February 17, 2013

Allen Afield: Winter needn't mean a down cycle for biking

By Ken Allen

This winter, colorfully garbed bicyclists have occasionally caught my eye on Route 27 between Augusta and Belgrade Lakes village, a popular pedaling route, particularly on weekends. It's a pleasant sight for avid bicyclists like me to observe them.

If I'm driving a motor vehicle instead of bicycling, then these folks make me feel guilty, but wind chill can be brutal on bicyclists. Even on still days, pedalers must face that built-in wind factor created by a fast-moving bicycle, so I choose my days in the saddle with care.

On the other hand, walkers and runners go much slower, so many winter days feel ever so delightful for them. During an average high temperature in February -- 29 degrees -- outdoors can feel plenty good for these two groups.

When a February thaw arrives and the thermometer rises -- say to 40 degrees -- that temperature can feel sinfully warm for walkers or runners, but at bicycle speeds, riders feel much colder.

For instance, in February the thermometer may hit an unseasonable 40 degrees and the wind blows 15 miles per hour. Those figures create a 32-degree wind chill, not counting the bicycle's speed -- just the wind.

Now let's consider a windless 40-degree day. In hilly terrain, a bicyclist in average physical condition for winter may pedal 12 to 30 mph, which generates wind chills between 30 to 13 degrees -- sobering statistics. And that's not counting wind chill if a pedaler heads into wind, which reminds me of a quick anecdote from a few years ago:

One fall I was climbing a short, steep rise into a fiercely cold northwest gale, and it felt as if I were dragging a pulpwood stick behind the bicycle -- a fight for every inch.

It wasn't as bad as paddling a canoe into wind, but pedaling that day had reminded of canoeing into a stiff zephyr.

The wind had drowned out the sound of a young fellow in his early 20s coming up behind me on a Cannondale road bike. I didn't notice him until he drew up beside me, looked straight into my eyes and said but two words. A very obscene adjective came before his second word -- "wind."

"Yup," I said laconically, finishing a three-word exchange that described our bicycling experience that day.

The pedaler struggled ahead and eventually disappeared into the distance. If wind and cold bothered a young man in great condition on his topnotch road bike, then my slower pace home was much easier to accept.

That's a great point about bicycling. We set our standard or choose one established by someone else. The choice is ours.

The coldest temperature in which I bicycled is 40 degrees, but that figure depends on wind. In the low 40s, I like still air and bright sun with it.

One point about cold-weather bicycling intrigues me because it seems like an airhead's rule. Years of experience have proven its value.

I live halfway up a long hill, and after stretching exercises, I sail down the pavement up to 30 mph, seldom faster because of traffic at the bottom. If I'm not cold on the descent, I am dressed too warmly and stop at the bottom to shed a layer, a good decision before pedaling up a mile-long hill five minutes away.

Even in a single morning, no rule about clothing layers or thicknesses cover the proper choice for all day. So I wear layers of quality biking clothes aimed at temperatures and wind speeds that can change by the hour.

Serious bicyclists get out in winter, but outings decrease after sanding trucks leave a sand layer on pavement during storms. Two or three days later, though, passing traffic blows much of the sand away, so I pedal a little in February before my steadier March routine -- when possible. It's pleasant to hit April with strong legs and lungs, but Maine weather can interfere with that plan.

When Mother Nature brings dirty weather, a bicycle placed on a trainer in the living room comes in handy for pedaling through television news or a movie. This exercise can help perfect the pedaling stroke and toughen a tender, early-season butt, but to be honest, I find indoors on a bicycle boring, boring, boring. I admire folks who develop an indoor pedaling routine, though. God bless 'em.

During brutal cold snaps, storms and sand-covered pavement, I tell myself that a winter break from bicycling rejuvenates us for spring, but a pedaling regimen in the cold season starts putting legs, lungs and butt in shape for fun times for much warmer times down the road, when wind blowing against a hot body feels ever so good.

Yes, bicycling feels twice as good when the body and mind are in condition. You can bet on that thought and take the winnings to the bank.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

KAllyn800@yahoo.com

 

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