The State Fair Grounds on a February Sunday morning. There was just a light dusting of snow on the ground.
Looking upriver from the Lake/Marshall Bridge. The river is finally icing up, having remained open water through our warm January.
Not that I'd want to walk on this ice.
I'm looking nice and frosty. I like the frost on the ear covers, my breath flowing back in the slipstream and freezing. I had to pick a lot of ice out of my beard when I got to church--I'm only halfway there at this point.
There are enough cyclists in these Cities that even at 9:00AM on a frosty Sunday morning I wasn't the first bike down these streets. Down Pelham, across the Lake/Marshall Bridge and then down 46th Avenue I followed in the path of someone else. They had carried on down 46th as I turned onto 42nd Street.
Once church was over, we were invited to watch the Super Bowl at some friends' in Bloomington. By now it was 1:30 and I figured there wasn't much point in riding home, just to turn around and drive down. Karla and the kids headed home in the car while I set off on the bike.
I thought I'd take a crack at Hiawatha Cylcery, which I recalled being on 54th Street somewhere, down towards the eastern end. I rode down the Minnehaha Creek Trail for the first time since early November, alongside the icy creek and past the dog-walkers who seem to be the main users now. I met one other cyclist coming the other way. It was in the low 20s by now, but sunny, and felt warmer. I rode right the way down 54th Street and didn't see Hiawatha Cyclery though I must have ridden right past it. Oh well. I crossed over to Minnehaha Park and rode the upper path to Fort Snelling. The main obstacle here is the airport--I wanted to be south of it. My choice was to circle all the way around the western end or take the Fort Snelling State Park loop to the Post Road. I did this.
Me up by the Fort. Fort Snelling was established in 1829 and one wonders how these folks kept warm through these frigid winters. They wouldn't be all that impressed that I ride a bike in this weather.
Local cyclists might be familiar with the very steep hill right next to the fort that takes you from the blufftop to the river valley. This ends abruptly at a T intersection right at the bottom of the hill which merits caution even in summer. This path hadn't been cleared and was still snow-covered and in some parts pretty icy. I gingerly rode down, dragging the back brake in particular all the way down, then set off into the park. The roads were cleared and I made my way around and then up the park entrance road to the Post Road. Here, consulting my excellent Twin Cities Bike Map, I plotted my course down past the Humphrey Terminal to Old Shakopee Road and eventually to 106th Street under the Interstate and to our friends' house where I staggered in baying for beer and football.
The novelty of this was that all the trip south of the airport was new territory for me, places I hadn't previously ridden, yet I was content to plug along finding my way through even though it was 20F outside. It was like it was a day in May. I ended up doing 32 miles from the time I set off from home, this on a bike I don't think I've ever ridden more than 35 miles in a day, and now hobbled with snow tires and chain grime. I would hardly call myself a dedicated winter cyclist, for these conditions (cold, dry and sunny with mostly dry and sandy roads) are pretty easy, but this whole winter riding thing does take some getting used to and I think I'm getting there. It is worth noting that I didn't ride home, instead slapping the bike rack on the back of the Toyota and hauling the bike back when the game was done.
I rode again Wednesday to choir practice and then, uncharacteristically, rode home. I was helped in part by my new headlight, a Light and Motion Solo Logic SL. I couldn't be happier with this light, a 13W halogen headlight that casts a bright and wide beam (you can actually focus it), is non-fussy on the bike (just a battery and the light head, no auxillary switch wires or other nonsense) and has a plug-and-forget charger. The light casts a beam virtually as bright as a car headlight, just narrower (I was noting that I could still just make out my light patch on the street as cars overtook me with their lights on). With this lighting my way and the three blinkies on back (albeit on steady, not blinking), I feel like a pretty visible road user.
This is my mount for two taillights on the rack. I figure that these will look like one bright light at a distance and resolve into two smaller lights as people draw closer. I also have some reflective tape here.
I also got a good demonstration of the studded tires in action. I took a slightly different route to church including riding down 32nd Street. This dumps you into Powderhorn Park and the map says to go around the northern end of this. This was the wrong direction by a block or two, so I instead rode through the park. This drops down to a frozen pond with people skating on it, then up a short, sharp hill to the street. This sidewalk wasn't cleared but had been trodden down and then frozen and I rode up. Going up, in a low gear, I was pushing hard enough that the rear wheel would spin a fraction of a rotation and then grip as the studs reasserted themselves. Without another bike there to try it, I can't be certain, but I think a non-studded tire would simply have spun on the icy sidewalk and I would have been unable to ride up the hill. I rode triumphantly off at the top and headed on south.
I am pretty slow. I keep finding myself seeing 14 and 15 mph on the computer but then averaging 10.2 mph or something over the whole trip. Maybe it's because I'm not looking at it when I grind my way up some slippery sidewalk at 4.5 mph or whatever. Also, I can't read the computer most of the time unless I go under a streetlight.
On the way home, I noticed as I went by Como Lake that my cheeks got really cold. This was nearly at the end of an hour and twenty minute ride. It was perfectly clear out, harbinger of a cold night to come, but it was still 17F when I got home a few minutes later. I think that some colder air had settled in the small valley Como Lake lies in and that as I came down the hill to the lake I descended into this cooler air, then climbed back out up towards home. It was the only point in the ride where my face felt very cold. Funny how you notice things like that on a bike.
So I'm building some experience. I haven't ridden in bitter winds yet, I haven't ridden in driving snow or icy treacherous streets where out-of-control motorists could be a real threat, I haven't ridden in miserable 35 degree rain or biting -10F temperatures. You know what? Probably I won't, either, driving and the bus remain options for me and there are times when comfort, safety and convenience will have me do those rather than ride. Sure this makes me soft, but even for a softie like me there is much to enjoy in winter cycling once you get over the psychological barriers of "Ride a bike? In the cold? Are you nuts?".
So since I'm sure everyone is just dying to know, here's what I've been wearing:
A pair of silk sock liners, then a nice thick pair of SmartWool socks, and a pair of Timberland walking shoes. These are pretty bulky and when I finally put my XL PowerGrips this last week they fit much better and I haven't kicked off my pannier since.
For my legs, I'm wearing a pair of black SmartWool long underwear. I bought these pretty recently and they are great. I had a pair of polyproylene long undies I got a Target for $13 but they were kind of short and I wasn't all that pleased with them. These SmartWools are wondeful, long and warm and delightfully soft, I'd wear them all the time if it wouldn't make me sweat to death. On top of those, I wear a pair of wool dress pants. They don't look so dressy anymore, they have pilled badly, and the styling's a bit odd, with cargo pockets, but they are comfortable. So far, not having ridden in the wet or bitter winds, this combination of long underwear and trousers has been plenty warm. Oh, I generally also wear a pair of cycling underwear, like Andiamnos, under all this. I noticed early on that one's, ahem, parts can get kind of chilly whilst riding, and this helps in that area.
For the upper body, it's a SmartWool t shirt, an Ibex or WoolyWarm long sleeved wool jersey and then a Cabela's lambswool commando sweater, all topped with an REI cycling jacket, just a windshell, nothing insulated. This all keeps me pretty warm, warm enough that I've left the armpit zippers open for all this riding.
For my hands, it's a pair of Acorn merino Shearling mittens. They are toasty warm, windproof, breathable and extremely easy to get on and off even while riding.
For my head, it's a balaclava shockingly not made of wool! I top it with a Bell Metro helmet in which I have installed the Cold Weather Kit (plugs all the vents, has ear flaps over the ears). I own a face mask I haven't worn yet, instead putting a bit of lotion on my cheeks and nose before setting out. When it's been below about 20F, I've worn a pair of goofy safety glasses to cut the wind on my eyes.
On these rides to and from church, which extend to well over an hour, I've also been listening to the radio. I have a little Walkman and put an earphone in just the right ear, leaving my left ear open to hear traffic. Sometimes it's music, sometimes it's NPR, sometimes it's sports talk radio. Wednesday night I listened to the Timberwolves game, very unusual for me as I don't give a rat's ass about basketball, because Henry's singing the National Anthem at the game Friday (along with the rest of the Minnesota Boychoir) and I'm going and so thought I'd get a taste of what I'm in for. What I'm in for, it sounds like, is a team that leads by 15 early, has the opposing star player have an off night, and still loses by 6 at the end. Oh boy!