What is Your “Ride-or-Hide” Cycling Threshold?

Waiting for the sun, chasing peaches, or riding at all costs, where do you draw the line?

Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

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It’s December, and the thermometer is dropping across the Northern Hemisphere, posing a familiar question for cyclists and triathletes everywhere: Do you ride or hide?

It’s the seasonal quandary that rolls around each calendar. Do you stay inside or ride the trainer, or head out and brave the chilly temps and frozen appendages?

This time of year, every cyclist must identify their personal ride-or-hide threshold.

For some, it’s that magical temperature separating knee from leg warmers. For others, the breaking point is when the snow piles high enough to block the front door. Below, our editors identify their ride-or-hide moments:

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Chris Foster – Editor-in-chief, Triathlete

This is a bit of a loaded (and easy) question for me, as I “hid” permanently about 17 years ago when I packed my station wagon full of bikes and fled the East Coast for the warm climes of Southern California. Been hiding ever since.

But that said, when I was living on the East Coast or traveling to a place with actual weather, for me it was less about the temps (under 40 degrees F was always when things got serious, for sure) or the precipitation and more about the wind. I hate the wind. Hate it so much. To me, biking in a strong wind is like going for a ride and having someone slap you in the face for hours on end. Hell, I did a whole season of XTERRA racing mostly because I knew I wouldn’t face much wind.

Wind notwithstanding, I actually enjoy riding in gnarly weather—especially since I became the gear editor. Because, here’s an unfortunate reality: If you have the right gear, even the worst weather isn’t all that bad. You get a nice Merino base layer underneath a well-fitting (this is key) lined long-sleeve jersey with a soft, water-repellant coating and a good outer shell to pack for serious wind or water, you’re basically in business. Add in good gloves and shoe covers, and there aren’t many conditions I wouldn’t go in.

Assuming, of course I wasn’t already hiding in Southern California.

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Susan Lacke – Senior Editor, Triathlete

Susan Lacke eats cupcakes after a winter ride
(Photo: Susan Lacke)

I grew up in Wisconsin, so technically I should be of hardy stock, ready to take on whatever the elements throw at me. After all, Wisconsin has a lot of elements, and all of them make your face hurt when you go outside. Yet if you watch a Packers game, you’ll see all the Sconnies, dancing shirtless in the snow. Those are my people.

I used to ride in every condition, no matter what. But these days, anything below 40 degrees F usually makes me tap out like the world’s weakest WWE wrestler. Part of it is that I’ve lived in Arizona on and off for the past 15 years, and 40 degrees is cold when you’re used to 115 in the desert. But the main reason is that I’m one of those rare triathletes who actually takes a real, true break every winter. I haven’t always been that way, but after getting horribly burned out from going full steam year-round, weather be damned, I realized that “offseason” is not a dirty word. I’m happier and healthier when I take time away from structured workouts.

Note that I said “structured workouts.” I’m not sitting around watching Netflix. Instead, I do a little bit of everything, depending on how I feel – sometimes I’ll join my husband in lifting weights at the gym, and other times I’ll take my friends up on an invitation to go hiking. Sometimes I ride in the trainer, and yes, sometimes I do bundle up and ride outside, too. But only if it’s over 40, the sun is shining, and baked goods are involved in some way (this is mandatory – it is the offseason, after all).

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Fred Dreier — Articles editor, Outside Magazine

If you hide, you miss out. (Photo: Frederick Drier)

What’s your ride-or-hide limit?

My take: put on the Gore-Tex, Velcro up those booties, and go outside and suffer.

My ride-or-hide limit tends to be dependent more on precipitation than temperature. If it’s raining and warm, I’ll ride Zwift. If it’s snowing, I’ll make a judgement call based on the dampness of the snow.

If it’s dry, you better believe I’m riding outdoors. I’m a dad, and when my daughter goes down for a nap, I demand my outdoor time!

Here’s the thing: Colorado’s climate is bone-dry, and thus the cold air can be overcome by smart layering and a good pair of gloves and booties. The other week I pounded out three hours on the bike on a day when the temperature barely rose over 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.8C).

I wore a synthetic base layer, a long-sleeve wool jersey, a windbreaker, a thermal jacket, and then a wind-busting vest (plus thick hat, gaiter, ski gloves, ski socks, and neoprene booties). So long as my core and fingertips stay toasty, I’ll last as long as my legs will allow.

I’m continually reminded of my years living in New York City, where the damp air made riding in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit utter torture. My ride-or-hike limit there was at a much higher temperature, and much rosier conditions. I learned some lessons there the hard way. I still remember stopping at a restaurant in Piermont to steal paper napkins to help warm my, um, more sensitive appendages.

Betsy Welch — Senior editor, VeloNews

Riding the transition between peaches and citrus. (Photo: Betsy Welch)

My “ride-or-hide” answer has to do with fruit.

I love peaches. And for a few short weeks in late summer — or months if I’m lucky — I gorge myself on peaches and nothing but.

And then, just as subtly as the season of peaches creeps up, it’s gone, and I don’t eat another peach for a year. In fact, I don’t even really think about peaches until the following summer, after the apricots and cherries have had their day. Then and only then do I start to anticipate the juicy, singular goodness of peaches.

Could I eat a peach in January? Of course, it’s 2022, and there is a peach growing somewhere. But do I really want the trucked-in-from-Chile peach that is completely divorced from exactly what makes me love peaches in the first place, the fact that they are synonymous with a very particular moment in time?

I do not. I can wait.

Can you see where I’m going with this? For me, riding bikes is a bit like eating peaches albeit (fortunately) with a much longer season. When it’s good, it’s so good. With reckless abandon I eat up the long days and warm nights with adventure rides, alpine rides, overnight rides, whatever — I’m gorging. There is nothing else I want to do.

But, come November when the shadows cast their gaze in early afternoon and the canyons never see the sun and that one patch of ice never melts? Or it’s warm but blowing 40mph from the south? I’m going to find something that tastes better.

Like skiing, or trail running, or hiking. Maybe even the gym. Or, if I’m lucky, I’ll travel to ride where it’s warmer.

Basically, I’ll stick to eating oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit. Winter is citrus season, after all.

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Andrew Hood — European editor, VeloNews

If there are palm trees, it’s riding weather. (Photo: Andrew Hood)

I’ll raise my hand and publicly admit declare my ride-or-hide threshold is well within pure wimp territory.

Like Dreier, I went to high school and university in Colorado, and the only real factor was rain or wind, which I also hold in equal disdain. And since it’s sunny in Colorado pretty much 300 days a year, not riding meant that I was hands down wimping out (or suffering from a terrible hungover).

Since being based in Europe, bone-chilling humidity has revealed my embarrassingly soft ride-or-hide threshold. Even here in northern Spain, it’s more humid than it is in monsoon season in Colorado — which lasts about three hours — so that chilly, wet, and damp factor has turned me into an outright wimp.

For a few years, I tried to ride and train like a Belgian, and insisted that I would ride no matter what Mother Nature was throwing at me. I’d even go out in light rain. Have you ever seen a Belgium use an umbrella? Nope, me either. So I figured if Johan Museeuw could do it, so could I.

Of course, that led to the worse adult flu/borderline pneumonia I ever had, and was flat on my back for three weeks. Never again, vowed I.

Since then, if it’s not sunny and relatively warm, I hit the indoor trainer.

I have serious second thoughts with anything under 10C (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit), truly within wimp territory. I’d rather be in a warm bar than outside bracing against an icy wind. Luckily, just like in Colorado, it’s sunny almost every day in Spain. So the wait is never that long.

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