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On Biking: Cyclists shift gears in winter weather

Posted by Christina Jedra  March 4, 2013 11:59 AM

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"Bikey the Rhinestone Bicycle"

Photo courtesy of Meghan Chiampa

Last week's "On Biking" column featured three dedicated local cyclists who change up their biking habits when temperatures--and snowflakes--fall.  

It's not because they're wimps.  One of last week's riders has done the full Pan Mass Challenge for ten years and counting.  A cyclist in this week's column works out so ferociously indoors during the winter that he can't wait to get back outside again, where once in a while, he can coast.  

It's not about indoor versus outdoor cycling, either.  They're both good, and there is plenty of room on this planet for all kinds of biking choices.  

Here are three more local riders and their winter choices:

Cliff Brown rides regularly for most of the year with a local group known as "Crack O' Dawn," a Newton-based early morning cycling club. 

But his routine has shifted this winter.  Brown, who lives in Brookline, has turned to his CompuTrainer, which is just exactly what it sounds like:  a very sophisticated stationary bike machine.  It has a flywheel in back and computer controllers in front, and it can be programmed very precisely to a rider's preferences.  

Brown goes down to his basement, hooks the CompuTrainer to his bike, and gets a seriously rigorous workout.  

Between 35 and 40 other Crack O' Dawn members who are serious about staying in shape over the winter chipped in this year to hire a professional trainer. The trainer has designed a series of intense indoor sessions for Brown and his fellow riders.  

The workouts range from endurance to threshold to recovery rides, plus a few more categories.

"Each week he sends a workout," Brown says.  "The goal over the course of the winter, beyond keeping your legs in shape, is to practice working from one zone to another."  

Every Crack O' Dawn participant gets the same routine each week, and everyone rides it at their own level or capacity.  They aren't riding together outside, but everyone rides essentially the same course indoors.  It is, in a way, a virtual group ride.  And knowing that fellow Crack O' Dawn riders are battling up the same virtual hills is motivating. 

Do Crack O' Dawn riders compare notes on their workout heart rates or wattage?  

"No," Brown says, laughing.  "But there is shared pain."

The workouts are tough.  Brown says he doesn't love them.  Sometimes he has to talk himself into exercising. 

"Getting down the basement stairs to the bike is crazy," he says.  "Once I'm on the bike, I'm fine, but it's completely different, biking inside.  You can not coast on a trainer.  It's only an hour, but it's a very hard hour."

Meghan Chiampa, who lives in Somerville, isn't riding this winter, either.  

She can't.  Her bike is covered in rhinestones.

"There are at least a thousand of them," she estimates. "I'd say about eight per inch."

The rhinestones were leftovers from Halloween decorating.  Some are colored, but most of them are plain reflective silver.   How long did it take Chiampa to glue on all the glitz and glam?

"I would guess about 15 hours," Chiampa says. 

She doesn't know what she looks like, riding on her decorated bike, and she used to wonder what other people saw. Then a stranger told her.

"Once I was riding and a girl behind me started shouting," Chiampa recalls.  "She told me, 'Your bike is so beautiful!  It looks like the sun reflecting off the ocean!"

Chiampa was probably destined to decorate a bike.  She once had an "art car" that she painted cool colors.  And once she dyed yellow and blue racing stripes into her hair.  

In warmer, drier months, Chiampa commutes by bike from Winter Hill to both Northeastern and Harvard universities to get to web designer and sound technician jobs.   She has missed riding this winter.

But Chiampa is afraid to leave her gorgeous, ready-for-the-ball bike out in wet weather.  The glue she used to paste on the rhinestones is, unfortunately, water soluble.  The decorations would probably  end up sparkling on the sidewalk beneath a lamp post or a bike rack.    

Rhinestones, CompuTrainers, what else?  But not everyone alters their cycling routine or has pulled their bike off the road this winter. David Gordon Wilson is still riding.  

Wilson is emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He is the co-author of Bicycling Science, and he helped pioneer the recumbent bicycle.  

Oh, and he is 85.  

Two or three times a week, all winter, he's been commuting by bike the eight miles from Winchester into Cambridge.  

"We have two bikes at home with studded tires," Wilson says.  "My wife is a visiting nurse and she rides on her nursing rounds.  She just rolls up to the front door."

Wilson just rolls right up to his office at MIT.  Foul winter weather doesn't bother him. And he has no plans to slow down or retire his bike. 

"My parents were a bit rigid," he says of his childhood, "so I wasn't allowed to start riding until I was nine years old."

Making up for lost time, Wilson is.  Riding because he loves it, snowflakes and all.

Susan Meyers is a Brookline writer.  Her new book, "The Hamster Ride &25 Other Short Biking Stories" was published this month by Climbing Ivy Press.

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