I’m generally pretty good at being able to tell what I ought to wear on a ride just by looking out the window. A glance at the sky and the trees tells me what I need to know.
And so, last Friday, as I prepared for my inaugural bike commute to work, I put on tights, a long sleeved base layer, and a long sleeve jersey.
I rolled outside, got about 20 feet down my street, and turned around to go put on my Warm Front Chest Warmer (OK, it’s a dickey), a jacket, and some heavier gloves. It was cold out.
The Grand Irony of Cold Weather Cycling
Of course, just because I started out cold doesn’t mean that I stayed cold for very long. Two miles after I start riding, my commute turns up sharply as I ride up and over Suncrest — a four mile climb with 1500 feet of vertical gain.
Overweight, out of shape, and carrying a full messenger bag, I really felt that climb. Even with the strong wind and the cold day, I started sweating. A lot.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside (up to a point, which I do not intend to cross). As long as you’re climbing, you’re warm.
The Evaporative Effect
Feel free to file this in the “too much information” category, but I’m a whole-body sweater. Face, arms, legs, chest, back, everything. When I ride, I am an incredibly efficient evaporative cooler.
Which, on a cold, windy day, when you’re facing a four-mile descent, is problematic.
Flying down the North side of Suncrest, I looked over at a catchbasin pond. It was iced over. So I knew, at least, that I wasn’t being a total baby about how cold I felt.
The big, open feel of the North Suncrest descent lets you see way ahead of you, giving you time to think. Here’s what I thought about:
- I need to reduce my riding distractions. Last year I really got into listening to an iPod while I rode. As I rode Friday, though, I didn’t have an iPod and realized that — at least sometimes — I prefer it that way. I think this is because when I’m listening to music, I’m thinking about music. When I don’t listen to music, I can think of other things. I’m not much of a multitasker; I can’t listen to music and think at the same time.
- I really like riding my bike. I’ve been riding the rollers for so long I was beginning to think that’s what cycling really feels like. It’s not. At all. Even though I was suffering badly from the climb, I was happy to be out again.
- My legs were channeling air into my crotch. My legs, due to their natural inverted V-shape that leads up to my crotch, are incredibly efficient at funneling as much frigid air as was physically possible right up to my nethers. On a warm, sunny day, this would be downright refreshing. But it wasn’t warm. And my tights were soaked with the sweat from my climb.
In short, my nethers became so cold it was actually painful. I became concerned about frostbite. And without becoming too descriptive, I think it’s reasonable for me to say that if it came right down to it, there are some digits I’d rather lose than others. And this was not one of the ones I’d put on the “OK to lose” list.
Eventually, of course, I got to the bottom of Suncrest, and rode into work. My nose, toes, tips of ears, fingers, and one other part were all well and truly numb from cold.
You know what really hurts? When a body part that was numb from cold starts warming up.
But you know what really really hurts? When an exceptionally sensitive body part that was numb from cold starts warming up.
And that is why, for the first twenty minutes of Friday, I kept my office door closed. I didn’t want my coworkers to see me curled up on the floor, whimpering.
And then, of course, eight hours later I got to do the whole thing again, but in the opposite direction.
And starting out with damp riding clothes.