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March 20, 2011

The Cold Facts On Riding Comfortably

Jesse Ziegler

Dressing properly for the conditions is one thing, but dressing for your body’s unique needs and characteristics is the best way to stay truly comfortable on your next ride.

With today’s gear, you can customize your clothing to not only match the temperature, but even your riding style, tendency to sweat and maybe even what you had for breakfast. In the end, it’s all about comfort. The more you learn about your body’s needs, the easier it is to find the perfect gear combo to make your ride rock.

Humans like to be comfortable. It’s in our nature to seek out moderate temperatures, mild humidity levels and to keep our skin dry. It’s a survival instinct as well as a personal preference.

The most important factor contributing to your comfort level is your micro climate—an invisible, very thin layer of protective air which surrounds you wherever you go. Its management is vital to your comfort and survival in the world’s most extreme conditions. We are most comfortable with a micro climate temperature around 90 degrees F with a relative humidity of 30 percent. 

In general, those conditions will keep you comfortable, but what’s good for your hands isn’t always good for your core, shoulders or feet. In cold weather, our arms and legs can be up to 45 degrees colder than the rest of our body—without any discomfort. To effectively control our micro climate, we need to understand what our bodies want and need and then dress accordingly.

Know Your Body

Head—In the coldest conditions you can lose more heat through your unprotected head than your entire body can produce. This effect is multiplied if your head is wet—essentially radiating body heat straight up and out.

Torso—Your torso is like a continent. It can be cold and wet in one spot and warm and dry in another. For instance: your shoulder and lower back regions are particularly sensitive to excessive cooling and require extra protection from the cold.

Hands—Your hands perspire (sweat) almost constantly and are left out on their own in extreme conditions. If that’s not bad enough, your body reduces blood flow to them as it cools. It’s no wonder they are so prone to freezing. If you can keep your hands comfortable, the rest of your body generally follows suit. Keeping them comfortable and dry is critical so they can work for you.

Legs—Your legs make up about 30 percent of your body. That’s a massive surface area to focus on in your effort to gain maximum comfort.

Feet—Along with hands, your feet are on the top of the list for the most neglected, abused and sweaty body parts. Your feet sweat roughly one-quarter cup of moisture a day per foot while at rest and up to a full cup during activity or when overheated. If your footwear isn’t engineered for maximum breathability, this moisture has nowhere to go. Cold, wet feet are enemy No. 1.

Micro Climate Influencers

Environment—The environment is out of your control. What you can master is its effects on your body by optimizing and protecting your micro climate. This means specifically dressing for activity and conditions and being prepared for the unexpected. As a rider you are often faced with life-threatening conditions.

© 2014 SnoWest® Magazine