Riding into Winter

"Your Icy Eminence"

“Your Icy Eminence”

Intense storms across a wide swath of the country are a sharp contrast to the continuing mild weather that we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest’s gentle marine climate. Even our wintery November has been reasonable: a week or two of cloudy days with soft rain showers followed by ten days of sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s and 50s.

Cyclists have to dress for the weather, but in this part of the world, we can ride outside all through the year—which is why I was surprised when a senior cyclist told me at a club meeting in early September that because of our crummy weather he can’t ride much for three of four months of the year. He wanted suggestions for what he could do to stay in shape.

I understand how he feels. On gloomy, rain-threatened days, I hate to dress for wind and rain. Even with sun and temperatures in the 40s, the east wind along the Columbia River is cold and my resolve to ride withers. On Friday mornings at 6:00, as I prepare for my weekly eight-mile ride to breakfast with the friendly old fellows from church, I vacillate, although on most mornings my resolve to ride wins out.

What’s the point of riding all winter, I wonder, especially for a senior cyclist like me? Two answers come to mind:

1)     With the right kind of equipment and clothing, cyclists can be comfortable even in the winter. Once you’re out on the road, you realize how good it feels to ride in adverse conditions. One of my happiest rides most weeks is the trip back home after the Friday breakfast. Even though I’m riding at an old man’s pace, I feel young again.

2)    With modest adjustments in their riding schedule, open road cyclists can stay in shape all year round. During my Indiana years, I rode all winter, except on days when the roads were slick. Why not keep up the practice in the easier winter weather where I live now?

For winter riding, bikes need good fenders and for early mornings and evenings a good lighting system. Wool clothes close to the skin and a couple of layers more are indispensable. For rides when wet weather threatens, a rain shell, waterproof chaps or leggings, and booties are important. So too are woolen gloves with long finger and a water resistant cover for your helmet.

Falling LeavesA problem for solo cyclists like me is that we’re prisoner to our own emotions and motivations. To keep going all winter is probably easier if you ride with a group of all year cyclists, like the Portland-based bunch of seniors I see on Thursday mornings at Java House near my condo. While I sit there writing this blog, or another few pages on my book, these guys and gals are putting in 40 miles and then socializing over coffee. Now that I’ve sent my manuscript off to the publishers, I may join them.

I have been out on my well-equipped Davidson this fall, through showery weather with leaf-covered roads, and on bright sunny days along the Columbia. When the sky is clear, I’m pulled into my ride and into the east wind blowing through the Gorge by the inspiring view of “Your Icy Eminence” commanding the eastern sky.

Note: The pressure to finish my book manuscript by the December 1 deadline has necessitated a leave of absence from blogging. This morning the manuscript flew through the ether to the publisher, and I hope to get back on schedule during the holiday season.

One Response to Riding into Winter

  1. Joe Culpepper says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on winter riding. I must admit that it feels pretty daunting once it gets in the 30’s, & now with 4 inches of snow all around, temps in the teens, I simply can’t get out on the road. I am adjusting to my new trainer, which has its own daunting qualities – boredom, lack of scenery, & not really feeling like riding on the road – but I am finding that it gives me a good work out. I just tried riding while watching a taped PBS show on the Oregon Trail, which helped a lot! At least it sparked my memories of the sections of the OT I have ridden & my imagination about future trips! As the roads clear I will get back out at least if the temp is above freezing, but hopefully the trainer will help me stay in shape through the winter months! Happy cycling & Merry Christmas!

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