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I have two kids (about 70lbs/30kgs combined) whom I during the summer frequently took biking in a trailer (once I got them used to it, say a dozen trips this summer or slightly more). I biked 5+ miles round trip with them without significant difficulty; I'm not in great shape, but I was generally able to get up over 10MPH when I had a decent flat straightaway, and didn't need to stop (biking 3 miles in a residential setting with frequent stop signs/lights in 20 to 25 minutes). I typically bike in the 2nd forward gear, 4-7 rear gear (4 is for starting from a stop usually, then I go up to 7 once I'm at speed assuming I don't immediately stop again).

I hadn't biked for a couple of months perhaps, when I suddenly had a need to bike ~6 mi round trip to take my older son to preschool and younger to daycare. This was on a suddenly cold day, below freezing - around 10˚F/-10˚C. I checked my tires visually and by feel, and they seemed fine (the bike was stored in an unheated garage, but it probably did have a 20 or more ˚F buffer from the outside given this was the first day of real cold weather).

I made it half a mile, in 2nd and 1st forward gear, completely out of breath and almost vomiting.

I saw at least two problems: one is that it was as if I had shifted to 3rd forward gear, as far as how hard it was to use the gears - I couldn't go at all in my normal gear range. Second was that the cold air seemed to have significant effect on my lungs even after not very much exertion.

Are some of these issues things I can do something about, or is biking in the fairly cold impossible for someone of my skill level? Is the chain oil wrong and not functional at lower temperatures? Is the 70lb weight on the back of my bike making a bigger difference (due to air pressure in the tires or something)? I'm not taking into account ice or snow here - this was the first cold day of the winter, so just simply cold (this was during the 'polar plunge' or whatever silly name they gave it this year). I know exertion in the cold is a different beast than exertion in the summer, but this seemed a level of magnitude harder than I anticipated.

I have a hybrid with factory tires, ~$400 USD bike when new (now 2-3 years old), probably has maybe 200 miles on it total. No particular maintenance done recently, just usual tire airing.

  • 10˚F is cold. I find that under 20˚F even bundled I don't have the stamina but not that big of a hit. This is about running in the cold livestrong.com/article/… – paparazzo Nov 25 '14 at 13:04
  • In cold weather more of your metabolism is directed at keeping core temperature up, then left-over metabolism capacity can be used for work. – Rider_X Nov 25 '14 at 17:06
  • If (as suggested below) the grease has thickened up due to the cold, all the extra effort you're putting in (which has to go somewhere) should end up thawing out the grease (you could be talking in the range of 100 W split between all the bearings). Also with the bike starting from a garage the grease wouldn't be that cold. I've not gone that cold on my hybrid but have taken it out for an hour a few degrees below freezing without any noticeable penalty. If it's not been ridden for a while, does everything spin freely in the (relative) warm? Is the chain rusty or stiff? – Chris H Nov 25 '14 at 18:06
  • Most bike components are not designed to hold heat sadly. All the extra energy you are putting in overcomes the viscosity of the bad grease you are pedaling against. Adding extra bearing compartments (two wheels on a trailer) also makes it worse. The air moving over said metal bearing compartments does wonders to remove any bit of extra heat your efforts may be generating. – Deleted User Nov 25 '14 at 20:22
  • An important caveat: At temps below about 15F (-10C), if you breathe hard through your mouth (mouth wide open and "panting") it is possible to actually cause frostbite in your throat (with associated tissue injury). And at temps above that (but still cold) breathing hard through your mouth can still seriously dry out the membranes in the throat and cause problems. When it's cold leave the TdF training for another day. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 26 '14 at 2:06
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I bike all winter long, down to -30°C, there are some definite tolls to your bike at colder temperatures. Unlike a vehicle that warms up after the engine has been running for a while, bikes stay cold when you ride them cold. There are two things I notice the most, air pressure is definitely one of them; cold air shrinks, and low tires drag, so if you're riding dry roads I would certainly check to your pressure. Normally I don't put extra air in my tires, because up here the cold is usually accompanied by snow, and low tires give you better traction. The other thing I notice when it gets really cold is the grease in my bearings gets thicker, and as a result my hubs don't roll as fast. Pick your bike up and give the wheels a spin, you might find that they slow to a stop a lot quicker. I notice it in my headset too, but that doesn't affect speed.

One thing I've done to avoid drag due to thick bearing grease is to actually replace the grease in my wheels with Phil Wood Tenacious Oil. I tried it out as an experiment one year, and I've never had problems with it since (I kept checking inside the hubs for a while expecting to find them dry and rusty, but Phil's oil lives up to it's name; it's tenacious).

Of course the best thing to do is to not push yourself, compensate for the conditions, leave a bit earlier, find a new gear range that you can maintain a comfortable cadence in without giving yourself a heart attack, and just plough along. If the conditions are miserable already, there's no sense in making yourself more miserable.

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    Check your cranks and pedals sometime Shem. When you get done with a ride at some point at anything below zero, spin your crankset backwards. Then try rotating your pedals as well. All of that is winterizable. – Deleted User Nov 25 '14 at 16:38
  • Can't do much about it on my bikes, my BB's and pedals are all sealed, but my wheels are free bearing. – ShemSeger Nov 25 '14 at 16:43
  • That doesn't matter. I have a set of sealed cartridge hubs as well as sealed BB bearings. Pull the cartridges, remove the seal with the tip of a razor blade, soak them (repeatedly if necessary) in degreaser/solvent and get that junk out of there. – Deleted User Nov 25 '14 at 16:59
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The short version: the bike was fine (maybe low on tire pressure) but you were not, provided you didn't have something like a brake dragging (which you would have noticed).

I doubt a bike would have retained air in its tires for a few months, so you should have pumped them up [this may have added some rolling resistance, but it shouldn't have killed you on its own]. Winter biking is more difficult than Spring biking (and I'd argue summer biking).

The colder air makes it harder to breathe (and thus carrying loads is harder). Your brain also hinders you a bit for the risk of ice/snow (though you said there wasn't any). Your face feels cold, your hands feel cold, so on so forth. Depending on how you're dressed up, your clothes may be doing additional air restrictions. Also, a lot of people are prone to over-bundling up -- your body will come to temperature in a short length of riding, so don't wear too much.

That being said, at 10 F, the bike itself is fine -- it is just like it was in the summer (*) [the oil is too]. Its you who isn't. But what you experience is normal, and as a person who does winter commuting, the best way to get over it is mostly to just keep riding (start without the trailer [the 70 pounds is harder for you as the engine, since you're weaker, not the bike itself] and go for some rides, and build it up -- I regularly bike during winters, but the first 2 weeks I find a lot less breath on hand [and I ride pretty much every day]). Your stamina should come up (albeit not to summer levels). Compound it with suddenly doing a 6 mile trip, and its even worse.

(*) When it gets below freezing, you can get things like water going into your brake/shift lines, etc. which can make the bike not fine.

(**) When the snow and ice come, its not just the increased difficulty of breathing and the cold that get you, but you have to start in higher gears to move. And the resistance goes up dramatically, so your effort also goes up.

  • I wasn't particularly surprised by the stamina loss, though it was more than I expected- but the difficulty to start, was. Perhaps it was air pressure. – Joe Nov 25 '14 at 15:21
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    It likely wasn't air pressure. The random mess of grease injected into factory bike items is almost never meant for cold weather. And it always gets worse the colder it gets. – Deleted User Nov 25 '14 at 16:29
  • I doubt that would be a problem at 10 F. – Batman Nov 25 '14 at 16:49
  • @batman - Depends sometimes on how dirty the grease is, and the amount of grease, to much will get thicker quicker. Especially if the bike is stored out in the cold to begin with. – ShemSeger Nov 25 '14 at 16:53
  • @Batman, I have seen hubs on factory bikes all of the same model freeze at random temperatures. The grease used in large factories is whatever was cheaper or on hand and rarely consistent with less expensive bikes. The number of freehubs I have seen fail and implode at temperatures above 0F is many. If freehubs will fail at that temperature, you can be sure that you are pedaling against thick grease elsewhere. – Deleted User Nov 25 '14 at 17:43
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There are many things that make biking more difficult in the cold.

By far the largest factor is air resistance. At normal temperatures, the air drag grows as the square of the speed, and becomes greater than the sum of all other losses at speeds over 12km/h. A 30C drop in temperature makes the air about 10% denser, and drag is proportional to air density.

The second factor working against you is clothing. If you are wearing bulkier clothing it increases your air drag because your area from the front increases. Winter clothing also has the effect somewhat constricting your movement at the knees hips and shoulders. Finally you have the thermal problem with winter clothing were you start out cold and then get hot when going uphill and then quickly get cold at stop lights. The discomfort works against your perception of efficiency.

Even with properly inflated tires, the tire drag increases as the cold rubber suffers greater viscous loses. This effect increases rolling resistance by about 40%.

The temperature also makes the lubricants in the hubs and chain thicken. Since you were only losing a few percent of your efficiency to hub loses, it will be a small part of the overall picture, but it doesn't help any.

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I'd look closely at warm-up as the major factor. It takes longer and then the effort required to generate enough heat for your systems to stay in optimal heat range is greater.

Then, Winter brings on in some of us a general "Bugger-All" attitude towards dealing with the low light, cold air, drizzle, snow, all that dratted extra gear. The very idea of swapping out a flat tube in the drizzle while your hands freeze up is enough to keep all but the most committed inside.

  • Hi, it looks like you may have copied this answer from bikeforums.net/7909634-post5.html. Unless you are the original author you are using someone else's work without giving the author credit. This amounts to plagiarism, and is not welcome on Stack Exchange sites. Remember to always add prominent attribution when using other sources. Thanks! – Gary.Ray Sep 20 '16 at 1:56
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I think what you're doing is great, but that you need to keep at it. I used to do exactly this, every day, regardless of weather or whether I wanted to or not, and I kept it up for about two years. My trips were about 6km total each day.

My guess though is that this was some kind of situation where it doesn't normally fit your schedule, so you're just not fit enough to attempt it on a regular basis. I used to bike in much colder temperatures than this, but mind you, it was also without the kids. The only differences I noticed were that I had to take the trip slower in winter, because snow affected balance and resistance. Biking at breakneck speed like I do all summer long is suicidal, or at the very least, going to result in several crashes. And there's also the snow to contend with, and the extra resistance that imparts on the bike, although you never mention that in your post I'd just as soon assume it's there.

But a cold bike isn't that much of a hindrance, assuming that you're on dry, sanded pavement the whole time. I'd be more concerned with the extra effort required to push through snow and your fitness level. Being off your bike for two whole months is going to have a significant effect.

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