Cycling In Inclement Riding Conditions

Inclement riding conditions encompass a variety of situations, including weather, terrain, riding surface, and anything that changes a normal riding cadence. In training for RAAM, in addition to my indoor training, I am riding outdoors all year round. Most ultra-endurance events take place in rain or shine conditions, and are rarely cancelled or changed because of weather. RAAM itself, taking place in June, will present all types of weather and riding conditions, from 120+ desert temperatures to subfreezing conditions in the Rockies. RAAM riders have dealt with tornadoes in the midwest and hurricanes in the east. In a single endurance race, because of the distance and duration, weather is not always a consistent impediment or advantage across all competitors. For example, in my RAAM qualifier MidAtlantic 24 hour race, poor weather conditions affected some riders, but not all. The race course itself was a 26-mile loop and a large thunderstorm traveled through the area. My crew saw rider after rider enter the staging area completely drenched with rain and exhausted from battling the wind, but I came through dry and clean, having missed the path of the storm. In Josh Kench's book Ride, he describes his 2011 RAAM race, during which several riders hit the same severe thunderstorm. Kench explained that his team decided to ride in the heavy downpour, while others decided to wait out the storm. Kench learned later that during the storm, a massive tree fell across the course, causing several hours delay for the riders who had chosen to wait out the storm. Training cannot possibly prepare you for every possible situation, but there are steps you can take to improve your odds.

Cold Weather Cycling

Once your body gets cold, it will try to preserve heat in your core, taking blood supply from your legs. This makes pushing the bike at a race pace very challenging. I have found that it becomes one of those issues that you have to keep pushing through. This is not a debilitating ride-ending problem, but it makes the training experience harder and slower compared to a moderate temperature ride. Cold weather training requires adequate cold weather riding gear. This can include thermal race bibs, shorts and jerseys, turtlenecks, tights, and riding pants with thermal base layers and wind-proof coats. Many riders use neoprene face shields which cover the rider's neck, nose, and cheeks. I have an over-sized helmet which allows me to include a thick neoprene beanie or a knit hat as a base layer. I use Aero Tech Designs' neoprene toe/foot covers, which I wear over my sock, inside my shoes. I pair these with neoprene boot covers, providing double insulation for my feet. Some riders also use hand and foot warmers that come in baggies and can be activated when needed and put inside gloves or shoes. Another issue that riders experience in cold conditions is frozen water bottles. I have found this to be much worse in bottles that have straws with bite valves because the liquid in the straw freezes more quickly than the liquid in the bottle, forming an ice plug. When riding in temperatures in the low 20s, I have found water can freeze in a water bottle as quickly as 15 or 20 minutes. To prevent my hydration from freezing, I ride with a backpack where I put insulated water bottles. If you prefer riding without a backpack, choose a route in which you can stop for water.

Cycling in Rain

I have found that on long rides in the rain, despite my best efforts, I get wet. My goal is to keep my feet and body as dry as I can for as long as possible. I wear an Aero Tech Designs water proof jacket and pants. Having a rain proof jacket that is long enough to extend below your waist is important because if your coat is too short, you will end up with water in your pants. In extremely wet conditions, I will plan my route to include a stop back at my house/car midway through for a complete change of clothes. In rainy conditions, wet feet can be a problem. Most riding shoes have vents in the bottom, which are great in warm, dry conditions because the air flow cools the feet. In rain, particularly cold rain, these vents can be a nuisance as your shoes fill up with water. You can buy shoes that don't have the vents or use tape to cover the vents if riding on a wet day. Boot covers also provide foot protection. I have also found that neoprene booties are good for keeping feet dry by not allowing water to run down my legs and into my shoes. Helmet covers prevent water from getting through the ventilation slots in the helmet. If you are riding at high speeds, a face covering is a good idea because at high 30 mph and above, rain and sleet feel like a thousand pins, which will wear you down over the course of a long ride. Rear tire fenders that clamp on to your seat post are important as they shield you from water and mud being kicked up by your rear wheel. Having a good chain oil before and after a ride in the rain is critical because the rain will strip the oil out of your chain and drive chain, causing your bike to mis-shift and operate at less than peak performance. Some people will put plastic bags or water proof seat covers over their seats to stop their seats from soaking up water.

Cycling in the Heat

For me, cold is more of an obstacle than heat. I notice a degradation in my performance in the cold that I don't encounter as much in the heat. During the course of my training, I have ridden in temperatures as high as 110 and have experienced very few issues. However, this does not mean that I don't prepare for hot rides. The obvious basics are extra hydration, sun screen, and sunglasses. Sometimes I will wear white leggings or arm wraps to reflect the sun. For RAAM, I plan to bring cooling vests, which are vests with pockets sewn in throughout the vest, which allow you to insert refreezable cold packs. Many riders in RAAM will have their crew members spray them down with water while they are riding. It is important when they do this that they avoid soaking the areas at risk of chafing because the water will accelerate skin degradation. In the desert with high heat and dry air, this is less of an issue because the water typically evaporates before it runs into their riding shorts.

Windy Cycling Conditions

Wind is my nemesis. Not much you can do here. Wind not only provides increased resistance, it can be an obstacle to maintaining control. For ultra endurance races, it is best to bring multiple bikes, with each one targeting specific conditions. A time trial bike is aerodynamic and built for speed, but nearly impossible to control in high wind conditions, especially when paired with deep dish or disk wheels. Wind can also be perilous because of flying debris. I have been struck by branches and had sand in my eyes. RAAM riders will use dampened face coverings to prevent sand from entering their lungs.

Terrain and Riding Surface

When most people think of road biking, they picture a nice clean paved street. However, this is not my typical experience. While most of my riding is on the street, gravel, debris, and potholes are constants. Most of what people throw out of their windows while driving ends up on the shoulder where bicyclists do their riding, glass bottles being one of the most common items I see. On my training route, there is an intersection at which I stop almost every day. More often than not, when I stop there, I pick up a handful of screws, nails, glass, and other potential tire puncture hazards. Training in Pennsylvania, there are several compact stone paths on which I ride both my road bike and my time trial bike. This provides a completely different feel than asphalt or concrete. I know many riders who will not take their road bike on a compact stone or dirt path, but I have never had any issues. Overall, inclement riding conditions do not have to be an obstacle to getting your riding time in. There are a few deal breakers for me - namely, snow and ice. However, with preparation and proper equipment you can enjoy a good solid workout under almost any conditions. By: Jason Burgess
RAAM 2015

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