Thursday, January 28, 2016

I'm Famous! Cold Weather Newbies

Reproduced from

Cold Weather Newbies
January 27, 2016
jesse, grace and jonathan don their winter best
Jesse, Grace and Jonathan all ride fairly often (or all the time) in the milder seasons—but had previously opted out of winter. Until this year! For those curious about winter riding, we chatted with these awesome newbies to see how their cold-weather biking is going.
So why bike in the winter?
Some people are baffled by the choice and others feel the answer is obvious. So why are the newbies biking through the winter?
Grace has been in DC for eight years and digs the mild Decembers compared to those of her Michigan home, but still found winter weather reports keeping her off her bike last year—leaving her with a bit of FOMO. “I was disappointed with myself of how often I would Metro in, only to discover the weather was not that bad at all! I'd see the folks on bikes and wish I was one of them. “
For Jonathan, an office location change in the fall made his metro commute more difficult, and he found himself using his bike more often. And cold weather seemed worth braving as, “I loved the bike commute so much (20 minutes or less by bike!!).” Jesse had a similar experience when he switched to a job just a few miles from home and vowed to start riding to work. He figured he “probably wouldn’t ride at all in the winter” until a friend mentioned Freezing Saddles, a local winter riding challenge, and he found his motivation.
So how’s it going out there? Is it matching your expectations?
Despite our reporting work disproving it, most people have a vision in their head of “winter biking”—and it’s one that involves snow, sub-zero temperatures and maybe ice-beards or eyelashes. Is that what it’s been like?
Somewhat surprisingly, their winter experiences have interesting parallels to other bike riding experiences. For Grace, “it was just like figuring out a new route to take. It took me a few days to figure out what combination of layers were the best match for weather conditions, but after doing it daily, it has become routine.” Jonathan remembers to check the weather so he can be prepared for snow the same way he prepares for summer weather. In fact, he’d take a winter snow dusting over a torrential DC thunderstorm any day.
Jesse’s friend talked about enjoying her commute because she biked, which is “not a sentiment you hear very often about commuting in the DC area.” He himself is “starting to have the experience of really enjoying the ride as well.” A somewhat unexpected boon has been that he “feels a certain degree of camaraderie with the other folks out on the trail on those cold dark commutes.” Which is awesome, as this NYC native is starting to reconnect with his roots by using a bike for non-commute transportation, too.
Any good stories to share from the roads and trails?
These three have had their fair share of fun experiences biking in this season.
Jonathan also brought up community, noting that the “especially satisfying part has been the camaraderie that has come from getting myself more involved in the greater DC bike community.  Winter biking has led me to Google solutions for things, and that led me to joining and becoming active on the BikeArlington Forums, which in turn led me to participating in Freezing Saddles.”
Actually, all three newbies are participating in Freezing Saddles, the team-based winter bike challenge. The challenge is operated by an amazing group of volunteers and organized through the BikeArlington Forum, which provides motivation to get out there and ride--making winter a bit more fun.
In the challenge, your team gets ten points for every day you ride, and one point for every mile after that. This leads to a lot of creative thinking about how to get in a daily ride. Jesse travels for work, and managed to find a bike to borrow—but it was dark when he got time to ride and the bike had no lights. But he went for it, and is sure “employees got a rather strange impression when they saw me riding loops around the parking lot at the end of every work day.” For fun photos of similar madness, check out the Freezing Saddles website for leader boards.
But Grace’s story might be my personal favorite. She recalls a recent, bitterly cold and windy ride across the Key Bridge into Arlington: “No one else was around—with the exception of a weatherman from Channel 7, who was being filmed gesticulating wildly at a thermometer. They moved to let me pass and he told me to "Stay Warm!" I told him it would "take more than this to keep down Bike Arlington!" I was probably warmer than he was!”
4 First Steps for Winter Riding
Advice for New Riders, from New Riders!
  1. 1.    Accept that winter is happening.
  2. “Back home, winter is a fact of life. You then prepare for it with warm coats and boots and make peace with it. The same goes for winter biking! If you plan ahead (warm gloves!) you can have some beautiful rides on open trail/road and arrive at work feeling like a champion!” –Grace
  3. 2.    Prepare for cold and dark weather.
  4. “It seems daunting, but it's really not too bad!  Invest in the basic equipment (including lights!) and give it a try.” –Jonathan
  5. 3.    Use layers you already have.
  6. “I am a tremendous cold wimp. I hate the cold, and so a big concern was staying warm. I would encourage people to invest in gear to stay warm while riding. It doesn’t have to be high end cycling gear. My winter attire is a mix of cycling-specific clothing, re-purposed running clothes and stuff out of my regular closet. And if you’re still cold, pedal harder!” –Jesse
  7. 4.    Make sure laundry is done.
  8.  “Riding in winter requires a little bit of advance planning, because I only have a certain amount of true cold weather gear for really cold days, so I have to make sure that laundry is done.” As someone who has limited cold weather layers, I appreciate this tidbit from Jonathan.
So three cheers for Jesse, Grace and Jonathan for biking through their first winter! Huge thanks to them for sharing their insights.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Freezing Saddles Update

OK, so when I signed on for Freezing Saddles, Bike Arlington's friendly competition, I vowed I wouldn't get carried away. It was just a casual bit of encouragement to ride through the winter. I wasn't going to care about points, or standings, or anything.


I mean, yes, it is serving the intended purpose of being effective motivation to keep me riding through the winter. I've biked to work more frequently in January than in September. But I've also gone a little nuts. I mean, not so nuts that I went out riding during the blizzard, the way my neighbor SJC did. I saw him out schlepping along on his bike when I was out XC skiing on the W&OD trail w Gina (of course, we were skiing in a blizzard - but that's not important right now). But, yes I did go out riding the next day, even though it required me to carry my bike three blocks to get to a plowed trail (yes, in car-hating Arlington they plow the bike trails *before* the streets).

For a brief moment I'm #1 on the weekly leaderboard!
The Monday after the blizzard most folks were smart enough to work at home (except for government employees, who didn't have to work at all). I biked to my office. I did the three block carry again. The W&OD trail was clear, as I had discovered on my previous day's reconnaissance ride. The Custis trail hadn't been plowed very well and I wound up walking my bike up the hills, finally bailing off the trail and taking the streets for the last mile to work. My Monday commute even briefly put me in 1st place for the week for my Freezing Saddles team!

Other representative crazy rides:

  • Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn, 15 degrees, snowing - to get a bagel and coffee.
  • Loops around the parking lot of the Leidos facility in Long Beach, Mississippi to get in my qualifying mile for the day.
  • Some random park in New Jersey, maybe 20 degrees and windy, just to nab another state (there's a prize for most state ridden in during Freezing saddles!).
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Am I having fun? Yes! Am I building a sense of camaraderie with my team mates, none of whom I've ever met? Yes again! Am I leaving my car in the driveway and biking to work, as I should? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Decked out for snowy riding

Friday, January 22, 2016

Infected with the Cycling Virus?

My childhood coincided with the chaotic tail end of the 1960’s, a time when idealism had long since faded into the drug-fueled cynicism which would soon transform into the hedonism of the 70’s. Hippies and Yippies were much in the news, and not in a positive way. I remember as a child fearing that I would grow up to be a hippie as if it was a disease you would catch. I currently once again have a similar fear of becoming infected with a disease, except this time it’s bicycling.

Regular readers of this blog (both of you!) know that I have a mixed relationship with cycling. Starting this past year I have been spending more time cycling and have been enjoying it – but I really despise the Lycra®-clad cult that cycling has become.

This winter I decided to sign up for Freezing Saddles, a contest sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association to encourage people to keep riding through the winter. The contest runs from New Year’s to the spring solstice. About two hundred fifty people are participating, organized into twenty semi-randomly assigned teams (the organizers do make and attempt balance known long-distance riders, newbies, and such across teams). Riders earn points based on the number of rides and miles ridden. Every day you ride a mile or more you earn a bonus of ten miles. Well, it’s been really motivating. One morning I had to be at work at 5 AM and it was 15 degrees out – and I biked to work. Some of my other workouts have been replaced by training rides around my conveniently hilly neighborhood. Plus I try and get out as close as possible to every day, even if it means just doing a so-called “sleaze ride” – a ride of just over a mile taken for no purpose other than to snag the bonus points. This week on a business trip to Mississippi I managed arranged to borrow a bike and got rides in after work on two days (rides outside the DC area, even in warm climates, count!). Let me tell you, it is DARK in southern Mississippi at night. The first night I set out intending to ride the local roads but as soon as I got past the lights of the parking lot at our facility it was pitch black, so I turned my no headlight, no reflectors, Walmart cruiser bike around and instead rode a mile worth of laps around our parking lot. The second night it was drizzly but somehow a little brighter out so I rode laps both around our parking lot and the lot of the adjacent building, 1.2 miles in all.

Laps Around the Lot in Mississippi

Here’s the most shocking moment. At heart I’m still mostly a paddler. In the warm weather whenever I bike on a trail alongside the river I always long to out on the river rather than alongside it, but when I’m kayaking I never wish I was on my bike instead. Well, on a recent cold evening found myself riding into DC. A couple of days earlier I had gone kayaking; the discomfort of winter paddling gear was fresh in my mind. As I rode over Key Bridge I looked down at the river and – gasp – realized that given the cold weather I was happier cycling than kayaking. The horror!