Sitting inside a heated room, in the dead of winter, can make one feel cozy. The warmth is enticing. Thoughts of frigid air make one leery of the outdoors, and procrastination in going out takes over.
There is no end to the number of things one finds to do indoors as soon as the outdoor temperature falls below 40º Fahrenheit. Riding a bike at this time of year can be challenging.
Just getting dressed can be a chore. Several layers of clothing are required for winter riding. Pulling on a base layer, followed by some type of shirt in addition to a sweater or fleece garment can be a real nuisance. In sub-freezing temperatures it may even be necessary to wear insulated bottoms under street pants — for those times when one isn’t riding in cycling tights. This leaves a cyclist feeling bulky, with a sense of clothing rubbing against clothing, an unpleasant sensation which becomes more noticeable with each step.
This layering precedes the gathering up of a full complement of outerwear: hat, gloves, face mask (if it’s cold enough to warrant wearing one) and possibly sports eyewear to help prevent teary eyes. So much effort makes winter cycling seem like a lot of work. And, sometimes, all this work can make winter cycling unpleasant.
Once outdoors, the experience of riding in the cold never seems as bad as the thoughts of going outside make it out to be. But, this doesn’t make it any easier to get motivated.
Facing the ritual of dressing in layers with the intent of peeling off layers to adjust to warmer temperatures, followed by enduring biting cold and whipping wind takes a special kind of motivation. It’s a motivation based on the sense of wanting a challenge, wanting to overcome the elements and wanting to adhere to the notion of cycling as a year-round activity.
So, how does one go about mustering up such motivation?
The joy of cycling can go a long way in tempering any adversity involved in riding a bike. Traveling through ice and snow under one’s own power can create a feeling of self-sufficiency and independence. It can also foster a feeling of oneness with nature.
The natural world is rarely considered as a reason to take up cycling. Yet, riding outdoors does bring a cyclist closer to nature and renders him or her closer to a natural state of existence.
Motors, the major source of modern transportation, conjure up images of machinery. They are as far from natural as a thing can be. Their power comes from combustion, a rapid chemical process in which a substance reacts with oxygen to produce heat and light. It is neither human nor an event found within the animal kingdom. Instead, it is the lifeblood of machines.
Keeping such thoughts in mind makes a cyclist cognizant of what it means to be a biological being capable of generating energy through caloric intake. Engines consume gasoline to produce energy and humans consume food, with most of their energy coming from glucose, a monosaccharide sugar.
Such ideas may appear to have little to do with finding motivation to ride a bike in winter, but it is the very fact that cyclists are human which keeps them warm while they’re riding. A concept of this sort is rather abstract, but not difficult to comprehend.
Another, more practical idea related to wanting to ride a bike in the cold has to do with weight regulation. In recent years, people in Western cultures have been turning up the thermostats in their homes and offices and spending little time outdoors in winter. This change may be contributing to the obesity epidemic by turning down the body’s own thermostat.
Reduced exposure to cool indoor temperatures during the winter may be causing obesity by minimizing the need for higher energy expenditure which keeps the body warm. In other words, human metabolism slows as the temperature rises.
In lower temperatures, humans keep warm in several ways: skeletal muscle fiber contraction which causes shivering, vasoconstriction and lowering of skin temperature, and through adaptive metabolic thermogenic responses generating heat in tissues. All of these strategies require energy. And, energy expenditure is inversely associated with the ambient thermal environment.
Current research has identified several factors which explain why spending a lot of time in higher indoor temperatures leads to obesity. But, the bottom line is that there is a causal link between the amount of time spent in thermal comfort and weight gain. Thus, the possibility of becoming (or remaining) obese can be a strong motivator for going outside to ride in the cold.
Winter cyclists have always been a hardy breed. This hardiness keeps them fit and improves their health. It can also improve their mood since it relieves cabin fever and releases endorphins, a result of exercise.
Whether it’s concern about obesity, poor health or a depressed mood, all of us can benefit from spending more time outdoors in winter. With this in mind, cyclists should pile on the winter riding clothes, armed with the knowledge that perseverance and diligence lead to advantages in the end.