Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Here Comes the Rain

It's finally happened! The skies have opened and are raining down on central Texas with enough frequency that I'm finally getting sweet justification for my fenders and raingear (which the rest of the year just seems like paranoia).

The weather lately has been fairly opposite to summer - cold and rainy, grey, and not terribly many sunbeams in sight. After the summer though, the sight of creeks and lakes with water in them more than makes up for the inconvenience of getting out in the weather.

That said, I've had a lot of moments lately where I felt unbelievably grateful both for the existence of raingear, and the type of bike I ride. My two best cycling friends each respectively own a racy Cannondale roadbike, and a singlespeed road bike, making my Surly easily the most laid back bike of the bunch. But when the skies open, I'm suddenly the fastest, driest person in the group between the bigger tires, long wheelbase, and the fenders.

What makes the weather in this part of the country unique is the unpredictable nature of it. In Texas, it can go from grey and overcast to hailing and thundering in 10 minutes, and if you're out in it, you had better be prepared. This is particularly highlighted on Thursdays, when I normally stay downtown because drinking and driving is a bad idea. A couple weekends ago, my friends and I finished up the ride and as usual I parked my bike outside their building and went upstairs to crash out. When I left, this was the scene:

Ahh, so tranquil

When I stumbled downstairs the next morning to head home, it looked like this:

Honey badger don't give a shit. In this scenario, the TARDIS represents the Honey Badger

By the time I got home from riding to the train, taking the train, then riding from the train to my house, I looked like this:

That's happiness. Really!

Later that day I ended up running an errand to the grocery store. When I got to the store, it was dry, but by the time I'd gotten my stuff on my bike and was ready to head back to the house, it started to rain again. Never fear, my dear, delicious groceries, because waterproof panniers are here to save the day and keep you delicious:

I can definitely see why most people don't regularly bike throughout the year - whether I like to admit it to myself or not, I'm just as susceptible to the effects of bad weather as anyone else in the world, I just have all the gear available to make it tolerable. After all, if there's any one lesson this year has really driven home for me is there is very little truly bad weather, just bad clothing.

But all this gear took me years to acquire, and I rode when all I had was basically a backpack lined with plastic and a poncho, so you don't necessarily require all the gear to ride. How do you roll when the weather gets nasty?

Robby's Ride: a Yay Bikes! Friend

I fancy myself to have quite a few friends who are dedicated to their bikes, but know almost no one more dedicated than my friend Robby Landauer. Coming soon, Robby is planning to attempt the world's first human-powered global circumnavigation, and is chronicling his preparation at his website, here: Robby's Ride.

This ride will traverse approximately 35,000 miles, everywhere from Russia to Brazil. Land will be covered by bicycle, and the stretches of water by what looks to me like the world's most sophisticated pedal-boat. The route crosses the equator twice, and visits a total of three hemispheres. It's a bold idea, and Robby anticipates it will take approximately 2 years to complete.

Beyond attempting to circle the globe under his own power, Robby is an accomplished marathon runner and bicycle tourist, having already completed the Texas 4000, the Austin Marathon, Boston Marathon, and Tough Mudder events. Even more, he once rode his bike, solo, from Austin to Idaho and back in a completely self-contained tour. If I know anyone who could pull this off, it'd be Robby.

This ride is on the greater level in support of Autism Speaks, (in their own words) the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

More information can be found at Robby's website, and as soon as I figure out how to put up his logo in my sidebar, you'll be able to click there to reach his website to read his blog, check out what the ride is about, and if you feel like it, donate something to support it.

You May Now Return to Regular Blog Posts

Finally, at long last, I got a new computer after the unfortunate destruction of my old one! Meaning I can get back to posting regularly, rather than emailing myself pictures, typing up posts separately, and throwing them up while I'm on break at work. Hooray!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I have an entire array of friends from the Thursday Night Social Ride that I know from absolutely nowhere else. This includes the staff from a local bike shop, architects, a dentist, and someone I'd previously met at a party, among many, many others. One of them, Ali, is a weekly regular and a recent transplant to the United States from Pakistan. One day a discussion of the relative utility of our bicycles came up and I mentioned the huge number of things I have transported by bike, up to and including a roommate on one occasion. At my statement my bike could actually move a person, Ali piped up.

"I'm from Pakistan, this is a normal mode of transport." Well, that shut me up. Even as involved as I am in transportation cycling, it's easy to forget how unremarkable and standard it is to cycle in other parts of the world, and how non-standard driving can be. Admittedly, I'm from the middle part of the US, and more specifically, mostly in the South. I'm from one of the least bicycle friendly places in the world, both in terms of infrastructure and culture, so it's easy to consider yourself remarkable for getting out of the car.

The fact that cycling is considered unusual or extraordinary is part of what's led to "bicycle culture," and along with it, things like blogs about bicycles. Debates about steel vs aluminum and snide comments about the type of bicycle someone else uses to get around. These things really don't exist in places where cycling is undertaken with the same amount of excitement and ceremony as we give driving here in the U.S. Basically, if it's standard it can't be extraordinary (that's not necessarily a bad thing).

What's further highlighted this is the recent weather we've been experiencing has caused the usual immediate winter drop in the local cycling population. In my sleep I can hear the sound of bicycles all across Austin being hung up in garages, where they will remain 'til spring. This morning, as I was locking my bike up to the rack at work, a passerby commented she wasn't brave enough to try, and looked a bit mystified when I said, "All I really did was put on a coat." This was in overcast but dry 32 degree weather, far warmer than many other parts of the country at this time of year!

What I'm coming around to here is how our perceptions of normality strongly affect our behavior - in the U.S., transportation cycling is still a fringe activity and for many, something that is done involuntarily because of the lack of a motor vehicle. Since it's extraordinary, continuing to cycle when the weather turns is perceived to be unusual, so there are very few people who just put on a coat and deal with the cold. Normalization is the only cure here, and the only way to normalize transportation cycling is for it to be a reasonable Plan A or B for anyone, whether they're 8 or 80 years old. I do my part by just getting around and doing my best not to wuss out, whatever the weather.

What do you do?

What to Wear: Winter edition

A happy (and belated) Thanksgiving to you all! Due to a beautiful combination of seasonal change, allergies, and a head cold, the last couple weeks I've found myself off my bike, as acts like climbing a staircase were making my lungs hurt.

Today was the first time I've hopped back on my bike in a hot minute, and it's gone and gotten wintery on me! Today was my coldest commute since the heat's let up, a brisk 40 F with a north wind. Among the most powerful challenges facing any vehicular cyclist is clothing - hitting the exactly correct number of layers, fabrics, weights, and accessories. This is especially relevant at the extreme times of year - high summer and deep winter.

We've discussed the challenges of hot weather cycling - trying to strike a balance between coverage (sunburns), breathability, quick-drying, and good looking. Winter's challenges are completely different. There's a rule of thumb I've always personally followed but only recently heard articulated - "If you're not cold for the first mile or two, you're overdressed." The biggest reason - sweat becomes the enemy for totally new reasons. See, when it's hot out, sweat is this sticky constant companion. In winter, if you sweat, it can freeze and sap your warmth. So the goal is to be comfortably warm but never hot.

To those who know me, my winter cycling material of choice isn't remotely surprising. Wool. Wool does so many things - it breathes. It insulates, even when wet. It resists bacterial growth (meaning it doesn't smell). It also looks damn good. I like wool. Failing wool, I tend towards technical fabrics, and then blends. My fabric of last resort in all but the most perfect weather is cotton. As opposed to my preferred options, cotton doesn't dry quickly, smells, and provides very little insulation. And if it's wet, you might as well be wearing a wet dishrag for all the protection it offers. These properties do, however, make it ideal for wet t-shirt contests.

Next, there's the accessories - they can make or break both your outfit and your comfort. The standards for cold weather cycling (and I suppose cold weather outdoors activities in general) are wool socks, a scarf, gloves, and earmuffs or a hat. Your core and your legs will typically warm up - in a set of thermals and regular pants your legs will be comfortable in 20 degree weather, but without some help all your extremities will make you miserable in the wind.

REI soft-shell gloves and lightweight full zip fleece, Smartwool Lolligag Scarf, and a hat I found in my closet

Wool overcoats become a must in 30 degrees or below

All this being said, cycling in the winter is one of my favorite times of year. Those of us who ride through the winter always suffer from Spring Smugness - when people start pulling their bikes out of their garages in the spring weather, there's always some schmuck like me telling them all about what it was like a month back when it was freezing. You have the bike lanes and paths to yourself, and you get to watch the change of the seasons. Happy winter cycling!

Made it to work!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Man Power

This is an older ad, but easily my favorite ever produced by Miller. It's cold, and I need to make some serious clothing adjustments to account for the rain, but keep riding, my friends.