SLJ’s Tips for Winter Riding

I’m not alone within our club in wanting to continue to ride throughout the year, and some of our best and most enjoyable club runs take place against the typical backdrop of winter in the sometimes inhospitable far North East of England – in other words freezing cold, soaking wet and impossibly windy.

There’s something about being out with a smaller, select group of foolhardy mates and battling everything Mother Nature has to throw at you. In one sense, the worse the weather is, the more challenging the ride becomes and the greater the sense of personal achievement. On top of this the difference in form and fitness between those who ride and those who hibernate until the Spring is always quite marked.

Oh and as an added benefit, the queues in the café are generally much, much shorter in winter too.

Winter rides actually give us some of the best the weather has to offer, crisp, clear winter days under sparkling blue skies. There is of course also a fair share of rain, drizzle, sleet, hail and snow, gales and gusts of wind, frost and deadly ice and filthy-dirty, hacky-mucky, muddy-clarty road surfaces, liberally dotted with craters, crevasses, splits and fissures, pools, puddles, swamps and lagoons of freezing cold rainwater.

There’s lots of websites offering tips on winter riding, although I don’t think any of them have ever changed what I do, so I guess a lot of what they purport to teach you is just common sense and a bit of a waste of time.

Anyway, no one ever accused me of originality, so for what it’s worth here’s my one one-hundred-and-twentieth of a pound and hopefully, 1 or 2 tips that actually make it beyond the: “Yeah, so what, tell me something new” filter.

Dress the Part

Make sure your extremities are well covered – feet, fingers and ears are the bits of me that suffer the worst, so they’re the bits I pay most attention to.

Invest in a good pair of socks. Apparently the trick here is not to pile on so many layers that you have to squeeze your feet into your shoes, restricting blood flow and actually making things worse.

My own personal favourites are Prendas Thermolite socks, which I’d heartily recommend, even if I always think Thermolite sounds like some kind of extremely dangerous and volatile explosive.

Thermolite fibres, I’m continually being told, mimic “polar bear fur” and you’ve never seen a polar bear shiver have you? That’s because they wear Thermolite socks their fur is hollow and provides excellent insulation – and so apparently are Thermolite fibres.


polar-bear-socks
“Aha! Excellent – Thermolite socks, my feet are bloody freezing.”

Of course socks actually made of polar bear fur would ultimately be the best, but good luck trying to shear one of those suckers. (Now there’s a challenge for Rapha, and something that might actually justify their elitist pricing policies).

I’ve tried other Thermolite socks (Agu do a relatively cheap pair via Planet X) but haven’t found any that are near as good, but your mileage may vary. The best thing about the Prendas ones are that they retain their warmth even when wet through – something that seemed to be a worrying trend last year as we saw extensive flooding and forged through some impressively deep puddles.

In extremis, a thin pair of over-socks, or Belgian booties worn over your shoes, but under neoprene, waterproof shoe covers can provide an additional bit of insulation. It’s even a simple enough task to make your own Belgian booties from an old pair of socks, just remember to cut a hole in the bottom to accommodate your cleats!

It has the benefit of giving you something else to do with old socks, once you’ve had your fill of sock puppets and if you’re wearing them under overshoes, Auntie Vera will never know her hideous, unwelcome Christmas gifts have been cruelly desecrated to fuel your cycling obsession.

Up top, I find wearing a hat under my helmet a little too warm, so wear a headband that covers my ears, but leaves the rest of my head uncovered for ventilation. Of course I’ll admit the drawback is it makes me look like sad disco diva from the 80’s (I’ll admit I can be a bit of a diva, but disco? Never!) Still, I feel it’s a small price to pay for toasty ears.

In heavy rain, a cycling cap worn under the helmet also works well, the peak will divert a lot of the road spray out of your eyes and it can also be useful to combat a low winter sun.

I have various different weights of glove depending on the temperature outside. Mightiest of all are some “Mr. Krabs” lobster mitts that look utterly ridiculous, but are the warmest I’ve found yet and, again keep their insulating properties even when completely waterlogged.

For less extreme days I choose the gloves to suit, often paired with a thin pair of silk glove liners that can be worn for added warmth, or quickly pulled off and tucked away in a back pocket. The glove liners were only a couple of quid on eBay and well worth the price. They were however dispatched from China seemingly by an over-worked, under-nourished, asthmatic carrier pigeon, so are probably best ordered before July if you want to wear them through the winter months.

A few club-mates have taken to carrying a spare pair of gloves so they can swap them out if the originals get soaked through. This certainly beats the singed-wool and wet-dog smell of gloves steaming on the fireplace at the café, or the utter horror and impossibility of trying to pull cold, wet gloves back on after they’ve been abandoned in a sodden, muddy heap on the floor.

A buff or tube scarf is another useful, inexpensive article – (I’ve seen it referred to as a neck gaiter in some quarters – please don’t use this term I always read it as goitre and it makes me feel very queasy.) Anyway, this is supremely practical to plug the gap between collar and neck, or it can be worn as a head covering, or pulled up to cover your chin, mouth, nose or lower face (if you’re feeling particularly bad ass and gangsta).


neck
Neck gaiter, good … neck goitre bad

It’s also supremely useful just to wipe sweat, dirt and accumulated crud from your face, hands, specs, or even your bike.

In direct contravention of Velominati Rule # 34, I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter bike. The recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

For example, just last year we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood when a felled tree blocked the road and a ride which ended in a snowstorm saw me pushing the bike uphill on the pavement as the only way to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road shoes with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

Of course there’s a bit more expense involved if you need to buy both MTB shoes and road shoes, but decent MTB shoes are relatively cheap, last forever and save you destroying your best, carbon-soled racing slippers by riding them throughout the winter.

A few riders in our club use dedicated, waterproof winter boots rather than overshoes. This also might seem like an expensive option, until you consider the fact that overshoes tend not to last much beyond a year and are in almost constant need of replacing. I would imagine the investment in a dedicated pair of winter boots would not only keep your feet warmer and drier, but pay for themselves in the long run. Hopefully I’ll soon find out, I’ve added a pair to my Christmas list.

Of course, if any water does get in to these boots, it tends to stay there, which is what happened to Crazy Legs on one of the more extreme, rain-swept Wooler Wheel sportive rides. He eventually had to stop to take his boots off and pour out all the accumulated water, which I guess was a better option than a developing a severe case of trench foot.

I also use a range of good base layers of varying thickness and insulating properties and have even been known to wear two at a time. For the extreme cold a thick merino version has yet to be bettered.

My go to winter jacket is my Galibier Mistral, which is at least water-resistant if not downright waterproof. If it’s looking like a lot of rain, I usually put a waterproof over the top of this jacket. I’ve just bought a heavier Santini “Rain” jacket for just this purpose, and I’m reasonably confident I’ll get a chance to field test it very soon.

On the legs, tights or legwarmers made of that Roubaix fabric with the brushed back always seem a reliable choice. I quite like tights without a pad so they can be worn over shorts. This provides a bit more protection to the thighs through the double layer of shorts and tights. It’s also useful because I have half a dozen or more pairs of shorts, but only 3 or 4 pairs of tights. I can wear the same leggings for all my weekly rides by simply changing the shorts underneath for a clean pair everyday.

Some people suggest tights with a bib can serve better to keep your lower torso a little more protected and warm, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed that much of a difference, although they do as a rule seem more comfortable for longer rides.

I use a pair of “waterproof” tights for commuting, but haven’t found them particularly effective and faced with a downpour I’m more likely to take a spare pair of shorts in my backpack so I have something dry for the ride home, even if the tights have become soaked through and don’t dry off in time.

The Ride

Winter means winter bikes for those that can afford them, or more precisely those who’ve been riding long enough to have bought a better bike and consigned their original steed to winter hack duties.

In some ways a true winter bike is more interesting, unique, more colourful and will have more character and more anecdotes attached to it than your more refined, “best bike.” Many will have long and varied back-story and an uncertain pedigree and provenance.

The incomparable, always entertaining Doc Hutch, writing in Cycling Weekly suggests, “a true winter bike is the one that just coalesces in a corner of the garage. Long forgotten and usually deeply-flawed components quietly gather themselves together until one day you find there are enough to build a bike. It’ll be a bike like no one else’s.”

He goes on to suggest, “It will be uncomfortable and it will rattle, but it will be yours in a way your summer carbon wonder-bike never will be. You will hate it, of course you will. But you’ll love it too.”

And here I think is the nub of the issue. The more you hate your winter bike, the less likely you are to ride it and given our long winters and poor weather is likely to last at least a quarter of the year, that’s a whole lot of riding to miss out on.

Even Taffy Steve can just about tolerate his thrice-cursed winter bike, although maybe he just tolerates it in order to keep his titanium love-child safe from harm and to build the anticipation of returning to it once the weather improves.

At worst then, I feel you need to lavish enough care, attention and unfortunately money on your winter bike to at least make it a neutral if not total pleasurable riding experience, even if it’s too unlovely to fully embrace.

The bare essentials I would insist on are a decent, tried and tested, comfortable saddle, full mudguards and winter specific tyres.

A few personal pointers:

Valve caps. You know those useless, little bits of plastic that the Velominati rules declare as useless and never to be used? How unseemly an impact do they have on how your bike looks? How much additional weight and drag do they add? How much quicker can you repair a flat without having to remove them? The answer to all these questions should of course contain the word “negligible” and you’ll find they’re actually a very valuable and useful asset in winter.

Without them the valves can become encrusted in salt and mud and crud, and almost impossible to open without resorting to mole grips or pliers, or in desperation teeth. Not a good place to be if you need to add (or remove) a little air from your tyres.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to drop your wheels out of the bike regularly when cleaning, just to check your quick release or wheel bolts haven’t seized solid. Bad enough to give your own personal spanner-monkey fits at home, but an absolute nightmare if you puncture in the middle of nowhere and can’t get the wheel out to change the tyre.

Our Glorious Leader even suggests that you occasionally remove, lube and replace your brake callipers, as he’s finding more and more bikes coming into his workshop with the brake fittings seized into the frame.

It’s worth buying spare brake pads so you have a set “in stock” ready at any time. The winter seems particularly harsh, chewing through them with great relish, often accompanied by that awful, gritty, grinding noise, that seems to signify your rims being ground to fine aluminium space dust before your eyes.

Your braking is likely to be compromised anyway by the fact that you’re on a heavier bike, with less effective equipment and often in wet and slippery conditions. That’s bad enough to contend with before you throw badly worn brake blocks into the mix.

Mudguards are often seen to be more trouble than they’re worth, ruining the aesthetic look of your bike and constantly and irritatingly rubbing and squeaking. But they’re worth putting up with for the benefits they can bring, most especially to anyone else you’re riding with.

Again, Doc Hutch through the auspices of Cycling Weekly suggests, “anyone whose winter bike doesn’t feature mudguards is both a fool and a blackguard.”

He adds that, “the carefree joy of guard-free riding is further enhanced while riding in a group, where the pressure hose of crap coming off the back wheel of the rider in front means you can pass the subsequent winter evening in front of the fire gently exfoliating your eyeballs every time you blink.”

As with all things winter bike related, I think the trick is to actually embrace them, rather than fit them grudgingly. Then again, once you’ve experienced the difference mudguards can make to your posterior, feet, bike, laundry and the disposition of your fellow riders after a wet, chilly ride, you’ll never go back. An asssaver might look hardcore, but it’s ridiculously ineffective in comparison to full length mudguards.

Really there’s no excuse for not using guards, given the wide variety of choice and fitting systems available – there must surely be a solution for every bike out there. My own advice would be:

Make them as wide as your frame will allow so you have the option for wider winter tyres and there’s less chance of them rubbing and driving you slowly crazy.

If they do start to rub, don’t try and adjust them on the fly. I tried to do this riding up a hill and caught my hand in the front wheel, getting a vicious, stinging slap for my stupidity, and very bruised, lacerated, bent and sore fingers too. It was a minor miracle I didn’t fall off to fully compound my idiocy.

Make your mudguards as long as possible. I recently laughed at Son of G-Dawg for wearing a full-facial mud pack which I was convinced wouldn’t help his complexion in the slightest. I was surprised when he told me it was the result of riding behind me, despite my standard issue long mudguards. I’ve since added additional mud flaps and have people squabbling to get on my back wheel now, knowing they’re going to be well shielded from spray and crud.

You can of course make your own mud flaps and I particularly like those homemade ones where you can still see the provenance of the plastic used – bright blue with a big label reading Domestos or the like.


mudflaps
Either one will work, but I particularly like the mudflap made from a bottle of honey as featured on Sheldon Brown’s website

For the lazy and cack-handed (like me) however there are store bought solutions readily available. I bought a front and back set from RAW that were a doddle to fit and I’m hugely pleased with. As well as adding additional protection for riders behind, I’m surprised how much drier the front one keeps my feet.

RAW also do mudflaps in a whole host of different colours and designs. These not so humble flaps can even be customised with your club colours and logo, although I’m already on record as declaring such frivolities as exceedingly gauche.

A few of my clubmates switch to fixies or single-gear when the weather gets really brutal, with the obvious benefits that there’s so much less to clean and maintain and fewer things that can go wrong. There’s also an appealing simplicity to riding a bike without gears.

I haven’t tried a club run on my single-speed yet, but perhaps with some heavier tyres I might give it a go, although I suggest it’ll probably be the end of me.

It’s worth investing in a decent set of winter tyres, even if it means more weight and rolling resistance. Fixing a filthy tyre in the freezing rain has no known positives, so the more you can do to avoid this scenario the better.

As far as tyres go, fatter seem to be better, offering more grip and a more comfortable ride at lower pressures. I’ve ridden Continental Gatorskins in the past but switched to Schwalbe Durano Plus to try and find a bit more grip without sacrificing too much puncture resistance. Others swear by Continental Four Seasons or Schwalbe Marathon’s.

I’m semi-tempted to try Schwalbe Marathon tyres once my current ones are past their shelf-life, although I’m somewhat leery of them too, as they are notoriously difficult to mount and I have the upper body strength of an anorexic, prepubescent girl, coupled to a grip akin to what your Grandad’s aged and massive Y-fronts exert through their perished elastic.

I’m also a little put-off by the fact that their advocates constantly refer to them through the much over-used term “bombproof” – a phrase evidently employed by people much given to hyperbole and possessing a very poor understanding of the destructive powers of explosive ordnance.

Some winter hazards to watch out for:

Cross winds and unexpected gaps in hedges – the two simply don’t mix. Beware the sudden gust that can scatter a group of well-organised cyclists like a bowling ball smacking the king pin full force.

Ice, ice baby. Ice is about the only thing that will keep large numbers of our group indoors, turning grip and traction into a lottery. Crazy Legs has a patented pre-ride ice test involving running out into the street in his slippers and taking a running jump into the nearest puddle. If he lands with a momentous splash and drenches himself in frigid water, all well and good. If he skids across the surface of the puddle and falls on his arse, it’s probably too cold to ride.

If you do think the roads are likely to be icy, its best to try and stick to main, bus routes which have a greater chance of being gritted. You should also be particularly wary of ice lingering in the shadows at the side of the road, even on the brightest of winter days. It goes without saying that any hazards when wet – white lines, fallen leaves, gratings and manhole covers, are likely to be even more hazardous when icy.

Experience has also taught us that, if you stop to help push a car out of a ditch after it’s skidded across the road on black ice, it’s probably best to assume that the road will be equally as unforgiving to cyclists (and most especially to Dabman’s brittle bones) and it’s probably best to turn around and find a different route.

Thorns. Farmers seem to take great delight in hacking back their hedges at this time of the year and liberally scattering the roads with their cuttings and numerous unavoidable, steel-tipped, mega-thorns. These are probably the cause of more punctures in our group than all the glass, flints and pinch flats combined. I haven’t yet found a tyre they can’t defeat and can’t see how they can be avoided. The best you can do is be aware and be prepared for the worst.

Finally, beware assorted toffs, often found milling aimlessly around in the middle of the road in winter – often in tweed and silly hats, occasionally carrying firearms and invariably accompanied by packs of barely-trained quadrupeds. They’re generally very jolly, but it’s best not to startle them too much, or get in their way.

So, there you have it all the encouragement and advice needed to keep you riding though the winter and the worst of the weather, it beats another torture session on the turbo every time.

Italian Mobster Shoots a Lobster


Club Run, Saturday 12th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    99 km/62 miles with 602 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 18 minutes

Group size:                                           22 riders, 1 maybe-FNG

Weather in a word or two:               Benign to blizzard

Main topic of conversation at the start: For some utterly bizarre, unaccountable reason OGL rolled up to the meeting point bang on 9.00. When questioned, even he couldn’t give a rational explanation for actually arriving on time.

Crazy Legs told us about the rider who’d turned up in shorts for our very chilly Club Run a couple of weeks ago (A Winter’s Blast, Saturday 21st November). Having taken pity on this criminally under-dressed rider (a bit of a shameful, recurring theme this week as well) Crazy Legs cut short his intended run to ride escort duty directly to the warm sanctuary of the café and avoid the potential onset of hypothermia.

Once there however the rapid change in temperature caused the riders exposed legs to erupt in swathes of itchy and vicious bright red chilblains, becoming so uncomfortable he was forced to take his coffee out into the garden in an attempt to cool down his super-heated skin and find some relief from the crazed itching.

As Crazy Legs described it, his skin had “erupted with loads of mini-Vesuvius’s”   I queried whether the correct term shouldn’t be “Vesuvii” and while debating this fine, etymological point, Taffy Steve helpfully pointed out that, on the good authority of a Marine Biologist, the correct plural of octopus is in fact octopuses, not octopi, as the word is of Greek, not Latin origin.

For some bizarre reason we then ended up wondering what a Mafia-style octopus would look and sound like, given the national stereotype for Italian’s to talk with much exaggerated arm waving: “Bada-bing, badda boom!”

We also found common ground in our complete and utter disdain for Paloma Faith. Who? What? Why? When? How? Really?

3 of the girls turned up in formation wearing what looked like identical red jackets, and, as if on cue, parted to reveal the Red Max … wearing blue! Huh?

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: The criminally under-dressed students huddled together as close to the fire as they could get, staring fixedly at nothing and trying to control their shivering, while we tucked into cake, supped wonderfully hot, bitter coffee and wondered aloud about the merits of being a young racing snake, devoid of that extra lardy layer of insulation you need to stay warm.

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t be both lean and mean and comfortably warm, but this requires careful wardrobe choices and a degree of common sense, which seems to be in short supply. Kids today, eh?

Carlton pondered aloud why we didn’t all move somewhere with a better, warmer and more benevolent climate, at which point the maybe-New Guy, originally from Galway in the far west of Ireland, piped up earnestly, “Well, that’s what I did.” Everyone paused long enough to perform a swift double take, checking out the horrendous weather through the window, before we were engulfed in gales of uncontrollable laughter.

Captain Black admitted joining the Hall of Shame, having lent his one and only spare inner tube to a fellow rider in need and being caught out when he later suffered a puncture himself. He thus earned himself a notorious black mark for becoming stranded at the side of the road with a simple mechanical that’s easily avoided.

Red Max didn’t really help, continually dipping into his magical, ever expanding backpack until he had half a dozen spare inner tubes lined up on the table.


 

ride 12 dec
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

For the first time this year I set out for the meeting point in near darkness and had to use the lights while I waited for the sun to creep up and add at least a semblance of warm colour and daylight to the blanketing cloud cover.

Despite this it was, seemingly for the first time in weeks, benignly mild with, temperatures well above freezing and a barely noticeable wind. Given the BBC forecast was predicting frost and sub-zero temperatures at dawn I was pleasantly surprised. Even taking into account the light and possibly sleety intermittent showers due in the evening, it looked like being a great day for a ride.

I had dressed accordingly for the forecast, but strangely absent cold and predicted overnight frost: light and heavy long-sleeved base layers, winter jacket, buff, gilet, tights, thermolite socks and heavy overshoes. On my hands I went for a new pair of Planet X lobster mitts, which were incredibly warm, but felt a little odd and took some getting used to. I even remembered to pack a spare pair of gloves in the unlikely event these mitts somehow got soaked through.


 

bada bing
“Bada bing, bada boom!” – you don’t mess with Don Calamari

 

By the time I made it to the meeting point I was slightly overheated and beginning to regret dressing for near Arctic conditions as I stowed away the gilet and buff. If the fact that the BBC Weather got the predicted temperature so wrong was perhaps warning of more forecast unreliability to come, it went sadly unheeded.

Encouraged by the first spell of decent weather in a while, there was a good turnout of around 22 lads and lasses, our numbers bolstered by some of our students who had returned from University, most notably Chilly Willy and Plumose Papuss. As an indication of just how decent the weather looked, there was also a lone FNG sighting, or at least a maybe-FNG, someone I didn’t recognise from previous rides.

At exactly 9:20 we were ready to ride off in the absence of the Prof, who had earlier declared via Faecesbook that he would be out, but was apparently running late. Having been jilted and left behind by one of the Sunday runs starting bang on time, OGL was particularly – some might uncharitably suggest unusually – eager to cut the blather and set out smartly.

We hadn’t gone far when beZ caught and overhauled us to let us know his old man, the Prof was trailing behind and I heard OGL cackling hysterically with glee. We did slow enough for the Prof to catch on and ride up to the front to check-in with OGL and take his medicine like a man. Cue more maniacal laughter as vengeance was duly served.

The Prof’s sojourn with us didn’t last long however as he was soon stopped by a mechanical. We rode on a short way to find somewhere safe to pull over, and were waiting there when another club passed and relayed the message that the Prof’s mechanical was terminal and he was heading home. Apparently his wheel bearings had objected to the abuse of constant immersion in the floodwaters last week and were rattling like a hand full of marbles in a spin drier.

While the front of our bunch pulled away to resume the ride, those at the rear had to wait for yet another club to swish past before tagging onto the back. A little further on roadworks and traffic lights stopped everyone, and so it was the three clubs got compacted into one mass peloton of around 60 or 70 riders.

We now effectively, if unintentionally formed a massive rolling road-block, maybe 100 yards long, with me as tail-end Charlie, sitting right at the back with some of our youngsters.

From here I was in the perfect position to watch numerous, impatient and death-defying RIMs trying to force their way past us in the most insane places, including blind bends and hill brows. This was the cue for crazy, wild-driving accompanied by madly revving engines, wild evasive manoeuvres, flashing lights, braking, swerving, cursing and incessant horn leaning.


 

peloton
I’m not sure massive groups of cyclist ensure safety in numbers, or just encourage REALLY stupid driving

 

Miraculously no one came to grief, despite several heart-in-mouth moments as this pseudo-Demolition Derby come Wacky Races played out, but this was solely due to luck and not good driving abilities or instincts. Where are all these people dashing to that they have to risk life and limb (not always their own admittedly) to ensure they’re not a scintilla late?

It was while trying to keep at least half an eye on irrational, unpredictable motorists that I noted with incredulity that half the group we were stuck behind were riding in shorts! At least I was incredulous until Plumose Papuss cheerfully informed me they were from a triathlon club. Ah, that explained everything….

As we hit the long drag up Berwick Hill I could sense the triathletes dropping off the pace and I think the race honed instincts of beZ and Josher immediately took over. I was already accelerating in anticipation, as they surged around the slowing group, and was able to sit on their wheels for a tow up, as they easily bridged across to the front.

At the top of the hill and with the triathletes behind us, the other club swung off to the right and we reformed and pressed on, only until icy rain began to fall and we called a halt to don rain jackets.

Far from being one of the intermittent and passing “light rain showers” forecast for later in the day, it was soon raining in earnest, lashing down until everyone was soaked through and everything became a little grim as we pressed stolidly on.

We swung up the Quarry Climb, pretty much in formation, but at the top all bets were off and, despite OGL shrilly screaming for calm, the race to the café was on as the Red Max shot away with Plumose Papuss in close attendance.

I stuck with the front group as Max faded, hopping from wheel to wheel wherever I could and riding well within my limits. Swinging round the junction for the final run down to the Snake Bends Taffy Steve took off after Plumose Papuss to contest for honours, while I was contend to push along at a steady pace, somewhat surprisingly either holding off or passing G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Captain Black and Crazy Legs along the way.

It was black bin bags all around in a remarkably quiet café, where our two students Plumose and Chilly sat in mute sympathy, huddled as close to the fire as they could squeeze with glassy, thousand yard stares, shivering intermittently as they tried to warm up and dry out. I’m not sure if they ever made it out of the café with the rest of us – for all I know they could still be there.

As we sat there at our leisure, talking trash (as opposed to trash talking, which is a completely different thing) the Prof rolled up, having been home to change one unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption for another unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption. Meanwhile the weather outside gradually worsened and the temperature started to dip alarmingly.

Nothing was either particularly dry, or particularly warm as we kitted up for the return journey, although I briefly felt some smugness pulling on my spare gloves. It was at this point we were subjected to one of the strangest sights ever, as the Prof decided to don his monstrous lobster mitts before his jacket, reasoning that this would provide the best seal between glove and sleeve. The only trouble with this plan was that the jacket sleeves were too tight and, as well as being too bulky to pass through them easily, the mitts were a clear impediment to his manual dexterity.

In desperation he somehow corralled, coaxed or bribed one of the waitresses to help and we were met with the unedifying scene of this young girl first having to drag and pull and heave each mitt through the sleeves, before zipping the Profs jacket up to his chin for him, while he stood around like a sullen infant being dressed by an over-protective mother for a sledging trip.

Finally all ready, we sidled out of the café, mounted up and tried to get arms, legs and brains all working again, and warm ourselves up despite the debilitating, leaching effect of the cold. We hadn’t made more than two or three miles before my smugness evaporated and the substitute gloves became completely soaked through with sleet and freezing road spray and my fingers turned numb.

As I split from the group and turned for home the sleet became very serious, very wet snow that started to lie on roads previously washed clean of all salt by the incessant and heavy rain.

I stopped to swap soaking wet gloves for equally as wet lobster mitts. After a bit of a struggle, I somehow managed to cram my cold, wet fingers uncomfortably into some semblance of the right holes. Despite the stream of cold water that was forced out every time I pulled on the brakes or gripped the handlebars too tightly I found they were considerably better and my fingers began to warm up again.


 

PXLGWL_P2
Live long and prosper – with the impressive Planet X Crab Hand Winter Glove

 

Thankfully I was feeling a lot fresher than in previous weeks and cruised up the hill past the golf course still in the big ring. As I climbed higher and higher the snow got heavier and soon everything was coated in a soaking wet layer of white.

I had to discard the specs as the lenses became “all bogeyed up” (a technical expression learned from Daughter#2, who always seemed to have terrible trouble with swimming goggles) and the snow started to cling to my front and collect in the creases of my clothes, swiftly turning black to white.

Fittingly having last week descried megalomaniac despots and their ill-thought out invasions of Russia, this ordeal was swiftly beginning to remind me of Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow, as I tried to find the balance between covering any exposed flesh with my buff and retaining some ability to see through the thickening snowfall. I was though spared marauding Cossack hordes, presumably they were all Christmas shopping in the MetroCentre with everyone else.


 

cycling-in-snow
Last weeks talk of invading Russia, was followed by the inevitable retreat with the onset of winter

 

Luckily my skinny tyres were doing an effective job cutting through the fresh snow and down to the underlying road surface, so grip seemed better than some of the fish-tailing, wheel-spinning cars were experiencing. Nevertheless I took the long descent down to the river extremely gingerly, filthy brakes grating horribly on the wheel rims and a streamer of icy melt water squeezing out of my mitts.

Approaching the climb back out of the valley I found a combination of numb thumb, restrictive gloves and stiff STI lever was just too much and I had to stop at the side of the road to change down to the inner ring.

I finally reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill to find the traffic going up completely grid-locked and a large white BMW slipping down slowly, slipping down sideways toward me.


 

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It’s always a good idea to dress … err … appropriately for the weather

 

I quickly realised that even if I could find any traction through the snow to climb upwards, I had no way of avoiding the out of control cars sliding down in the opposite direction toward me. I climbed off and took to the pavements, grateful that I swap road for mountain bike shoes during the winter, so I at least had some traction in a “two steps forward, one slip back” sort of way.

About halfway up the hill my Garmin crapped out on me, overcome with the cold and wet, or perhaps going into auto-shutdown because I didn’t appear to be moving anymore.

I also noticed that my bike had collected a thick crust of snow in the areas most exposed to the wind. From the thickest deposits I was able to surmise that I would get the most benefit from a new aero-seatpost and that I had perhaps discovered an affordable DIY way for the average cyclist to indulge in a bit of wind-tunnel testing. Weather permitting. Assuming they don’t mind getting cold. Oh, and wet.

As a measure of how bad it was by the time I’d dragged my soaked and sorry ass home, not only was I allowed to bring the bike into the kitchen to dry off, but Mrs. SLJ actually suggested this drastic course of action and even gave my trusty Peugeot a quick rubdown while I was huddled in the shower trying to restore feeling to my extremities.


 

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The Ice-Giant certainly left its mark on our back garden – as captured by Daughter#2

 

As the bike sat their dripping quietly onto the tile floor, perfectly moulded sections of the compacted snow and ice caught under the mudguards worked loose and slipped out. I swear they resembled nothing more than the smooth, discarded toe-nail clippings of some mythological ice-giant, perhaps the very one that thought it would be fun to lure unwitting cyclists out with the promise of a relatively pleasant day, only to conjure up a snow storm to really test them.

I hope it gets bored and slinks back to its lair for next weekend.


YTD Totals: 6,134 km/ 3,811 miles with 68,154 metres of climbing.