I'm back on the banana seat again! For two months, I was lost in the dregs of directing a play. But now that I no longer have to rush off to rehearsal in the evening straight from work, I am able to commute by bike again. With no excuse not to ride, I've bundled up and hit the Cultural Trail every day for the past week. Riding in the cold and dark (thanks a lot daylight savings time) isn't as difficult as I thought. However there are a few marked differences from the days of regular season riding.
1) Bundling up: It's been a pretty mild week in terms of temperatures. So on my first day back on the bike, I dressed lightly, wearing a coat and my helmet. After all, most winter riders suggest that if you're warm enough when you first go outside, you'll be too hot by the time you arrive at your destination. I, however, froze through the whole ride. All week I've been struggling to find the right balance of clothes, scarves, mittens and ear muffs. The upside: I hate bone chilling cold. You know the kind of cold that permeates your being until Spring. Winter riding and resulting elevated heart rates turn out to be a great way to exorcise said chill.
2) A hefty dose of peace and quiet: With cold weather comes quiet. I've never known downtown to be so quiet. The canal after dark, though not necessarily safe, is a pristine palace of peace. By bike, as the light reflects on the water and the crisp air whips past my face, I understand the reward of serenity brought by Winter riding.
3) Bike lights: Because of earlier sunsets, I find myself riding in the dark more frequently now than ever. I'm thrilled to finally make regular use of the bike lights I invested in during the Summer. I know it's silly, but I especially love their blinking patterns. The little things, right?
4) Beautiful moon views: Marveling at a beautiful Winter moon as I pedal my way East through downtown is another big perk. In addition, if I leave work with hefts of extra energy, I can even take in the Circle of Lights and other holiday displays on an ambling route home.
5) Mysterious gusts of warm air: This is no perk. I find myself wafting into pockets of warm air throughout the city. They're actually not so mysterious. Rather, they are the after effects of exhaust pouring from a line of cars as I wait at an intersection or cross a busy street. I did notice them during warm weather, but not as much. And they are totally gross.
6) Biking boots: So as not to get oil on the nice pants I wear to work, I've been tucking my pants into my boots during my rides. Berry boots that match my berry bike make me berry happy.
Like everything else in this blog, I don't know much about Winter bike riding. I guess I've thrown that "write what you know" adage entirely out the window. In an attempt to prepare myself for the cold weather, which seems to have snapped upon me out of nowhere, I've done some research about the best way to deal with bicycling in the cold.
Before I get to the goods, I have an admission to make. I've not been biking very regularly. My excuse: a little play I directed made it impossible for me to bike to work and the rehearsal/performance space. I would never have been on time. Now that I've gotten out of practice and the play is about to close, I'm facing the difficult prospect of bicycle commuting once more in dropping temperatures. If you've read this blog at all, you know I have to work myself up to things. For me, this means doing plenty of hypothetical research before jumping into the deep end of (in this case) an extremely cold pool.
Thus far these are the tips I plan to employ as I gear up for the cool down:
1.) Don't dress too warmly: This one, though counter-intuitive, makes perfect sense. As we bike, we generate excess heat. One blogger suggested, "If you are warm for the first ten minutes of riding, you are overdressed." (He also gives a really awesome visual temperature scale of what to wear) But there are certain precautions to be addressed. I've learned. In cold weather, it is important to make sure you skin is entirely covered. Tuck in your shirt, wear gloves that cover your wrists, and if you are really ninja-like consider investing in a face mask.
2.) Leave yourself plenty of time: It's no new idea that bicycle commuting takes a tad more time than car commuting. But it is important to account for the time it takes to don and drop your added layers before departure and on arrival. The upside to this one, as far as I can figure, is that there is no idling time and no extra time needed to scrap ice from a windshield. That's a big check mark in the pro column for me.
3.) Watch out for Black Ice: Okay, this one is really scary, but thank goodness I have plenty of time before really bad conditions set in. Regardless, apparently if I see a patch of black ice, you're suppose to ride straight over it. Don't turn; don't brake; don't peddle.
4.) Don't Feel Bad if you Wimp Out: This one I'm taking to heart... every article about winter riding speaks to the rewards and merits of making it through the season. I will most likely wimp out on the coldest, wettest or snowiest days... and as long as I get on the next day it's all right.
Honestly, there was a lot of advice out there. Too much to process at once. I guess the only thing left to do is stop being hypothetical about this whole thing and get down to it.
Share your Winter riding tips with me as I embark on the next frontier of bicycle culture in Indianapolis.
By now the news of Lance Armstrong's doping scandal is old hat. He's been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation and is no longer admired as one of the greatest successes in sporting history. It's not necessary to kick a man while he's down, but Armstrong's amazing (though now false) journey taught me something in my youth and brought me closer to someone I love.
I didn't know that cycling was anything adults did when I was in high school, let alone an international sport with an American at its center. In 2001, it was my brother Brendan, home for the Summer from college, who introduced me to the Tour de France. Searching for an entry point into the enigmatic world of big brothers, I plopped down on the couch next to him and watched as he cheered on a bunch of men wearing spandex and cycling through the French countryside.
Honestly, I was bored to tears, but contented to spend time with him. Gradually, I began to catch on. The man in the red-polka dot jersey is the "King of the Mountains;" the green jersey is worn by the leader in over-all points, and the most prestigious yellow jersey is worn by the general classification leader (the overall front-man). Once I understood the color-coded clothing, I opened up. I cheered breakaways from the peleton, gasped in horror at deliciously dangerous wrecks and most importantly felt pride in the American who wore the yellow jersey day after day.
When my brother told me the amazing story of Armstrong's recovery from testicular cancer and about his underdog comeback to win the previous two tours, I was delighted at the drama it added to the sport. Against all odds, I thought, he's conquered cancer. Of course, pedaling to multiple Tour de France victories would be easier than fighting and beating cancer. Perhaps there was something in the chemotherapy. I suggested this often to Brendan. It must be some super-human mutation like the genetically mutated spider that bit Peter Parker making him a super hero.
Armstrong was America's cancer superhero. And as he soared into the winners circle, drinking a flute of champagne, I remember jumping up and down, hugging my brother and believing that anything was possible.
Later that Summer, I helped my brother build his own road bike. The next Summer, I was the one to turn on the Tour de France, insisting that Brendan and I watch Lance go for a fourth victory. And when I was home from college for the Summer, I took the bike my brother built for spins around the neighborhood as I followed the results of the Tour online.
More than anything, thinking back on that time, I feel naïve. But so was the rest of America, unwilling to see our hero fall from grace. I believed that he stood for something more than just victories. That he stood as an example of thriving in the face of adversity. It saddens me to have lost a symbol of possibility in a cynical country that could use an injection of hope. But regardless of recent events, I'm still thankful to have found an entry point into my brothers world that Summer, to have believed in something bigger than ourselves. We learned to be hopeful, and just because the truth shatters the legend, my hope in triumph and possibility is ever ingrained into my memory.