When people find out that I ride my bike year-round, they often ask if I ski or snowboard too. I don’t. I’m not in the end a fan of winter sports, or of winter at all really. It’s cold, and dirty, and parking is difficult. I’m a fan of cycling, which is not really a winter sport. Actually, the two don’t go together that well at all. But I like cycling enough that I find myself doing it, even in the winter.
On a day like today, when it never quite hit 20 degrees, I arm myself heavily against the cold. Today, my equipment included:
- Fleece-lined bib tights
- a fleece-lined base layer
- a wool sweater
- what’s called a corsa jacket
- a balaclava
- snowboarding socks
- and lobster gloves
That’s almost the full extent of my winter gear. If it were a little colder, I could have added another layer of tights, and used chemical hand and toe warmers. In fact, since it ended up colder than I thought it would be, I probably should have added those to the mix today.
All of these things are meant to be lightweight, to not be cumbersome, to allow for easy movement, and yet to keep you warm. And they do a pretty good job, particularly with the core of the body. From my wrists to my ankles, even in the coldest weather, my winter gear keeps me feeling pretty warm for the length of the ride. That’s not the case for the hands and feet. No matter what I do, they get cold.
As can sometimes happen, about 20 miles into the ride, one of my hands got so cold that I stopped being able to use my thumb properly. Luckily, once I turned around and had the wind to my back, it warmed up enough for some feeling to come back into it.
Another design weakness in the winter gear is that, when I’m wearing the face mask of my balaclava, my breath escapes up toward my glasses, fogging them. By the end of a ride, condensation builds up inside the glasses, making it a little difficult to see.
And then there’s the frozen water bottles. Even with insulated water bottles, eventually my water freezes. Thankfully, since winter rides tend to be shorter and slower, I don’t need the water quite so much as I would on a more intense summer ride. When it’s very cold like today, I’m not really all that interested in pulling down my mask to take a drink anyway.
The real unpleasantness doesn’t happen on the ride, though, but afterward. Once I’m back in a warm building, it’s like my body finally feels permission to express how cold it’s been. First comes throbbing pain in my fingers and toes as the feeling comes back to them. Those can last for quite a while. I got in from my ride about two and a half hours ago; and at this point my fingers feel fine, but my toes are still a little tingly. Maybe five or ten minutes after I’ve gotten inside is when the goose bumps appear. On an even longer delay, I might start shivering thirty minutes after I’m back inside.
Like I said, cycling isn’t really a winter sport. But I like it enough, I was out there today–and glad to be there.