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It was a gnarly evening. Strong winds, upwards of 20-mph gusts, and the temperature was unseasonably cold at just 39° (4 C). Still, I was at the church at 5 for the warm-up. I was the only one. I did my seven miles with a smile on my face – actually I was chuckling more than smiling for the first few miles, dead into the wind. 15-mph was fast. And cold.
The mile south, with a crosswind, was fairly simple, but I started to sweat a little bit. It wasn’t till I turned east that I really felt I might be overdressed. I was cruising at 21-mph and sweating. Rather than finish at that pace, I slowed down to stay cool. I decided not to shed a layer because it was going to be a lot colder when we finished the main ride.
My friends started showing up around a quarter to six. Chuck thought it might be too cold, but ended up sticking around. It was just Chuck and I for ten minutes and I figured we might be packing it up and heading home… then my friends started filtering in, one at a time.
We rolled out in the failing light at a few minutes after 6 – and it was nasty. We ended up with seven in our group and there was another with three or four, but they were going slower and shorter.
Thankfully, with headlights blazing, I could barely make out the speed reading on my Garmin. It wasn’t good – the wind was relentless. I was in the left, outer, pace-line and was pummeled by the crosswind as soon as we turned north. I prefer the outside lane on a westerly wind night because I’ll get hammered early and those on the right get it late.
It was dark within three miles.
We ended up, after eleven miles, in a single-file pace-line/echelon because the wind was just too brutal – and we were quite a bit faster single-file. Another couple of miles and we hit tailwind.
I was, without question, overdressed. I was sweating a lot more than would be recommended and it was quite a bit of effort keeping up with the group. Still, I’d rather be a little over-warm than cold.
Folks, I’m just going to say it; I struggled the whole damn ride. It was freaking ugly. But I did it, and it was all laughs and high-fives after. Well, it didn’t last long. It was so freakin’ cold, everyone packed there stuff and split… quick.
It was a nasty ride, but still better than a swift kick in the pants.
So there went the 2019 cycling season. It was an awesome one.
Now onto more important things: My month-long celebration should have started five days ago, but I forgot! 28 years, baby! WOOOO! Rick Flair!
We’ve had a gnarly stretch of weather. I wrote about the gnarliness just yesterday.
I woke up this morning to more cold, cloudy and crappy. For once, rain wasn’t in the forecast. After a tough day at work, I was really looking forward to a nap… but something unexpected happened, long about 2pm. A strange glowing white/yellow orb appeared from between the clouds… It… t’was… the sun.
Sweet Jesus Marimba!
I got home and readied my bike. Pumped up the tires, filled my water bottle… and did something stupid. I sat down on the couch for a few minutes. I almost called my buddy, Chuck to tell him to ride without me. Almost.
I took my glasses off, set them in my lap, rubbed my eyes, and yawned. Yep, yawned. And that’s precisely when I placed my glasses back on my face, stood up and went to the bedroom to suit up.
Properly kitted up, I looked out the window. A line of dark clouds had blocked the sunlight, making it look cold… and that’s what I hate.
I stood at the window, looking outside, resenting the first two miles it would take to warm up, before I even walked out the door. It would be just like last Tuesday… or Monday… or Wednesday, Friday. Saturday or Sunday. I’d shiver, start pedaling, hate the wind, and that first two miles would suck.
You know what I mean.
“Maybe I should just ride the trainer?
But the sun is out, kinda. How many of these days are we going to get?!
Man. I hate that first two miles.”
So, out the door I went. I shivered a bit, took my cleat covers off, clipped my right foot in, started Strava, pocketed my phone and pushed off.
The first mile wasn’t bad – I felt surprisingly good, and the houses were blocking some of the wind. I turned west, for Chuck’s house and the wind was at my back. It wasn’t too bad. Maybe… And then Chuck came into view. I pulled a u-turn into the win,,,
The sting of the headwind. Relentlessly, right in my face.
A half-mile later and Chuck and I were cruising down the road at speed, talking about current events.
Three miles later I was thinking about how lucky I was to be on the right side of the grass and on my bike. Two miles later, I didn’t even care about the headwind. Chuck was taking his turn up front.
We went for two bonus laps, we were having such a good time, each adding another 2-1/2 miles to our ride. Heading up a short hill at the start of the second bonus lap, I was laughing as I said to Chuck, “Two bonus laps? I feel like such a rebel!”
Ah, the little things.
The rest of the ride was crosswind or tailwind, so we put our heads down and motored, at times almost toughing 30-mph with a push from the wind.
There was no place I’d rather have been right then.
Chuck and I split ways as I turned into my driveway. I dismounted, pulled my phone and shut Strava down. I could feel the chill almost immediately, so I didn’t bother sitting around. I took it inside.
All was right in my world. I smiled to no one as I entered my ride data into Endomondo.
I still hate those first two miles. The next twenty-and-change were awesome, though… and I’d have missed them of I’d ridden on the trainer.
We finally had a reasonable evening for the Tuesday night club ride… 45° with a tough, but liveable west wind, and we had a decent group show. We’re a month late for the Tuesday night rides to start but let’s face it, filing a grievance with mother nature simply isn’t going to go very far.
We rolled for our 7-1/2 mile warm-up at 5:10 pm on the dot and enjoyed a fairly easy pace for the first four (all head and crosswind). The last three and change got a little lively with the tailwind as we cruised back to the start at 23-24 mph.
As is often the case when it’s too gnarly for the whole group to show up (and 45° with s sustained 12-15mph wind is “too gnarly”), the A guys started us out and got us through the headwind. Well, technically they got most of us through the headwind. People were dropping like flies after a few miles. Having had the rust knocked out of me last Thursday by three A guys, I wasn’t going anywhere. After 15 miles, when we turned the corner for a tailwind, the A Group kicked it in the ass and they pulled away from Chuck, Chuck, James, Brad and me – the only five remaining B guys out of, say eight.
Brad and James had fallen off so the two Chucks soft pedaled for a minute while I went back for them. It looked like Brad gave up and was waiting for someone else to catch him because James pulled away from him. I dropped far enough back to grab James and we motored up to the Chucks. We rolled, the four of us, at a goodly pace for almost eight miles before the group started getting split up. First James fell off, then Chuck C.
That left Chuck B. and me… and we saw two Mikes up ahead and decided to try to reel them in. I took a turn, then Chuck, then me again and we were making progress. Unfortunately we were between 22 & 24 mph with the crosswind and around 27 with a tailwind to make up ground. Chuck and I were both starting to run out of gas.
I almost had us to them, maybe 30 or 40 yards, but Chuck and I were spent and he didn’t have enough left to come around me to close the gap. We faded back and the two Mikes pulled away.
Then I caught a second wind… from somewhere and we took up chase again. Chuck would come around for just long enough to give me the break I needed and I’d pull around him when he started to fade again. We managed a lively 26 mph and closed the gap. We caught them with just two miles left and hung on for the ride.
Doc Mike pulled us home the rest of the way and just before the final City Limits sign he took it up to 28 mph to try and shake us. Unfortunately for him, I’d had enough time to recharge just enough. Last weekend he’d hung onto my wheel and sprinted around me at the last second to take a sign… as we soft-pedaled to cool down and let everyone else catch up he made a crack that he had a participation trophy in the car that I could have when we got back. It was payback time.
With 20 seconds left and the sign in sight I launched a blistering sprint passing both Mikes at 32mph and I put the hammer down. All my buddy Mike could do was grunt as I pulled away. I took the first Tuesday night B Group Sprint of the season by six bike lengths, give or take. When the two Mikes caught up I looked back at Doc Mike and said, “I guess you can hang onto that participation trophy for a bit”. We both cracked up and enjoyed the last three-quarters of a mile back to the parking lot.
Cycling is great, indeed. I love it. Cycling with friends, the camaraderie and laughs, is something special. If I was all alone I’d still ride, but having a gaggle of friends to share the experience with is, well, it’s hard for me to describe. It’s good stuff, baby.
Here’s to the return of the Tuesday night ride! Dilly, Dilly.
I can’t believe I just wrote that Title. I’m pretty much all go most of the time, especially over the weekends, but I hate riding in temps below freezing. Well, hate is a powerful word. I don’t have as much fun riding in the cold so it bums me out to no end that I’m not enjoying myself as much as I would if I were in shorts and short sleeves.
Anyway, we decided on mountain bikes a couple of hours before the ride because the heavens opened up Friday evening and dropped an inch of snow on us. Not much, but it doesn’t take much to wipe someone out on 23-26mm tires and it was butt cold outside all night long. We chose dirt roads because there’s more grip on the dirt.
Mrs. Bgddy wanted to ride her gravel bike. I chose my mountain bike for the extra work, but imagine my surprise when Mike rolled by the driveway five minutes before the start on his gravel rig… I put my pedals on the gravel bike, quickly, and got my butt out the door. Our rides have a tendency to get a little silly and I didn’t need that big a built-in disadvantage.
And much to my surprise, the pace was comfortable and fun. Plenty of jokes, laughing, and my wife and I even broke into a little game of bike tag. I wasn’t warm, but I certainly wasn’t too cold, either. It was my first time riding in the “stupid” cold that I genuinely had fun. I didn’t have to burn off a bunch of crappy food, I didn’t have to push the pace to get faster, I just sat in and enjoyed the ride.
1:41:15 rolling time
22 degrees actual temp (-5 C)
Feels like temp (w/ wind chill): Butt f***in’ cold; 16 degrees (-9 C)
Did I get faster yesterday? Nope, but I didn’t get slower, either… and I definitely didn’t get fatter. And I kicked everyone’s @$$ who stayed inside because it was too cold….
You ever get that sinking feeling you just walked into a bazooka fight with a Swiss Army knife? On a bicycle?
A few things, right up front: 1. Contrary to popular belief, worldwide, it is illegal for a private citizen to own a rocket launcher in the USA. I know, you hear some crazy stuff in the press, it’s mostly wrong and designed to keep you ignorant. 2. They don’t technically make bazookas anymore, that I’m aware of. I was trying to illustrate a simple point. 3. I was pretty sure that it really was that bad…
I sent out a text yesterday morning, “Ride at 5pm my place. Road bikes, paved roads”. I figured one, maybe two of my normal “B” group friends would show but as chilly as it was (39° F or 4 C but it felt like dead-nuts freezing with the whipping west wind). In fact, I was hoping nobody showed so I could strip off my cold weather crap and ride inside. Still, when you send out an invite, you suit up… So I did, and I got the Venge ready (the Trek’s on the trainer and I didn’t want to bother with the wheel).
There I am, dressed up and ready to ride and I look out the front window facing the driveway, and I see a van. Pickett?! Then I see Newman on his gravel bike (I say gravel bike, because it is technically a gravel bike but it’s a nice Scott gravel bike – maybe 17 pounds, max), and McMike… My only hope is that Newman’s on his gravel bike with a 1x Drive and McMike is on his 21 pound Schwinn Paramount. I think, “Hey, it’s April and it’s cold out, it can’t be that bad.” Oh yes it can…
I rolled my bike out. We talked about the crappy weather for a minute and we were off – three A guys and me. Now, we’re all older (I’m the baby at 47) so you’d figure there’d be a warmup mile, right? Wrong. Pickett had it up to 24 mph with a crosswind within a quarter of a mile. I went into oxygen debt at that point and never recovered… but I didn’t give up, either.
After the first mile we turned into the wind. Pickett kept it pegged at 24 but when I took my turn up front I dropped it down to 22 and I didn’t last very long at that. I arm-flicked Newman up after a half-mile or so and he kept my pace. I almost started to recover. Then McMike took his turn and mercifully took it down to 19. I was quite happy with that. Sadly, Picket was up next and he accelerated to 22 almost immediately after McMike arm-flicked him. Three miles in and my tongue was dangling down by my spokes.
I took the next mile or so and kept it at a lively pace but I eased off a bit, too. Then Newman, McMike and Pickett again… he had it into the wind, which was starting to pick up. From there things got a little hazy. I was the only one who knew the route, and it’s a tricky one (19 turns in 17-1/2 miles) and I was trying to shout out directions in between hyperventilating breaths. It was awesome. We came out of a subdivision and Picket took it up to dizzying speeds with a crosswind from the right but I was holding on pretty well at that point. I took the next mile with the tailwind and all seemed well….
A mile later and the rotation had cycled through again. Somehow Pickett ended up on the front again going into a quarter-mile uphill followed by a long two-mile stretch, all tailwind. We were up the hill at 22-23 mph, and then it got fast. I looked down at my computer, 27… 28… 29… 32-1/2… I didn’t bother looking anymore, I was just trying to hold on now. We were 12 miles in. We were fast enough that we could have been fairly pulled over by the police for speeding. Then I ran out of gas, just like that. Bam. Done. I held 23 easily enough with the tailwind but the other three started to pull away. It was okay, too – at that point it was only three turns to home and McMike knew exactly how to get there. They didn’t need me anymore. I spent that tailwind stretch breathing – finally.
I came to a stoplight at a corner and there they were, waiting for me… I don’t think they had to wait but 45 seconds, but how cool is that? I latched on the back and we rolled home… 19.5 – 22 mph with two miles of crosswind, 27 for one of tailwind, and 18 mph for the last mile. 17.7 miles in 53 minutes on a really challenging route to hold any speed. 20 mph average on the nose, and the fastest I’ve ever ridden that route.
Looking at this positively, as I usually do, I thought I’d brought a pocket knife to a bazooka fight. Turned out I was a little better than I’d thought. I’ll take it, and I sure do feel some kind of awesome this morning.
Cycling in the Cold: A Noob’s Guide to what I’ve Learned About Staying Warm when Your Snot Can Freeze
The All Seasons Cyclist prodded me for almost two full years to ride when the temps dipped below freezing. My first year of cycling, 45 was too cold. My second, 40. This year, I’m down to the low 20’s and I can go colder (we just haven’t had temps drop that low, consistently, yet.
Interestingly, I haven’t added much in the way of new clothing that would make that much of a difference though there are a few key light pieces that you’d never guess would make as big a difference as they really do. I’ll get to the clothing in a minute though…
First, speed matters. The faster I go, without overheating, the warmer I feel. 18 mph (average, which means speeds consistently above 19) feels great down into the 20’s while 15 feels chilly up to 35 degrees. This is a little counterintuitive as the faster you go, the more the cold bites but the friction created by movement makes up for it… Unfortunately, there is one exception (at least for me). My legs. Leg warmers are great and tights work right but I still have a tough time keeping my legs warm enough to work right without binding them up with too many layers.
Second, too much speed and too many layers means sweat. Put simply, in extreme survival situations; “you sweat, you die”. So sayeth Survivor Man. While cycling is nowhere near an “extreme survival situation”, I’ve found the same principle to apply. Too much sweat and you will freeze your bagingas off before long if you slow down… Here’s the equation: 🚴 (XS+XC)*T*Sw=💀
Third, while I can (and have) maintained an average north of 20 mph below freezing, it ain’t easy. All of those clothes , especially if they’re tight, slow me down quite a bit. I had to learn to accept slower speeds and fewer miles in the cold. On the other hand, slow outdoors sure beats fast indoors on a trainer.
The last non-clothing related item I’ve picked up has to do with, if you can believe it, the bike setup. I’ve written before about the fact that I ride low. It turns out that, if the boys get a little chilly from too much, um, direct frontal wind(?), then all I have to do to warm them up is ride in the drops for a couple of miles. With the wind blocked, it’s all good… Seriously, try it, it works.
Now for the clothing…
First, too heavy is just as bad as too light. I had to learn to trust that lighter, in certain areas, is okay except in the legs, as long as I ride fast enough.
The cap (or tuque for the Canucks)
Not to be confused with a toque, which would be ridiculous, a tuque or cap, in the absence of a wind breaking helmet cover, is a must.. I’ve got three I alternate and they all work well… A high-tech running cap that I picked up at a snowflake 10k more than a decade ago, a New Balance running cap that I just picked up a month ago and a cycling specific Specialized Element Windstopper™ cap (below). Now, as you might guess, the Spec hat is (obviously) a little better than the running cap but not enough to cheer about. For me, the important part is covering my melon and ears. While covering the ears can be tricky when it comes to hearing traffic, if I don’t cover mine, there will be no cycling in the cold, can’t do it. It just takes more vigilance when listening for traffic.
We’re not talking food here, not Baklava, a balaclava. I’ve got a very light balaclava that’s about the same thickness as a light tee shirt. It works excellently well down to the low twenties – not quite freezing but close. There are thicker models on the market, especially from the big cycling companies for seriously cold weather but I haven’t had to bother (yet). When it comes to cycling in the cold, balaclavas are sexy baby. When it comes to the full cover though, I prefer lighter around the neck so my balaclava is only good for a very specific range of temperatures,
If I want a ride in temps below 40-ish degrees to suck, all I have to do is leave my neck and chin exposed. Two years ago I bought a bicycle magazine that offered a 3-in-1 balaclava-cap-neck warmer for free (it came wrapped up, with the magazine). It sat in my cycling go-bag because I couldn’t figure out how to manipulate the thin, stretchy material into a balaclava. After picking up my caps this year I pulled it out and just used it as a neck warmer that I can pull it up over my nose when I’m at the front of the group. Instant non-sucky cold weather riding and the material is only about the thickness of a tee shirt. It’s fantastic well below the 20’s and has become one of the best cold weather pieces of clothing I own. My wife uses a fleece one but I’d worry that would be too warm.
I have a Specialized Element (thermal) jacket that, for cycling in the cold, is freaking amazing. As long as I keep my speed up, all I need is a decent long-sleeve base layer underneath. It is not a cheap jacket. If I remember correctly, I paid $150 for mine, on sale, two years ago. The newer model (the 2.0) runs about $250 but as comfortable as I am in mine, it’s worth the cash, even at $250.
The All-Important Guns…
I still have work yet to do when it comes to the legs as what I have is woefully inadequate. Currently I use my cycling shorts with a Brooks compression short beneath (below 30 degrees is the only time I wear anything beneath my cycling shorts), my thermal leg warmers and a pair of light-weight running tights over everything. The problem is that by the time I put all of that crap on, it hampers the movement of my legs. Eventually I’m going to pick up a pair of thermal tights but I have to do some leg-work to figure out what I want.
Very simple: Wool cycling socks, Bontrager foot covers. No problem.
Gloves, at least so far, have been pretty simple even though I’ve seen plenty of thick, hi-tech cycling gloves… I use Specialized Deflect gloves with a thin base layer glove when temps drop below 40… I’ve been out riding with temps down to 23 and never worried about my hands being too cold. For temps above 40, the Deflect gloves are plenty fine by themselves.
Now, as I wrote earlier, I used to think 40 degrees was too cold but I was missing out on some very decent outdoor cycling opportunities. The real trick to getting my clothing right for the really cold stuff was my neck. If my neck and chin are exposed under 40 degrees, I’m pretty much miserable. If I’m sufficiently covered, I feel quite good down to the 20’s. This is why I’m so keen on that silly collar that I got with the cycling magazine… Who’d have thought that such a simple little thing would make such a big difference in whether or not I can enjoy a bike ride on a colder day, certainly not me, but such is the case – for me, it’s all about my neck.