Cold Winter Air Temps and Power Performance?

Can anyone chime in or share any info they have on winter outdoor training and effects on performance due to air temps. I live in Maine and I recently mounted a power meter o my fatbike so I can incorporate outdoor training workouts into my TR plan. I have not tried a true outdoor FTP test outdoors yet, but my lungs feel pretty good down to about 20F with little loss of power if any.

Are there any upsides or downsides to pushing hard workouts outside when the air temps are at or below freezing? I am guessing there are plenty of riders on here who brave the cold from time to time and might be able to share there experience on outdoor cold weather intervals with power.


Colder air is denser so creates more resistance, does it make a noticeable difference? No idea, wish I had asked on the specialised wind tunnel podcast

Cold muscles don’t work as well, and when they do warm up it’s harder to shift heat due to the layers we are all wearing. And if you overheat you just soak yourself from the inside out, and when you slow down you get chilled.

But being outside is great, so it’s all ok.

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Only downside I have is temperature management after high effort intervals. I end up sweating quite a bit for efforts at sweet spot and above, and then the sweat freezes during recovery. Pretty miserable. For that reason alone I stick to endurance efforts outside when the temperature dips below ~25°F. I don’t notice any impact on power I’m able to produce.

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I’m in Maine too! I’ve always felt that cold air pretty much makes everything work less well. Several years in a row now, in the fall, when the weather gets chilly, my Strava segment times suffer. The first year I was using Strava, it drove me nuts, but I’ve just accepted it now. Where in Maine?

In a vacuum, colder temperatures should provide a performance advantage up to a certain point. The rationale is that your body needs to expend less energy cooling itself and therefore you have more energy to put into your effort. However at some temperature point there would be diminished returns and likely a performance decrease if it is so cold that your body is vasoconstricting and not allowing for proper circulation.

However riding outdoors adds many other variables. Clothing may be heavier and less aero than summer clothes. Shoes are also likely heavier. Rolling resistance may change on frozen terrain (the crunch, crunch, crunch as you ride over frozen leaves vs the hard pack in the summer), an important consideration for MTB biking where momentum management is important.

Probably lots of other factors too. A power meter will get you some good data. What type of PM did you put on your fat bike? I tried to put a Stages on my XX1 equipped Salsa Beargrease, but it wouldn’t clear the rear chainstay so I had to return it.

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I fat bike in Michigan through the winter. I’m sure my performance is decreased by the cold, but so is the fact that I’m on a fat bike and all dressed up. I only use cold weather training for aerobic efforts or fooling around and practicing skills. When I was going through Traditional Base the last couple months I did my 3 hour rides outdoors in 20-35 degree weather.

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Thanks for the input. I have been completing a bunch of sweet spot workouts indoor on the Kickr and going to complete my own real world test soon. Who knows how accurate my power meter is vs the Kickr, but I will find out!

Bugeye72, I am located in Portland, but ride all over Maine, NH, and VT. I am pretty much 100% MTB and try and avoid the dangerous Maine roads.

Kuttermax, did you just swap the left arm for a stages gxp mtb? I am actually running a crazy setup right now. 29+ bike with 27.5x3.8 tires on 50mm rims. This lets let keep the narrow q factor and decent float. I have been struggling with knee pain due to weak hips and even with PT the fatbike bothers my knees. Running the new Raceface Cinch meter and it seems to work well at cold temps.

bigdirt, I’m in Warren, up near Camden. I’m about 90% MTB also. Like you said, it’s crazy riding on the roads around my house.

I find my steady state power remains about the same, but my speed goes down, due to the previously mentioned change in air density, and I believe rolling resistance as well. The big power change I find in cold weather is my top end disappears. My lungs just don’t seem to be able to handle sucking cold air at a VO2 type effort.

I don’t notice power declines in the cold, as much as problems with thermal management - with the big problem being sweat.

As a result, it’s much more manageable to ride at endurance pace on the flats, than threshold up a ski hill where you sweat on the way up and freeze on the way down.

If I can keep my body temp well regulated, I really like riding in the cold, and often feel pretty strong on the bike.

Whenever I have ridden hard in really cold conditions I get some issues with breathing. Nothing seriously worrying but an extra pain which is apparently caused by dry air rather than coldness per se.

I haven’t had a PM in those conditions so difficult to say whether power dropped but RPE wise it definitely feels harder.

A lot of people feel the same but keep an eye on it, years ago I knew cycling in the cold would leave me really breathless, turns out I’m asthmatic, only diagnosed 2 years ago but now I know the symptoms and triggers, exercising in the cold is one.

I actually have a puffer for that very reason. Cold weather induced asthma. I’ve had to use it a few times, unfortunately it hasn’t turned me into Froome yet.