Merry Christmas! Now let’s get to bike stuff. I endured the full 105 miles this week. Much better weather than last week, but as you can see from the picture snapped on Tuesday morning, the ice was still lingering. If you had told me this time last year that I would be riding up to 100 miles a week in winter weather I’d have scoffed. There’s definitely something to be said about doing things out of necessity – I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t see me riding along at sunrise in a full face cover and lobster gloves if I had a more convenient (and warmer) option.
I’ve been riding to work off and on since the beginning of the year, but when I had the option of driving I doubt if I ever rode in under 45 degrees. And even that was a stretch. But I’m here to tell anyone who is having doubts of the human ability to survive a 10+ mile ride in single-digit wind chills that it’s all about the gear. Ok, no, it’s not ALL about the gear…it has a little bit to do with your mindset, too. But a good set of layers is also critical.
It took me quite some time to get this combination of proper clothing and the right mindset to where I needed it to be. And I’m still working on it (the thought of three or four more months of winter – and that DC hasn’t even seen its first snowfall yet – are still weighing on my mind). However, I’m getting there. And here I’ll spend a bit talking about the process of “getting there.”
Let’s start with gear. I can’t tell you how many people I see on 40 degree mornings bundled up with a face mask and big puffy jackets. If you’re like me before I started biking in the cold, you thought this would be necessary with the wind resistance and what not. And if you aren’t biking ten miles, maybe it is. But after about the third, or fourth, or fifth mile (depending on a number of factors), you start to warm up considerably. And if you’re stuck wearing an enormous winter coat when this body heat starts to kick in halfway through your ride, expect an uncomfortable second half – and hope your office has a shower. Layering up, and knowing what layers to bring in any given weather, is something I picked up quickly that has made winter riding far more bearable. Usually you will need fewer layers than you think.
Then there’s the mental factor. Even with the right clothing, winter rides still start out chilly until you begin to warm up. Despite your best efforts to monitor the forecasts as much as Al Roker, there will still be days when you made a slight (and maybe a significant) error in clothing choice. But don’t let this deter you. If you’re serious enough about it, you’ll learn from the mistakes and figure out what you need and when, and that chilly start to your winter rides will become a routine annoyance that you block out of your mind. Ultimately, winter commuting can be an awesome thing – there’s a serenity to being one of the few people on the path on a still, icy morning that is worth the initial troubles. And you get mad props from coworkers for consistently biking in when everyone else is taking the Metro and complaining about their three-block walk.
I’ll leave this topic at that for now. I’ve found that even with this advice it’s hard to convince my friends that I’m not crazy. But in DC especially, I’m one of many. It’s nowhere near as miserable from the second week on as it is for the first week of trial and error. Anyway, I’m off to South America for the next two weeks where, presumably, I will be doing little to no cycling (but how awesome would mountain biking the Andes be?!). To my three or four readers out there, merry Christmas and happy holidays! If I find myself on two wheels in Patagonia, I’ll be sure to write about it.