Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cycling in snow

It was supposed to rain only. And after 6pm. I would have been home by then. Instead, what we got was snow. It started snowing in the early afternoon and continued until evening. For the first time this winter I had to bike home with snow falling on my face. It wasn't the most pleasant ride since I rode my bike upwind so at the end of my ride I looked like a biking snowman. However, it was suprisingly easy to ride my bike in these conditions. The only problem I had was with the snowy mud that kept sticking to the front tire and ocassionally braking the wheel when jammed between the tire and the fender. I made sure to ride slowly since roads may have been icy. The new tires had suprisingly good grip to the road. Probably better than my shoes.

As you can tell, my bike's color changed from black to white and at the end of the ride I was a bit worried leaving all that salt and snow on it. I wanted to rinse it right away but since my garden hose was frozen I had no choice but to leave it this way until the next day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feeling flat

It was a nice winter day yesterday - sunny and mild. And I wasn't too happy that I had to drive to work instead of riding my bike. I felt a bit "flat", although not as much as my bike did. The old problem came back on Monday and my Schwinn lost all the air in the rear tire. It turned out that my temporary fix was only temporary. The tire is cracked and there is no way I can fix it.

I stopped by at Cycle Loft in Burlington to buy new tires for my Coffee. I put them on last night togehter with the new brake pads since old ones were quite worn.
This morning invited me for a bike ride with a beautiful, sunny, winter weather. It is getting cold though. The thermometer showed 8F (-13C) but the wind chill made it worse than that. I decided that wearing a thin woolen hat under my helmet would be a smart choice but I still overdid it a bit under my windbreaker. I wore a thin, short-sleeve t-shirt under my sweater and I was getting a little too warm. Apparently a thin t-shirt, sweater and an uninsulated rain shell is more than I need to keep me warm on my bike at this air temperature.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winter clothing - do you really need wool?

I like reading Velouria's posts on The Lovely Bicycle. She is touching various subjects and her writing is often more technical than you can find on many other, female-authored, bike blogs. However, frequently I get a feeling that she may be complicating things for not much reason.

Just yesterday, she published a post on winter clothing. This is a very comprehensive list of garments she recommends based on her own experience (and clearly she has plenty of it). The list is directed towards those readers of The Lovely Bicycle who seek advice on how to dress up properly for winter conditions. Once I read that list, I started wondering if people who up to this point were considering riding their bikes in winter, but were not yet completely convinced they were ready for it ("It's cold out there!"), are going to be put off by the amount of garments they have to arm themselves with.

(Velouria divided her list into two categories: clothing for transportation cycling and one for a sporty, recreational cycling. I realize that riding for sport requires a more sophisticated gear and instead, I am going to focus on transportation cycling here. I assume that a seasonal cyclist will start his/her year-round cycling this way.)

First, I seriously wonder if you really need all those wool layers. Well, maybe, yes, if you bike more than 40 miles non-stop and air temperature is around -20C (i.e. in negative Fahrenheits). But if it is a mild winter day (meaning -4C or about 25F) and your ride is of a moderate length (10-15mi), I really question that you would have to buy wool underwear because your usual cotton one is not regulating your body temperature well enough. On the other hand, I obviously don't wear bras so I can't comment on this topic.

Also, Velouria recommends skirts since she can easily add some more layers under them if needed. Unfortunately, this is not an option for guys (unless you are Scottish). But I rode my bike at temperatures lower than 10F and I didn't feel that I needed anything else than my usual "winter" pants - thicker corduroy trousers. Oh, and they are made out of cotton. No wool necessary. They are warm enough all the way down to about 5F. That is - on a ~10 mile long bike ride, of course. Again, if you have to ride for something like 40 miles non-stop, you may need something different.

Jackets. It must be really cold (i.e. below 10F) outside to make me put on anything thicker than my usual windbreaker shell. Is an old GoLite jacket (or a waterproof shell) that I bought 10 years ago. It is still in a pretty good condition and travels with me nearly everywhere. It is not warm (has zero insulation) but blocks all the windchill completely to the point that once I rode my bike in winter wearing only this jacket and... a single long-sleeve, cotton shirt (It wasn't freezing that time, of course. Maybe around 25F). In general, I quickly figured out that I am well dressed for a winter ride if I feel cold once I leave my house. After a couple of miles I feel warm already and while a wool baselayer may help, I don't necessarily need it.

The only true "special" clothing that has to be considered in winter is for your feet, hands, and ears. Normally (down to ~15F), I wear my regular leather shoes, just like the rest of the year. But once the temperatures go down or the dry winter (no snow or old frozen snow, clear streets) turns into a wet winter (precipitation, mud, fresh snow) I put my Bogs on. They are perfectly waterproof and keep my feet warm.
Bogs Bridgeport - my winter shoes.

Hands need some special attention as well. I found out that what works best are... cheap skiing gloves. Those bulky, thick, bit oversized ones that leave plenty of air pockets around your fingers. They are warmer than special, tightly fitted bike gloves. I tested skiing gloves at temperatures below 10F and they worked well on a short distance ride. I didn't even need a liner inside.

Ears can get frozen quickly. I just wear a head band once I feel that it is too cold to leave the house without it. In general, I avoid hats as my head overheats too quickly, but if it gets really cold (~5F and below) I wear a thin hat (I guess it is made out of wool) under my helmet. That's right - a helmet is my regular winter "hat". Also, on those colder winter days I add a second protection layer for my ears - Rox Dog Earz. They work surprisingly well in insulating my ears from the freezing wind chill.
Rox Dog Earz - extra insulation for your ears in winter.

What else? Scarfs? Not needed. I can wear a turtleneck and just pull up my zipper a bit higher. But when it is truly freezing out there (below 5F), which I always determine by breathing some of the cold air and checking if everything in my nose starts to freeze, I add one cycling-specific garment - Gore Windstopper Face Warmer. It is a mask made of a thin fabric underlined with silicone that I can wrap around my face and velcro-secure it at the back of my head. It is pretty good in blocking all that freezing wind that hits my face. This way my cheekbones are safe and my nose is freezing less. I considered full-face balaclavas but found them to be too warm and troublesome most of the time.
Gore Windstopper Face Warmer

This all means that on my way to work in winter I do have to take some special care of my feet, hands and ears, but except that, I don't see much need for any other special clothing. The main rule about transportation cycling is to "dress up for the destination, not the ride". In winter we have to add one more rule - "dress up for the end of the ride, not the beginning". Remembering that, I can avoid overheating and still stay warm most of my ride.

So in general, before you spend $200 on that winter Rapha jersey, just open your closet. The perfect winter clothing is probably already there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Winter weather

We are half way through the January already and today is the first day we finally got some true winter weather. Just last Monday it felt more like spring when air temperature reached nearly 60F (~15C) and sky was clear and blue. But last night it snowed a few inches/cm and this morning I started the day with shoveling the snow in my driveway.
Then, after looking around for a while, I decided to skip cycling to work today. I realized that not only the tires on my bike are probably not the best choice for a heavy, wet snow, but also that road conditions may be not as good as I would like.

If I had a cleared bike path to my disposal, my decision would be different. But as I was driving in, I realized that I made the right choice. The roads were clear, well, mostly. But the shoulder where I usually ride my bike was covered with a few inches of wet, muddy snow. This means that had I taken my bike to work, I would have to ride it even closer to the centerline than usual blocking most of the traffic this way. But I guess I should be comfortable with it. Or shouldn't I?

Then, on my way back home I noticed how messy the streets became. The day was relatively warm and all the overnight snow has been slowly melting the whole day. On my return ride I would have been biking in mud.

I guess sometimes it is just easier to use other means of transportation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Yesterday morning. A quick look at the outside thermometer: 33 degrees F. "That's close to 0 degrees C", I thought. Pretty warm for a winter bike ride to work. All excited, I pulled out my Schwinn from its parking place, loaded all my usual junk into panniers and took off down the hill towards Summer St.

Suddenly, after riding only a few hundred meters (yards, whatever), I heard a loud "hiss". First, I thought that something was rubbing against the wheel but when I stopped, it became clear that my rear tire was loosing air very quickly. Oops, time to walk the bike back home. But before I walked back, I decided to investigate what really happened. The damage looked weird - like the tire ruptured and bulged, but at the same time I didn't see any foreign object in it.
A closer look revealed that there was some of the tire ply visible in the hole. It looked like a serious damage. But once I pulled the tire off the wheel, I saw this:
It looks like a manufacturing defect to me and a tire such as this one should never be put on a bike. Not nice, Kenda and Schwinn!

Unfortunately, that meant I had to drive to work since I didn't have time to work on the bike in the morning. Too bad. I guess this means I need... another commuter bike as a backup!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Happy New Year! 2012 is over. We are entering the new, exciting 2013.

I was looking back at my 2012 New Year's resolutions:
1. Put Dr. J. on a bike. He will be old enough to get familiar with it.
2. Ride a 140+ km route from Arlington to Cape Cod.
3. Explore more of northwestern towns by bike (Bedford, Concord, Carlisle).
1 and 3 are done. We rode multiple times with Dr. J. together and we tried two different kinds of bike seats. I also had a chance to explore surrounding towns by bike much more than in 2011. I visited Lexington, Carlisle, Bedford, Concord.
I did not complete 2. I didn't find time to do it. However, I rode to Chatham instead. And while it was not as challenging as the Boston-Cape Cod ride would be, I am pretty sure it was equally satisfying.

My 2013 New Year's resolutions are:
  1. Get a bike for Dr. J. Time to start looking around for his own bicycle.
  2. Put the parts I collected from my parents house into a good use. Maybe I can build a new bike from it?
  3. Try longer rides. The lack of time is the biggest problem. I would like to start a full day ride, over 100km long, but so far my growing family was the top priority. It is unlikely to change in 2013. Despite this, I hope to find time to ride further and longer.