What to Wear When You’re Done Expecting

My co-worker Kelly was just getting into bike commuting when she became pregnant with her first child. Charlie (It’s short for Charlotte) was born and a new way of life came with her. Now that Charlie has settled in at day car, Kelly is looking to get back to bike commuting. She plans to start on Wednesday.

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Today she took her new hybrid bike out with disc brakes (a major upgrade) for a trial ride. Despite temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, she froze. So she wants to know what to wear.

It depends. Here’s some advice. YMMV.

Kelly rides about 7 or 8 miles to and from work and has only one hill (the abrupt climb to the intersection of doom).  The last five miles are along the river, exposed to the wind.

Here are the rules. There will be a test.

Fashion is optional. If you are rocking the fashion world and freezing your ass off, you have more vanity than common sense. You are pathetic. You deserve your suffering. Quit bike commuting and take up Buddhism. Unless you are Coffeeneur or Ultrarunnergirl. They manage to pull off style and comfort with aplomb.

Wear layers. Your first layer is a shirt made of a fabric that wicks sweat away from your skin. No cotton against the skin. Next you need an insulating layer. For temperatures below 45 degrees I wear an old wool sweater over a short sleeve base layer. Above 45 degrees I wear a long sleeve base layer with an oversized t-shirt on top. On top of that I wear a waterproof shell. Pit vents are good. (They are zippered openings under your arms to adjust you core temperature. A zippered front is good too. My shell has a flap over the zipper to reduce air penetration. When it’s a little warmer and dry, I switch to a vest. Some of my #bikedc friends have wool cycling jerseys. They have more money than you.

Break wind. Except when there are cyclists or runners behind you. I kid. Cyclists generate their own wind. To add to the problem winter means higher winds. Your ride from the airport to Rosslyn along the river can be brutal. You’ve already got your torso covered. When it’s under 60 degrees, cover your legs with a wind proof layer. (Water proof is even more better.) You don’t have to wear much underneath. A pair of bike shorts or just wicking underwear will do most days. When it’s cold, layer. Frozen noo noos are no fun fun.

Prepare for two commutes. Become obsessed with the weather. Choose you clothes for the weather in the morning and in the evening. For me that means, I might swap my wool sweater (morning) for my undershirt (evening).

Cover your head. This is very personal. I have a hood on my jacket, a winter skating cap (without the goofy ball on top) and a buff. Buffs are the best. They can be used for all kinds of head covering. If it’s below freezing consider wearing a balaclava. Do not wear a balalaika or a baklava. Just don’t. I have a balaclava but I don’t wear it very often. I think my system of three layers works better for our DC-area climate, because it’s flexible.

Extremities are hard. I think bike-specific winter gloves are worthless. Except for lobster gloves. These are the spork of bicycle clothing. They have three finger slots: thumb, index and tall man, ring and pinkie. Think skiing! Better yet, think mittens. I have a pair of mittens made of Thermalite. They are comfortable below freezing and block the wind well. On super cold mornings, I throw chemical hand warmers in them. For your feet, wool socks are a must. On super cold mornings I wear a pair that covers my calves. Don’t wear two pair. You want air circulating around your toes. For cold wet mornings I wear Gore Tex hiking boots. (I don’t have clipless pedals.)  For cold dry days, I put cycling boots over my mountain bike shoes. (Buy the boots one size too big.) If it’s going to be super cold, throw some hand warmers in your shoes. After twenty years of winter bike commuting, I still don’t have foot comfort figured out. So…

Experiment.  These are things that work for me. You should try wearing some of your hiking and skiing technical gear.

Some other advice. Become a weather watcher. Note which way the wind is blowing for both your morning and evening commutes. Remember that DC weatherpeople are really into hyping bad weather. Most of the bad weather misses DC. Except for the occasional flood. Kelly already has flood experience. Consider a compact inflatable kayak for those nasty monsoon days. Don’t wear a scarf, It can come loose and get stuck in your front wheel. This does not end well.

Finally, if you are comfortable walking out the door, you are over dressed. Bank on it. Don’t wear what’s in the picture.

There you have it. Now get riding!

Winter Moments

Many years ago I taught at a college in Newport Rhode Island. The academic building was located on the cliff walk next to the famous summer “cottage” of the Vanderbilts known as The Breakers. Many times I would arrive just after sunrise and the entire school and all the mansions would be completely socked in by fog. A fog horn moaned in the distance.

This morning as I rolled out of my driveway I had a flashback to my Newport days. I can’t remember it ever being so foggy here in DC. I could not make out the main road that is only 50 yards from my driveway. I stopped to take a picture.

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The pickup truck is parked at the corner. The illuminated street light is on the opposite side of the main road.

I forged onward totally paranoid that the car drivers would not be able to see me. To add to the peril, the fog condensed on my glasses making it even more difficult for me to see. Fortunately, they were being careful and my route for the most part is on quiet side streets.

I figured by the time I reached the river the fog would have lifted. I figured wrong. Readers of this blog will know that I take sunrise pictures from a bump out in the wooden bridge that carries the Mount Vernon Trail over Dyke Marsh. Here’s today’s sunrise.

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Dang.

The ride to work along the trail was safe but spooky. The regulars were out. The hoppy runner. The mom pushing what must now be a 1 1/2 year old in a jogging stroller. If she keeps this up, she’ll be She Hulk in a few years.

I looked to see if there were bald eagles in the tree at the Belle Haven nest. I couldn’t see the tree.

Once I made it through Old Town the fog began to lift, only to be replaced by a persistent, annoying headwind. It was the kind of headwind that made me check my brakes to see if they were sticking against the rim. I stopped briefly to report the scofflaw parker blocking the bike lane at 420 N. Union Street. Again. (Apparently last night’s call didn’t result in a ticket. We should all be treated with such forbearance by the police.)

I was really looking forward to the ride home because the temperature was in the high 50s. That’s pretty sweet for January in DC. Then I rolled out of the garage and was treated to a nice surprise. Sunlight. It was still light out. Are you kidding me? Yes!

And it stayed light out for 15 minutes.

Bike commuting in winter does have its moments.

Deja Vu All Over Again

It’s only my fourth bike commute of the year and it’s already getting repetitive. Good thing I have only 7 months and 1 week to go.

Today was an especially good day because the sinus problems that I had yesterday were nearly cleared up. I used a nasal rinse gizmo (mine has a filter so I can use tap water) patterned after a neti pot twice last night and once this morning. And I took vitamin I to reduce swelling. Success.

So today my head didn’t hurt, the sun came up and it was beautiful. See for yourself.

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And just like last winter the untreated wooden bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail were icy menaces. I was warned by the hoppy runner who was turning around at the bump out where I took the sunrise picture. I was very careful to ride in a straight line and made the crossing of the Dyke Marsh bridge with my rubber side down.

North of Old Town I bypassed the bridges on the river side of the power plant, but decided to take a chance on the beaver bridge just north of Slaters Lane. A walker on the bridge heard me approach and waved me off. I dismounted and immediately realized that the bridge was very slippery. So slippery in fact that I could see two cyclists recovering from a crash. It took me few minutes to walk the football field long bridge. I saw several fresh gashes in the wood decking, most likely from pedals. I actually had to grab hold of the chain that acts as a railing along the side of the bridge because my feet were sliding out from under me. Several cyclists rode by. I didn’t hear any crashes. I don’t know how.

The concrete bridges near the airport were icy but passable. By the time I made it to the wooden Trollheim bride that passes beneath the TR Bridge into DC the ice on it had mostly melted. I rode across without incident.

It was 55  degrees when I started the ride home. It was downright pleasant so the squirrels in my head could run freely. Thoughts bounced around. Then the trance came. Big Ed blew by me without realizing it was me. He nearly took out a ninja runner in the process. I cracked up. So much for that trance.

I rode into Old Town and my old friend was back. The car illegally parked blocking the bike lane at 420 North Union Street was in its usual scofflaw position. I called the police and asked them to ticket it. Again. If this keeps up, I may ask for an accounting of the number of times police responded to my complaints, how often a ticket was issued, how many fines were collected, and such. What really gets me is the fact that nobody else on this block parks like this. They used to but stopped. It takes only one entitled millionaire to ruin a bike lane. Lest we forget, Alexandria is a certified Bicycle Friendly City.

Once I cleared Old Town and headed down the trail in the dark the trance came back. I honestly lost track of where I was on the trail. I must have ridden two miles before I had that how-did-I-get-here moment.

 

 

 

 

Sun Does a Huey

This morning at 5:44 the sun did a huey. I caught it in action. Sort of. It wasn’t moving particularly fast. It was obviously further downriver, south, that it was a month ago. I know colder days lie ahead. I know, somewhat counter intuitively, later sunrises do too. (Something about the tilt of the earth, the sun greed of the Maoris, and voodoo. Trust me, I know science.) Looking on the bright (pun intended) side, opening day is 103 days away.

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So The Mule posed for a picture with the sun just a couple of hours after it changed course.

Facebook sent me the perfect reminder of the winter solstice: a picture of two friends hanging out at a rest stop during my second 50 States Ride in August 2007. Huh? They look pretty good in the picture but the heat soon did Paul in. Flor, who seemed immune to the elements, rode like she had wings. It was one of the hardest bike rides I can remember. It got hotter and more humid as the ride progressed. A rider I met afterward cooled off by jumping in Rock Creek.

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It was good that I looked at the picture before I left for work. It took the edge off a cold December morning.

How Does Bri Do It?

Bri writes a blog about winter bike commuting in rural upstate New York. It’s the snow belt and it gets fiercely cold. She looks forward to winter. Bri is a few spokes shy of a wheel.

Bri makes me feel like a wimp.

On Saturday afternoon a cold front came through. The wind howled and howled on Sunday. I was not looking forward to riding into that gale this morning.

When I fetched the newspaper from the driveway the winds were light-ish and the residual warmth from my PJs kept me comfortable. An hour or so later I stepped outside to ride the Mule to work.

Dang. It was cold. And it was colder still once I got underway and rode with a wind out of ten o’clock for the first 11 miles. I knew it was blowing hard when I took the Park Terrace downhill. I normally reach 32 miles per hour. Today I could only make 27.

There were no photos today. Just put your head down and pedal at a depressingly slow speed.

At Gravelly Point the trail turns to the east for 100 yards. Relief! Then when it takes a 90 degree turn to the north the crosswind nearly blew me off the path.

I managed to make it to work in about 90 minutes. About 15 minutes slower than normal.

The ride home was revenge. I had a strong tailwind the whole way. I saw a friend (I think) who hates cold weather riding toward me on a bikeshare bike near the Humpback Bridge across from the Jefferson Memorial. She had on a black parka with a hood drawn tight around her head.  It framed her face. Her jaw was set and her normally joyful demeanor was locked somewhere between determined and miserable.

The rest of the ride home was not half bad. It made up for the craptastic morning commute.

More of the same tomorrow, minus about 5 or 10 degrees.

 

 

Three Little Things

Thing One

The last few days have had some interesting moments. The other day I was riding Little Nellie to work. I didn’t feel so well but I had to go to work so that I could go to see Santana in DC with Mrs. Rootchopper. (It’s her real name. I swear!)

About 2 1/2 miles from home, I drop down a steep hill. I can easily hit 30 miles per hour on this one. After that I have about 1/2 mile to go before I come to the crossing of the busy George Washington Parkway. Car and bus commuters use the same intersection. The car commuters generally are turning north to head to Alexandria and DC and the bus commuters are crossing to catch the north-bound bus.

The cars queue up, often ten deep. I suppose I could join the line, but typically I ride carefully past the cars on their left hand side. On this day I saw that there was ample space between the edge of the road and the left hand side of the cars so I decided to squeeze by them to the right. This is not a good idea. I noticed a passenger side door crack open and hit my brakes. I came to a stop at the rear fender of the car just as the shotgun seat passenger hopped out right into my line of travel. He was getting out to run for the bus. I may have yelled something. He looked at me and said “sorry” as he closed the door on his back to let me pass unharmed.

My brain went into immediate aggressive mode and I barked some angry words back at him as I rode by. After about three minutes and well beyond the crossing, I realized that he was actually not at fault. Anytime you squeeze by a car on the passenger side, you are asking to get doored. This passenger had no reasonable expectation that a bike would be there.

Still I hope my harsh words will make him think twice the next time he opens a car door.

Santana was entertaining but we didn’t get on the road (with Little Nellie in the trunk of my wife’s car) until 11:30. By the time I got to bed it was clear that I was dying a slow death at the hands of the Pollen Beast.

I slept until 10 the next morning. I NEVER do this. By Friday I was back in action.

Thing Two

On my ride home last night, I diverted from Union Street, the mainline of the Mount Vernon Trail through Old Town. Instead I rode up Royal or Fairfax Street. There is a stop sign at the end of each block. There were cars and buses about so I was being careful and stopping at each stop sign. I was passed by an Alexandria City police vehicle, an SUV. I followed it up the street and watched as it rolled through two stop signs. The driver was in no hurry, he or she just did what everybody else does. My only problem is that APD goes out of its way to give tickets to cyclists who do the very same thing in Old Town. I waved a mittened hand at the cop. He waved back. Have a nice day.

Thing Three

Today is Saturday. The Nationals are scheduled for a 4 pm game. It’s April 9. And it’s snowing outside. The biggest flakes I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s sticking. And the wind is blowing. And it’s cold.

Really.

They postponed the game. I am staying inside. Until May.

 

 

Errands Numbers 4 and 5

One thing I like about the Errandonnee is I get credit for riding to work. So chalk up an easy one for Big Nellie and me. I started riding with temperatures in the 30s. I w24965491973_afc39dff93_m.jpgas comfy in my winter get up but by the time I got to work it was pretty warm in all those layers. Dressing is going to be a bit of challenge for the next few weeks. When I got to work somebody had locked a road bike to the floor bike rack. There are 18 hanging racks for wedgies (conventional bikes) and 2 spaces on the floor for unconventional bikes like my boss’s Yuba Mundo and Big Nellie. I was tempted to put a note on the bike explaining that he/she was commiting a bike room faux pas. Mais non.

My second errand of the day was to ride my bike to a happy hour with my co-workers. Admittedly this was a two block ride but we must show the Errandonnee flag whenever we can.

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Tonight I drive back to work to pick up some boxes. Boxes > Allison. We are having our wood floors refinished in a month so we have to move all of our stuff from the top two levels of our house.

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Errandonnee Control Card Entry No. 4

Category: Work

Distance: 29 miles round trip

Observation: Big Nellie used admirable restraint in not crushing the fool who took her parking space today.

Entry No. 5

Category: Social Call – Office Happy Hour

Distance: 1/2 mile (if that)

Observation: Riding through the Intersection of Doom after drinking two pints of ale is a sobering experience.

Signs of Spring

Winter must be vanquished. Thankfully, it appears the gods are doing their job quite well. You can tell spring is almost here because:

  • Spring training started (duh). And I am totally stoked for the regular baseball season to begin.
  • The crocuses and daffodils are emerging.
  • The forsythia is starting to bloom.
  • I have finished reading my winter stack o’books. Mrs. Rootchopper gets me a couple of books every Christmas. Plus I add a few. This keeps me from doing insane things like riding my bike on icy roads.
    • An historical novel set in the 2nd World War.
    • A biography of Stonewall Jackson
    • An account of the sinking of the Lusitania.
    • A memoir of a solo bike ride around the world.
    • A biography of Sam Cooke.
  • I have a big pile of unread magazines that stacked up because of all the books.
  • I can now ride to work much faster because I am not carrying a 600 page book.
  • The Mule has been treated to its post-winter TLC at the bike shop.
  • Big Nellie is on the streets. I don’t ride my recumbent in sub-freezing temperatures because its front wheel slides out on slippery surfaces.
  • The wovel is looking forlorn and forgotten.
  • Lance Mamilstrong is out on his bike with all his clones.
  • The lawn mower has been prepped.
  • The Errandonnee is underway.
  • The Vasa ride is only a week away. (You should sign up. When you finish you get some soop.)
  • Birds are making a serious amount of noise before sunrise.
  • I have to refill the bird feeder much more frequently.
  • My pants have done shrunk. (Need some long rides and hikes soon!)
  • My allergies have knocked me for a loop.
  • I want to feel sunlight on my face in a big way.
  • The weatherman says there will be three 70-degree days this week. (Tears of joy.)

Did I miss any?

 

The S Word

I am told that Monday was the end of meteorological winter. Who the hell came up with that idea?

It was damned cold here this morning. I was ready with my chemical toe warmers and layers and such. The ride to work was comfy although I had to switch from Big Nellie to Little Nellie. It was a footwear thing. Big Nellie has clipless pedals and my clipless shoes are not good for cold weather. So I put on my hiking boots and rode Little Nellie which has pedals and toe clips.

The only problem I had was when I fell into my trance approaching the Memorial Bridge. I hit a section of the trail covered intermittently with black ice. Eek!

I rode over some of it then swerved over to the grass for the rest.

Winds were light-ish today. You can now discern the buds on the trees. The willows have a light green tinge to their cascading branches. Soon we’ll get some leafy protection from the wind.

The ride home was a piece of cake. I noticed that Arlington County had sprayed brine on the trail connecting the Custis Trail to the Mount Vernon Trail. Arlington County rocks. Too bad the National Park Service doesn’t follow suit.

About a mile from the house, snow flurries started swirling about. Sorry to use the S word in meteorological spring. The flurries were pretty. We may get and inch or two overnight.

The slushy mess we will have gives me an excuse to work from from home tomorrow .I rode five days in a row this week for a total of over 155 miles.

I think my legs are ready for spring.

 

 

 

It Had to Happen Eventually

A couple of weeks ago I shoveled snow for more than ten hours over the course of several days. I was shocked at how well my back held up. I attributed my good fortune to new exercises I have been doing to strengthen my lateral back muscles.

Yesterday I shoveled five or so inches of snow. And went snowshoeing for an hour. Ever since I have been feeling electrical shocks in my lower right back and hips. I don’t have any muscles spasm yet but it won’t take much to put me in a world of hurt.

Since the roads were an icy mess this morning, I opted to drive to work. Combined with tomorrow’s teleworking day I hope to be back in the saddle on Thursday. Fingers crossed.