Winter 2018 is looking to redefine epic weather for our January brevet. Ironically the next issue of American Randonneur will include an article on clothing for winter riding which is likely to be a little late for near-term challenges. Hint: LAYERS and lots of them.
The challenges of cold weather brevets are not limited to clothing. Bill Beck of DC Randonneurs recently offered his experiences on a New Year's Day permanent. I've reproduced the essence of his findings below, with permission.
Yesterday, Emily Ranson, Jack Nicholson, and I set off on a New Years adventure on the Woodbine-Dillsburg permanent. Indicated temperatures at the start ranged from -0.3F on Emily's Garmin to +1F on my Wahoo Bolt. Temperatures warmed to around 19F at one point, and then dropped back to the single digits after it got dark. Here were some observations and lessons learned.
1) The "Extreme" Bar Mitts worked. I used light wool gloves inside the Bar Mitts, and my hands were pretty comfortable. With the standard Bar Mitts, my hands get cold below 20 degrees. I think Emily's hands were cold yesterday in the standard Bar Mitts.
2) Standard plastic "insulated" bottles were no match for the cold. Jack's Gatorade froze solid. Emily added salt to her water bottles, and there was some liquid remaining, but it was inaccessible since the top had frozen. Two things that worked: My Camelbak was underneath two out layers of clothing and remained liquid. Unzipping the two layers and pulling out the hose allows drinking while riding. Before pushing the hose back inside the clothing, it's worthwhile to close the lever at the bite valve to prevent leakage. (I know from bad experience.) Two stainless steel, vacuum thermos water bottles were also fully liquid at the end of the ride. The Ibera models are really nice since the valve is recessed into the bottle where it's protected from freezing, but sadly it doesn't seem that they make them anymore.
3) Much of our electronics was not happy in the cold! I brought along my new Gear 360 camera and wanted to try it riding along Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. Would have been pretty cool, right? But it turned on for about 5 seconds, went off, and would not revive. Both Jack and my phones were dead by the end of the ride. When I tried to connect my USB charger to the phone, the phone said it was too cold to charge! Please try again when it's warmer. (Emily's phone was still working, as of 100 miles into the ride.) The battery in my Wahoo Bolt ran down much faster than normal. Connecting a USB power pack had no effect, so the Bolt ended up running out of battery and turning off around 10 miles from the finish. Once things were warmed up at home, the Bolt charged and ran fine off of the USB power pack, so the no-charging problem was definitely cold-related. (Jack's Bolt performed much better. When my Bolt was down to 10%, his still had over 40% left.) So you think that you are protected by having a USB power pack, but it was no protection for either my phone or my Wahoo Bolt.
While I've not tried Bar Mitts, I can speak to the second and third points. A CamelBak under my jacket has made quite a few cold weather rides possible. It allows me to stay hydrated AND I get to enjoy relatively warm fluid which helps to maintain a comfortable core temperature. Most convenience stores have a hot water available.
It's not just GPS and phone batteries that suffer in the cold. Most important is your headlight if you rely on battery-powered lighting. My own headlight battery, normally good for 6 hours, gave me the 30-minute reserve warning about 45 minutes into my New Year's Day adventure. As you'll likely need your light at the end of the ride, you might consider carrying the battery in your pocket for an hour or so before dark to warm it for use.
As you prepare for this weekend's brevet, plan ahead. You and your gear will be tested. A solid plan will get you through to the finish.
-Eastern PA RBA