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Entries in winter (2)


Yes, I cycled

My preferred method of commuting is by bike. It's been my preferred method of commuting for a long time now, and I suspect it will be for a long time to come. I enjoy the exercise, I get lots of beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and it's just so much better than driving I can't even begin to explain. In the summer, noone really questions that. It's light, warm, no problems. At this time of year though, I get constant stream of people saying things like "You didn't cycle today, did you?", and "I can't believe you're still cycling, it's dark!".

See, here's the thing. It is possible to prepare for dark (hello, really bright lights and reflective stuff), and dress to make almost every type of weather ok. Yeah, almost. But it's not the rain that causes problems, or even snow (that much, anyway).


It's high winds that cause me most issues. And ice, but in this country it's windy considerably more often than it's icy. There's pretty much nothing I can do to make cycling on narrow roads with lots of traffic safe in gusting winds, so I do drive occasionally. My cut off is usually a forecast of over 20mph during commuting times. (I used to have a cut off of 15mph when I lived in Cambridgeshire, but when I moved to Brighton I discovered that wouldn't let me cycle much. It's breezy by the sea.) I could probably go a bit higher if I didn't have parking at work, but I do, so. 

Still, I cycle more days than not all year round, and there are some tricks I've picked up that make this time of year a lot more bearable. There was an interesting article on the Boston Globe recently called the "Anatomy of a Winter Cyclist", detailing what a cyclist who commutes in massively sub-zero temperatures wears. There were a few differences in what I would consider sensible over here, because we're dealing with different conditions. My big problem isn't extreme cold - we don't get much below freezing, after all - but wet.

(It's worth noting that the outfit in the picture above was taken a couple of years back, when I was cycling with Clarkie on a run. I'd never wear that much in this country if I'm going full speed. I'd get far too sweaty!)

Getting wet at temperatures not far above freezing is deeply uncomfortable, and there are big, unavoidable puddles even on days that it isn't raining. The canvas shoes that the winter rider in that Boston Globe piece used would not work for me, even with the wind covers. I have good, full-length mudguards, and still end up with wet and muddy shoes most days.

Mudguard Fail

(That's an old picture, I have better mudguards now so it doesn't spray up quite as far. Same principle though.)

I wear walking boots in winter for cycling, because they are waterproof. At the current temperatures I wear a fetching pair of ankle gaiters as well, which keeps my trousers (a pair of cheap, baggy, hard-wearing army-surplus combats) out of the chain. I don't bother if I'm wearing shorts, which is most of the year. I wear a waterproof jacket for around three quarters of the year anyway, layering up or down as required underneath - currently a long-sleeve merino base layer and a fleece gilet. I use my Oakleys, but with clear lenses. I have a lovely pair of mittens that I really like, but if it's raining (or below freezing - I'm a wuss) I cover them with a pair of ripstop over-mittens that I made. They look silly, but work, which kind of sums up my headgear too. I'm still wearing the really silly earwarmers that I made back in 2010 because I don't like wearing hats under my helmet but hate getting cold ears. If it's raining I wear my waterproof trousers as well, over the boots but under the gaiters. Chances are I'll turn up looking like a drowned rat, but I'm dry under the waterproof layer! 

I shower and change at work, so I don't have to worry about getting sweaty, and what I look like on the bike really isn't terribly important to me. Being on the bike really is important to me though, so yes, if you ask, I probably did cycle, and yes, I probably will tomorrow too! 


Winter boots

I know it's not strictly speaking Winter yet, but it's the time of year I start to prepare for the weather ahead. The wind picks up down here on the coast (well, 2 miles back up a hill), which makes the route I'm using for work rather unpleasant. It's a pretty typical road, single carriageway, no pavement or shoulder, not really space for a bike, 60mph speed limit, pretty constant traffic. Not the kind of conditions that work really well with a gusty, 20mph side wind, for example. 

There is a byway that runs along side the road, on the high side. It's a bit rough and ready, a long way from the droveways I used to use, and actually much less defined than the South Downs Way. I think the top half at least is new. This means it's not an easy route to follow, and the rain we've had this summer means that it's muddy as anything too. All of which means that if I want to use it, my bike needs some Winter boots. 

Winter boots

Fortunately, Clara (yes, my bike is called Clara - it's a Surly Long Haul Trucker, which in my head gets mixed up with Long Distance Clara from Pigeon Street in my youth) is built to take big fat tyres. So I've been attempting the off road route this week. I'm struggling a little with skidding - not something I'm particularly used to on-road - and my upper body is getting a good workout. In fact, it's about the only thing that makes me say I'm happier going uphill. Still, it's good practice, and being further from the traffic is definitely a good thing. 

I'm really hoping to keep cycling and running as much as possible over the next few months. I think I can ride Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and get the bus in and run Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Then with parkrun on Saturdays (either running it or running home after it) I get 3 runs in as well. Should keep the fitness levels up pretty high without taking huge chunks of time I hope. It will be interesting to see what going off-road in the dark is like - it could well be that I end up using the 10 mile route home as my 'easy' route rather than the 3.5 mile off-road route. 

And of course, all that is assuming I don't get too many colds. Fingers crossed.