Friday, February 02, 2007

How soon is spring?

Well at least the groundhogs are predicting it will come early. The first two weeks of January were positively balmy, leaving us to wonder if winter was ever coming, which had the bonus side effect of putting global warming into the consciences of the mainstream. But to us cold-hating Torontonians (as the rest of Canada loves to make fun of us when our then goofy mayor Mel called in the army for what would be to them a regular snowstorm) it was pleasant. Something we could get used to if it didn't have bigger ramifications.

And now with three straight weeks of below seasonal temperatures, the average of it all probably works out to... average. Right now I'm just dreaming of 0C. Instead of -10C with bitter winds that rip right through you. To have a day where I don't have to spend 10 minutes putting on layers of clothes before leaving the house on the bike, which comes back looking like a salt lick. On the major downtown east-west roads, the salt gets applied in the center (streetcar track) lane, and only marginally hits the curb lane (where parked cars presumably prevent salting/plowing), leaving only about 6 inches of clear patch between the streetcar track and the slippery stuff to ride in.

For a day just to put on ear warmers rather than bundling up under a balaclava. In my unscientific survey on cold days about three quarters of the cyclists out there are wearing balaclavas. The rest are bundled up pretty warm with about 1 in 10 obviously being the lucky warm blooded type that are totally bare-headed. Balaclavas make it difficult to ogle cute bikey boys. So I can ogle the bikes (character and practicality are much cooler to me than expensive impractical bikes) and the riding style.

And of course there are the fingers. I seem to never find the right combination of glove and mitten layers to prevent finger numbness from setting in. But there's a couple things I've figured out so far. Have an underlayer glove that is easily dextrous. If you have to unlock your bike with bare hands, and then put on gloves the cold air seems to get trapped. Buddy up. Mitts are warmer than gloves when you're fingers can touch. Mitts are less dextrous but lobster claws are a happy compromise. Keep the blood moving. Try to anticipate traffic signal timing to make for minimal stopping. Generate your own heat. Ride fast. Avoid the temptation to ride at a social pace with a friend. Although friends are good to take turns with blocking the wind. Make sure the rest of you is warm enough. Fingers and toes will lose heat first. Keep the thumb warm. Circulation is good. When you've been sitting for four hours in a movie theatre and you're freezing indoors, you're likely going to be colder heading out into a bitter winter night. When you don't need the dexterity on your handlebars hold your thumb against your palm for more warmth.

So after all this complaining, why don't I trade the bike for a transit pass during the cold snap? First of all, generating heat by riding is much warmer than standing around wondering when the next streetcar or bus is going to come along. I would miss the exercise too. The rush of zipping along with the cold air in your face. The thrill of conquering the elements on days when cars are moving along slower than you are due to the weather conditions. The freedom. The comraderie glances at the other balaclava-clad bikers. The cup of hot chocolate when coming in out of the cold. I would love it all if I didn't wonder if my fingers were going to get frostbite. And a day or two with temps at or above freezing would be a lovely break.

All of my cold winter trips are practical transportation trips. I don't tend to ride around just for fun when its below 0. Most of these trips are less than 10 km one way, so I always know that warmth is not much further now. But if you really want to get inspired to ride your bike in the winter, check out Viking Biking guy. This Norwegian is doing a cross-Canada tour... in January. Follow his progress through the prairie snowstorms. Check out the picture on the Icefield parkway. Brave soul.