Staying warm while riding long distances in the winter

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Staying warm with layers

Riding in the winter is the Pacific Northwest is really fun. It’s nice to get outside as our winters are very dark and often wet. But when it is cold and you plan to be outside for a few hours in the wind, it pays to put on enough clothes that you can be warm, and comfortable.

This morning it was 37 F (3 C) and foggy here in Seattle, and still dark at 7:45 AM. Hardly a polar vortex, but it was just above freezing, with damp wet air. Bone chilling!  How did I stay warm? For me making sure I have enough core warmth helps make sure that my hands and feet will stay warm. So I layered up.

In the picture above, clockwise from top left Pair of lightly insulated, shell gloves. Just below that are thin wool gloves.

Next a wool cap and/or a balaclava. I wear the balaclava when I start out because I can cover my ears. To the right of that, thick wool ski socks. The thickest that will fit with my cycling shoes. Next, thin rain shoe covers to go over my shoes. This adds a little more warmth and if it rains, you are ready.

Below that, 3 winter weight wool jerseys – all the warm jerseys I own. I opted not to wear a coat since it didn’t look likely to rain. You can shed a layer or two and wear a coat, but I inevitably find that half way through the ride, it’s wet and warm under the coat and you are looking for a place to stop and shed the coat. Multiple sweaters work pretty well. Whatever feels comfortable.

Thick wool cycling knickers are next. If it is really cold, I might add a pair of cycling tights over the knickers. Above the knickers are arm warmers, which I wore under it all with a base layer jersey.

That’s it – and it works well. For multiple hours out riding in the cold, I basically dress as if I were cross country skiing. Enough layers to stay warm once you start working up a sweat, and enough breathability to make sure you aren’t in a self enclosed sauna. I don’t find it pays to barely wear enough to stay warm. That is when my hands and feet get the coldest, and that can be very uncomfortable.

So layer up and get out and ride.

Bike lanes in Port Angeles, WA, where bicycling is mainstream

On my way to Victoria BC this past holiday week-end, we passed through Port Angeles, Washington to catch the ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. Proof that riding a bicycle is becoming mainstream can be seen in the awesome new bike paths Port Angeles has installed through town. Port Angeles is not a super cosmopolitan, liberal seeming town. It is home to a small Coast Guard station, and a few functioning lumber mills. A pretty blue collar place from the looks of it.

But unlike in places like Seattle where bike lanes often seem to be an afterthought even with our awesome Bike Master Plan, in Port Angeles they took what was a three lane main street and installed bike lanes on both sides of the street. I’ve not seen this implemented before. It’s pretty cool and a good indication that riding a bike is beginning to be seen as a normal way to get around town, even in smaller cities like Port Angeles.

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bike lanes

Partners on the Road

On my way home in the dark the other night I witnessed an altercation between a cyclist and a car that would have been so easily avoided had the cyclist just heeded some of the advice in this article. You don’t need to roll ahead of cars at a light and then get squeezed when they try to pass you right after the intersection. Regardless of who is “right”, as a cyclist you aren’t going to win the fight in a crash with a car. Be careful out there folks.

Off The Beaten Path

L'Eroica

I am always surprised how many cyclists are afraid of cars and their drivers, or have downright animosity to them. I prefer to see drivers as partners in a big game called Traffic.

It starts with the wording: “Share the Road” implies sacrifice. I prefer to think of other road users as “partners” on a team, not competitors fighting for our “share” of a finite amount of road space. After all, we all have a common goal: Keeping traffic flowing smoothly and safely.

Partnership means being aware of each other and communicating clearly. Turn signals indicate our intentions to other traffic. When we approach a “four-way” stop, we can wave a waiting car to proceed before we come to a complete stop. Not only do they get to go earlier, but our wait will be shorter, too.

When a car approaches from behind on a winding country road, we can…

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Rules of the road – Is It OK to Kill cyclists?

This weekend there was an interesting article in the New York Times, written by Daniel Duane, titled Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?.

Duane relates how dangerous it can seem to ride a bicycle in the US, and the fact that people driving cars are rarely prosecuted for car crashes that kill people riding bicycles.

I agree with Duane’s assessment of the difficulties of riding a bicycle in cities: “… the social and legal culture of the American road, not to mention the road itself, hasn’t caught up. Laws in most states do give bicycles full access to the road, but very few roads are designed to accommodate bicycles, and the speed and mass differentials — bikes sometimes slow traffic, only cyclists have much to fear from a crash — make sharing the road difficult to absorb at an emotional level.”

Like the writer of this opinion piece, I love riding a bicycle. Unlike this writer however, I don’t find that cycling is automatically dangerous. Bad things absolutely happen to people doing all kinds of things, including riding a bicycle. I’ve been in many crashes on my bicycle over the years, thankfully, none of them fatal. On the other hand, driving a car is dangerous enough that 33,803 people were killed in automobile accidents last year in the United States. And according to the World Health Organization, automobile accidents have become the 9th leading cause of death worldwide. 

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I know that not as many people ride bicycles as frequently and as far as we drive automobiles, but why do you suppose people’s perception is so skewed? The rare fatal traffic accident involving a bicycle here in Seattle almost always becomes front page news. Compared to fatal car accidents? Maybe a line or two in the local  section, but it is so common place to die driving a car that it barely rates mentioning in the news media.

Duane finishes his article with a lame plea that relies on personal responsibility as the answer to create the view that cyclists deserve respect:

“So here’s my proposal: Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation. That alone will make the streets a little safer, although for now I’m sticking to the basement and maybe the occasional country road.”

Traffic laws, and car focused road infrastructure are reasons why use of the road is often difficult for cyclists. This is why a law abiding citizen will break the law while riding a bicycle. Respect? At many intersections, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a person on  bicycle stopped in the road at a traffic light, to be able to make the traffic light change. We need to make the roads work for all users. I have wondered for a long time why a pedestrian waiting to cross the road has to wait for an entire light cycle to get a walk signal. Wouldn’t it be nicer while on foot, to hit the walk button,  and have the light change so the pedestrian has the right of way? Instead, we’ve made it easiest for automobiles at the expense of other modes of transportation. To change this attitude will take a fundamental shift in how we view automobile transportation in the United States.

Washington State passed the Vulnerable User Law in 2012. This kind of law helps underscore the seriousness and the possible consequences involved when driving an automobile. These kinds of laws are a good legislative step, but only help close a loophole after the fact. I believe that attitudes about transportation choices are slowly changing for the better. This won’t happen overnight and will probably take a generation or more for it fully take hold. It will take work by a legion of people who believe that it is fundamentally fair and economically necessary to promote transit, cycling, and walking as alternatives to driving a car. The plea by Duane for cyclists to always follow the rules of the road to the letter of the law, and stay in the basement isn’t going to help make it happen.

 

Hills are good for the soul

Hills. You either love them or hate them. Me, I really like riding hills. Going up, you get the fight against gravity and you “taste the effort”, as the French say. Going down, that effort is repaid as you experience gravity in the other direction. Fun!

West Seattle Panorama

West Seattle is a good place to ride hills. In 20 miles you can see some beautiful scenery, climb some great hills, and descend like crazy. Good fun in less than two hours.

Not all of us get to ride in the beautiful hill towns of France or Italy, or even around our local Mt Rainier, but the hills in Seattle aren’t so bad either in a pinch. Just up from Alki there are some great streets that have some serious hills. Here are a few that I like.

Hughes Ave SW

College, Hughes, and 52nd streets are fun ones to tackle. It’s steep, has an OK road surface for climbing, and there are usually few automobiles. If you are descending this hill, be careful. The manhole covers are deep, and the road isn’t perfect. Add fall leaves, and a steep road and you can get in trouble.

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But you get some good switchbacks, and will have stronger lungs when you are done. I like to do a loop around Alki out past the Fauntleroy Ferry. Again, good views, good scenery, good hills.

When you get to this intersection of Lincoln Park Way SW and Beach Drive, you can choose to go up the hill to the left, which is a good climb but the road isn’t good, and there isn’t much room. Instead, go the right and ride through Lincoln Park.

Beach Drive and Lincoln Park Way SW

Lincoln Park

You get this view instead and you can ride on the wide gravel path leading past Colman Pool, around the cove, and up a little hill back on to Fauntleroy.

If you continue on Fauntleroy past the ferry you turn left on Wildwood Ave, and then right on 45th S.W. If you are getting hungry you can stop for some old-fashioned pastries and a coffee at the Original Bakery. The line is usually 10 deep inside the door – always a little too long on the week-ends when I’ve thought about stopping.  You continue up the hill on 45th and then it becomes Marine View Drive S.W. This is a good hill if you like long hills, and a great hill for doing repeats. It’s probably almost a mile up to the top.

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As you head up the hill through the neighborhood where Marine View Drive starts just past Roxbury, you’ll notice that sidewalks end, and that there is very little space for walking or cycling up this hill .

Beach Drive past Roxbury

If cars are approaching from behind as you start on this part of the hill, you just have no room.

No shoulder on Beach Drive

There isn’t usually too much traffic on this hill, but as you can see, there is really very little space to get up this hill if you are walking, and on a bike you have about 1-2 feet to the right of the white line.

This issue is worth following up with a separate post. Why do some neighborhoods not have any room to ride or to walk?

To continue the ride, there is a nice loop on the top of this hill that means  you can come back down Marine View.  On the way down pay attention coming around the corner. If a car is turning right up the hill from Roxbury while you are coming down around that corner, it can be a little frightening.

On the loop on the top of the hill, when you come to the stop sign on 106th, take a right and go for a few blocks to Seola Beach Drive, which is nice little out and back through a pretty ravine to a strange little sewage treatment outlet beach, but it’s a nice hill both ways, with no traffic.

Seola Beach Drive

On the loop back you can take a nice detour again through Lincoln Park and ride on the gravel paths through the park. There are some little inclines that make for a relaxed alternative to riding along Fauntleroy with ferry traffic. Head back to Alki via Beach Drive S.W.

Riding in Lincoln Park

See you in the hills!

Thinking about mudflaps

It’s been raining in Seattle lately. A lot. And I have been riding a bike this fall with a new mudflap on my front fender. 

After a week of wet riding, I was really quite surprised how well it works. 

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While my bottom bracket is slightly dirty, it is nothing compared to what is inside the fender. And my chain seems to be pretty fine. It isn’t rusty. It didn’t become dried out. This morning I realized I hadn’t even wiped the chain down and re-lubed it yet. 

I followed Jan Heine’s excellent instructions for creating a simple, inexpensive mudflap. It really works. Your feet will be drier, and your bike and drive train will be cleaner. As we head into the wet riding season here in the Pacific Northwest, this is something to give a try if you haven’t yet. 

Relink to a couple of Jan Heine’s articles on mud-flaps, here and here