1 March 2018How to cycle in the snow... and survive
When a ‘Beast from the East’ strikes, cyclists can be forgiven for leaving their trusty steed at home and taking the bus or train instead.
But for Radio 1 DJ Greg James and Sport Relief celebrity trainer Professor Greg Whyte, parking the bike this week really isn't an option. The duo are on a mission to raise money by doing a 'Gregathalon' – a harder version of the well-established Three Peaks Challenge. Not only are they climbing up the UK's three highest mountains, but they're also cycling from one to the next rather than relying on a support car. And all in the space of just five days.
“This has been the toughest Sport Relief event I’ve done so far, purely because of the conditions,” says Prof Whyte, physical activity expert and world-renowned sports scientist, from a Scottish hotel during a short break on Day Four. Fortunately, he and James underwent specialist winter training before they started. Here's some of the techniques they've used to keep on biking through the blizzard...
Do A Bike Swap
“We started well and knew the cold front was heading our way but we never realised it was going to get as horrendous as this,” explains Professor Whyte, a veteran supporter of numerous Sport Relief pursuits, including Greg James’ successful 'five triathlons in five cities in five days' last year.
“On Tuesday, after climbing Snowdon, we had to switch from road bikes to mountain bikes because cycling the next stage route to Scafell Pike in the Peak District had become so treacherous. Mountain bikes are better for these conditions, but the problem is that it takes twice as much effort to go the distance you’re looking to cover on these heavier, chunkier bikes.”
Take Extreme Cover
“As the conditions worsened the old adage that ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment’ was tested to the limit,” says Whyte. “The key thing to be mindful of when cycling through a wind chill factor of minus 30 degrees C is keeping your extremities warm. Sure, riding the bike keeps your core body temperature up, but at the periphery you really need to cover your fingertips, toes, nose and other extremes.”
As the body tries to keep the core warm by constricting blood vessels and reducing the flow of blood to your skin – vasoconstriction – it also reduces the flow of blood to your extremities. “Men especially need to look after the ‘old chap. Frostbite of the penis is a genuine concern for men cycling outdoors in freezing temperatures. It’s the first thing to go if you’re not wrapping up well enough,” warns Whyte.
“You definitely need to adapt your nutrition in the cold weather,” insists Whyte. “You expend more energy maintaining your body heat and you need to consume more to cover that.”
Both Gregs are burning around 10,000 calories a day – four times the average amount for an adult man.
“But in this weather you’re also at a much greater risk of dehydration,” adds Whyte. “Firstly there’s the insensible sweat loss we’re suffering. Because we’re wearing more layers of clothing on this ride it means we’re sweating out a lot more fluid – even if the cold means it doesn’t feel that way. Secondly the cold, dry air causes the body to lose more fluid. The air you breathe out that freezes and also suffer from cold diuresis as the weather increases your need to pee.”
Another side effect of vasoconstriction is that it causes blood pressure to rise because the same amount of blood has less space to flow through. To regulate this, the kidneys filter out some of the excess fluid from the blood to reduce its volume.
“The dehydration issue is complicated for us because the water bottles on the bikes are freezing up – which means having to stop for water instead of drinking as we ride,” explains Whyte.
Safety Has To Come First
“I’m speaking to you now from a hotel in Scotland. We’re heading for Ben Nevis but there’s a Red Warning which means we couldn’t even travel by car at the moment never mind by bike,” says Whyte. “When it’s minus 15 and the roads are frozen you just have to concede that you can’t beat Mother Nature. It’s frustrating, especially for Greg (James) who’s on track to make a lot of money for a great cause, and is now just having to control the anxiety of waiting until we get the all clear to continue. He’s tough and he’s prepared to go, but if you can’t stay upright on the bike then there’s really no point in taking to the road.”
The Gregathlon Route
DAY 1:Climb Snowdon and cycle 80 miles to Daresbury
DAY 2:Cycle from Daresbury to Nether Wasdale – Forced on to mountain bikes are for a 135-mile cross-country ride
DAY 3: Cycle 5 miles, then climb Scafell Pike, then cycle to Abbington
DAY 4: Cycle from Abbington to Fort William
DAY 5: Climb Ben Nevis – where the winds get up to 65mph on Ben Nevis – at 45mph some people have to crawl, not walk…