Louisville Wheelmen

Louisville Wheelmen Newsletter -- January-February 1996

Is It Just Me, or Is It Cold Out Here?

by I.C. Rain

Whether it is a sign of the well documented insanity of bicyclists or not, we often ride throughout the winter. Any cyclist who tries to ride in the cold needs to understand that care must be taken to avoid injuries which can result from frostbite, hypothermia and wind chill.

As any dedicated Weather Channel watcher knows, wind chill is the difference between the temperature you feel when there is no wind as opposed to wind of a certain velocity. In other words, it is not enough to know the temperature; you must also know the wind chill in order to know how to dress to go cycling.

Frostbite results from having extremities (fingers, toes and the tip of your nose) chilled beyond tolerable levels or from direct exposure of uncovered skin (like cheeks, ears or ankles) to extreme cold. Real frostbite actually kills or severely damages the exposed tissue. Hypothermia is much more subtle. Hypothermia results from the chilling of the body core below tolerable levels. People who lose the ability to maintain core temperature become disoriented and confused and could die if left untreated. Hypothermia is particularly nasty because it can occur in relatively mild temperatures if the victim is wet and because the victim may be unaware of what is happening and may insist that nothing is wrong. Immediate treatment for hypothermia is to move the victim to a warm room, if possible, or at least by wrapping him or her up with a warm body. If you suspect that someone in your group has frostbite or hypothermia, seek medical help as quickly as possible.

The best treatment for these conditions is prevention. When dressing to go out, always keep the wind chill factor in mind and consider that you will be moving through the wind on a bicycle. It is best to slightly overdress the body core because extra heat will be sent to the head and extremities when the body core begins to overheat and this helps to avoid cold toes and fingers. It is equally important not to overdress to the point of profuse sweating which can eventually cause severe chilling (and hypothermia). The way to do it is in layers of polypropylene and cotton with an outer shell which can be opened or closed as required. Winter cycling clothing such as heavy vented jackets, warm tights, heavy gloves or mittens, wool socks, a thin polypro head covering and neoprene booties all help. Equally important, donít overexpose yourself. Plan the ride so that it can be cut short if you get into trouble.

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Copyright ©1996 The Louisville Wheelmen

last updated: 22 December 1995
by Duc M. Do