Raynaud’s Disease, or Raynaud’s Phenomenon, is a condition that affects blood supply to certain parts of the body, most often the fingers and toes.
The blood vessels go into spasm and the toes and fingers lose blood flow and can turn a white or blue colour.
It’s a fairly common affliction and can be particularly troublesome for cyclists as our hands and feet spend prolonged time outside over the winter months.
Raynaud’s Phenomenon Prevention
There’s no cure for Raynaud’s Phenomenon but there are ways to control the problem. The common advice is to avoid the cold… This isn’t practically possible for all cyclists, especially those in serious training mode but there are other measures you can take to stay warm, which we’ll detail later.
Another factor that can negatively effect Raynaud’s Phenomenon is smoking. As a cyclist, you’re probably not a smoker but if you are, this is yet another reason why stopping smoking would improve your cycling experience.
Cycling with Raynaud’s Disease
To be able to cycle with Raynaud’s Disease you need to do two things. One is to stay warm and the other is to pay attention to what you do when you stop riding and come inside.
There are two aspects to keeping warm. The first is to keep your extremities warm.
For your hands this can be achieved with adequate gloves. This is personal preference, so it’s worth trying a few on. The warmer gloves tend to be bulkier, so it’ll be a compromise somewhere. If it’s really cold you may even need a glove system with inner and outer gloves. Suffice to say, fingerless gloves or going gloveless is not going to cut it all year round if you have Raynaud’s Disease.
You may find you need multiple pairs of gloves to cope with varying temperatures.
For the feet it’s slightly more complicated as the situation consists of a combination of: shoes, socks, overshoes/socks.
The majority of cycling shoes seem to be designed with summer in mind. Lots of breathability, vents and meshing. While this is somewhat beneficial when it’s very warm, it’s really not what you want when the temperatures start to drop.
If you keep this in mind when purchasing your cycling shoes, you should be able to purchase a pair that are a bit warmer to start with. If you already have a pair of summery cycling shoes, you could do worse than buying a second pair of winter boots. These are specifically designed for the cold and wet whether of winter and are more substanial than summer shoes. Here’s an example from Northwave:
You might think that the best thing to do with regards socks is to just wear the thickest, warmest pair of socks you own. Or maybe even the two warmest pairs. But this isn’t actually the recommended approach. If your socks are too thick, it can restrict the already restricted blood-flow to your toes, which will exacerbate your symptom of cold and painful toes.
The best bet is actually to wear one warm, thick pair of socks but not so thick that they make your feet and toes tight in your cycling shoes. Merino wool is an excellent material for the socks but any quality cycling socks will do.
Overshoes and Oversocks
If it’s really cold, or really wet (or both), socks and shoes on their own might not cut it. For these times, you will want to invest in either overshoes, oversocks or both. Both go over your cycling shoes, with a recess/hole for your cleats. They provided add warmth by shielding you from wind chill. Overshoes typically also provide some protection from the wet and rain (although it’s nearly impossible to keep your feet completely dry).
They are a great addition to your wardrobe and can help you keep riding, pain free, for longer.
It may seem counterintuitive but you must keep your core warm as well. As soon as your body’s core temperature starts to drop, it starts to reduce blood flow to exposed areas (e.g. hands and feet), which can exacerbate Raynaud’s Disease. So it doesn’t make sense to go out in thick gloves and socks and overshoes, only to wear a short sleeve jersey and shorts.
Wrap up. A gilet can be an excellent piece of kit to keep the core warm without overheating. When it’s colder it’s time to starting thinking about long sleeves and jackets.
Soft Shell Jackets are a great choice for performance orientated cyclists when the weather drops:
If it’s really cold, consider wearing a cap or skullcaps as well, to keep your head warm. Most helmets are designed with hot, summer weather in mind and contain many vents to keep you cool. This probably isn’t what you want in winter.
Here’s an excellent winter hat from Vulpine:
Tips for when you get off the bike
So now you’re hopefully a bit warmer on the bike, what can you do to help when you stop and get off the bike?
Whatever you do, don’t jump straight into the shower or bath, the sudden temperature change may be unbearably painful.
Here are two tips for sorting yourself out quickly:
- Feet: swing your legs, from the knee to force blood back into your toes.
- Hands: swing your arms above around your head like a windmill, this will force blood back into your fingers.
If you perform both of these tricks, you will minimise the burning sensation as your extremities warm up. I also like to get out of wet and cold clothes, wrap up in a towel and have a hot drink.