Me just returning from a 2+ hour training ride last sunday. Notice the 5 inch icicle coming off of my chin. I was oblivious to it the entire ride.
I went out for another longish ride (just over two hours) yesterday. The temperature was about -2 F with 10 or more mph wind - so reasonably cold. I tried out a new 'layering' scheme - a VB shirt (stephensons warm-lite with 'fuzzy stuff') next to the skin with an IceBreaker merino wool base layer over it. On the bottom I donned Ibex wool bike shorts, knee warmers, and a pair of Craft Storm tights. A fleece balaclava and goggles covered my head and VB socks, thick wool socks, inov-8 Goretex boots, and neoprene shoe covers. I also tried putting toe warmers between the shoe covers and the boots. [note - although i do like most of my gear, i'm not providing the specifics as any sort of a endorsement - rather just because as anyone who has done anything nutty like this can probably attest to - getting a good system down is a huge challenge, if it's possible at all. I often read other peoples accounts of similar exploits to try to figure out what to do myself and vague and general descriptions of gear are generally worse than no description at all....]
I felt a bit ridiculous heading out into the cold with such threadbare layers on my torso, but knew from two weeks ago that i'd heat up quickly (although it had been nearly 20 degrees warmer then). I couldn't leave without some insurance so i took a lightweight fleece and a nearly non-existent windshell and stuck them in the bikes frame bag, just in case. I could have left them at home.
I rode mostly in Zones 2 and 3 on a fairly even mix of 'singletrack' or ungroomed XC ski trails and a paved (though spottily covered with snow and ice) bike path. I was initially cold but as expected that didn't last long - i was soaked within half an hour or so. I stayed warm (for the most part) despite my lack of clothing and my wool shirt stayed essentially dry (it was snowing a bit and so some of the flakes melted creating a very slight dampness) so that worked well. However, when i was on the paved trails i was moving faster and more exposed to the wind. Because my upper body was leaning slightly forward on the bike, the VB shirt and baselayer were allowed to form a bit of a gap away from my skin. My sweat seemed to pool there and the gap allowed for the air to cool to a much greater degree - so much so that the sweat froze on the inside of my VB. Brrrrrr. It wasn't horrible and i didn't really notice it unless i shifted my riding position, stretched, or had to get off the bike to push for some reason - but at these times it was, well, quite chilly. My legs on the other hand were toasty throughout and remained pretty dry - i seem to perspire almost exclusively from my torso. My toes seemed cold - the size 9 shoes are a bit snug with the heavy socks and i think this limits my circulation a bit. The toe warmers did next to nothing to help. It's a bit hard to tell the difference between cold and kinda numb and actually numb/frozen - but it's an important distinction. My left toes were the former, my right the latter. As a result i got to experience the 'hot aches' for the first time in a while as i re-warmed inside after the ride. OUCH. [For those who have never experienced the hot aches - count yourself lucky. Although luckily of a transient sort - the pain is the most intense i have ever felt and absolutely immune to ANY means of mitigation or desensitization that i'm aware of. There's a cool video of the experience here.]
My head was also a problem, as i've yet to figure out how to keep my goggles from fogging up, especially during higher exertion levels. They were unusable about 25 minutes into my ride - the vapor from my breath had frozen in thin sheets on the inside of the lenses. I rode for nearly another two hours squinting to keep the flurries from hitting my eyeballs. As a result my upper and lower eyelashes were close enough together to periodically freeze to each other, forcing me to take my hand out of the warm pogie and use my fingertips to thaw the ice so i could see again. Fun stuff.
I also tried a new 'water' system this time - i placed a 250 ml bottle filled with gatorade (lower freezing point) in each of the pogies. The liquid was just starting to show signs of ice formation when i got home after more than 2 hours, so I may do this during the race. the downside is that my hands weren't nearly as warm - some of their heat going to the bottles.
All in all it was a good day - i worked out a few logistical kinks, developed much greater bike handling skills (due to all the trail riding), suffered a little, and, of course, the icicle.....