Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Snowfall

Winter has finally arrived in full force. Monday morning was a crisp 6 degrees with wind-chills reading in the negative. There had been flurries of snow throughout the night before but I didn’t see any accumulation on the road from my window. I thought the only hurdle of riding my bike to work would be dealing with the cold.

After 3 years of riding I have, piece by piece, collected all the technical clothing that I would need to be comfortable in just about any temperature. It’s possible to wear too much clothing even when it’s below freezing. Then you end up sweating like a pig which can lead to chills later or just feeling suffocated and weak for the entire ride. The converse is not putting enough on and finding yourself any where from chilly to suffering in pain and wondering about frostbite!

At this stage in the game I am pretty good at choosing the right articles of clothing for any given temperature while working out. If I were to sit still on the side of the road for an extended period however, I would most likely freeze to death. A mechanical failure of the bike would probably require picking up the bike and jogging to my location so that I didn’t freeze to death. On the bike, 6 degrees with a -8 wind-chill requires:

Heavy wool socks
2 pair of micro fleece pants
3 layers on top - Polyester base layer, heavy fleece 2nd layer, thin nylon windbreaker
Convertible mittens over thin wool glove liners.
Fleece hat.
Fleece scarf neck tube thing that I hate.
2 pair of neoprene booties over cycling shoes.

Snug as a bug. Well, almost. I should have worn a wind resistant layer on my legs. The wind-chill, combined with the wind of riding, had the front of my legs freezing and tingling. A much longer ride would have made me worry about damage but for the 30 minutes to work it was an amount of suffering that I could deal with.

My face was comfortable for part of the ride. After 15 or 20 minutes the following always occurs: The scarf tube thing catches all of the moisture that you are breathing out so the scarf and your face end up wet. Then you get too hot and need a fresh breath so you pull the stupid scarf tube thing down. Then, if you are bearded like I am, your beard which is wet from sweat freezes solid and crunches and cracks every time you move your mouth.

Comfort on the ride really wasn’t that big of an issue. The highlight of my first true winter ride this year was discovered as I came around the corner heading into one of the busiest intersections of my ride, Ingram Mill and Sunshine. There was a gigantic sheet of ice across the middle of the road. It stretched from curb to curb and was some 20 feet long ending right at the crosswalk. The intersection itself was clear but getting through the ice to it was going to be the problem. The ice had formed in a depression in the road, the cars had melted the snow flurries and then the water had refrozen. A night of polishing by passing cars had left a shiny, mirror like surface standing in my way.

The light was green at the moment but it was late into the cycle and was about to turn red. If I sprinted, and happened to make it across the ice field, I would make the light safely. However, if I lost it on the ice going over 20 mph it could get ugly. Since there were no cars behind me, I decided to take it slowly and just wait through the next light cycle. I only made it about 5 feet onto the sheet of ice before the back tire lost its traction and began to slide.

It all happened fairly gracefully. The bike spun sideways. I leaned back and found myself sitting upright and sliding on the ice with my bike between my legs. I stood up and gingerly worked my way to the edge of the ice field to wait for the light to turn back green. Bike shoes are not made for ice walking. The cars sitting at the red light waiting to cross the road probably enjoyed the show more than I did. As their light turned green and the cars began passing, I got many smiles from drivers.

In the end, bike and body are fine, pride was slightly damaged. Many people might decide this is the time to start driving until the weather is cooperating more. I interpret this as the time to prepare the snow bike. She is a hearty beast with a studded front tire. She will plow straight through the fiercest of winter conditions.

(more pictures of Snow Bike)

Week of December 6 - Bike 80, Run 18

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