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It’s only the end of January and already it’s been a cold season for winter biking. Not a lot of snow but a whole lot of cold temperatures. Since most of my bike rides take place at about nine in the morning things don’t have a chance to heat up for the day. That’s if things are going to heat up. I can’t remember exactly how cold it was in December but I do remember thinking that 38º F and sunny was a balmy morning. I only had one morning like that in December. Then on the Monday of New Year’s week I caught a cold.

As colds go it wasn’t a terrible cold but I certainly wasn’t getting on my bike and riding. It was almost two weeks before I got to ride again. I think that was the longest time I didn’t get to ride in a decade. I almost made it back a couple of days earlier than I ended up riding but it was too cold. On my “Hoping to get back to cycling” day the temperature never got past 15ºF. My rule is not to go out cycling if it’s less than 20ºF. If I remember back to last year correctly I didn’t miss any days because of the temperature and it only bottomed out at around 20ºF maybe five to ten times over the whole winter. I remember hoping it would get above freezing before I went out on my ride. This month I’ve been hoping it would reach 20ºF.

The first morning I got back on the bike I was even pacing while waiting for the temperature to rise. I just wanted to get out and get some air and exercise again after my cold. It was an hour past my usual start time and the temperature was stuck at 18ºF. I decided to go anyway and it got to 19ºF as I left out the door. Wha-hoo! At least it was a warm 19ºF that morning. The air was still and the sun was shining. Since temperature is measured in the shade a sunny day makes for higher actual temperatures if you’re out in the sun. On that day it was hotter than the 19ºF it read on my thermometer.

It was a pretty slow ride. Much slower than normal. I still wasn’t at 100%. I’d put it more at 90% which was certainly enough to be back out on the bike but 90% after nearly two weeks off in 19ºF air does not make for much speed. Usually I do my winter ride in thirty to thirty five minutes but this morning took me forty. Time passing on a bike ride is a strange thing. Years ago I used to take a stop watch with me on my rides to time them and compare my times. Sometimes it would feel like I was riding faster than usual and sometimes it would feel like I was riding slower than usual. But I was almost always posting the same time. If memory serves I would be out there for forty seven minutes. I almost never hit forty five or forty nine minutes. I’d say to myself, “That was a slow one” and look at the time and it was forty seven minutes. The same with, “That was a fast one”. So when I got back from my ride that morning and looked at the clock (less precise than a stop watch) and saw it was about a forty minute ride I said to myself, “That really was slow”.

After that first ride I got a pain in my left leg. There was something I wasn’t used to. It was just some muscle pain on the left side of my left upper leg but it had me grabbing my leg all day. I figured that’s the sort of thing that happens when you take two weeks of exercise off but since it hasn’t happened in so long it took me by surprise. No one likes little reminders of their human frailty. It didn’t stop me from cycling and got better in a couple of days but it did give me one tough night of sleep as it hurt through the night.

I spent the rest of the week cycling in 22ºF weather. It got up to 28ºF one day and that felt like summer. The key to winter riding is to wear the right amount of layers to keep warm and keep the wind out so I really have no problem riding in the cold but I have that 20ºF rule for a reason. That’s out where the winter gear starts to be less effective. I found that out one impatient morning a few days ago when I went out in 17ºF weather. I figured it would reach 20ºF as I was on my ride and it did by the end but the first two thirds of my ride were a little colder than I prefer them to be. Once it gets below 20ºF it’s my lower half that gets cold first. I only have two layers of pants compared to five layers on my upper body so that makes sense but where the cold really gets me is in the hands. I’m, of course, wearing my heavy winter cycling gloves but when the air is that frigid my fingertips start to get cold. Everyone who has ever been out in the cold knows that feeling but it’s even worse on a bike. I pull my fingers out of the top of the glove to warm them on my palm but that means I can’t grip the handles bars so I have to do it one hand at a time. And it only warms them for a moment. And the facemark I wear starts to give out at 20ºF too. It’s only one layer and the cold air and wind will come through it when it gets too cold. Especially on the down hills. Most of the gear holds up though so I made it through okay but still it’s not even a thought to go out when it’s 15ºF.

As I write this it’s a Saturday morning at about 9AM and the temperature is again stuck at 17ºF. The sun looks strong out there this morning as it shines away. But still I’m not going out there too early. I’ll give it another half an hour.