A Week Without Cycling

First it was our home remodeling project. Then it was a work obligation. Now, it’s the weather. All the stars have been in alignment over the past week to keep me off my bike.

Central Texas is under a Winter Weather Advisory. That’s nowhere near as serious as much of the country is facing right now, but in an area that seldom gets snow, these kinds of weather events are cause for consternation. It’s been raining on and off since Friday, sometimes heavily. That’s enough to keep me from riding. But the temperature has dropped to the mid-30s (2C), and that’s below my threshold for riding. I don’t have clothes that will keep me comfortable at anything lower than 40.

This past weekend was also that rare time when I’m tied up with work-related things. In this case, I emceed a conference for students all day Saturday. That wouldn’t have been a problem if I could get on the bike Sunday, but as I said, rain and cold together do not biking weather make.

But Thanksgiving is coming up quickly. I get to take Wednesday off work, and we don’t have to work Friday — so I expect lots of riding in the next few days. The forecast is going to moderate, too. We’ll be up to 70 (21C) by Sunday! All I have to do is dig my bike out from under all the remodeling waste in my garage.

How Cold Will You Go?

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Met a small contingent from the club this morning for our ride. No other B riders showed up, so it was me and seven A’s. They pretty much disappeared by about eight miles into the ride, and I was on my own again. No problem — I enjoy riding by myself.

But I did have to attend to some housekeeping. The temperature when I left the house was a cool 45 degrees (7C). I might have overdressed a little, and by now I was feeling overheated. I stopped in a high school parking lot, and traded my full-finger gloves for my fingerless, and stashed my ear warmers in my jacket pocket. I figured I would shed some more layers when I reached my turnaround point, another six or seven miles down the road.

I really enjoy riding in the kind of weather we had today. It was a beautiful fall day, with bright sunshine and temps on the cool side. It reminded me that the cold weather still has yet to reach Central Texas — but it will. January and February often see winter-like temperatures, even if we rarely get snow.

I started thinking about my northern friends, who have been riding in colder weather than this for some time. I’m from the north myself, although when I lived up there, I wasn’t really a cyclist. I wondered if I would have what it takes to face the kind of cold conditions they regularly deal with.

And that got me wondering — just how cold am I willing to go to get in a ride?

For me, it’s about 40 degrees (4C). Mainly, that’s because the biking clothes I own won’t keep me warm at lower temperatures. I think the coldest it ever was when I started a ride was 38, and that warmed into the 40s fairly quickly.

Thirteen years in Austin’s mild (and ridiculously hot in the summer) climate has had its effect on me. I’m not as cold-tolerant as I used to be. But I’m not the biggest wimp on the block. One of my cycling acquaintances, who has years more riding experience than I do, told me he doesn’t ride when the temperature gets below 55. What?

Meanwhile, a couple of the guys came to this morning’s ride dressed in just base layers, a short-sleeved jersey, and arm warmers. It would have to be in the 60s before I dressed like that.

How about you? Have you started riding in really cold morning temperatures already? How cold does it have to be before you decide to stay indoors? Or do you ride all winter long? And if you do — how do you cope?

Riding When I Want To

Not a great riding weekend. I look forward to the weekends, because lately I have not been able to squeeze in a ride during the week. Late Friday afternoon, then, is something I wait for all week long.

I got out for a 20-miler Friday, and anticipated a longer ride Saturday. But Saturday morning dawned overcast and misty. The roads were wet. I decided to wait until conditions got better.

They never did. In fact, they got worse. It never really rained, but the mist got heavier. I decided to forget about riding, and wait for Sunday.

The Sunday forecast called for rain in the morning, but according to the weather radar, that had passed through the area about an hour before I woke up. Again, the streets gleamed with light reflected from standing water. I decided I wouldn’t be doing the club ride at 8.

It amused me to see how panicked some of my fellow club members got over the weather. The 8 a.m. ride was delayed until 9:30. The Yahoo board lit up with posts from people debating whether to go on the planned ride (about 55 miles into a very hilly suburb to the west) or do something flatter and potentially safer. Then some folks decided to go at 10 instead of 9:30. I leaned back in my easy chair to drink some coffee and read the paper.

I guess everyone got out all right. I rode with my wife at about 2:30 p.m., when the temperature had risen to 67 degrees (19C) and the roads had dried off. Ever notice that 67 in February is much cooler than 67 in June? It’s true. I was underdressed on our ride, and downright chilly pedaling into a light wind from the north. When my wife turned into our neighborhood, instead of peeling off to put in some more miles, I went with her.

So my mileage for the month is way down, what with one-and-a-half rides this weekend. You know what? I don’t care. We enjoy good biking weather here year around, and if this weekend wasn’t so great, I know great ones are just around the corner. From here on out, I’ll take advantage of that, and ride when I feel like riding. That means I’ll skip some days because they’re too cold for me (on that day, anyway), and other times, I’ll be first to show up for a ride in even colder weather. I’ve decided to skip riding during rain, and even in wet conditions after the rain. Call me a wuss, if you like. I enjoy my bike too much to ever feel like I’m forced to ride.

Forgot Helmet

Some of you might have noticed on my Twitter feed that I had a little issue on Sunday morning’s club ride. One of our A riders is recovering from a bout of sickness contracted during the middle of last week, and so posted a B-level ride on the club’s Yahoo group. The added benefit was that her ride would leave about an hour after the regular club ride, which was welcome, since the temperature was expected to be on the borderline too-cold-to-ride point.

Sure enough, when I got up to let the dog out it was only 33 degrees (1C). Luckily, it was only 6 a.m., and I had three hours to wait for some warming to set in. I had a leisurely and filling breakfast, read the paper, and then got ready to face the chill.

I was counting on it to warm up during the ride, but figured I’d still need to dress more warmly than I usually do. I added a sleeveless base layer under the t-shirt I normally wear. On my feet, I put a pair of polypropylene liner socks on under my woolies. I pulled my headband/earwarmer down around my ears, and a Headsweats doo-rag over that. Then, I got into my windbreaker and made sure I had the needed cell phone and credit card with me.

It looked like the bike wouldn’t need much in the way of prep. I’d lubed the chain the previous afternoon — when it was still warm — and only had to pump three times to bring the rear tire up to snuff. I clipped in my water bottles, started my computer, and I was off.

Yeah, it was cold. But there was a saving grace — no wind. I pedaled easily to the Starbucks where our rides start, turned into the parking lot, and rode across it to the group of cyclists that was already gathered there.

Almost in unison, a shout went up. “Your helmet, Ray!!!” I stopped, looked, and then felt my head. Oh, jeez! After all that prep time (and not even my wife to kid about it this time), I had left the house without wearing a helmet. I know it’s happened before, but always to other cyclists. Not me.

“Look,” I told the group. “I’m only a mile away. I’ll go back and get the helmet.”

“We’ll meet you up there,” said Jordan, waving his hand vaguely up the street I’d be on. I nodded, and set off.

Once I got my helmet, I figured it would be easiest to take a shortcut and try to intercept the peloton at a major intersection in the opposite direction from my house as Starbucks. It occurred to me that I wasn’t really clear what Jordan meant by “up there.” I got to the intersection, was held up by a red light, and saw no one. Hmmph, I thought. They’ve come through here already.

I turned, and headed up the bike lane along the suburban four-lane that feeds traffic into our neighborhood. Up at the t-intersection where the Walgreens is, I could still see no one. I continued on, setting out on the route I knew the group would be taking that morning.

About a mile and half farther, my cell phone rang. It was Debra.

“Where are you, Ray?” she asked.

“Approaching the parkway,” I answered.

“Oh, good grief. We’re back at the Walgreens. Janice had a flat.”

“I’ll wait for you at the turn before the parkway,” I said.

I leaned the bike up against a light pole, and waited. The day was still chilly, but the sun felt good where it hit my jacket. But only on that corner where it hit. I turned every few minutes to position a different part of myself toward the sun.

After a 15-20 minute wait, I saw them, coming up the hill toward me. It turns out they waited for me at Starbucks, and when I didn’t come back for the start of the ride, they set out. By then, I was already two miles ahead of them. “What we should have done, was ride with Ray back to his house and then start the ride from there,” said one exasperated biker.

Yeah, that would have worked. And so would remembering my helmet in the first place.

New Year’s Day Ride

Skipped the Bicycle Sports Shop Resolution Ride I’ve done the past two years. I could use the weather for an excuse — it was raining steadily when I got up at 7 this morning. But the fact is, I had never planned to ride it. Instead, I wanted to start the New Year off with a ride on my own.

For awhile, it looked like there wasn’t going to be a ride. Our club’s Yahoo group was buzzing with back and forths about going, not going, waiting a couple more hours, waiting until this afternoon…

I decided that when I did go, I’d go on my own, because I was ready.

In the meantime, Mrs. Noob saw a blurb on the “Today” show that Jan. 2nd is the best day to start a new diet. So she figured she’d pull out all the stops for breakfast. A nice omelet stuffed with lots of different veggies, toast, and bacon baked in the oven. I think 2013 is going to be a good year.

Amazing how quickly 10, then 10:30 rolls around. It looked like some of the clubbers were going to ride at noon. No way I would make that start time. I gathered up my stuff and hit the road at 12:30.

The whole point about doing this ride, for me, was to set a good precedent for the year. Don’t let little things — like chilly weather — be your excuse to skip a ride. The temperature, which was supposed to go up throughout the afternoon, was 48 degrees (9C) when I took off , and instead of rising over the course of my ride, it fell off a bit. That, coupled with a brisk wind from the northwest, made for some effortless riding — as long as I was headed south. Once I finished up a Veloway lap and turned toward the 2.5-mile ride home, that wind was in my face. I was chilled when I pulled into the driveway.

That’s fine, though. The first ride of the year was 22.6 miles in a little over an hour and a half. Maybe some lunch, and some bowl games on TV (Uh oh…Mrs. Noob is watching a Jane Austen movie), and New Year’s Day will be one for the books.

Thankful for Cycling

“Oh, I need this,” cooed Pat, as we headed out from home on a Sunday morning ride.

“This” was a bike ride. We’d just gotten home late last night from four days on the road for Thanksgiving. It was great. We stayed with our son and daughter-in-law and our brand new grandson — our first grandchild. So, we had lots of time for family bonding, lots of time sitting around watching their 70-inch TV screen (some action scenes made Pat nauseous), and lots of time eating more than we should have. It was great.

I got out for a couple of walks. The first day we were there, I set out to circle a large soccer-baseball complex near their house, and found that there was no quick way to do it. I wound up walking about four miles, and in the unseasonably mild Minnesota weather, I was soaked through with sweat when I got home.

Saturday’s weather was more seasonal. I walked a little over a mile to see a bald eagle nest near their house, and was treated to the sight of two eagles — one that flew about 50 yards from tree to tree while I looked on. I was a lot more bundled up for this walk, with temperatures in the low to mid 20s (-3C) and a biting wind. But it was better than the previous day, when we went to the movies. While we walked from the parking lot to the theater, the 25 mph wind cut through our jackets, and without hats or ear protection, we were really cold.

Now, I know hearty northerners ride in these conditions. On my walk to the eagles’ nest, a cyclists passed me, bundled up in a heavy parka, thermal cycling tights, thick gloves, and a skull cap. Tough guy, I thought. But we’ve lived in Austin for 12 years now, and our blood must have thinned out. My personal cycling cutoff is at 40 degrees (4C), and I’m mighty chilly even at that temperature.

So our ride this morning was a pleasure. Even with a brisk south wind, we pedaled easily over to the Veloway and did some laps. Good crowd out there today. Pat has been dealing with some work-related challenges, and she was glad to get on the bike, because ideas and solutions seem to come to her much more readily while cycling than while poring over a computer screen in the home office. As they did today. When I peeled away from her a couple of blocks from the house to continue my ride, she was already eager to get back to try out some things that came to her on the ride.

I tackled some local hills, and found that the pounds I tacked on over the holiday made themselves felt. Okay, I slipped from my careful eating campaign, and I’ll have to renew my efforts in that regard. But to ride in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts on a 65-70 degree (20C) day in November is something I’m thankful for at this time of year.

The Biking Cold

When we took our club ride Sunday morning, our area had just come off some good soaking rains that lasted much of Saturday. The forecast called for almost no rain chances Sunday, so I dressed accordingly. I wore a polyester base layer under my jersey and my lightest pair of arm warmers.

Once again, the forecasters were wrong. The temperature, which was 68 (20C) at the start of the ride, seemed to be falling as we reached our turnaround point. On top of that, the rain that was supposed to have moved out of the area paid us a visit again, in the form of mist.

After the first 15 miles, I was bathed in sweat on the inside, and wet from mist on the outside. (I suppose a treatise on the so-called “wicking” properties of base layers merits it own post at some point.) Coupled with the morning breeze, the wetness made me feel a bit chilly, arm warmers or not.

I felt good at the end of the ride, as I showered and wiped down the bikes. But by late afternoon, I could tell something was wrong. That telltale tickle formed at the back of my throat. I downed a couple of aspirin and settled back to watch football — no, Ryder Cup — no, football — no, Ryder Cup…we wound up sticking with golf, and I didn’t do my throat any favors by yelling at the American team as they blew a comfortable lead.

By bedtime, I felt lousy. It was by now a full-blown cold. My nose ran like a faucet, and I had that overall blah feeling. I got through a day of work Monday, slept poorly Monday night, and had an unpleasant day at work on Tuesday.

Tuesday evening is when I get a chance to ride during the week, because that’s the day I get home earliest. But I wasn’t in the mood for riding. I just wanted to eat that hot comfort food my wife had made for dinner, and sit back to watch TV. (I can’t believe that cement-footed Bristol Palin wasn’t voted off of “Dancing With the Stars.”)

Now my wife says she feels the tickle in her throat. And the dog has an ear infection, so she’s sleeping as much as possible. I know these seasonal colds are just things you’ve gotta put up with…but I missed my ride today. I hope I’ll be able to get out Friday evening.

The Threshold for Unpleasant

One of our club riders wanted to go shorter than the planned route this morning. I thought that was a good idea, and planned to join her. But she wanted to leave at 8:15, and the B ride would be leaving at 9:15. Except for one thing: No one had posted a B ride for the day. I emailed her that I would wait until the weather improved.

We’ve been spoiled over the past two weekends, with decent riding conditions, even in chilly weather. Today was different. We had rain Saturday, rain overnight, and when I went out to pick up my morning paper, it started to rain again. In addition, the wind had shifted overnight in advance of a cold front, and was now blowing briskly from the north. The temperature was in the lower 40s (5C). So we had that nasty combination of chilly temperatures, brisk wind, and rain. Even though I had happily ridden in colder weather than this last week, the combination of the three created a threshold for unpleasant riding conditions for me. I decided to wait it out.

Lately, I’ve been reading blogs by randonneurs who live mostly in the eastern U.S. They tell of riding 100-plus miles in conditions much worse than what I faced today. I’m not in their league yet. I was content to sit back, read the morning paper, and drink some hot coffee while waiting for conditions to improve.

My wife Pat was up for a ride, too. “I was thinking, ‘If I can just wait till noon, it’ll work,’” she said. But a check of the radar 10 minutes before noon showed more rain just moving into our neighborhood. The temperature had hardly budged since 5:30 this morning. Pat decided to pack up her gear and head for a local health club she had quit just yesterday. They allow her to stay on until the end of the month, so she decided to take them up on their kindness. This time.

I decided to stay home and do some work. But by 2:30, the rain had passed, roads were starting to dry a bit, and although the temperature was still the same, I decided to get in a short ride. I did 15 miles in the neighborhood and on the Veloway, and was glad I’d put in the effort. I was also glad I’d waited to do it.

But our club president posted online that he and two others had shown up at 8:15 a.m. and done a nice 53-mile ride, which included a tailwind for their return leg. He gently chided us weather wusses by quoting Shakespeare’s Henry V St. Crispin’s Day speech:

     We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Okay, point taken. You happy few rode and had a great time. But I knew I would see several club members, including the ones who rode with him at a Super Bowl party this evening, and I decided to check with them.

Pippa, one of the “band of brothers” who rode (even though she’s a sister) admitted they did hit some rain on their ride. But it was light, and was over by the time they reached the 10-mile mark.

“It started raining again when we were just a couple of miles from the finish,” she said, “but it didn’t really start to pour until we had reached Starbucks and were inside getting our coffees.”

But others took one look at conditions and had similar reactions to me and Pat.

“I went to spin class,” said Jordan, who has been organizing most B rides since moving back to the area from out of town. “And I wasn’t the only one.”

Jerry admitted he did the indoor spin thing, too, and they ran into one of our better A riders there as well. The rest said they just stayed indoors and decided to skip riding today.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I liked my rides to be “pleasurefests” as opposed to the “sufferfests” of some A rides. That includes riding conditions, not just effort. I suppose I need to HTFU, but for now, I think I’ll continue to KBAPMFU.*

*Kick back and put my feet up.



I’m Just a Fair Weather Rider

Finally, the weather moderated yesterday and I got out to ride, for the first time in eight days.  It felt good, although I could tell I had spent too much time off the bike.  The ride seemed to require more effort from me.

This isn't me.

There was no way I was going to miss another day, though.  Last week was a total washout for me, with cold temperatures during the day, and several days of non-stop rain.  Some of my friends reported via Facebook and Twitter that they had gotten out on the roads and put in some (or many) miles.  But I couldn’t motivate myself to do so until the sun came out and the roads dried off.

Okay, I guess I’ve known all along that I’m just not enthusiastic about riding in lousy conditions.  I’ve also decided that’s not a problem.  We have decent enough weather most of the year that I can ride much more than many of my biking acquaintances farther north, so all I really have to do is sit tight for a few days (or in last week’s case, eight) and I’ll be able to get out there again.

So I’ve taken stock of my biking likes and dislikes.  I’ll ride in temperatures as low as 40ºF (4ºC), although I don’t like it.  I make it a point to avoid riding when it’s raining, or threatening rain, or if the roads are still wet from rain.  I have faced the truth:  I’m just a fair weather rider.

It looks like my mileage in January will be my lowest in months.  On the bright side, this may also be nature’s way of telling me that I’ve been too wrapped up in biking, and it’s time to back off a bit.  We’ll see.


Activation Energy

Guest poster Don Blount discusses how to deal with cold weather riding.

I feel it this time of the year. For that matter, I think we all do. When the temperatures fall, the wind howls and the days get shorter, we find it takes a bit more “oomph” or work to get out and ride.

The weather, which is much more dreary than in the spring and summer, surely plays a part in it. But so do a few other things.

For example, I have to keep a closer look at the weather. Instead of sunny and warm or sunny and hot, I have to monitor if it is going to be rainy, foggy or overcast or how low the temperatures will go. Thank goodness snow is not a concern for where I live in Northern California.

And instead of just putting on light base layer, jersey, bibs, gloves, socks, gloves, helmet and going, I have to decide what I am going to wear. Do today’s conditions require long sleeve or short sleeve base layer? What about warmers or thermal jersey and tights? Toe covers or shoe covers, medium or heavy gloves? After going through all of this, it takes longer to get dressed and out the door. And on some days there is additional time to clean the bike after a ride.

Spring and summer riding is fun. Most often my biggest concerns are getting out before it gets too hot and making sure I have enough food and water.

Preparing for fall and winter rides turn into work.

A New York Times story described it best as that exercise this time of the year requires more “activation energy.” That’s a chemistry term describing the amount of energy needed to start a reaction.

For cyclists and others trying to exercise it means the amount of effort needed to begin our activity. It takes more during these months. Some people crosstrain, others train less and still some just keep going no matter how much “oomph” it takes just to get out the door. I try to be in the last category, no matter how much work it takes.