Thursday, January 8, 2015

In Which I Ride Like the Wind, But Sit in One Place

Me, riding like the wind. Just not today's wind. More like a gentle breeze.
When he needs to move fast, Woody the Cowboy shouts to his trusty steed: “Ride like the wind, Bulls-Eye!” Tonight the wind is creating blizzard conditions and is moving at over 40 mph—downhill near Guttenberg on RAGBRAI last summer I suppose I rode like tonight’s wind, but I don’t really want to do that very often.

We had several inches of snow Monday, and now an extra dusting has fallen on that still powdery layer (it has been arctic frigid all week, truly, colder than a big dog) and now the wind has whipped the snow into an old-fashioned whiteout.

I drove a car today. And I drove one all week when going to campus.

Normally, cold won’t force me to stop biking for long—but snow will. However, even I draw the line when wind chills are reaching 40 below.

My youngest sister posted a link to this article on Facebook and noted it made her think of me, which some people might take as a sign I’m crazy, but I prefer to take as a compliment. And there is some validity to the comparison she implies—I do bike year round, for the most part.

Not this week, though.

I recall once, probably in the winter of 1973, going to our garage and hopping into a stone cold VW microbus with those special plastic seats that suck the warmth out of your legs and butt instantly. My dad was driving and I was his lone passenger, and my father was grumbling about the weatherman making a big deal about the “wind chill.”

“It’s almost zero. Anytime it’s near zero, it’s just cold,” he complained. “Let’s leave it at that.”

Dad was not much of a complainer, so the incident stuck in my mind. Then again, I recall that the incident took place in our first home in Muscatine, a rental next to West Middle School, and the particular van the family owned then, a 1969 model, being very cold weather averse—my dad had to stick a heating lamp into the rear engine compartment for a while each morning to get the air-cooled engine with the amazing German battery (just how in the heck did the same country that produced the U-boat make such unreliable car batteries?) warm enough to start at all.

Under the circumstance, I suppose he didn't care about wind chill. He just wanted to hear the amazing chug-chug-chug of those not-so-powerful four cylinders. (American cars of that vintage had speedometers than went up 120, although that was laughable for most of them. The van had a speedometer that went up to 80, and the upper quarter of that range was also pure fantasy).

I've learned, as an adult biker, that he was wrong. Zero is, frankly, not all that cold. No, really it’s not. It is a temperature that requires layers—three pairs of socks, with at least one being thermal, warm boots, winter long johns, thick pants, a t-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt under a very warm and thick sweatshirt or sweater, warm mittens (not gloves, unless they are thin ones worn under the mittens), a jacket that breaks the wind well, a hood that fits under a bike helmet, a think headband that covers the ears under the hood and a neck warmer or scarf, and you’re good to go.

Of course, as noted in “A Christmas Story,” it’s a bit like getting ready for extended deep sea diving. But if you dress the part, you can bike to work and not really feel unduly cold at all.

But it does have to at least be zero. And it has to be even warmer if it wants to be windy. Right now it’s about 10 degrees above zero, but a steady 40 mph wind with higher gusts gives us a minus 15 wind chill or so—that level of cold does not qualify, in my book, as biking-adequate conditions.

And there is the whole snow issue—I do like bare pavement to ride on.

Anyway, since biking outdoors this week has not been an option, I’ve taken to something else. My wife and I had purchased a rack intended to make a bike usable indoors in winter—one of those contraptions that has a brace and wheel for the back wheel of the bike and a holder for the front wheel. Audrey had used it last winter with her bike—but this winter, she has an elliptical machine in the basement that she prefers.

So we brought in the rack on Thursday for my use. I didn’t want to attach Francis to it—I’m reserving my commuting bike for actual outdoor biking, assuming that will happen one of these days. My two mountain bikes—the Beast and Matt’s old bike—aren’t in shape right now due to wonky rear wheels.

So, I brought in Amanda’s old bike. It has the words “inspired by women” painted right on the side of it, and since I am, too, I thought it was OK. And honestly the fact that it’s a lady’s bike has a huge advantage, in context. When a man’s bike is appropriate for my large frame for outdoor riding, I can’t mount it without tipping it. You can’t easily tip a bike that is held in an indoor cycling rack—so the lack of a middle bar on this “inspired by women” cycle makes it easier for me to get on the bike.

Yes, I am in touch with my feminine side and I don’t mind sharing it. I guess I figure being a bike commuter puts enough macho in my life anyway.

I rode Amanda’s bike for 45 minutes yesterday and 30 minutes today (we had visitors and were busy—I’m not striving to reduce my biking time). It’s not as much fun as outdoor biking by any means, although I don’t mind watching the evening news or “The Big Bang Theory” while cycling.

So I find myself pedaling and pedaling and not getting anywhere. And I enjoy it. Must be some sort of life metaphor there.

And another view. I moved the camera and tripod so you can see the full effect. On Facebook, where I also posted this image, one of my family members says it looks like Audrey is winning.

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