Recently, I had a long ride in winter, about 100km (62 miles) and was about 5-8 degree c (41-46F). I was wearing a windstopper jacket and basic cycling pants.

At later stage of the ride I felt legs aren't producing enough pedaling force and muscles feel quite painful and sore. And eventually I am home. Even though it was pretty warm, I still felt myself not producing any heat. I even tried putting myself into a hot shower and I was still shaking... And then I started to eat a lot. And It still didn't stop me from shaking...

And I then went to bed with electrical warming blankets and started to recover.

My question is, what are the symptoms and what should you do to avoid hypothermia in a winter ride. What if you are already suffering from hypothermia?

  • Some of your grammar seemed off; I tried to improve it to be clearer. If you felt that I lost some of your meaning, please feel free to undo the edits I made.
    – freiheit
    Feb 14, 2011 at 16:10
  • you can get hypothermia also during summer as well. Your question in title is a bit inconsistent with the body because it does not mention winter. Ideas should the title be narrowed with winter -world somewhere like Hypothermia on a long ride during winter?
    – user652
    Feb 16, 2011 at 19:45
  • You said you were shaking. When you started shaking was a clear warning sign.
    – paparazzo
    May 1, 2017 at 13:42
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    I'm guessing you consumed most of the free glucose in your body and started relying on stored fat in the liver and stored glycogen in your muscles. I'm not positive on the topic, but I suspect these energy sources are less able to be used to warm the body. You needed to start eating (in measured amounts) as soon as you started feeling cold. May 1, 2017 at 17:12

5 Answers 5


Hypothermia can sneak up on a person. Unless you're paying attention, you usually won't notice until you're extremely cold. Hypothermia can slow your reaction times and cause severe lapses in judgement, so be very careful out there! It's best to avoid it altogether, but if it happens, don't trust yourself to make good decisions.

As far as what to wear: I'm kind of a gearhead, so I like to wear fancy softshell clothing. It's great stuff because it breathes well and lets out moisture but still blocks wind and (mostly) blocks rain. If you're into that sort of thing, Pearl Izumi and Castelli both make some great gear. If you're on a bit of a budget, I'd lean toward the tried and true wool. Avoid cotton like the plague -- when it gets wet, cotton will make you extremely cold.

We lose a lot of heat through our heads, so in the cold months it's important to have a hat on under your helmet. I have a thin wool hat that keeps my head warm and fits nicely under my helmet. Be sure to wear a warm layer and a wind blocking layer. Wearing a wool sweater and a windproof jacket over the top will often be enough.

Gloves can also be very important -- when I'm riding long distances in the winter months, I find gloves help me keep my fingers nimble. Making sure your fingers are warm enough to work well can be a serious safety concern when it comes to braking.

Most of all, be aware of how you feel. If you feel cold and then later your hands are stiff but you don't feel cold any more, that's a warning sign.

As far as warming up goes, you did quite well. I would add a warm beverage to the mix -- hot tea, hot chocolate, or whatever you prefer -- as it helps warm you from within.

  • great, i think i was lacking a hat that day.
    – c2h2
    Feb 14, 2011 at 12:35
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    good point about head heat loss. Our scalp blood vessels don't vasoconstrict when we get cold, presumably because regulating brain temperature is so important.
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Feb 14, 2011 at 18:28
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    +10 - On avoiding cotton like the plague!
    – user313
    Feb 14, 2011 at 20:11
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    Even in the summer, if there's a light sprinkle on your cotton T-Shirt, with the wind of riding you can get a chill.
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Feb 14, 2011 at 23:19

I always seem to have one ride each winter where I get the clothing choice wrong and end up with hypothermia. Along with the reduced power output, I have this sleepy/calm feeling and I feel like I want to hop off the bike, find a pile of dry leaves, curl up and take a nap. Sometimes, I have trouble with balance (can't ride in a straight line). Judgment will be affected, but I think it depends on the person as to how bad it deteriorates. I can usually focus enough to myself home.

To get home, I'll:

  • go into a low gear and spin to try to generate heat.
  • brake on downhill sections to cut down on the wind and go as hard as I can on uphill sections.
  • If it's windy, pick routes home that have a lot of buildings or forests.
  • getting in the drops (if you are road/cross) may take the edge off and maybe help you conserve a little bit of heat.

But if you are swerving about and you have a mobile/someone to call: do it. You don't want to swerve into a motorist who is passing you.

  • Sounds like you have a bit of terminal burrowing (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminal_burrowing).
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Feb 14, 2011 at 18:29
  • I had never heard of that. The conditions were the same as described in the wiki--mid-30's so not too cold and it was the during the last third of the ride. Feb 18, 2011 at 10:22

To prepare for hypothermia, you must first anticipate it.

When I learned to sail they said that the weather conditions that are most likely to produce hypothermia are 45 deg F (7 deg C), light rain, and wind. If it's colder, people tend to recognize the risk and dress warmly or stay indoors; same with heavy rain. If it's warmer, dry, or calm, it's easier to stay warm.

So, dress for the weather, but remember that if it's cool, wet, and breezy, you probably want to wear a little extra.

  • 2
    +1 for anticipation - my big encounter with hypothermia was entirely due to not anticipating a mountain weather change in July.
    – user313
    Feb 14, 2011 at 19:02

I've seen people get hypothermic and they've never realized that there was a problem. One of the effects of hypothermia is reduced brain function: your reactions slow down, thoughts aren't clear, may start to lose motor control. If you get to this point you will not realize what's happening or be able to fix it.

The best thing to do is tackle the problem when you're still at the "feeling cold" stage. Put on more layers, change out of wet layers, find somewhere warm to rest up, etc.

And drink plenty of fluids. Besides bad weather, the biggest risk factor for hypothermia is dehydration!

  • yer, but does drinking of cold water increase your hypothermia? You would normally carry a bottle on your bike, but the temps of the bottle is same as the surrounding temps. While you are drinking it, your body temps will drop further. Should you still drink if you have no hot water available?
    – c2h2
    Feb 15, 2011 at 5:53
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    @c2h2, you're right -- if you're already hypothermic the cold water may not be as helpful. My point is to keep hydrated before you get to the point of hypothermia. If you're not yet hypothermic, the cold water will do you more good than harm.
    – darkcanuck
    Feb 15, 2011 at 6:03
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    "If you get to this point you will not realize what's happening or be able to fix it." -- if you're e.g. mountain-walking with buddies, then keep talking with them ... and if they become stupid and/or angry then you should suspect that they might have hypothermia (and vice versa).
    – ChrisW
    Feb 15, 2011 at 16:09

Sounds like you have a bit of terminal burrowing

Here's another example from today's news: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/938882--lost-teens-survive-quebec-tundra-for-four-days?bn=1 : "He had dug a hole in the snow for shelter from the wind and stripped down to his T-shirt."

Anyway, when I was once taught about hypothermia, I was also told that 'irrational' (e.g. angry) could be a symptom of hypothermia, to look out for: being stupid.

When I biked in winter (in Canada), part of my problem was how to stay cool enough, given that I'm wearing a winter coat (I have to unzip it); but my distance was much less than 100 km (i.e. it was 20 km or about an hour, twice a day). I'd use my coat to keep my core warm enough, and a couple of layers under my coat to keep my skin warm when I unzip the coat. After an hour it would be my fingers and toes (and my skin generally) that was cold (so more likely to get superficial chilblains than internal hypothermia).

One more thing is that I have a panier attached to the bike, which contains among other thing some extra clothes. I wear reduced clothing (and wear it unzipped or semi-unzipped) when I'm cycling (because I'm producing extra heat), so it's good to carry extra clothes for if ever you stop producing so much heat. A 100 km ride is several hours, I don't think I can count on being able to produce constant power output over so long.

  • -50C omg, I guess for cycling, wind is as severe as very low temps, winds quickly take the heat away from you, make your body temps drop, therefore a wind resistant coat is important. And I learnt that bringing a dry inner cloth is helpful. which I can change the wet one if needed.
    – c2h2
    Feb 15, 2011 at 7:28
  • @c2h2 My Canadian winter coat is certainly wind-proof: if it didn't stop air, it wouldn't be much of a coat; but as it is, I do need to unzip it when I'm exercising. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WindChill_Comparison.GIF or ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=0F42F92D-1 illustrate the effect of wind chill on your exposed face .. e.g. -15C at 40 kph can feel like -25C ... in Toronto it's very rare that I'd feel a need to cover my cheeks when biking (hat maybe, gloves yes, cheeks no), and that's about frost-bite (i.e. skin) rather than hypothermia (i.e. core temperature).
    – ChrisW
    Feb 15, 2011 at 16:05

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