Tweets and Cold Feet

The thing I dislike most about winter bicycling is the fact that it takes five minutes to get dressed and undressed. Summer is so much easier. And there’s no guesswork either.

The next most dislikable thing about winter bicycling is cold feet, especially toes. Despite riding in New England for six years and in DC for the another 34, I have yet to find a satisfactory solution to the cold feet problem.

I use pedals and toe clips. Most of the time I ride with mountain bike shoes. Shimano came out with some that are extra wide which is a must for my super wide feet.

Down to 50 degrees, I just wear wool socks. Even when it rains. Below that is when things get difficult. I have three solutions, none of which is ideal.

Solution 1: Put chemical hand warmers in my shoes. Toe warmers fit better but hand warmers put out more heat. I try to place them on the top of my forefoot.

Solution 2: Performance brand over boots. These clodhoppers go on over your shoes. They have a liner that is fairly warm and a smooth, flat rubber sole that keeps my feet dry when the grass is wet on my  walk out to my shed. The over boots drawbacks include: they are a pain to get on, they don’t grip the pedals like my shoes do, and they change my pedaling mechanics.

Solution 3: Hiking boots. I recently saw some Instagram pictures of a #bikedc acquaintance who went bikepacking on the Blue Ridge. She and her friends wore hiking boots. I have some Gortex hiking books that are pretty comfy but they have thick soles that change my effective leg length. If I ride a long way in these boots. my knees bark.

I also have battery powered socks. They eat batteries like popcorn. Not a good solution.

I asked the Twitterverse for some better ideas. Here are some of the responses.

  • Smear Vaseline on your feet.
  • Smear embrocade (an ointment that heats up) on your feet
  • Put plastic grocery bags between your socks and shoes.
  • Giro Alpinduro bicycle shoes with wool socks.
  • Wear wool socks and sandals.

Well, I’m not into smearage. And I’ve tried the plastic bag idea. (Your feet get all sweaty and skanky.) REI doesn’t carry the Giro shoes anymore. (They probably don’t come in super wide, either.)

So that leaves me with wool socks and sandals.

I tried this out today with some really thick Smartwool socks and my Teva sandals.


The temperature was in the low 40s with gale force winds, making for wind chills in the low thirties.

I was surprised at how well this worked, at least for the first 17 miles. Then my toes got pretty cold, especially when riding into one of the gusts. I managed to ride 31 miles though and my feet comfort level was not horrible. I think this solution might work better with closed toe sandals. Regardless, had it been any colder or had my feet become wet, I think my toes would have been miserable.

Skiers are much more dialed in to winter foot comfort issues. Friend of the blog Rudy is an accomplished skier (with a once broken femur to prove it). His solution is to accept your fate. Use platform pedals and winter boots. Winter is for skiing, dude.

So, long story short, there is no good solution. Experiment. Toughen up. Or ride Big Nellie in the basement. Or find another sport for a few months.


Your Own Personal Wind Chill

Yesterday the temperature was 8 degrees with a wind chill of minus fugetaboutit.  So I decided to work from home. It was a wise choice. I advised my friend Lisa not to ride but she did anyway and had a blast. This motivated me to get off my couch and ride to the office this morning.

It took an extra ten minutes to get dressed. I kept forgetting layers and losing track of things. When I left the house the temperature was a balmy 11. Since I have had prior experience with frostbite while exercising, I wanted to be extra careful not to ride too fast, lest I generate my own personal wind chill factor. As it turned out, with all the clothing I had on I couldn’t pedal fast if I wanted to.

There was roadside ice in the neighborhoods near my home, but the Mount Vernon Trail was all but ice-free. After three or four miles the tips of my fingers clad in glove liners and mittens started to hurt. Uh oh. I flexed them and hid them from the wind by sticking them behind my handlebar bag. As the temperature rose into the high teens, the pain subsided. The rest of the ride in was actually quite comfortable. 

I saw a guy riding south on the trail with nothing on his head. I wish I had taken a picture of him because he is a MORON. 

When I arrived at work my bike computer display stopped working. It’s just too cold for electronics.

After a fun day of editing papers (zzzzz), I began getting dressed for the ride home. 20 minutes later I was on the road. It was 29 and stayed there all the way home. There’s something about exercising in cold air that is both exhilarating and exhausting. 

So I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

Since there seems to be some interest in these things, here’s what I wore:

Head: Jacket hood over synthetic balaclava over a thin synthetic Buff neck gaiter

Hands: Glove liners under polartec (?) mittens

Torso: synthetic short sleeve base layer, cotton t-shirt, wool holey sweater, Marmot Precip jacket

Arms: Under the sweater and the jacket I wore synthetic arm warmers

Legs: Synthetic briefs, Smartwool socks that covered my calves, tights, Marmot Precip pants (to cut the wind)

Feet: S/W socks, Lake mountain biking shoes with chemical hand warmers on top, Performance fleece lined winter boots