Monday, November 19, 2007

Winter Gear Rundown Part 1: The Legs

Staying warm as a year-round cyclist in Iowa is no picnic... unless your idea of a picnic is when the potato salad freezes solid and has to be pried out of the bowl with a chisel. Since I won't be doing the year-round adventure this year, I figured I'd better document what little I've learned before the lyrics to bad 80s songs overwrite that sector of my mental hard drive.

Note for any easily-offended international readers: "Knickers" is the U.S. usage... a difference I learned by doing a Google search for "knickers" at work. Cheeky Brits!

For the legs, I wrap up like so:

  1. Nylon/cotton knickers: OK for short commutes down to about 40F. I just threw these in for people who think 40F is cold. As my knees get more... erm, ahem... "vintage", they like a bit more coverage when the air gets slightly nippy.
  2. Polarfleece knickers... yes, seriously. These started life as long pants, but I hated them in that configuration. On a whim, I lopped off the bottoms, and now I'm in heaven down to about 25F. I continue to be surprised how little my lower legs care about warmth as long as I cover the knees (see "vintage" above). Extra bonus, this time of year, my pasty white calves are so visible, 3M should patent them as Reflecto-Skin.
  3. Foxwear Powershield tights, regular weight. If it's too cold to ride in these, you probably need an axe to chip your tires off the garage floor. Double bonus, Lou (the guy behind Foxwear) is a pleasure to work with. He'll talk you through all the fabric choices, send out cute little swatches for you to fondle, and even do custom tweaks to his stock products without charging you an arm and a leg for the extra arm or leg. Other than those silly "plugged in by Google" ads over to your right (which have earned me a whopping 12 cents so far, almost enough for that new kidney), I try not to shill on this blog, but doggone it, this is an operation that deserves a plug. Foxwear. Yep, Foxwear. Did I mention Foxwear?
Of course, it was a freakish 60F for my commute home today, so take it all with a grain of frame-eating road salt. Maybe global warming will make this post moot?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Winter Cyclist Challenges

The temps here in Des Moines (My Fair City) Iowa are dropping like a stone, so it's time to start playing the Winter Commuter Games!

My ongoing game is what I call "Last Person Standing" day: Of all the regulars who lock up their bikes at your rack, who's the last one to brave the weather in a given winter, and on what day is that person the only one riding? I was LPS at my office last year (date? call it a DNF, since I rode through the whole winter), but this year's crash probably has me out of contention. Frankly, it didn't take much to split my femur like a wishbone, so I'm a bit hesitant to do the ice and snow again. I even gave my studded tires to bike-pal and ex-neighbor Steve to eliminate any temptation.

My boss (another commuting nut) just let me in on another Winter X-Game that goes like this: You track the low temperatures each day you ride, and your score is the total of the low temps on the four coldest days you rode each month. Low score wins. Didn't ride four days in January? Each day you're short is scored 45 degrees -- which is probably high enough to put you out of contention for that month, at least in Iowa. Arizonans, make that 75 degrees. On second thought, Arizonans don't get to play unless they move to a climate where icicles on facial hair is a distinct possibility for a third of the year.

I've been disqualified for this game because my commute is considerably shorter than any of the other competitors, short enough that I could conceivably chalk up a handful of sub-zero scores each month without risking lost digits. Drat!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

In Training

I'm training for the merger of Fleur Drive and Locust Street in downtown Des Moines, where four packed lanes of cars slide together and I find myself the lone bike in the middle of dozens of hostile metal boxes. Cars pour in from the suburbs, meshing angrily with the cars pouring in from the airport. Every day. So I'm training for that gap in the mayhem, the ten feet between deadly bumpers where -- with a well-timed jump -- I can tuck my tiny bike and vulnerable body into the flow, slide safely through, and emerge curbside, untouched.

I'm training for Grand Avenue in Des Moines at five o'clock on a Friday, when those same cars back up for blocks, trying desperately to escape downtown. Minivans. Sport-utilities. Coupes. Buses. All motionless, trapped, burning overpriced fuel, their extra horsepower rendered useless by extra size. Drivers who -- like me -- just want to be home, out of their suits, away from the office, free from their jobs, their uniforms, their cars. Only I'm already out of my work clothes, cruising smoothly through the impasse in shorts and a flapping t-shirt, my two wheel track narrow enough for the tiniest gap in this endless parking lot, my two-cylinder engine burning off lunch.

I'm training for the guy on the professional-replica racing bike with matching shorts and jersey, all red, white and blue, who sits in my draft for a mile, pulls through without even a "how's it going?", ignores my hello and jumps out of the saddle to leave me behind. I'm training for the look on his face when, a mile later, he looks back to find me -- baggy shorts, wide tires, loaded panniers and all -- still glued to his official team-issue back wheel. I'm training to have enough breath to say hello again, just to see if he says anything the second time.

I'm training because donuts taste so good.

I'm training for Saturday morning on a quiet stretch of country asphalt, fifteen miles west of Des Moines, where, for just a minute, I catch enough tailwind to shift up to the big ring. A red sun burns through the morning mist, dew gleaming on the cornstalks. A freshly-lubed chain spins silently over a rarely-used gear combination. The hum of rubber on pavement reaches a new, higher pitch. I'm training for that instant where I feel like one of my two-wheeled heroes: ten years younger, twenty pounds lighter, and immeasurably faster.

I'm training for my cardiac stress test in 2027. I will be fifty-five, the age my father was when his heart stopped for good. So I'm training to make that treadmill smoke, to make my cardiologist suck in her breath in surprise. I'm training for the rides Dad will never take, the miles we missed together. I'm training so my wife can ride with more than just memories.

I'm training for November 8, 2052, my 80th birthday. My wife says, "Ride safe," and I reply, "I always do," the same conversation we've had daily for almost sixty years. And, without ceremony, without a crowd, without even a witness, I lift my leg gently over the top tube, and saddle up. I'm training so the neighbors can call me "the nutty old bike guy" when they see me wobble to the end of the block, turn around, and wobble back. And I'm training to do it again the next day.

"Cycle" Meets "Scribe"

Here comes one from the hard drive archives -- not sure why I wrote this in the first place or what I intended to do with it. Guess I was going through a phase where I actually thought I could combine my creative work with my bicycle-brain and make a career out of it. Silly lad.

Whatever I was going for, I have a few of these little nonfiction morsels stashed in a folder, and this seems like the place to let them run free. Thus, I give you "In Training."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

See Bicycles? Seriously?

I'm seeing more and more of these bumper stickers on my commute: Bright yellow background, all-caps sans serif black type, message: SEE BICYCLES.

And really, if anyone on my commute route deserves a rant, the SEE BICYCLES crowd probably shouldn't be the target. After all, they're supposedly raising awareness, telling the rest of the car-bound world to look out for me.

But, you see, I can't see a SEE BICYCLES sticker without looking at the vehicle... and more often than not, it's a big 'un with a lone occupant, and probably a bike rack on top. So I think, Hell's bells, friend, rather than telling the world to SEE BICYCLES, why don't you just BE A BICYCLIST? You own one, and it's probably a nice one, or else you wouldn't have dropped three Huffies' worth on a Yakima roof rack. And all of a sudden, SEE BICYCLES looks more like an indulgence purchased from the Commuter Church to make its owner look and feel more pious. "I'm one of you, man! I feel your pain... as much as I can feel anything through a bucket seat, comfort suspension, and foot-wide tires, that is."

Quickly, before my dander drops: These stickers are pretty big. They wouldn't even fit on the massive sewer-pipe boom tube of my Cannondale tandem, which may be the biggest surface known to all bicycle-dom. From this, I can only conclude that the stickers were designed specifically for cars rather than for the vehicles they claim to support.

Okay, okay, now it's probably time for my medication...