Saturday, January 19, 2008

My first winter ride...

I got up this morning thinking "the sun's out, the roads are dry, why don't I give this cold-weather riding a shot?" The extra motivation was my wife saying "why are you going to the basement to the bike trainer when you just spent money on cold-weather riding clothes?" Hard to argue with wisdom like that...So my first dilemma -- how do I dress for 20°F temperatures and 15 mph winds coming right off of Lake Ontario (and by right off the lake, I mean "oh look, there's Lake Ontario").

I didn't want to get so thick and bundled I ended up soaked, but also wanted to stay warm. So, figuring on a short ride looping around the house so I could always get home pretty quickly if I got too cold, I tried a pair of wool socks underneath a pair of polyester/cotton socks, standard bike shorts, polypro tights over those, a long sleeve lightweight jersey to wick away moisture, a cotton turtleneck, lighter sweatshirt, balaclava, and my biking rain slicker over top to hopefully help with the wind. Threw on my gloves, sunglasses, and expanded my helmet a bit to fit over the balaclava, and I was off. Well, not without a few choice snickers from my wife (and a request that I go out the back door so the neighbors wouldn't see me).

First couple miles were pretty uneventful. I was a bit chilly, but figured that was a good sign, hoping to warm up in the first couple minutes and then see how I felt. Was doing pretty good, although my legs were a bit cooler than I would have liked. I also noticed that I probably could have used just a bit more wind resistance on both my legs and my upper body. Feet didn't feel too bad, and gloves were working just fine (although it took a while to get shifting figured out).Went a few more miles along the lake, before I decided I'd had enough of that Lake Ontario wind and turned inland (south) for a spell.

As I moved inland, I tried to stay out of the harder gears and focus on spinning easily to start getting a feel for the bike again. It didn't take long to realize I was terrible at holding a line, which as much as I'd like to blame on the wind, might have had something to do with the rider. I also quickly learned that looking behind me was a bit tough with the balaclava, but by offsetting it to give me more space around my left eye, I was able to turn my head to check for traffic fairly easily. The sunglasses helped hold it in place, and thankfully, there were no issues with fogging.

A couple more miles and I was getting a good feel for the efficacy of my winter clothing. The balaclava/helmet/sunglasses combo was working well, the upperbody was OK, although I could have used another layer, the gloves were great, but my legs were still pretty cold (which I REALLY noticed on one hill that I had to stand to climb), and although my toes didn't feel cold, unfortunately there was an issue. My toes didn't feel at all. I'd initially figured I'd go out for roughly an hour just to try this winter biking thing out, and though I wasn't overly uncomfortable, caution told me I should head home, get warmed up, and make a few adjustments for next time.

Thankfully, I'd made this decision about a mile from my house, and as I took the turn toward home, it started snowing. Not a blizzard, by any stretch, but enough snow that it just started to stick on the roads and wet them, and it was blowing directly on my face, which certainly cooled things down a bit further. Pulled into the driveway, got the bike in the house, and hopped in the shower to find that my toes were pretty numb, and the top layer of my legs was a bit tingly. Good call turning for home when I did. All told, 8 miles, 30 minutes, experiment successful.

Learnings For Next Time
1. Cycling jersey as base layer was good, kept me dry.
2. Need another upper body layer, nothing too thick, but perhaps wind-resistant jacket instead of rain slicker.
3. Definitely need another layer over legs. Not sure what that'll be yet. I have warm-up pants, but they're the button-down kind on the sides, so minimal wind resistance, and they're baggy -- I'm worried they'll get caught in the chain.
4. Need to rethink toe warmth. Perhaps the two pair of socks, along with exploring options in whole-shoe covers?
5. Hydration -- I took along a water bottle with Gatorade (made with warm water), not because I'd need it for so short a ride, but to work out any issues for future longer rides. Found it wasn't easy to drink in the cold weather, almost felt painful, and the thicker riding gloves made using the bottle a bit difficult. Also, the Gatorado quickly became downright frigid, also a problem (but at least it didn't freeze). Might have to look into a small hydration pack or planning routes with indoor stopping places for future rides.

Overall, though, I was pretty positive on the whole adventure. I'd originally hoped to get back outdoors when the temperature passed 40-50° Fahrenheit (quite a ways away here), and am pretty sure there's no reason I can't get outside well before then. The sun shining off the patches of snow was gorgeous, and I even saw some wayward geese floating around in a pond in the few avenues that hadn't frozen over. Not a bad experience at all!

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