Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Winter Biking Experience, Part 1

It only takes a few seconds. I'm a few steps outside my door, and no matter how I'm feeling, within one full rotation of a crank my mood is lifted.

I live and work in Chicago and I always commute by my road bike. The last time got to work by mode other than bike was in May, when I had a mildly injured foot from running.

It's cold outside, but I'm equipped. Most of the things I wear on the bike were collected piecemeal as I felt I needed them. Perhaps my most important clothing isn't clothing at all, but my fenders. I have recently replaced a seat post-mounted rear fender with a set of fork (front) and seat stay (rear) mounted low profile fenders. They do a fantastic job keeping me seperate from the majority of the road spray and gunk my tires throw around. But before I had a front fender, it only took a few rainy days of wet pants and soaked feet to convince me of the necessity of the following: a waterproof shell over my jeans, with velcro straps at the ankles to keep things nice and tidy and away from the chain. Simple and effective.

For the ever-critical feet, I have a system - I wear wool socks and size 11.5 Sperry Top-Sider slip ons inside some size 13 neoprene booties. The slip-ons make good cycling shoes because they are not bulky and they have no laces to get tangled up in the drivetrain. I comfortably wore them all spring and summer, the exception being wet days. The uppers are one layer of cotton canvas and when they get wet, whatever is inside them gets wet. It is a happy accident that they are so at home in the booties I bought to keep them dry.

My Performance brand booties are the only pair I have seen with a full sole. Most have holes for cleats, but mine come hole-less and the user may cut holes according to the type of cleat they use, or leave the sole intact. After riding for a while with full soles, I cut out a piece so that I could also wear the booties with my cleated bike shoes. They function very well with either shoe. Now the soles of my street shoes are exposed only at the contact point with the pedals which in most cases is ideal. My ride is not really long enough to justify clipping in with cleats, but the top-siders fit perfectly in the booties. So perfectly, in fact, that I usually leave the slip-on shoes inside the booties, and when I arrive at work, I put my dry and warm feet into other footwear that I keep there.

I layer it up on top. I prefer a light jacket under my thicker (but not "thick") biking jacket with the special cut (a little longer in the back to compensate for a riding posture) and subtle reflectiveness. Of course I often also layer with a long sleeve shirt and sweater as weather dictates. On my hands, I have a thin pair of wool liners underneath a pair of regular fleece gloves. On my head, a knit cap and some sunglasses with exchangable lenses (clear for after dark) plus my helmet. Next to the skin is a baselayer of merino wool. I have a balaclava I have not yet worn.

It may be in the single digits, it may be 30 below wind chill. The body at work is an oven. If I'm covered up, I don't get cold. (My ears did take it hard on that 30 below wind chill day. That's why I bought the balaclava)

My commute is short. Too short. I'm off the bike before I get my fill most days. My route, when I'm not running late, is on the side streets. The main roads between my home and my work don't yet have bike lanes. Side streets take a little longer, but they are less trafficked, and auto traffic moves at a speed much closer to cyclist speed. In the winter, these roads are also the last to get the attention of the Streets and Sanitation department and often go unplowed.

Ah, but this is a lovely thing! Riding through the snow is a joy!


Blogger Akmon said...


8:47 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home