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cold weather biking strategies

February 19, 2008

I noticed this van parked on Normal Avenue while riding home from work this evening:

We have some heroically hard-core bikers on campus, riding minimalist track-bike style custom jobs with sew-up tires.  I go the luxury route, riding a mountain bike with 21 gears, KoolStop brake pads, extra-strength wheels, front shocks and fat tires.  It’s the bicycle equivalent of an SUV.  Since it’s often dark in the winter, my bike lights up like a UFO with LED taillight and headlight, and fully DOT-tape reflectorized, even the hubs and wheels.  One of my sons pointed out that while the illumination scheme protects me from the accidental collision, it’s easier targetting for those who are trying to hit me.

Anyway, bicycling in very cold weather requires some strategizing against the freezing of one’s ass.  Every cold-weather rider has their own coping mechanisms.  You won’t see many heavy winter coats; more likely windbreakers with layers.  I’ve even seen guys in Spandex well below zero.  Oversize helmets make room for stocking caps or hoods.  Gloves are an individual matter, ranging from ski gloves to thin high-tech materials.  There are lots of different kinds of face masks, which is in indication that none of them is perfect.

I’m a bit of a wimp; when the temperature drops to single digits and the wind picks up, my own kit is significant armor.  I wear a thin cotton jacket with a windbreaker shell, the hood pulled up over my stocking cap and a pair of ski goggles capped with a helmet. If that doesn’t sound like much, a 100kg person generates a lot of heat riding a bike.  My gloves are a pair of cotton glove liners in cheap cotton gloves, which works surprisingly well for under three bucks.

One thing I don’t do is listen to an iPod while I’m riding.  My hearing’s bad enough and the approach of a nearby truck is the sort of detail I prefer not to be surprised by. I also leave the bike at home when the streets are icy.  When they come up with a tire that really grips ice, I’ll ride on ice.

Another thing I noticed this evening is that when you ride across the Quad you needn’t stick to the sidewalks in cold weather.  Nobody’s out playing flag football and the frozen ground offers little rolling resistance.

Notes and links:

  • I don’t expect to save the world by riding my bike; it’s more of an accommodation to my low boredom threshold.

  • The van owner is right that riding a bike is environmentally better than driving a car, though.  Every little bit helps. Big bits help too: there’s a really big environmental bang for the buck to be had from shelling out for protection and restoration of tropical rain forests.  It might be much more cost-effective than some of the fancier carbon-sequestration schemes out there
  1. james old guy
    February 20, 2008 at 10:56 | #1

    I rode a bike to work when I was stationed in Germany. It was easy there was a bike path through the Mannhiem woods to within a block of work. The Germans were big on riding to work but most of thier bikes were not the racing variety. It is hell being passed by an old lady in a black dress on a single speed 40 lb bike as she smokes right on by ya.

  2. February 20, 2008 at 11:39 | #2

    It is hell being passed by an old lady in a black dress on a single speed 40 lb bike as she smokes right on by ya.

    I can only imagine… When I first started working my current job DOF used to pass me on the stairs and make me look like an 80 year old man :red: . Now I can at least keep up with him :-)

  3. Ted
    February 20, 2008 at 15:42 | #3

    I’d like to see some sort of tax break for people that have cars and bikes with a sort of attached government-do-not-tamper odometer for the bike.

    For example, you have a car(s) and you get on the bike program. For each mile that you don’t drive your car, but ride your bike, you get X amount off your taxes or some sort of credit. Mileage reimbursement currently is around .49 a mile for autos. Something in that range.

    And my town has energy/power meters that are wi-fi. (That way the Po-leece can know immediately who’s growing Teh Pot due to energy surge.) As long as they have the wi-fi points, it can track your use of the bike.

    Of course, I expect that people would cheat, but if their odometer doesn’t match their street use, no dice on tax credit.

  4. February 20, 2008 at 16:21 | #4

    Along with Ted’s idea, it would be great if car insurance companies would give rate breaks to people that ride bikes, drive less, or both.

  5. February 20, 2008 at 23:23 | #5

    Webs, I hate to tell you this but I’ve been slowing down since we started working together.  You have sped up a little but not that much.

    It is hell being passed by an old lady in a black dress on a single speed 40 lb bike as she smokes right on by ya.

    LOL!  I hope to just still be riding by that age…

  6. February 21, 2008 at 09:02 | #6

    You have sped up a little but not that much.

    So you’re saying I’m now in the shape of maybe a 60 year old which is about where you are at… thanks for the confidence booster.  :lol:

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