Looking across to the snow capped alpine mountains seen from the back seat of a motorcycle

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What Makes It Feel Cold?

Blog Date - 24 November 2014

Simple question huh? What makes it cold? Er...a lack of heat? Erm...not enough sunshine? Too much British winter?

I watch the weather forecast in the morning and the nice weatherperson tells me it will be 7 degrees centigrade outside this morning. That's not so bad, it was also 7 degrees yesterday morning and while I would not want to be riding in shorts and a t-shirt I did not suffer any ill effects due to the chill. So then why is it this morning when I set off I was distinctly cold?

I used to think the "degrees centigrade" was a pure simple figure I could use to know exactly how much I need to wrap up and what to expect. I've learned the hard way over the years that this is not the case, not by a long shot. There are 2 primary factors that I know about and I'll cover them here. There will be others that are perhaps more subtle but for me these are the most important.

snow lies across an empty road and on the bare trees
Definitely not flip flops weather.

It's obvious that clothing makes a big difference. I could go on at length about what I believe is the best gear to wear, the best method of wearing it and lots of tips and tricks that help stave off the icy claws of winter. But the point here is that even if we wore the same clothes from one day to the next then our perception and indeed suffering at the hands of the weather will not be exactly the same. There are other forces at play.

The biggest thing is the amount of moisture in the air. Air in fact is generally considered an insulator. Clothes, boiler wraps, pipe lagging and loft insulation all work by trapping air. Water on the other hand is an excellent conductor of heat. Leave a bowl of water in a cold room. Eventually if the room temperature is 7 degrees then the water will reach 7 degrees too. Now, place your hand in the water and your hand will feel cold. This is because the water is sucking the heat out of your hand far quicker than the air ever does. 

one bright rainbow and a pale rainbow over bolton town centre
Rainbow? Oh yeah, we're gonna get wet and therefore probably cold too.

So if there's a high humidity, a lot of water in the air then this will cool you down much faster. The moisture conducts your body heat away from you more rapidly than dry air. Now add to this some rain! It might still be 7 degrees but those wet gloves, boots and jacket will leach away any warmth you started out with faster than chocolate biscuits disappear at my house. 

People often talk of wind chill. I think for motorcyclists the wind chill factor is actually not much of an issue. Why? Because we have our own wind chill all of the time anyway. Most of us will usually face between 30 to 70 mph winds even when the air is still. We're used to wrapping up against the stiff breeze that movement itself causes and sealing out the draughts. I guess if you're riding into the wind it's a little worse, but then when the wind is behind you it's better. The biggest problem with wind is not the wind chill factor but being blown off course.

The next factor is the rider. Given exactly the same climatic conditions, clothing, time of day and motorcycle we can still feel colder on some days. Did we sleep well the night before? Have we eaten the correct warm foods? What mood are we in? Have we exercised recently? Are we healthy? Not only do the weather conditions effect our sensation of warm and cold but our body, mind and attitude must do so as well. Due to the complexities of the human condition this is a very difficult thing to measure. Some days we're just up for it, other days the thought of getting cold makes getting cold inevitable.

a motorcyclist lies on an outside table in all his motorcycle gear and helmet
Sometimes...just sometimes it's all a bit too much.

So watching the weather report is merely a starting point. Yes, it may be -2 outside but it is crisp and dry. Apart from the risk of ice on quiet and untreated roads it may be a great day for a ride. Correspondingly it may be 9 degrees but with rain, fog or high humidity it could feel quite miserable. And what about you? It may be frosty outside but if your heart is filled with warmth perhaps this will make for a fabulous ride.

Reader's Comments

shirley said :-
You never fail to amaze me..
1/1/2000 12:00:00 AM UTC
John said :-
I find fatigue is a big factor but I've learned a cup of tea and a biscuit before I leave work in the evening makes a world of difference.
1/1/2000 12:00:00 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Why do I never fail to amaze you Shirley?

John, fatigue is an excellent point. As can be health and fitness. That's probably why all these explorer types need to be super fit.
1/1/2000 12:00:00 AM UTC

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