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Archive for December, 2010

Wool + synthetic = ultimate layering?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

There’s a lot of debate in the cycling world about whether wool or synthetics are better. Personally, like most things in my life, I take a hybrid approach. I recently developed a new layering technique that I thought I’d share: wear a long-sleeved synthetic baselayer with a short-sleeved wool jersey over it (and then a jacket over that). Try it, it’s amazing.

Here’s the back story: I have a couple of long-sleeved wool baselayers, which I use in cool to cold temperatures. I’m a big fan of these, but I started to realize that if I dressed warmly enough to keep my torso warm, my arms would overheat. I started looking around for a midweight sleeveless baselayer. What I discovered is, nearly all of the appropriate sleeveless garments are very thin, and intended to be worn in hot weather, not intended to keep you warm. I guess they figure that if you don’t want sleeves, you’re trying to keep cool. Not quite true in my case.

I also have some short- and long-sleeved synthetic baselayers/jerseys. I tried a few combinations of these with the wool baselayers. I still had the same problem.

Then, I remembered that I had purchased a short-sleeved wool cycling jersey this summer at a deep discount. I had read that wool is cool in the summer, and wanted to find out if that was true. For me, this claim turned out not to be true at all. I was miserable in warm weather in the short-sleeved wool jersey. And it didn’t block wind well enough in cool weather to be used alone. So, I put it on a shelf and didn’t think about it for a few months.

When I remembered I had that jersey, I tried wearing it over a long-sleeved synthetic baselayer. For me, this combination is absolutely perfect! The synthetic baselayer wicks the sweat away from my skin, and keeps my arms warm enough. The wool jersey keeps my core warm. Of course, you can add and remove layers as necessary. I wear all of this under a wind shell. You could try variations using a vest, depending on conditions.

I hope this helps someone out there. This tip seems obvious in hindsight, but it took a lot of trial and error to arrive at this technique. Do you have any layering tips to share?

A little exploration close to home

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

On Sunday, I wanted to ride, but didn’t feel up for going very far. So I went for a ride through our neighborhood, and down to Sherwood Oaks Park, the Jackson Creek Trail, and up and over the hill to Olcott Park. It wasn’t epic, but it was a fun romp, and I’m lucky to have scenes like these within minutes of my house.

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I got to test my studded tires in some tough conditions, including some spots where people had walked on the snowy trail, which later froze, resulting in thick, bumpy ice, on a hill.

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The tires worked shockingly well. I had no problems with this stuff.

After visiting the parks, I rode through a few neighborhoods, looking for shortcuts and hidden paths. I found a few. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was fun exploring. Then I rode home.

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I rode about eight miles, at a leisurely pace, but I enjoyed this limited time outdoors immensely.

Brrr!

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

The mercury sat at 11°F yesterday morning at commute time, with a windchill of -3°F. The high was in the upper teens. Today was a bit warmer, 15° with 5° windchill perhaps, warming to around 20°/8°.

This is abnormally cold for us, for this time of year. However, I’ve been riding for a few winters now, and I know fairly well what gear works for me in these temperatures. A few pieces of gear have changed, and a few things need adjustment now that my commute is twice as long as it was last winter, but overall, so far, so good. I used to have to microanalyze every piece of clothing to make sure I was adequately prepared for a cold ride, but now I mostly just get ready and go. It can still take a while to put on multiple layers, hand/neck/ear warmers, boots, protective glasses, helmet, etc.

I’ve had studded tires on the Trucker since last week. I haven’t really needed them for the most part, but I don’t have any interest in switching out tires constantly on the LHT. Plus, I encounter random patches of snow and ice and it’s nice to be able to roll over them without worrying too much. The tires are working fantastically, but they do add a lot of drag.

My longer, hillier commute is a bit of a difference experience in the cold. I have to worry about being adequately protected from the cold a little more, but I also have to worry more about sweating. And, frankly, 30-35 minutes in single-digit windchills in the dark on the way home takes some getting used to. It’s not epic, but there’s a certain sense of isolation that comes with riding in the dark, with far fewer other bikes and pedestrians than I saw just last week. Traffic has thankfully been light as well, though I have had a few run-ins with grumpy motorists.

Overall, I’m still enjoying my commute — in fact, I’m enjoying it more. There’s something I relish about the challenge of snow and ice and cold and darkness. In fair weather sometimes I’ll arrive at work without really anything memorable happening. In the winter, my commute is never boring.

It’s hard to believe it’s not even technically winter yet — it looks like we may have a long one. But, I expect things to warm up before taking a dive into winter proper.

How about you? Have you gotten an early taste of winter? Are you still riding?

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