Cold Weather Riding…How Cold Is Too Cold?

How Cold Is Too Cold To Ride?
There’s been a lot of posting on Google+ lately about cold weather riding.  Most of it focused around, “How cold is too cold to ride?”  Living in Central Texas where the average annual temperature is 69.2° F, I’d never given it much thought.  But for some reason I couldn't get the question out of my head. 

My thoughts turned to a ride I made from San Angelo to Odessa when the early morning temperatures were in the upper-40’s.  I wore a thermal undershirt, long sleeves, and a textile jacket but by the time I got to Midland I was chilled to the bone.  My teeth were chattering and I was shivering almost uncontrollably.  I stopped at a McDonalds to warm-up…after two cups of hot chocolate I finally stopped shivering.  Given this experience and the buzz on Google+, I decided to do a little research and find a definitive answer.  Here’s what I found…

There is no definitive answer.  There’s no magic temperature below which it is unsafe to ride.  Our bodies are quite remarkable and with proper insulation and protection can withstand frigid, well-below-zero temperatures (think snowmobile in the Antarctic).  In the end, it comes down to rider preparation and preference.

You need to understand the hazards of cold weather riding like hypothermia (a decrease in core body temperature to a level at which normal muscle and brain functions are impaired) and frostnip/frostbite in order to prevent them.  I discovered on my ride to Odessa that you can suffer from mild hypothermia  even when the outside temperatures are in the upper 40’s.  I had neglected the effect of moving through the air at 70 mph and the resulting wind chill.  If the temperature is 47° F and you’re travelling 70 mph without a windshield, it can effectively feel like 34°.  No wonder, I was shivering! 

Learn from my mistake and dress in warm layers to insulate yourself from the cold.  If the temperatures are in the 40’s and you’ll be riding at freeway speeds, you should also make sure to cover all exposed skin paying special attention to your ears, nose, chin, and fingers, as they’re the most susceptible to frostnip/frostbite. Remember to consider the outside air temperature, your planned speed, and trip length when preparing for a cool/cold weather ride. These considerations will help gauge what you need to wear to stay warm and hopefully, comfortable.

Only you can decide when it’s too cold to ride.  Everyone has his or her own opinion…and everyone is right.  After all, it is your ride.  Just keep in mind that you can extend your riding season by carefully selecting your gear.  There are lots of choices of leather and textile to build insulating layers and you can even choose heated gear to minimize the bulk.  You don’t have to dress like the Michelin Man to stay warm during a cold weather ride.  :-)

So, what temperature is too cold for you?  What types of gear/clothing do you use to extend your riding season?  Leave a comment and let’s see what we can learn from one another.


Learn more about Speed and Temperature
Learn how to calculate Wind Chill
Learn more about Hypothermia
Learn more about Frostnip and Frostbite
Learn more about the Science of Cold


  1. I'm not going to ride on most roads when it's near or below freezing, not because I'm a wimp about cold air myself, but because street bikes and (black) ice are not a good combination.

    Freeways are more forgiving, because a high volume of fast cars keeps the road warmer and drier.

    1. You definitely have a point. Cold is one thing, ice is another. I would never recommend riding when it's icy...just too much to go wrong IMO. ~Curt

  2. 46* is my ground floor. We rode that in the rain in the Rockies and I was cold. Keeping my core warm was key but you're absolutely right about covering exposed skin.

    1. I'm not sure where I'll draw the line. I got a TourMaster heated jacket liner but haven't really needed it yet. I can only imagine that 46 feels really cold when your in the rain and at altitude. Have you thought about heated gear? ~Curt

  3. I was actually thinking about this today as I was out. My father bought me some heated grips for Christmas but I'm thinking of returning them and using the money on other gear. I had heavy-duty gloves and glove liners, three layers on my legs, three layers under my leather jacket and a wool scarf. It was 3C (about 37F) and I found I was perfectly happy zipping along the motorway at 90 mph. But, then, I bicycle to work every day. I am used to being out in all weathers and have actually acclimated to the point that some part of me always enjoys being outdoors regardless of the conditions. Obviously, I enjoy certain conditions more than others...

  4. Chris,

    Wow, 37 degrees F is cold...especially if you're zipping down the freeway. Good thing you were layered-up. Glad you're riding! ~Curt