Monday, December 17, 2018

winter riding in the age of climate change

Over the last three or four winters, Portland temperatures have grown warmer on the average. We still get a cold snap here or there at least once a winter, with temps down in the twenties that can freeze everything over for a few days; but by and large the weather between November and February has been warmer than it was when I was a kid here. Also, we've been having some pretty dry winters of late. Oh, it still rains here, and we still have gray skies most days this time of year, but overall things are unusually dry for us this winter.

What this means is that riding in cold weather has gotten easier for me. I still carry rain gear in my saddlebag and keep my leather saddle covered from November through April; but more often than not I can find myself riding on dry streets these days. And while cold weather still presents challenges for my arthritic knees, the absence of rain has made riding this winter easier and more enjoyable.

Since getting home from my 12-day tour of Florida last week, I've actually enjoyed riding on cold, drier days like these. I've been running errands and taking indirect, more scenic routes home to enjoy the occasional sun rays sneaking through the clouds and watching the late afternoon light move across the West Hills as the sun sets.

It's been nice to be home again. I enjoyed my tour, but spending more than a days in a sunny place in December became disorienting. I was glad to get home and ride again.

I might have to do it again tomorrow after the big front moves through in the morning.

 If you feel similarly inspired:

Remember to bring rain gear. Stuff it in a saddlebag so you'll have it ready if the big drops fall mid-ride.

Left: My favorite jacket, the Burley Ultra-Rider. Mine is over 20 years old and with several re-proofings is still going strong. Underarm vents keep me from overheating and the drop-down tail in back covers my butt to prevent a muddy stripe running up my backside. No longer made, but Showers Pass offers a newer version of this design, and used Burley jackets can still be found at used sporting goods shops and on Craigslist. I like to add RainLegs chaps (OR make your own by cutting down an outgrown pair of rain pants and adding a webbed belt and elastic straps) and Rivendell Splats (or a really cool homemade alternative by Amanda Kottavana, which follows in the next post), plus a short-brimmed cycling cap under my helmet.

 Waterproof bags keep your stuff dry. I still have this one, which I got years ago after Citybikes and BRixton Cycles did  worker exchange; this bag was one of many "gifts" the guy from Brixton brought with him to Portland, and I snagged it from under a pile of crap in the attic before I left the shop for good several years ago.
 Fenders are an absolute must in the Pacific Northwest. It still rains enough here that they're far from superfluous. Some group ride organizers will require your bike to be equipped with fenders in order to join them (it's really rude to spray gritty rainwater in the face of the rider behind you.)

They can be super-fancy, hammered aluminum (like the Honjos on the Hillborne at left), or sturdy plastic (like the Planet Bike fenders below).
In either case, I recommend full fenders that remain bolted on the bike, over temporary clip-on fenders. Here in the PNW we all just leave them on our bikes year-round anyway.
Last thing I'd recommend is to carry a spare pair of dry socks in a zip-lock bag, so that if you get soaked on the way to school or work you can stuff your shoes with newspapers, toss the wet socks on the radiator or heating vent, and wear the dry socks while you wait for the shoes to dry a little.
Your feet will still be damp, but not soaked. And if the socks are wool, they won't stink like polyester socks do.

Go ride in the damp. Stop and get some coffee (or bring it from home in a thermos). Take the scenic route and notice the beauty of the winter hills and roads where you live. And be grateful that you can ride a bike. It's the nicest way to get from place to place. Happy riding!

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