The Winter of Our Discontent…. or…Climate change and the mighty wind!

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun (son) of York”

No, despite how it may sound, it is NOT a speech Donald Trump made in his last visit to the UK! Rather, it’s how Shakespeare begins one of his most brilliant histories Richard III.  Just proves that politicians have been utilizing hyperbole for hundreds of years to try and unify the masses behind the politician’s plans for the future. In this case, Richard was boasting of his brother, Edward IV, whom he hoped to depose on his way to the throne. The lies, hyperbole, plots, and invented charges of treason against all who were perceived to be in the way to his ascent to the throne, make Richard one of the most despised of all British sovereigns. Hmmmmm…..Nope…it has very seldom worked out well for those who do so. Especially in the case of Richard III.

I, however, am embroiled in my own winter of discontent…as are many across the US. And it has nothing to do with politics. Well, OK, maybe a little. Mostly it is the weather. In my particular case it is the wind. Several independent studies have been conducted on the average wind speeds around the world. Researchers are describing results that the average wind speed worldwide has increased from 7.0 mph in 2010, to over 7.4 mph in 2018, and is still climbing. Now, this trend is contrasting with the trends from 1970-2010 where scientists noted a downward shift in average wind speed worldwide and questioned what was causing “global stilling.” The early causes were believed to have been urban sprawl and development. I am inclined to blame the explosion of law schools, however, for all of this wind!

Any cyclist will tell you that while cycling in wide open areas you will encounter greater wind speeds than those posted in the city. Unless, of course, you are cycling in a very large urban area with skyscrapers and long streets that act like wind tunnels that focus the winds. I have cycled down 3rd Avenue in NYC against a head wind. It isn’t a lot of fun and is an incredible workout! The lack of tall buildings and trees in my area, however, allows for wind gusts that are more than 15-20 mph more than what is experienced in the cities nearby. In the summer, it is an annoyance that forces me to work harder, carry more fluids, etc. In the winter…..??????

Tomorrow (February 22nd) I will cross 1000 miles on the road for the year. I’ve never done that this early in the season before. Previously, the soonest I reached 1000 miles was on March 19th  of 2016. Great. Even better because, as you know, I keep records on everything, and the only two months of most miles covered in a single month of cycling that I have not posted records for since my wife’s death were February and March of 2016. I shattered the February record at the end of last week. It was 351, and I am over 570 miles as of today.

So what is my problem? The wind speed. There has not been a day in the last three weeks since Ginger passed when the wind speed has been below 10-15 mph….officially, which means in the city. Several of those days, local TV reporters have posted stats that wind gusts in the country have reached speeds of 30 mph or higher. That is a cyclist’s hell. When someone speaks of Hell freezing over (and, BTW, Hell literally is exactly 44 miles from my house…seriously…Hell, MI…look it up!), this is what a cyclist imagines.

As I said, the temps here this winter have not been bad. Very few days in single digits, only a couple of mornings with below 0 temperatures (all Fahrenheit, for those of my readers in the rest of the world). Most days have been in mid-20’s to mid-30’s.  Very mild for Michigan. Only last year, we had a two week period where the temperature never got above 5 degrees, with morning lows averaging about -15 degrees F. No, the problem, as I pointed out is the constant and stronger winds. And the lack of accuracy on the part of weathermen to get everything right in forecasts. If I were as inaccurate in my teaching as they seem to be in their job, my students would all now be either politicians or MD’s!

When taking wind chill into account for a cyclist, it is important to remember that, first of all, wind chill is the effect on exposed skin. I have almost no exposed skin in the winter. However, the lower the wind chill, the greater the heat loss in the body. For instance, if I were to simply sit out on my deck and admire the geese sliding all over the ice of the frozen river running through my back yard, at a temperature of 25 degrees F – typical mid-afternoon temp here – with a wind speed of 15 mph, the wind chill is 12.6 degrees F. However, if I am cycling at an average speed of 15 mph into that wind, the wind chill effect is doubled and I approach a temperature of 5 degrees F. Big deal, you say? Yes. It is a big deal. It’s a big deal in terms of clothing requirements. It’s a big deal then due to the added weight. It’s then a big deal due to the drag it places on your body headed into the wind.

Remember to add the speed you are traveling to the wind speed!

Well, don’t head into the wind, you say. Ha! This last week it snowed on Monday night/Tuesday morning. No big deal. I didn’t ride Tuesday when it was in the mid-30’s, but went out for a ride Wednesday. Wind speed was up. Drifts. High winds. Tried to pick my way around the drifts, but had to be careful because the snow that had melted in the sun and above freezing temps on Tuesday had turned to ice overnight. On my way back home, with a crosswind of a steady 25 mph and gusts of 35 or more, I was blown onto one of those icy patches. Down I went. Fortunately, nothing was wounded but my pride as a car passed while I was picking myself up and the inhabitants (teenage males) were laughing out loud.

So how do I deal with it? Riding in winter is all about your gear. The only way I can post this many miles is by having the right gear and kit. In the winter, I ride only my fat tire when I know there is snow and ice on the roads. Last Wednesday, the roads were clear here in town. I should have known there would be drifts in the country, but didn’t think of it. That could have been a fatal error and was rather stupid on my part. This winter, I equipped my fat tire with studded tires and have been VERY pleased with the traction on snow and ice…not so much with the speed, however, as my average speed on the fat tire has dropped 33% with the studs added. Most days, I ride my cyclocross bike with 700x35c knobby tires. On that bike, I can average between 14.5 and 15.5 mph. I always begin my ride into the wind, so I can have the wind at my back on the way home.

Of course, I ride with lots of lights (see “Lights, Camera, Action” from 2019), and keep the drive train cleaned and lubed at least every 150 miles. I also have Barr Mitts on each bike. Barr Mitts are made from neoprene (think wet suit) and fit around the entire bike handlebar. They are designed to stop the wind and keep your hands warm. Usually, you can get away with using regular full fingered cycling gloves. When wind chills drop into the single digits, however, I always use lobster mitts instead. Lobster mitts are designed to keep index and middle finger together, ring and pinkie together, and thumb separate. This works OK for shifting and braking, and keeps your hands very warm by conserving heat.

My hands and feet were always a problem due to my time spent as an insulin dependent diabetic. My circulation is not very good as a result. Diabetics have to be ESPECIALLY careful in winter cycling for this reason. The Barr Mitts came first, then I added 45NRTH Wolvhammer winter cycling boots two years ago. Best. Kit. Purchase. EVER! These boots are rated to keep your feet warm to temps of -25 degrees F. And that is accurate! Up until this winter, I have been able to wear these boots with normal cycling socks. This winter, however, I have had to go with heavier socks, but my feet are still toasty (almost sweaty!) at the end of a 52 mile ride in sub-freezing temps.

Next is my baselayer….for my shirts, I have three different types. Columbia Omni Heat Heavy Duty, Columbia Omni Heat Mid Weight, and Nooz. The Columbia baselayer utilizes reflective dots that return your generated body heat back to the core. It is incredibly reliable and warm. But it isn’t inexpensive. I use the mid weight only on days of 40 degrees F or higher, along with a jersey and thermal jacket. Anything under 40 calls for the heavy duty or the Nooz. The Nooz is relatively inexpensive, it is fleece lined and compression as well. It works very well most days, especially for the price difference! Anything with temps and wind chills under 30 calls for a heavier jacket and/or long sleeve thermal jersey. Anything with temps and wind chills under 15 calls for heavy weight, jersey, and heavy winter jacket.

My jackets are three different weights, obviously. I have a simple fleece lined outer jacket with a decent shell that holds for spring, fall and warmer winter riding. The jacket I use most in the winter I came across a year ago and dearly love. It is actually a motorcycle jacket made by Freeze Out. It is thermal, with a strong shell that keeps out much of the wind. It also has sleeves that attach by zipper, so the jacket can become a vest when it warms significantly. If you buy this, and you should, get it in at least one size larger than you think you need. Not because the size runs small, but because you want the extra air space to really insulate your body! Finally, I have a down filled, high vis construction worker’s winter jacket with reflective tape that I use on the very coldest of days!

For my legs, I have Columbia Omni Heat medium weight tights, and SUB Sports thermal compression tights. I only use the Columbia on days with temps above 45 degrees F. The SUB sports tights are fantastic, except for the fact that they run two sizes too small, and they take about two weeks or more to arrive – even using Amazon Prime. I can get away with regular bike shorts and the SUB Sports tights down to about 15 degrees F…after that, I add a pair of high vis sweat pants!

Finally, don’t forget your face! A good comboclava is absolutely essential. These cover your face, nose, and mouth, leaving open only a spot for your eyes. It may seem counter intuitive in winter, but it is absolutely essential that you use sunglasses as well…for protection against the chill as well as snow blindness…which is indeed a real thing! You want to have at least three comboclavas if you ride fairly often. Don’t use them on consecutive days. Very gross! See below!

Riding in winter is, naturally, more time consuming. It takes me between 35 and 50 minutes to get myself and my bike dressed to go out! That also means it is very expensive! Fortunately, my wife became very supportive of this. About four or five years ago I went out for a ride on a cold January day with my fat tire. I told her I’d be back in a few hours. The wind was stronger than I anticipated, however, and I lacked the Barr Mitts, the boots, and heavy jacket. I came back at least an hour early to find her in the living room doing yoga…stark naked! Hilarious, exciting…and she helped me pick through good winter gear that very night!

However, winter cycling is also, literally, more breathtaking! Today I saw a family of five deer in a cornfield, backlit by snow glistening in the light of the mid-day sun. Climbing hills with the added weight is a chore. I spend my time with mantras, or by contemplating the vagaries of the English language.

English, as everyone knows, is an amalgamation of German and Latin. So why everyone insists on speaking “our language” is a mystery to me. As Henry Higgins says in My Fair Lady, Americans haven’t spoken English in centuries! At any rate….SQUIRREL! Our oldest daughter started an amusing habit in junior high. She started making up words that should be words, but aren’t. She continued this all the way through high school, writing them down, and presented her favorite teacher with her lexicon as a gift upon graduation. This week I started doing the same. This is the winter of our discontent. Let us make it a glorious summer by adding to my burgeoning list! Seriously, leave your suggestions in the comments!

Halfast cyclist –          Typical club rider. Not a pro tour wannabe, but not a turtle either –

                                    Courtesy of WI

Fathlete –                    A waistline challenged cyclist who still cranks out the miles –

                                    Courtesy of TX

Sortheast –                 When you ride so far the wind changes 90 degrees on you

Sorthwest –

Northewst –

Southewst –

Shtorts –                     The bicycle apparel you get when descending a Cat 1 or HC climb and realize your brakes may need a tune-up

Shtibs –                       Same as shorts but with straps!

Beerycle –                   When your bike is utilized primarily as a transport for beer, or to get in between bars, taverns, or beer tents (See RAGBRAI)

Winycle –                    Same as above, but with wine, champagne, etc.

Coctycle –                   Yeah, this one doesn’t even look good on the optics…..

Potholoscopy –          A medical procedure performed by your saddle, which, unlike those performed by “MD’s” causes more concern for your bike than your butt!

Bikologist –                Every town has at least one. The cyclist who believes they are a leading expert on all things cycling – repair, training, routes, equipment, brands, etc. Unlike those in the medical profession, however, a bikologist isn’t afraid to testify that other bikologists are dead wrong, or may be committing fraud or malpractice. If you can’t think of who your bikologist is in your community, it is probably you.

Squirain/Shrain –       When it rains so hard or so long that it overwhelms your waterproof socks. The experience and/or sound determines the term…from a slight squishy feeling/sound to an all-out pumping of water from those socks as your foot puts pressure on the pedals.

Kyphone –                  What you have after dropping, and retrieving, your cell phone from a Kybo. Most often spotted in the hands of the inexperienced cyclists, first time tour (RAGBRAI, etc.) cyclists, etc. Always funny, and it is incumbent on friends to call that phone as many times as possible for the next 24 hours!

Snotcicle –                  This is what happens when a cyclist’s sinuses perform their usual drainage, but the cold and wind perform a science experiment – you know, turning liquids into solids!

Condencicle –            Same as above. Almost. Experienced cyclists turn to comboclavas when it is REALLY cold…but the condensation produced from your warm breath interacting through the fabric and with the cold and wind achieve the same result…sans color and mucus…..

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Forced into retirement at the age of 55 because I was foolish enough to finish a PhD program in an era of teacher bashing and budget cutting, I turned to cycling full time. Until my wife passed away in 2018 from a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Now I navigate the highways of the US on my bikes in search of a good Brew, good times with our grandsons, and in memory of her.

2 thoughts on “The Winter of Our Discontent…. or…Climate change and the mighty wind!”

  1. Great post! I always like to hear what others wear in the winter. [I posted on the same topic in February, 2019.] Especially good to hear your experience with bar mitts. While you hit your first 1000 miles, I’m yet to get to 100 due to that nice layoff for surgery.


    1. I’ll have to back thru your archives b/c Iwouldn’t am always looking for improvement! The miles will come! I am actually about 400 miles behind the pace needed to hit 9500 for the year, but the pace doesn’t consider seasonal change!


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