Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pedaling Across February

For a couple of years now, I have been poring over cycling forums and bicycle commuting websites, growing more and more determined to ride my bike year-round here in the Northeast.  Gradually, I've assembled a wardrobe of moisture-wicking base and mid layers, wind resistant and breathable outer wear, an array of protective covers for my head, hands and feet, and studded tires and strong lighting options for my bike - a Surly Disc Trucker, which I bought with year-round cycling in mind.

When an acquaintance shared a link to Chasing Mailboxes' "Winter Challenge:  The Errandonnee"  I knew in an instant that it was time to abandon the couch and pedal off into the snow, slush, biting headwinds, late sunrises and early sunsets of February.

The Challenge pushed me out the door with my bike over and over again.  Although I still have much to learn, Twelve Days, Twelve Errands and Forty-Plus Miles later, I am no longer intimidated by the prospect of riding when temperatures dip into the teens and below.  
So here are the results -  my official Errandonnee Control Card  (for anyone interested in the gory details) and a stream of annotated photo highlights of my adventure below.


Errands 1 and 12 -  Destination: Bike Shop 

It seemed fitting to begin and end The Errandonnee with visits to my favorite LBS, The Downtube Bicycle Works.  This past October, they fit me to the Surly Disc Trucker pictured in front of the shop in the photo below.  I LOVE this bicycle!

Errand 12.  Bike Shop - Trip 2
At The Downtube Bicycle Works, where I bought my Disc Trucker last fall.  The Surly stands by as Eric prepares to change a light bulb.

I made my second stop at the Downtube on my way home from my bike/bus/bike commute (Errand 11).  One of the perils of pedaling hard in cold weather, and then riding a bus for an hour before heading out again into the cold, is a chilly dampness that permeates the layers that would otherwise keep a cyclist warm.  Normally, I would have waited for Eric to finish changing the light bulb before taking this shot, but I was CHILLY!!!   Now that I’m putting this post together, I like that he is in the photo.

Errands 2 and 5 - Destination:  Grocery Store

Last year I became a member of The Honest Weight Food Coop.  In nicer weather, their bike rack is rarely empty.  Some members are seriously accomplished and dedicated all-season utility cyclists; I hope someday to meet and chat with some of them about all-season utility cycling.  I ride here often.

Errand 2.  Grocery Store - Trip 1
The Surly parked in a snowbank outside of the Honest Weight Food Coop

Errand 3 - Destination:  Breakfast or Lunch

My friend Liza recently moved back to town.  The Errandonnee provided a great (though not really necessary) excuse to invite myself to her house for a fabulous breakfast!  The Surly waited outside in the cold (23°F).  In this photo, you can just make out the rows of carbide-tipped studs on the NOKIAN Mount and Ground front tire.

Errand 3.  Breakfast or Lunch - Trip 1
The Surly locked to my friend Liza's front porch while we enjoy a fabulous breakfast inside!

Errand 4 - Destination:  Wild Card

I dedicated my first errand in the Wild Card category to delivering some very late Christmas gifts to a couple of kids in my life.  To acknowledge the rapidly approaching Easter holiday, I tucked packs of marshmallow peeps into the gift bags.  Smart move!  The oldest happily devoured his for breakfast.

Errand 4.  Wild Card - Trip 1
Oldest kid enjoying the "nod to Easter" I packed in his belated Christmas gift.  Peeps for breakfast!

At the other end of the house, the youngest was quite taken with the Safe Zone mirror attached to my helmet.

Errand 4.  Wild Card - Trip 1 - very late delivery of Christmas presents
The little guy checking out the mirror on my helmet.

Errand 6 - Destination:  Any Store that is not a Grocery Store

This was the first of the two rides at night required by the rules of the Errandonnee.  I made it a quick hop to a local liquor store to pick up a couple bottles of wine.  These fit easily in one of the side panniers of the Topeak Trunk Bag.

Errand 6.  Any store that is not the grocery store - Trip 1
The Surly parked outside of Sheila's Wines and Liquors.

After dark, I've been using a Cygolite Mitycross 400 to light the road ahead of me.  From behind, my bike and I become a blaze of wildly asynchronous flashes, thanks to the following:
1.  Planet Bike Blinky “3H” mounted to my helmet
2.  Portland Design Works “Danger Zone” tail light clipped to the trunk bag.
3.  Planet Bike Blinky 3 tail light, mounted to the rear rack. 
Somewhere on the internet I came across the wise suggestion that nighttime riders strive to emulate the lighting ambiance of an accident rescue scene.  The theory?  By the time drivers realize it's just a @#$% cyclist, they already have slowed down and prepared to give a wide berth.

Errand 7 - Destination:  The Library

During Presidents' Day weekend, my town hosted an Arctic cold front, providing me with an opportunity to ride in the most seriously cold conditions I had faced yet.  I tracked down the ski goggles I bought just for this purpose and paired them with a full neoprene face-mask and various other layers under my helmet.  What do you think?  Would you run away?!

Errand 7.  Library - Trip 1
Full neoprene face mask with ski goggles, helmet and Safe Zone helmet mirror.  Ready for 17°F with 3°F wind chill...and possibly for Armageddon.
In the end, the biggest challenge I faced during this ride was not staying warm but battling fogging eyeglasses when I stopped at the library.  Fortunately, I can see well enough to cycle without my glasses.  The goggles performed flawlessly...and even played well with the SafeZone mirror.

Errand 7.  Library - Trip 1
The Surly parked outside of the main branch of the Albany Public Library.

Despite the frigid conditions (by upstate NY standards) I felt warm enough to take the scenic route home through a frozen Washington Park.
Here is what I wore:

  • Upper Body:  Polypropylene long sleeved mid-weight base layer (Marshalls), zip-up fleece mid-layer (Marshalls), Pearl Isumi lightweight windbreaker (Downtube), fake down vest (Walmart). 
  • Lower Body:  Terry winter tights (online), one pair of Smartwool socks (EMS) and moderately priced leather hiking boots (Sports Authority)
  • Head:  Full neoprene face mask (Ocean State Job Lot), Bontrager cycling cap with ear flaps (Downtube), generic fleece head band (?), Scott Ski Goggles with colorless lenses (Plaines Bike and Ski), Specialized Women’s Helmet (Plains Bike and Ski).
  • Hands:  Silk glove liners (Campmor), “warmest” rated ski gloves (Sports Authority)

For a longer outing, I might add wool sock liners to my feet.  Otherwise, I was good.  I packed a spare balaclava, extra pair of mittens and a pair of chemical hand warmers, just in case.

Errand 7.  Library - Trip 1
The Surly on the footbridge in Washington Park.  Taking the scenic route home.
My new Brooks B17 saddle is visible in this shot.  This model has been made by Brooks for over 100 years; it represents a satisfying nod to the vintage Raleigh bicycles in my life, both past and present.  Once I got the saddle set up correctly, it was immediately comfortable.  Many long-distance cyclists swear by them.

Errands 8 and 9 – Destination:  Wild Card and Dinner… 

….with some wonderful friends who are cycling companions of mine during warmer weather.  During one of my visits by bike, I helped the youngest work through a stack of Valentine cards and stickers for her school friends.

Valentine project
Ready for Valentine's Day


Errand 10 - Destination:  Coffee or Dessert

This one was another quick hop after dark....this time to Tierra Coffee RoastersTheir Blondie bars are possibly addictive.

Errand 10.  Coffee or Dessert - Trip 1
The Surly parked outside of Tierra Coffee Roasters


 Errand 11 - Destination:  Work

I've made this bike/bus/bike commute many times during the summer and fall, but never when the temperature was 27°F with winds gusting to 20 mph.  I will admit that the rapidly approaching Errandonnee deadline got me out of bed early on a day I normally would have been tempted to roll over and go back to sleep.
Even before 5:30 a.m. on this cold, blustery morning, when the bus pulled up to the stop, one of the two available spots on the front of the bus was already occupied by a bike.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The Surly riding on the front of the 905 somewhere between Albany and Schenectady.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The Surly arriving in Schenectady.  Sunrise is still 40 minutes off.

I’m working on streamlining my “at-bike” routine when it’s cold.  For the first time, I let my trunk bag ride up front on the bike during the bus ride.  It was much easier than lugging it onto the bus with me.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The sun rises as I arrive at work.

I love this time of the day.  It is one of the attractions of bicycle commuting…to be out in the middle of it all as day breaks.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The Surly parked for the work day.

I brought most of my lights and batteries inside with me to keep them warm for the ride home.  I put the waterproof cover on the Brooks saddle for protection against the snow showers expected later in the day. 
The bike path that I normally use to ride to the bus stop after work was a mess of frozen ruts.  All other options involved climbing long hills, and on this day, battling a stiff headwind as well.   Lingering muscle fatigue from being out of shape was the biggest issue I faced.  I was well-prepared for the cold and wind chill.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
After work...waiting for the 905 back to Albany.

After pedaling uphill most of 5 miles, I had worked up a sweat that permeated all of my layers.  Fortunately, after the bus ride back to Albany, I have less than 1.5 miles to ride before I’m home.  I’ve heard that silk and merino wool are more effective at trapping heat when damp than polypropylene.   Time to hit the end-of-season sales.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The Surly homeward bound on the front of the 905 between Schenectady and Albany.

By the end of the Errandonnee, I felt transformed, empowered and proud of myself!  I have always loved riding bikes; The Errandonnee was a perfect opportunity to prove to myself that I can continue to enjoy riding even in the middle of winter in the Northeast. 

Thanks to Chasing Mailboxes D.C. for organizing and hosting "Winter Challenge:  The Errandonnee!"