Five Below Zero, And the Coffee Shop Beckons - Reflections On Dressing for Cold-Weather Bike Riding
Thirteen minutes, moving at a regal 10 to 12 mph, is plenty of time to get quite cold on a sub-zero morning. But, I was plushly warm as I pulled up the shop. I had been thinking of the comment that Chris, down in Texas, had left on Wednesday's post. One of the the things that he had said was that most people in his area didn't have clothing to deal with the temperatures in which I was riding.
Actually, I really don't, either. I layer a whole bunch of normal clothing into a combination which allows me to ride in frigid air. Nothing I wear is really intended as Arctic expedition-wear.
On the bottom, I start with bike shorts and leg warmers (tights always seem to pull, uncomfortably, in one direction or the other). Bike socks, with ski socks over them, go on my feet. I put wool pants over all of that. (The pants I have been wearing, the past couple of days are wool cargoes, from the GAP, which cost me $5.00 at the thrift store, a couple of years ago). I have my neoprene booties over my normal riding shoes, and I tuck the cuffs of the pants inside, both to seal the heat in and to keep the right cuff out of the chain.
On top, I start with a base layer, either a petroleum-based wicking top from Craft, or a thin wool top from Performance, with arm warmers either under or over the sleeves. Over that, I wear a cotton t-shirt, even though cotton retains moisture like a sponge. If I had short-sleeved wool tees, I would wear one of them. A bandana goes around my neck, then a fleece pullover that my sister gave me for Christmas, a few years ago. I top all of that off with a fleece vest and a wind jacket with pit vents (open). If I don't open the vents, all of this clothing turns into a sauna, within a couple of miles, at any temperature.
Long-fingered bike gloves (the same ones I wear all summer) with liners in them go on the hands. The bar mitts that I got on Amazon for $13.99, from a motorcycle supply store, give me plenty of insulation on top of those gloves.
I wear a spandex balaclava to protect the skin on my face, and I line the top of helmet with a bandana to block off the air vents. Safety glasses, with bifocal correction of 1.5 (so I can read the speedometer) go on in place of my regular glasses. I need to get some tinted glasses, as I tend to suffer from a bit of snow-blindness on sunny days, such as today.
With this ensemble of normal riding gear, layered as such, I can make the 8-mile ride to work, in the predawn darkness, comfortably at any temperature above zero degrees. Below that, my toes get a bit cold at about the 6-mile mark, and I am debating on what to add to my foot-layers in order allay that problem.
The drawback to my clothing system is that it takes forever to put it on and take it off. There are 23 different items to be put on and taken off, and I do that three times a day: I put it all on, and ride to work. There, I take it all off and dress in work clothes. At the end of the day, I remove the work clothes, and put the bike clothes back on. Once home, I remove the riding clothes (shower) and dress in normal clothes for the evening. All told, I spend about 45 minutes to an hour a work day dressing myself.
That, more than any discomfort from the cold, is the big challenge, for me, of winter riding.
As I was mulling this over, I went into the coffee shop, and grabbed myself a table. After stripping off a few layers of clothes, and answering questions about the sanity of riding a bicycle in the conditions of the morning, I got my coffee and sat down with my Kindle to read some David Foster Wallace. I am late to the table, in discovering his writing, but I am thoroughly enjoying Infinite Jest.
Once I was ready to go home, I relayered all of my clothes on and then went outside to discover that I had a flat rear tire on the fat Beast bike. So, I rolled the bike around behind the building, out of shadow and into the sunlight, and took my pump off of my rack and started reinflating the big tire. After a bit, I realized that the pump was not doing anything. I disassembled it, and manipulated the o-ring on the plunger until it warmed up a bit, and made enough of a seal in the shaft of the pump to actually push air.
Three hundred strokes of the pump later, I had close to 20 psi in the tire, and I figured I could get home before it lost enough air for me to notice. I took off toward home, and got here with no drama. An hour later, the tire is about half-deflated, and the bike just fell over because the reduced height of the rear tire made the kickstand relatively too long. I'll pull the tube and patch it, later.
It had warmed to 11 degrees above zero, by the time I got home. Heat wave!