor barrier briefs work well to, but since you probably carry some duct tape in your tool bag it’s easy to take care of things on those mornings when you guess wrong.

  36. Comment by Al Maviva | 03.31.2008 | 1:20 pm

    Okay, listen up. I’m only going to say it once.

    You need to wear less clothing, and more transitional clothing, Fred. That, or wear clothing with full zippers. If you aren’t borderline hypothermic the first 10 minutes of a cold weather ride, you are dressed *way* too warm. Yeah, you can laugh about the “Joe the Ragman” look with a vest and long sleeve full zip jersey open (ahem), arm warmers rolled down to your wrists, and knee warmers around your ankles, but you will stay relatively dry. Yeah, wear a wooly base layer too, possibly over a lycra baselayer. Then at the top, pause only for a brief second to *start* zipping up. Knees, arms, then start the zipper up on the jersey & vest. Don’t zip them up all the way until you start to get cold, then just zip them up the rest of the way. You’ll stay dry enough so it won’t be hell to descend. You should be able to do this while pedaling, getting in and out of transitional clothing is a basic roadie skill. A guy who can eat 15,000 calories in minutes without inadvertantly chewing off any fingers should be able to zip up on the fly.

    As for the boys… well, the Red Hot Chili Peppers pretty much made a career out of wearing socks on their… you get the idea, I’m sure.

    Failing that, just strip off your pants and let your little girly tears drip down onto anything that’s cold. That’ll warm them right up.

    Man up and zip down, Elden.

  37. Comment by cyclostu | 03.31.2008 | 1:58 pm

    There was Shrinkage! Maybe you could wear some sort of cup/athelic supporter? You could even add some hot stuff to it like the nerds did to the football team’s jock straps in Revenge of the Nerds. Problem solved!

    And this whole numb in the region thing is foreign to us Floridians. You should definitely migrate south for the winter.

  38. Comment by mary | 03.31.2008 | 2:03 pm

    8 hrs and your clothes were damp? Dude you have to use your bike as a drying rack. Spread your stuff out on the frame and it’ll be dry by the time you have to suit up to go home. If you are not allowed to bring your bike into the building, use your cubicle walls/doors to hang things on to dry out..even spread stuff out under your desk to dry

  39. Comment by The D | 03.31.2008 | 2:18 pm

    Check out one of the many Dutch embrocations designed for this very purpose. Why do you think it’s called the “Netherlands” anyway?

    Either that, or go to Starbucks and order a tall coffee. When the barista asks “room for cream?” just say, “no thanks…. it’s for my dong.”

    People appreciate candor.

  40. Comment by JimB | 03.31.2008 | 2:25 pm

    Fatty, I bought a new bike to commute on this month, I am back to being on a bike after some injuries have cut short my running activities. Anyway, off I go the first day with the new bike, my commute is short, four miles all downhill into work. Whoa, 18 deg. (it looked nicer in the house). I was feeling that special pain you speak of. Needless to say the bike has not been out since, we just can not shake the winter thing, 6 inches of snow last night to add to the spring fun.

  41. Comment by JimB | 03.31.2008 | 2:40 pm

    I just watched Jill’s video rolling down some trail that required sno-shoes for the rest of the human race and notice at the start she does not even have gloves on, I am such a wimp for complaining about my ride conditions

  42. Comment by WMdeR. | 03.31.2008 | 2:43 pm


    Double what Al Ma had to say above. That’ll handle the wet, assuming your continence hasn’t been affected by your recent frostbite.

    Now block the wind. Add duct tape (what a classy look!), a spare sock (in a pinch–they tend to chafe a bit, but you do have one in that nice, full bag o’work clothes, I bet), windfront briefs (XC supply shop), or windproof-front tights (Assos! and my wife loves her Arnie Nashbars) and you’ll be fine down to -10deg F/-23degC. Actually, below about 10degF I’m not riding in cyclegarb anyway, and never on my commute to work. Wool gabardine pants and long underwear go a long way under colder conditions. They may be found cheaply at your local second-hand clothing store or army-surplus outlet. European army skiing knickers are just fantastic, and so stylish….

    I’m not sure I’d want to try the Belgium Knee Warmer solution suggested above. The cure may be worse than the curse.

    Cheers (and where are you finding such cold weather?),


  43. Comment by Jill | 03.31.2008 | 2:55 pm

    Great post. As a female, I for one feel lucky to have the “nether region” well-protected by my own body.

    However, I have frostnipped my butt (during the Iditarod, with a 35 mph tailwind that amounted to a windchill of 60 below 0.) True frostnip, with the white patches of dead skin and everything. I can tell you that that doesn’t feel too good coming back to life. Like the thousand white-hot needles of death.

    Maybe get an athletic cup and line it with bubble insulation? Chemical warmers also work wonders :-) Just a thought.

  44. Comment by WMdeR. | 03.31.2008 | 3:06 pm

    A second note: take a good look at how XC ski racers dress for similar conditions. They deal with windchill and aerobic exercise just like we do. Except XC ski clothing companies don’t consider 30deg F/-1degC “Extreme Cold” and suggest you pursue indoor activities instead.

  45. Comment by Zimbo | 03.31.2008 | 3:10 pm

    I used to have this problem, but I solved it one day by putting a kitchen hot pad in between my chamois and tights. Works like a charm.

  46. Comment by Mike Roadie | 03.31.2008 | 3:29 pm

    Cold???…..Freezing air on the downhill?…..I’m not sure I understand.

    82 and mostly sunny here today………..

    Live STRONG

  47. Comment by Stephen | 03.31.2008 | 4:30 pm

    You gotta try some Craft windblocker shorts. Up here in WI we call them “peter heaters”. Let’s you ride all winter long!

  48. Comment by Jenni | 03.31.2008 | 5:14 pm

    I’ve read it. I can’t unread it.

  49. Comment by jmd | 03.31.2008 | 5:30 pm

    Hey ladies, it’s not a male-specific problem. I was caught once in January doing about 10 miles in the wrong pants, and it was like having my own personal intake vent for supercooled air. Brrr.

  50. Comment by Born4Lycra | 03.31.2008 | 6:26 pm

    It was 11 degrees here this morning and i did not even have arm warmers on. Oh you guys are talking farenheit. If you stuck with celsius it does not go that low. Well not here anyway.

  51. Comment by Jeremy | 03.31.2008 | 6:29 pm

    Here is my game
    I skip reading what fatty writes, and I go right to the comments and try to figure it out. I am not going to read the post at this point. Thank you.

  52. Comment by Lucky Cyclist | 03.31.2008 | 6:34 pm

    You know, I am often mocked at the club ride for not shaving my legs. And I have read all of the above thinking…”Why have I not had this problem?” Fatty recently wrote about shaving ALL his body hair. Drop the porn star look in the winter and you won’t have to worry about frostbite on your junk. I have ridden down to sixteen degrees (enough for iceicles in my beard) and never need more than a heavy set of tights.
    Also pedaling does a pretty good job of screwing up the wind funnel effect. You don’t have to go hard, just keep pedaling while descending.

  53. Comment by Di | 03.31.2008 | 9:17 pm

    I live in Michigan on Lake Superior in the land of 3 to 4 feet of snow and sub-zero weather. Fun stuff. We’ll ride 15+ degrees.

    The only digits I have are on my hands and feet, but you could say that my riding buddy has a digit in his nether region. Mostly everyone up here are cross country skiers, so we combine those clothes with a cycling jersey and cycling shorts. It seems like cycling shorts with ski pants over them work great. My friend has Swix ski pants and I use Pearl Izumi. Breathable, wind resistant, water resistant. :)

    I also wear a neck gator and cross country ski gloves. When I commute, I’m exposed to the wind coming off of the lake. Brrrrrr. My bum is always toasty, though.

  54. Comment by Bruce | 04.1.2008 | 2:42 am

    I feel so unworthy . . . while I ride daily throughout the year (OK, no riding in the rain (I walk)), at .58 totally flat miles, my jaunt pales in comparison.

    I will admit though, to wishing some days for a longer commute for the health benefits.

    Cycle on!

  55. Comment by S_H | 04.1.2008 | 4:47 am

    It’s the 2000’s, Fatty. You can say “penis.”

  56. Comment by MamaMaven | 04.1.2008 | 8:44 am

    And I thought it was bad when my feet were frozen riding this weekend.

  57. Comment by FLatsMan | 04.1.2008 | 2:00 pm

    I always wear something under MY jersey when the temps are really cold here in FL. Like say under 60 no 70. Why just last week I had to put a coolmax undershirt under my jersey.

    PS I thought the ads on the top of the blog were the April fool jokes, like: Protect your LUNG ! Do I have to buy two masks then ?

    Keep up the good work.

  58. Comment by Dobovedo | 04.1.2008 | 7:50 pm

    I’m not sure which is better.. the post or the comments to the post. “Jockularities, Jockularities!”

  59. Comment by welshcyclist | 04.2.2008 | 2:09 am

    I enjoyed this post of yours immensely, and I can empathise completely, getting up a sweat and then travelling into a cold breeze is no joke. Like you, I need the perfect cycling specific clothing to combat this problem. Sadly, though this perfect clothing exists, it is way out of my price range.


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