Friday, March 8, 2013

Pushing the Season, Part 2

Image from Glen Norcliffe's The Ride to Modernity
Back in November I wrote about my scheme to extend my commuting season here in central Alberta. My plan was modest: I’d slap on some studded tires, stick a toque down the front of my pants, and pedal to work when the roads/sidewalks were more-or-less clear and the temperatures weren’t crazy-cold. The hope was to squeeze in a few extra days of riding here and there but still take the bus to work when things got frigid or snowy—nothing radical.

Now it’s time to report on this venture.

Well. To my great surprise, I find that in the course of a few months, I seem to have undergone a near complete conversion, from half-hearted, fair-winter-weather cyclist to full-on year-round commuter. The transformation started slowly. Those first few weeks I was tentative on the roads and left the bike in the garage whenever the thermometer showed -10 degrees C or colder or the snow pack got above a few inches. Then, slowly, I grew more confident with navigating icy/snowy terrain and began experimenting with warmer clothing—combinations of winter boots, double mitts, ski goggles, long underthings. Sure, I wiped out a few times (at very low speed--no biggie) and had to get used to fogged up glasses, but from the get-go I found it pretty easy to ride my desired 2-3 days per week on average.

Then I saw the (blinking) light. My epiphany occurred one dark, frigid December morning as I was waiting—and waiting—for the damn bus. It was 10 minutes late, and as I stood there impatiently shivering in the frosty air, a winter cyclist, wrapped up like a mummy and lit like a Christmas tree, rolled past me on the sidewalk. And I thought to myself, What the hell am I doing waiting for this bus? Why am I not on my bike right now? I’m cold; that guy’s warm, probably sweating. I’m standing still; he’s moving. I’m beholden to the whims and woes of the transit system; mummy-dude is in complete control of when and where he’s going. And I realized that I’d rather be that guy. Since then I’ve ridden to work almost every day, regardless of the conditions.

I know, I know. This is all a little embarrassing, given howI’ve been known to (gently) mock ϋber-zealous winter cyclists. But that was before I saw the True Way. You could blame studded tires, the gateway accessory that led me down the path to more and more serious winter cycling. Once you’ve got the studs, the rest is detail work: tinkering with layer and zipper management to ensure that you’re just the right temperature for most of the ride; and keeping your focus straight ahead as you keep the legs moving. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to winter commuting; I’m no hardcore case—at least not yet. But those few days I take the bus now, I do feel a little guilty, or wimpy is more like it.

Let my story be a cautionary tale to those of you considering winter commuting. It creeps up on you. You start by taking a spin to the corner store or cycling to work occasionally. Before you know it, pedaling through snow, ice, and wind chill becomes the new normal. Winter cycling is a slippery slope—well, actually, it isn’t slippery at all, if you’re on studded tires.

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