I bike quite a lot (getting to work "15km one way" and general getting around) and been biking for past 12+ years, I also believe I have a relatively good sum of stamina. Unfortunately I would not be able to run same amount of kilometers as I bike. And would suffer from 30-40 minutes cooling down period from even smallest distance running.

For example last few times I biked 46 kilometers (to location and back), but if I tried to run I would be gasping for breath after first 40-50 meters. Now as the weather is getting colder 10-18 celsius, I find that i'm starting to see signs of oxygen depletion. And general stress on my lungs, at times it feels like the oxygen intake is not enough to keep the brain and the rest of the body going. However my body is generating great amounts of heat, so blood flow isn't being affected and is normal to keep body warm. There were few occasions where I would notice my body producing faint steam during cold weather.

Not to mention in regards to lungs and cold air intake, is that it feels like there is a block of concrete on my chest compressing it every so often..

At times I would feel like I am holding my breath and my brain is slowly starving, so I have to stop and give my body few moments of rest and then processed to cycling back. I'm not really sure why this is happening since as I mentioned I do bike allot and live a relatively good lifestyle, I don't smoke, drink or do drugs. I do however consume excessive amounts of coffee 8-10 cups of day (instant coffee primarily).

So with that said what would be some advice to improve my ability to ride during colder weather? And get rid of the gasping for air occurrence during cold weather cycling.

Kindly thanks in advance.

5 Answers 5


I'll try to put this in layman's terms

Cycling uses mostly legs, but running uses almost all the muscles in your body. By cycling, it trains your legs and heart to be able to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. However, it doesn't do too much good with adapting the arms/core as much as running. So when you run, your upper body and core will get tired because those muscles are not used to taking in a lot of oxygen.

Cold temperature should actually help your endurance. 10-18 celsius should be no problem. In warmer weather, you sweat more, which reduces blood volume, which decreases the amount of oxygen your muscles get. Also in warm weather, your body tries to get rid of body heat by delivering more blood to the skin (i.e., the outer surface of your body). When this happens, again, your muscles get less blood and therefore less oxygen. It does take a bit longer to warm up in cold weather though.

The ability of your lungs to take in oxygen is almost never a limiting factor to your endurance. You'd have to be in very high altitude where there is little oxygen or be an extremely elite athlete (i.e., VO2max around 68) where you have the ability to use oxygen at a crazy rate.

One more thing. Coffee intake will actually increase your endurance temporarily. It contains caffeine, which increases heart rate and promotes more delivery of oxygen to muscles. In fact, many endurance competitions limit how much caffeine you are allowed to consume before the race.


Cycling is harder in the cold for one big contributing reason: you didn't put in extra pressure into the tires to compensate for the pressure drop.

If you inflate your tires indoors, you have to think about the temperature difference. That 25 degree indoor air going into your tire will turn into 10 degree air. This gets worse with lower temperatures. Keep your bike in a storage room that at close to external temperature and inflate it there, or outside. Or else, put in extra pressure.

Another factor is that rolling resistance of rubber goes up with decreasing temperature, probably because it loses flexibility. See the notes about temperature in [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolling_resistance] This is an innate property of the tire that you cannot fix with more air.

Also, 10-18 Celsius is not cold! At least not for exercise. It might be cold for walking to a park and sitting on the bench when you get there, but it is in fact an ideal temperature range for nailing personal best race times in an outdoor endurance sport. It is cool enough that you can eliminate excess heat and perform in comfort, and not nearly so cold that you have to wear cumbersome layers. In this temperature range, you can wear next to nothing, and work as hard as you want without overheating.

Disclaimer: I'm in Canada.


Some of the effects of cooler temperature might have on your cycling are:

  1. cold air is denser than warm air ... increasing aerodynamic resistance
  2. your tire pressure will be lower if not adjusted ... increasing your rolling resistance
  3. your tire rubber compound will be harder ... decreasing your grip
  4. you'll likely be wearing more clothing ... increasing your weight and impeding your motion
  5. but mostly there is a physiological response to breathing in cold air, like constriction of airways and potential asthma symptoms. See this article for details.

I think grasping for air after 50m of running is quite normal when you never did it. I started running about a month ago, and was like running really slow for maybe 100meters, than walk a little, then run for 100 meters for a total of may 2km in 20min. Now about a month later I run over up to 40minutes and 5.5km so far. So once you start training it, you'll improve fast.

Having problems to breath enough like you describe sounds a little like asthma to me. I think symptoms of asthma often increase in cold air.

  • I thought asthma as well but I'm 20 year old male and never had asthma in my life. I always had problem running for me small runs required massive cooling down period of 30-40 minutes. But if I had asthma I would have been "KO"d long time back with my everyday biking. Sep 21, 2013 at 2:22

Cycling and running are completely different exercises. When you cycle, there's is almost zero impact on the body as a whole and this allows you to concentrate on the main action which is moving your legs.

When running, the impact on the body is far more, especially if you're not used to running. You have to concentrate on moving your arms, legs and your core is actually working to keep the body balanced so there's a lot more going on. Once your body gets used to the extra tension on the body, you can then concentrate on your ideal pace, distance etc.

The issue you see with cold weather could just be the body having to work harder to warm up the muscles, it might be worth you stretching a lot more before cycling in the cold to get the body warmed up and ready.

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