Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A matter of degree

We have hit that time of year when a few degrees difference in temperature can turn a pleasant bike ride into a nightmare.

Due to a combination of feeling lousy and lousy weather, I've been restricted to three rides in the last two weeks. I might squeeze another one in this morning if I get this post over and done with quickly.

Day 1 - it seemed to be pleasantly warm (a balmy 22 or so), but within a kilometre of leaving home, I discovered that the wind chill was nasty. Going into "canyons" between shops where the sun did not shine, but the cold wind howled, was pretty unpleasant. I am used to getting home lathered in sweat. This time, I was almost shivering on return. Having the leftovers of the flu doesn't help, because I can't open it up and get moving at a pace guaranteed to produce sweat.

Day 2 - based on my experiences of the last ride, I put on an extra layer under my jersey. The temperature was about the same, and although there was a very strong breeze, it was coming from a different direction, so the wind chill was not there. I had a miserable time battling into strong headwinds which reduced my speed to a paltry 20km/h for long periods. Thanks to the undershirt, I was baked by the time I got home.

Day 3 - to rug up or not rug up; that is the question. I rugged up, got all my gear on and went outside to prep the bike. A minute later, I was disrobing in the backyard and stripping down to remove the extra layer.

In summer, it's easy. You ride lite and bake. It's as simple as that. Regardless of when you ride, it will be hot.

In winter, it's easy. You rug up. The fingerless gloves get packed away and out come the full length gloves. Leggings and arm warmers are searched for in the back of the drawer and worn by default. The spray jacket and cold weather jacket and thermal vest make an appearance. The small backpack is also invited on every ride, so that if it does warm up and I need to strip off, I have somewhere to stash the clothes.

Waterproof neoprene covers (like wetsuit material) for the shoes also have to be squeezed into (an art in itself). On really cold days, a skullcap also has to be worn under the helmet (which has lots of holes in it to let in the draught on a hot day, making it a scone-freezer on cold days).

But the in-between days are a problem. Getting the clothing right is an artform, and even if you do get it largely right, there is still going to be a certain level of discomfort. Gloves that cover the fingertips are great for the first 10 minutes (watching your fingertips turn blue in fingerless gloves is always an interesting experience), but once you warm up, they become uncomfortable sweat traps. A windbreaker is a great thing to have, but the zip is constantly going up and down and up and down as heat needs to be expelled or trapped.

You have to wonder about the mental state of someone that turns their back on a car with a split system climate control unit, 10 speaker stereo, air suspension, leather seats with lumbar support and a nice cup holder. Oh, and of course a roof and windscreen to keep out the rain, wind and bugs.

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