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On Biking: Braving the winter cold

Posted by Your Town  January 9, 2013 08:56 AM

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For most cyclists, winter is a time to get in some cross-training. When it’s well below freezing and the wind-chill makes it feel close to zero, anyone with an ounce of common sense knows not to ride outdoors.

And then there’s the 1-percenters, the cyclists who think that snow and sleet and ice and cold make life interesting. For those weirdos on two wheels (I include myself in this category), winter is a perfect time to channel our inner-Shakleton and keep on trucking no matter what Mother Nature throws our way.

Friends ask us how we can pedal through the cold and the snow. When the mercury dips below freezing, layers and Windbloc will keep you warm. Many a winter morning I’ve had to unzip my jacket to keep from overheating. As to dealing with the snow and the ice, I am grateful for studded tires: they are truly a gift from the Gods of cycling. The 294 tiny studs embedded in my tire keep me glued to the ground. Sure, they look kind of strange (like some sort of Medieval weapon), but they keep me upright.

After our first snowstorm of the season last month, I swapped out my regular tires for my studded tires. And then I rode across fields of snow, through the woods, and along the banks of the Charles River. It was epic.

And then came Thursday. The thermometer outside my kitchen window read eight degrees. I tapped the side of the glass to make sure that the mercury had not gotten stuck.

It hadn’t.

Eight degrees: even I knew that was cold. But I had my layers and I had my studded tires. What could go wrong?

It turns out, quite a lot.

After two miles of spinning, my pinky went numb. One mile later I lost all feeling in my ring finger. One block further and my middle finger was frozen, too.

This was not epic, it was just painful. And so I surrendered.

But don’t get me wrong: surrendering did not mean that I stopped riding in the cold. Though I did accept the fact that I needed a new pair of gloves.

The truth is that I’d needed a new pair of gloves for over a year. My old ones were as close to threadbare as a pair of winter gloves can get. Still, I thought they were fine. My cold morning ride made me see the light.

My local outdoors store was having a 30% sale on gloves and mittens. But because it was late in the season there weren’t too many gloves or mittens on hand. In fact, none that were my size. I was about to head home empty handed when I spied a pair of XL mittens.

Now I don’t have big hands: I can palm a grapefruit if I really stretch my fingers. But XL: those gloves looked like they might fit Shaq’s hands.

But for cold weather riding, those huge mittens were perfect. The extra pocket of air meant that my fingers were wrapped in a layer of warmth. And best of all, they were 30% off (did I happen to mention that cyclists tend to be frugal?). I decided to take a chance. If they didn’t fit, I could always regift them to Shaq.

The next day it was 20 degrees out, a veritable heat wave, a January thaw. Even though it felt positively balmy, I put on my mittens for my ride into work. When I arrived my fingers felt like they were wrapped around a hot mug of cocoa.

Bring it on, I thought. Snow, sleet or freezing rain: with a warm set of mittens I realized that nothing Mother Nature could throw my way would keep me off of my bike. The Gods of cycling would be pleased.

Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published in March.

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