Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dusting off the blog, oiling the chain, airing up the tires . . .

Greetings to any who still happen by here, and a Happy New Year to you.

The story is simple: the weather turned cold, and because I (still) don't have any proper cold-weather cycling gear (Santa stiffed me in that department), I had to stop riding. And, sorry to say, some of the impetus for keeping up the blog went away as well, especially as my writing obligations elsewhere became more urgent. But: Santa did bring me a Planet Bike speedometer; my younger daughter has a new bike and I got to buy her some small but important accessories for it for Christmas; I spent some time this holiday in Austin, Texas, a city struggling to become more bike-friendly even as people (and their cars) increase their pressure on that city's streets; and spring is coming . . . and with it, a teaching schedule that will allow me to ride to school twice a week. I may even be able to buy some decent cold-weather gear this week.

In short, Cycling in Wichita shouldn't be quite so dormant for the foreseeable future.

I'm still sold on this cycling thing, by the way. I was dismayed, in my travels this holiday, to see that the combination of cheaper gas and carmakers' practically giving them away caused me to see lots and lots of brand-new trucks and SUVs on the road, and I asked myself, What are people thinking?? In the short term, gas will go up again . . . and there's that far more important long-term consideration of the environment, too. But I have hopes that the new administration (through a combination of a more integrated approach to thinking about transportation issues, a possible higher tax on gasoline, and shifting our emphasis in health care toward a model oriented toward prevention rather than treatment) and, yes, a growing awareness and thoughtfulness on the part of the public (already showing up in ways such as a steady decline in miles driven nationwide) will gradually but firmly shift our culture's thinking in the direction of making our nation's cities places in which bikes have a greater (and safer) role.

We shall see. In the meantime: it's good to be back.


coppercorn said...

Hey, John, I just checked out the blog this morning and there you were!

I too am dismayed at how short American's attention spans are; I was listening to a news report about a Chevy dealer who had begged to get a bunch of Aveos when gas prices were high, and now that the cars were finally delivered they were sitting on the lot.

We were planning to do a ride along the river bike path sometime this month... we'll take the bike train (husband and daughter on the tandem, older son on the tag-a-long and younger son in the Burley) and my single and ride down Douglas to the river some Saturday morning.

Russell Arben Fox said...

John, good to see you back here (and thanks for the birthday wishes, by the way)! I should blog something about my own wintertime blogging, which is pretty consistent, so long as the daytime temps don't drop too far below freezing (biking when it's 20 degrees out is pretty rough on my body) and so long as there's sufficient un-iced or snowed ground available to bike over. Which is pretty much the case right now; we'll see how long it holds...

John B. said...

Jilly and Russell,
Thanks for stopping by and saying howdy. Jilly, if your family ride comes to pass, I hope you'll consider letting me tag along.

Russell, what I lack in the way of winter gear are a good pair of gloves, something to keep my face warm, and something for my legs--or, failing that, some clips for my pantslegs (once, years ago, getting my pantsleg caught in my bike chain was object lesson enough for me). I'll see what I can find/afford later on this week.

Russell Arben Fox said...


My usual wintertime ridinge gear, when it's genuinely cold out, is pretty basic: a jacket that I can zip up over my chin, a scarf (actually my oldest daughter's Gryffindor scarf...she never wears it anymore) that I wrap around my lower face, and a pair of skiing gloves. Works fine for me. As for my legs, I just have long pants and thick socks, though I will sometimes fold my pantslegs into the socks if the wind is particularly harsh.

Yokota Fritz said...

I'm astonished many Americans believe gas prices will stay this low or even continue to drop, although they started rising again immediately before the holidays.

You shouldn't need anything too fancy for most cold weather riding if the weather isn't too horribly extreme -- a couple of layers of whatever you have around : long underwear and maybe rainpants if you have some, something similar for the torso, a decent head covering, wool socks and good fleece gloves.

MathDadd said...

I use Jog-a-lite reflective bands for my ankles $5-6 each, plus one on my left wrist for turn-signaling at night.

Cheap polyurethane-coated nylon rain pants worn over everyday pants, +/- tights, longjohns provide windproofing, and thus remarkable warmth enhancement, and are nice for spring rains.

Similarly a coated-nylon rain jacket works well for rides of an hour or less to block wind and retain body heat.

For long rides a windproof/ water-resistant or waterproof "breathable fabric" jacket with pit zips is worth the expense, because open side-venting dumps perspiration en bulk, and greatly reduces sweat accumulation. Warm sweat becomes cold sweat if you ride long enough. Brrr brrr brrr. Brrr.

Look for mountain-sports versions, because they are generously cut to accommodate layers, and with so many manufacturers, models and retailers selling them, which is to say vastly larger markets than for cycling attire, you can find them on sale as promos, overstocks and closeouts with remarkable frequency.

Fleece tops are great. The ones at Target and Wal-Mart are much cheaper than the mountain-sports ones. Or just wear old wool or synthetic sweaters. For short or slow, minimal-perspiration rides, cotton sweaters and sweatshirts are fine.

If you ride 2 or more hours and own a backpack or rack and trunk-bag, a dry undershirt to don at the halfway point is really good, when you're feeling damp and chilled. Aside from briefly having to bare your torso for the switchout which is um, invigorating, if you do it outdoors, you'll immediately feel 20 degrees warmer when you relayer up. (You can go into a convenience store, fast-food, or park restroom, with proper route planning.) Try it, you'll see.

With a bag, you can even keep your water/energy drink from freezing as fast if you wrap it in your clothes, or at all, wrapped with a couple chemical hand warmers.

I'm having problems with cold hands below 30 on long rides. Rides under 2 hours are manageable.

For really cold weather, I dug up some old, putatively waterproof (therefore windproof) ski gloves, removed the old liners, and inserted my fleece gloves, then even added a new thin liner glove, but it's not working. Maybe the membrane or inner seams have broken down (20 years old). They're not working.

I've ordered some Moose Mitts (pogies), but the maker is backlogged. So I ordered some heavyweight mittens (Insulated outer shell and insulated removable mitten liner).
If I can brake and shift okay, I'll cancel the pogie order.

I thought about lobster gloves, but they aren't warm enough for many gear reviewers in sub-freezing temps, and I need to fix this problem now.

Yesterday, I came close to calling for a car-ride home, my fingers were scary-cold.

I had ridden from my home near Andover to Sedgewick County Park and made two circuits around the park. A light wind was coming from my rear quarter outbound, but then riding thru the park, I hit some headwinds in various sections. My hands were chilled uncomfortably, but tolerable.

As I was passing the zoo entrance, it occurred to me that the dry undershirt would be nice, so I went behind the administration building to change, and I was happily surprised to discover I had packed two. In switching out my damp undershirt and going for an energy bar, I foolishly took off my gloves (liner included) to have full dexterity. The apparel switch and snack took only a few minutes, but it was enough time for my hands to feel severe pain. I had trouble connecting my last layer's zipper ends--my fingers weren't working. (One mistake was doing this outside, instead of riding a half mile back to the park restroom.)

I faced the prospect of a front-quarter to full headwind on the way home. Rush hour traffic on Zoo Blvd was daunting. I decided to ride on the sidewalk/bike path to the River in case I had trouble squeezing my brake lever. (I normally avoid sidewalks because local drivers roll right out of driveways, parking lots and side streets without looking for pedestrians, which is okay for walkers, because they can immediately stop to let cars pass.)

Fortunately, changing into the dry undershirts warmed my core within 10 minutes, and then my hands followed suit shortly thereafter. By the time I got downtown, with the wind dying to near a few mph, and riding slowly, the hands were fine.

My feet are warm enough. I always wear tight-weave windproof fabric or leather shoes, not mesh shoes, in these winter conditions, and thick socks.

A Windstopper clava, pulled over nose and cheeks, with goggles (glasses fog unless you put them low on your nose, which reduces their eye-protection utility) really keeps the noggin and face warm, and a turtle fur neck gaitor covers the gap between clava bottom and collar. So far, I haven't felt the need to tape-cover my helmet vents in temps down to 20, but that would be my next step if necessary.

I see riders wearing pro-model tights and jackets in the upper 40s and 50s who disappear on frigid days, then reemerge when it warms up, then disappear again during the next cold spell. This is too bad. With proper attire and dry roads, cycling at 25 degrees can be just as fun as at 50.

Cold hands are the most vexing problem for many riders. Our small digits are directly exposed to vicious wind-chill, and clenching them on our bars tends to diminish circulation as well. Clenching and unclenching them repeatedly--making a conscious effort--before they get cold is smart, and even alternately taking one hand then the other off the bar and moving it around, is a good idea, but I forgot to do these things yesterday.

I have sometimes carried a down jacket, the small compressible kind, which has been great previously in sub-freezing conditions during late ride stages, but yesterday the temp was 35 when I left, and I didn't plan to ride 40 miles on my MTB, which exposed me to an unanticipated 28 degrees with 16 degree windchill coming home. If I had taken it, I would have put my hands in its pockets to fully warm up in the park before I started my leg home.

MathDadd said...

I meant to point out the jog-a-lite band wrapped around your right lower leg does double duty, keeping your pant leg from snagging the chain ring, day or night.

Anonymous said...

While I definitely agree with your musings on our consumerism and short attention spans, I do quibble with you on one point.

Are you serious? Put a higher tax on gasoline? I do believe the govt taxes us enough, thank you! And just what exactly would they do with that money? Misappropriation of funds is already at an all-time high. Let the people keep their money! Instead of a 7 whatever billion/trillion dollar bailout, why not give each person who filed a tax return get $500,000? It would have cost much less, and talk about stimulating the economy instead of giving it to banks who mismanaged it in the first place?