Tagged: winter

Yesterday’s rides

Hi everyone.  I’m pleased to report that Fall Semester 2011 is 99.99% finished.  (I’m still waiting for one small assignment from a student so that he can pass the class.)  This is my last semester teaching three courses; in the spring, my teaching load drops to two courses and should stay that way for quite some time.  I have my new job, as the Director of the Center for Economic Education, to thank for that.

For years I taught at least three, if not four, courses per semester.  It’s hard to describe how much more work that third or fourth course adds to my day.  More emails, more grading, more questions, plus more hours spent in the classroom.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older – 40 is less than one year away – but teaching that third course has become increasingly taxing and, honestly, distracting from what else I want/need to do, like publish papers and work on outside projects.  My heart will always be in the classroom, but fortunately my body will be there less from now on.

Now that the semester is over, I should have more time to write and perhaps even get in a few recreational rides.  I will be commuting to school at least a day or two this week, but after that I won’t be doing much bike commuting until the new year.  But I will keep writing; I have a large backlog of articles I’ve been wanting to share, and my blog is coming up on its one-year birthday.  I already have numerous ideas about what I want to write for that post.

Yesterday was a good day to be biking in Memphis, and by “good” I mean windy and cold.  (At least the sun was out.)  I spent the first part of the day grading papers and doing housework, but around 1:30 PM I geared up and headed north to a graduation party for a former student.  The student is one of the most exceptional I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching, so I definitely wanted to be there to help her celebrate and to meet her family.  The party was at a colleague’s house on Jackson Avenue, just east of McLean, which gave me the opportunity to check out the new bike lanes on McLean.  Here’s a shot of them taken on the north side of North Parkway.

Mclean

Yes, that is my finger in the shot.  I blame my gloves.

The party was a lot of fun, and after about an hour and a half, I headed home.  The ride home was quite a bit easier than the ride to the party; there’s definitely a net elevation decline heading south.  I really loved having the bike lanes, especially on Madison.  Traffic seems much more calm since they’ve been installed.

After getting a bit more work done at home, I headed out to another party, this time at a friends house in Midtown.  Traffic wasn’t too bad, so I biked north on Cooper to Harbert, then headed west, ultimately ending up on that short section of Linden between McLean and Lemaster.  After getting my party on for a while, I biked home – sober, I promise you – and sacked out for the night.

Here’s a map of my rides that day.

Screen shot 2011 12 18 at 5 15 50 PM

And here’s a clickable link if you’d like more detail.

I’m signing off for now.  My wife and I are going Cat Caroling tonight.  What is Cat Caroling, you might ask?  It’s basically regular caroling, only you substitute “meow” for the words in the carols.  Try it with Jingle Bells.  It’s quite fun.

[shiver]

This is the first winter since I started riding where I didn’t stop biking to work when the weather turned cold.  Biking in almost any climate requires certain considerations, most notably what clothes to wear, but winter cycling is unique in how the elements can interact and turn an otherwise ordinary ride into something fairly miserable.

Wind and rain are among the two factors that exhibit a multiplier effect when combined with frosty temperatures.  Riding into a head-wind is a pain in the ass no matter what the weather is like, but drop the outside temperature to around 40ºF and even a small breeze can feel like death is sighing on your neck.  Rain also is a game-changer: a nice shower during a summer ride is very nearly a blessing, but in the winter it becomes a pace-slowing, runny nose-inducing cluster fuck.  Not to mention the ever-present danger of gutters full of slick wet leaves.  Yikes.

I am aware that I’m writing from a position of relative privilege here.  Note that I didn’t include snow, ice, slush, or sleet in my list of winter weather perils.  That’s mostly because, here in Memphis, we don’t get that much frozen precipitation in the winter, so spending a lot of time expounding on it here seems unnecessary.  Plus, I’ve never biked in such conditions, so what would I have to say anyway?

This isn’t to say that I haven’t encountered any extreme conditions while biking to school.  Just recently I set a new record for the coldest temperature (not including windchill) in which I biked to work: 21ºF.  My previous record low, 22ºF, was set the previous day (this was back in early-December) and broke a record that had stood since last winter, that of 30ºF.

Twenty-one degrees is cold weather by nearly any standard, unless perhaps you consider diving into ice-covered lakes a form of entertainment.  Surprisingly though, it really wasn’t that bad.  In fact, the key to biking in cold weather (not taking into account ice or snow on the ground) is simply to dress in layers.  Preferably, many layers of relatively thin clothing.  I usually start with a long-sleeved, wool-blend shirt by Icebreaker as my first layer.  If it’s really cold, I’ll add a second long-sleeve shirt, usually Capilene, then a cotton t-shirt on top of that.  Note: cotton provides almost no insulating power; I just wear it to cover my chest and stomach.

Below the waist I wear biking shorts, long Capilene bottoms, and some old hiking pants I bought years ago at REI.  The pants are rather thin, but they do a decent job of stopping the wind and reducing exposure to rain.  Some Smartwool socks, a Pearl Izumi shell jacket, a Bontrager hat to cover my head and ears, and my ratty old running shoes completes the ensemble.  Plus a scarf and some gloves if it’s really nasty outside.

Note what is missing from my outfit: down and fleece.  Down jackets are great if you’re freezing your butt off in an outdoor sports arena in winter, but are terrible for exercise.  Why?  They over-insulate you, to the point that the sweat can freeze on your skin during stops.  Fleece is good, but it need not be three inches thick.  A thin fleece jacket under a shell provides more than enough insulation.

The good people over at LifeHacker posted an article about biking in winter which I enjoyed.  I didn’t read the article before I started cold weather cycling, but it covers most of what I already knew or figured out.  Also, here’s an article about using zip ties to create homemade snow tires.  I haven’t had to go that far in preparing for winter biking, but it’s good to how to mod your tires if needed.