Note: This is the tenth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, “A Guide To Winter Cycling”).
You probably won’t be cycling as fast or as far in the heart of winter as you would during the summer, but riding through snow and ice can burn a lot of calories. My heart rate monitor and Cyclemeter iPhone app do a decent job of calculating how many calories I burn during normal rides, but I don’t think it is possible for even the best power meter to accurately reflect the calories you burn during the winter—there are just too many variables. Even if you don’t get very thirsty during winter rides you still need to drink a lot or you will get dehydrated; and if you are going to ride for more than 90 minutes you need to take in an appropriate amount of carbohydrates (based on your speed and weight). In this article I am not going to focus on what tho eat or drink as much as I am on how to keep those items from becoming solid blocks of ice during your ride.
The colder it gets outside the faster your water bottle is going to freeze. The problem is not confined to your water freezing—before that happens the valve on your water bottle is probably going to freeze shut, so even if you have 18 ounces of liquid in your bottle you still won’t be able to get a drink. One solution is to use a Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle instead of the water bottle you use during the warmer months. The Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle is a 100% food-grade stainless steel bottle with high performance vacuum insulation. The folks at Klean Kanteen claim this bottle with insulate hot beverages for up to six hours, and iced drinks up to twenty-four hours. The six-hour time frame for hot beverages is accurate if the bottle is stored at room temperature, but outside in near zero degree weather it is not going to last that long. However, if will keep you liquids drinkable for at least four hours. Since this is a wide mouth bottle you never have to worry about a small valve freezing shut in the winter. However, you will need to stop your bike in order take off the cap and get a drink (that’s not uncommon in winter cycling).
The Klean Kanteen bottle will fit in most bicycle water bottle cages. However, these bottles are a bit wider than normal bicycle water bottles, and if your water bottle cage is made of aluminum it will scratch the Klean Kanteen bottle to pieces in no time at all. To keep from scratching my bottles I replaced the aluminum bottle cages on my winter bikes with a flexible composite cage. Since most composite cages have a small “lip” to keep the water bottle in place, I took a Dremel rotary tool and removed the “lip” so the bottle would slide in easier. The 20-ounce Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle retails for $28 and is available in several colors, including Black, White, Wild Raspberry, Blue, Gray and Brushed Stainless. This product comes with a lifetime warranty (see the Klean Kanteen Website for complete details).
Now that you know how to keep your drinks from freezing during a ride, what drink is the best to use? I enjoy hydration mixes from both Skratch Labs and Osmo Hydration—most of the their drink mixes taste great either cold or at room temperature, but very few drink mixes taste good warm. Fortunately, Skratch Labs has recently introduced a new flavor that is designed for both winter and summer use, Apples and Cinnamon, and this mix tastes great when served cold and even better hot! When mixed with hot water the flavor reminds you of a cup of warm apple cider.
Another one of my favorite winter drinks on the bike is hot tea with honey. I always use decaffeinated tea because tea has a diuretic effect and that effect is compounded with caffeine (and when the temperature is well below zero you don’t want to stop to answer the call of nature any more than is absolutely necessary). This is one time when you don’t have to be shy about how much honey you add to the tea—you need the carbs!
For several years I’ve taken Honey Stinger Waffles with me on nearly every bike ride and can’t imagine cycling without them. If you have not tasted a Stinger Waffle your life is sad and lacking. Without the slightest bit of exaggeration, these are the best tasting items you will ever consume on a bike! Each waffle has 160 calories, offers 21 grams of carbohydrates, are all organic and certified Kosher. Two packages of waffles take up about the same amount of room in your jersey pocket as a single Clif Bar. As the outside temperature drops these waffles become brittle. The best way to keep the waffles soft is to put them in a jersey pocket under your cycling jacket. When the temperature drops to below 20 degrees (which is most of the time in the winter) I put these waffles in my jacket pocket along with a chemical hand warmer. These waffles taste great at room temperature, but when you are riding on a snowy day and pull one out of your jacket that has been warmed up, well, you have a treat fit for a king!
I don’t normally like using carb gels in the winter because they are too hard to open with gloves or mitts on—and I hate taking off my gloves before I get home from the ride. However, Hammer Gel not only sells their product in individual packages, but also a 26-serving jug of gel for $20 (this comes out to just .77¢ per serving). You can use the gel from the jug to fill your own flask—but the Hammer Gel 5-Ounce Flask is your best bet—it is made of high-density polyethylene and has molded finger tip groves. This flask is incredibly easy to use while on the bike—I can get the gel out faster from the flask than I ever could with a single-serving package. In addition, small packages usually spill a few drops of sticky gel into my jerseys, but the flask seals lock-tight and you won’t spill a drop! I have been carrying this flask in the vest pocket on my jacket—when it gets colder I’ll add a chemical hand warmer to the pocket.