Your Extremities

After Saturday’s ride, I tweeted that just the addition of toe warmers really made a difference in on-bike comfort.  But there may have been more to it than that.

Our ride started at a temperature of about  40ºF (4ºC), which in the past has been the coldest temperature I will ride in.  I made sure to bring all the usual items you’d expect to bring for a chilly day: full-length leg warmers, a long-sleeved, brushed jersey, etc., but in addition to the toe covers, I also brought my full-fingered cycling gloves and liners.

Way back when I used to backpack, I used polypropylene glove liners under ragg wool gloves.  The combination kept my hands toasty warm.  I’ve discovered that the liners work just as well under my full-fingered gloves, which aren’t cycling gloves at all — they’re a pair of winter golf gloves.  And they’re not all that different from the cool weather cycling gloves you’ll find on the rack at a place like Performance.  I never worry about cold hands anymore.

I had more than just toe warmers on my feet — I used the polypro socks beneath my wool cycling socks.  It’s another great combination, until the temperature gets below about 45 — then I need something more.  That’s where the toe warmers come in.

I also took along a cool weather headband.  This one is also slightly brushed on the inside, and is shaped to completely cover the ears.  One thing about my ears — they’re hard to miss.  I do have to make sure they’re covered, or they’ll get cold quickly.

The headband doesn’t solve the entire problem though.  Forty percent of your body’s heat loss is through the head, so it’s important to keep your head covered.  A helmet doesn’t count.  My helmet has huge vents, and the head can get chilly if I don’t take measures.  I forgot on this ride, and could really feel the cool breeze across my noggin once we headed out.  Luckily, on this day the temperature rose quickly, so it wasn’t an issue.  Normally, I would wear a polyester doo-rag under the helmet.  Another item that works is a lightweight cycling cap.  Or, one could just tape over the vents on the helmet, like the late Sheldon Brown used to do.  One thing I’ve found is that if I keep my ears warm, a head covering isn’t that important, or if I keep my head covered, I can get by without anything on my ears.

Although the ride started in much cooler temperatures than I prefer to ride in, I was comfortable throughout.  The next day, under much the same conditions, I was cozy all over again.  Do yourself a favor when riding in the cold winter temps this year. Take care of your extremities, and the rest of you will be happy for it.


Zone 2 Training

After last weekend’s hill training with Austin Cycle Camp, I was looking forward to the last of their free November sessions.  This one was scheduled to take place in Cedar Park, northwest of Austin.

Their web site didn’t indicate what kind of training would be involved, but on Friday evening, I got a confirmation email from AC2 (Austin Cycle Camp) that said we should bring heart rate monitors, because we would be doing heart rate training.  Hmm.  I’ve got one, but its strap was broken, so it wouldn’t be of any use to me.  The email indicated that there would be a limited number available, so I figured I’d get to the location early and try to get one.

The morning was chilly.  I even had thoughts of forgetting it and crawling back into a warm bed.  But a check of the online weather sites revealed that they were predicting a temperature of about 40ºF (4ºC) by the time we were to start, so I loaded up on cold weather gear and drove up there.

It turned out that the reason for the heart rate monitors was to make sure we stayed in Zone 2 — the easy training zone.  Coach Dave even set the HRM he lent me to indicate not heartbeats per minute, but percent of maximum heart rate.  We were to start out in Zone 1 — 55 to 70 percent of max — then after a short warmup ride, head out on the highway and maintain a Zone 2 effort — 70 to 85 percent.

As Dave predicted, the group (about 15 people turned out) spread out quickly on the highway.  Those in better condition could maintain a higher speed in Zone 2 than those who were more casual riders.  We were to go for 20 minutes, then turn back.

Gently rolling hills along the route made maintaining a Zone 2 effort difficult.  The coaches encouraged us to keep pedaling, even if on a downhill.  Going uphill, we had to shift down to very easy gears to keep from going above 85 percent.

Back at the start, after a little less than an hour in the saddle, Dave told us that the effort we had just put out was where we should be for most of our winter training.  With no major organized rides or races on the horizon, the emphasis should be on building or maintaining a base.  That will improve your aerobic capacity, and teach your body to burn fat instead of glycogen.

I had done slow training rides before, but always had trouble maintaining an easy pace for a full hour.  There’s always the temptation to attack this favorite hill, or carve that upcoming turn.  But it turned out that even at a sedate Zone 2 pace, we weren’t really lollygagging.  My average speed for the session was over 16 mph — about what it is when I’m out on my normal neighborhood rides.

So now that I know what Zone 2 feels like, I’ll be riding it more often.  I’ll reserve one ride a week to turn on the afterburners — you have to remember what it feels like to go fast — but otherwise, I’ll be the guy pedaling in a fast cadence who just glides along the street.

Doing Everything Wrong

Maybe it was Thanksgiving.  Yeah, that’s it.  I took several days off the bike as we went out of town to visit my sister-in-law for Turkey Day.  Now, that’s not unusual — the several days off the bike part, that is — because lately I’ve been taking several days off the bike each week because of the earlier onset of darkness and work obligations.

However, when we got back to town this afternoon, Pat wanted to get in a short ride.  The clock was approaching 4:30, so we wouldn’t have more than an hour of daylight, and she wanted to swing by a nearby post office to drop an important check in the mail.

The temperature hovered around 54ºF (12ºC), which isn’t far from our recent averages for this time of year.  We scrambled into bike clothes that had worked for us before in this temperature.  Well, actually, we departed a little from what we usually wear.  Pat pulled on her armwarmers, but although she got a windbreaker out of the closet, she decided to leave it lying on a chair.  I wanted to wear a base layer, but also wanted to save what appeared to be the only clean one for tomorrow’s ride, so I wore a summer weight short sleeved jersey under a nice long sleeved jersey.

I searched and searched, but couldn’t find my sunglasses.  I finally decided to skip them, since the sun would be at our backs for the return leg of our ride, and it would be getting dusky anyway.

We headed out, and in minutes realized we had both made mistakes.  Pat wished she had worn her windbreaker.  I wished I had worn a baselayer, a wind vest, and arm warmers.  We were both chilly.  Luckily, the wind was calm.

We got to the post office just in time to meet the departing mail truck, and Pat left the check with the driver.  We headed out on a favorite short neighborhood route, but to get there had to ride a fairly busy connecting road.  The good part is, it was slightly downhill, so we made good time.  The bad part is, by riding relatively fast, the cold penetrated our trunks.  We both started complaining about the chill.  We kept going, though.

We turned a corner, and I realized why I had been uneasy about not searching harder for my sunglasses.  Our route took us directly into the setting sun, which shone at a low angle directly into our faces.  It was blinding.  I rode much of the outbound leg looking down, just a few feet in front of my front wheel.

We got to the turnaround and headed back.  Again, the route was a slight downhill, and we made good time — but we also absorbed a lot of cold air.  I stopped to wait for Pat at a stoplight, and felt a wave of warmth spread across my torso and legs.  It was because I wasn’t cutting the air with the moving bike.  At rest, we were fine.  Moving, we were uncomfortably cold.

On my home computer, I keep a list of cool weather clothing combinations that work for me under a variety of different cool weather conditions.  As soon as we finished our chilly ride, I called it up, wondering where the problem could have been.  After all, I had ridden a number of times this fall in temperatures in the low to mid 50s, and never had I felt this uncomfortable.

Duh.  I turns out I completely misjudged what I needed to wear for today’s conditions.  I needed arm warmers and a wind vest — just as I had determined while riding.  The clothing combination I wore today was good for temperatures 10 degrees higher than we had.

Readers sometimes ask me why I call this blog Bike Noob, when I’ve been riding for several years.  As long as I keep screwing up my rides like I did today — I still consider myself a noob.