Baby, it’s cold outside

On New Year’s Day there was no ice on the lakes. A week later, they were totally iced in. Three more days and the river is almost frozen over. The river current is swift enough that it seldom freezes and, when it does, it’s not for long. But today, this is what we have for open water:

Before the next bridge down, that narrow lead has closed. The river was dredged over 100 years ago and the channel straightened. It didn’t always look like this.

The road is icy enough to skate on, but it’s cold enough that I don’t want to. I did shoot a video selfie of skating on the road a few years ago. If you look fast, you can see the skates at about 17 seconds. It was early morning and I didn’t want to wake anyone to shoot the video for me.

It is cold enough to revisit winter biking clothes. The important things for extreme cold: keep hands and feet warm, and exposed flesh freezes so cover all skin.

For hands I use mittens from Empire Wool and Canvas. If it’s really cold I add liners. (Silk, neoprene, or even nitrile exam gloves can help. If you wear nitrile, your hands will be wet from sweat. That will feel weird. Wet is okay only if you stay warm. Wet and cold is not a good thing.) Most “winter” bike mitts are not made for real cold. Pogies or bar mitts are also popular, and you can wear gloves or mittens inside them. If your fingers get cold, you can make fists (occasionally tuck your thumb inside) to let your palm warm your fingers. Sometimes just holding one hand behind your back (out of the wind) will warm it up. If you get cold and then stop feeling cold (without having done something to warm up), that is a bad sign. Get out of the cold. Numb is not better than cold. The boots I use are from Bontrager but there are others. They’re not cheap, but neither is treatment for frostbite. (We could talk about treating frostbite, but that would make this even longer.) I just wear regular (wool) dress socks down to about zero, then add silk liners. The neoprene socks shown above are only for extreme cold.

Frost nip to the eyes. This was the morning that convinced me to buy goggles.

Dress for the weather and for your tolerance. Usually I just wear rain pants (for wind resistance) over my work pants. The combo of tights above are for bitter cold. Down to about 25-30 degrees (-4 to 0 C) I wear just the yellow jacket shown over my regular shirt. Down to about zero (-18 C) I would add the down vest. When it gets really cold, the windfront membrane stiffens and makes crackling noises, like cellophane, but doesn’t seem to be damaged. The hat by itself is good to about 15 degrees (-10 C). After that I add a silk balaclava that lets me cover or uncover my mouth and nose. Below zero I switch to a wool balaclava that covers my nose and has a small breathing hole for my mouth (the black one above with goggles). At about -20 (-29 C) I trade that for a fleece balaclava (the blue one above with frozen eyes).

Remember also that windchill or “feels like” temperature refers to the flesh-freezing properties. The numbers noted above are temperature. You results may vary. If the wind is strong enough, I would alter the ranges a bit. The -30 referred to above was a day with actual temperature of -26 F (-32 C) and windchill about -55 F (-48 C), with the worst about -60 F (-51 C) from the wind tunnel effect between buildings. Since I couldn’t measure the wind velocity in that area where I was nearly blown backward, that’s an estimate.

The handy thing about the Fahrenheit scale is that each 10 degrees makes a difference in comfort. Bike clothes or regular clothes? Your choice. Ranges will vary person-to-person and with the wind. On a 40 degrees day, I may see one person in shorts and another in a face mask and goggles.
30s: Snug hat (cover ears) under helmet. Warm gloves. Shoe covers. Winter bike jacket over long sleeved jersey or regular shirt. Winter tights or regular pants for work.
20s: Same hat. Consider mittens (even ordinary winter lobster mitts should be okay at this temperature) or Pogies. Maybe switch to boots if you don’t have lined shoe covers. Same jacket. Wool or fleece long sleeve jersey, or consider adding down vest over work shirt. Warmer pants (moleskin, corduroy, wool – not jeans or chinos) or windfront tights.
10s: Thin balaclava under hat (one that covers cheeks). Be sure your forehead is covered. Mittens. Boots. Add the down vest. Rain pants over regular pants, or windfront fleece tights.

0s: Balaclava that covers nose (maybe mouth) under hat. Warm mittens (maybe liner gloves – having your fingers touch each other helps conserve warmth, but sometime extra insulation is needed. If they made lobster liner mitts, that would be ideal) or warm gloves inside Pogies. Jacket, vest, wool or fleece jersey vs jacket, vest, work shirt – you can also add arm warmers to work clothes. Multiple layers on legs (rain pants over windfront tights or over pants and maybe long underwear – silk, fleece, or wool, not cotton). If you don’t want to take long underwear off, you can wear leg warmers under work pants and slide them off without removing pants. (You will have to remove shoes and socks.) You can also slide arm warmers out from under a shirt. If you have old, stretched-out arm warmers, you can wear them over shirt sleeves.
-10s: Add goggles. Liners under warm mitts or warm mitts in Pogies. Warm socks. Silk long underwear under jersey or shirt. Long underwear bottoms (or leg warmers) vs two layers of tights.
-20s: What ever you’ve got! Your warmest balaclava under hat, or silk balaclava under warmer one. Covering your mouth will prewarm air to prevent chilling your lungs. Your exhalations will warm your chest as the balaclava guides air downward. Definitely wear goggles. Some people will breathe through a snorkel to provide some warming to the air and avoid fogging goggles. (I’ve never tried it.) Two (or three if you have very thin liners, regular gloves and warm mitts or Pogies) layers on hands and never remove the under-layer. Consider chemical handwarmers between layers. Silk liner socks under heavy wool or neoprene socks. Consider chemical foot warmers. Silk longjohns under fleece ones. Flannel-lined pants, maybe even over tights. Your knees and fronts of thighs will get coldest.

If it gets much colder than that, maybe stay home and read “To Build a Fire” by Jack London; or test this:
He knew that at 50 below zero water from the mouth made a noise when it hit the snow. But this had done that in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than 50
below
.” (From “To Build a Fire” by Jack London)

In short, there’s no such thing as bad weather to ride; just bad clothes. If you have the right clothes and the right bike, you can ride in almost any weather. I’d probably stay out of hurricanes and tornadoes. When I find weather that is unrideable, I’ll let you know. (Okay, there have been a few days when it was snowing hard enough that I skied to work, but that could have been overcome with a fat bike.)

P.S. This is not an endorsement of the song in the title.
P.P.S. I’ve written on winter bike clothes a few times before – this post combines them all into one.
P.P.P.S. Between writing and posting, the temperature has gone up 40 degrees.

The right tool for the job

My father used to say “It is a poor workman who blames his tools”. (The saying, or variations, seems to date from the 13th century or before.) Maybe that’s how he justified using mostly a monkey wrench and a Vice Grips on nuts and bolts. I don’t recall him ever buying a tool. I was 18 before I realized that nails come from the hardware store. Before that I thought they came from the baby food jars in the garage. If the nail I needed wasn’t there, I went to the scrap lumber pile beside the garage, pounded a nail out of an old piece of wood, pounded it straight, and used that.

The flip side of that is “Use the right tool for the job.” I have favorite tools in all of my endeavors.

For cooking, it is the 8 inch French knife. Mine has a walnut handle that feels right in my hand. It is not the greatest of knives – it is stamped steel, which holds an edge well but doesn’t take an edge well. Forged steel is better, but this knife has been my companion for almost 50 years, since shortly after I no longer got paid for my knife skills, and my funds were limited (and I could get a massive discount on this particular brand due to my employer selling them). A KitchenAid stand mixer is probably my next favorite kitchen tool. Not used daily, like the knife, but pretty handy when I do use it.

Favorite plumbing tools include the Sawzall, which does what the name says. It will cut through framing, even with nails. It will cut pipe (better for removing old pipe than cutting new pipe, but it will cut copper, steel, cast iron, or plastic in a pinch). The ½ inch right angle drill will fit between studs and has enough torque to get through anything – mishandled, it can do damage – more to you than to the material. Add a Forstner bit (or the Plumber’s Self-feed Bit Kit) and you can make 2″ and larger holes in no time.

Pipe cutter image from Ridgid Tool (think of that as a 4″ diameter pipe to get an idea of scale), Drill image from Milwaukee Tool.

The hammer drill makes quick work of concrete when you could spend ridiculous amounts of time with a regular drill motor and a carbide bit, only to make a dent. The no-hub torque wrench is a simple and elegant tool – a T-handled wrench that tightens the couplings on cast iron pipe fittings and never overtightens. The cast iron pipe cutter beats the hell out of trying to saw through cast iron. It has a chain that wraps around the pipe, with cutting edges (vaguely similar to a chain saw) that bite into the iron. As you tighten it, the pipe suddenly snaps with a suitably straight end. (Torque wrench image from my toolbox.)

For winter biking I have written about favorites before (links to three different posts). The face deserves special consideration. Down to 20 degrees (F) I just use a tight-fitting, windproof cap that covers the ears and fits under a helmet. From 20 down to about 5 or 10 I add a silk balaclava that covers the chin and cheeks and can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth if needed. From +5 to -20 it is a merino wool balaclava that covers the nose and has a breathing hole for the mouth (and if it is borderline too cold you can breathe inside of it to warm yourself instead of letting that heat escape). A pair of ski goggles gets added at this juncture. You can easily pay $200, $300, or more for ski goggles. Mine fit over glasses and currently sell for about $35 (Outdoor Master is the brand). I can’t find a justification for spending 10 times that much to get the brands the pro skiers wear. Colder than -20 degrees and I switch to a fleece balaclava that is otherwise way too warm. That seems to work to -30 and I haven’t ridden colder than that. I could probably fit the silk balaclava under the wool or fleece one to get colder. These temperature ranges may vary depending on the wind (and you – I see folks in goggles and balaclavas when it is barely freezing).

Ready to face -5 Fahrenheit (-20.5 C – you’ll have to convert the rest yourself)

Since we’re talking about serious cold, this is the weather to read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. Full text is available here and it is a quick read. It is the story of a man, a dog, and a brutally cold day in Alaska.

Since this guy didn’t make it into the last post, I thought I’d add him today.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do and what is (are) your favorite tool(s) to do it with? Tell us in the comments.

sleet, freezing rain, goggles?

Tiny balls of ice falling from the sky; like sweeping sand off the steps. Sleet was followed by freezing rain – with the air just warm enough to keep it liquid until it hit the ground (or any surface). Maybe if I’d held off on clearing the sleet, removing the layer of ice would have been possible.

The temperature then dropped below zero just to be sure that salt wouldn’t melt it. Luckily I had sandbags left over from the summer flood and could spread that on the sidewalk. When I saw that the temperature was to drop below zero again, I ordered some ski goggles, as local stores were out for the season. They arrived just in time for these before-and-after pictures.

After a one day trial, preliminary results indicate that I am pro-goggle. The blobs of ice stuck to my eyelashes don’t help visibility, but they do make intriguing sounds when I blink. The smaller dots off to the side of the lens are salt spots, from evaporated tears.

I found some bikes that remained parked through the storm:

IMG_1477

Best of all was ice skating down the street. It wasn’t easy taking an ice skating selfie, and I can’t upload the video. I hope you get the idea between the stills and the sound file. Near the end of the sound file you can hear a 180 degree turn, as the ice was getting bad in one direction.

Next up is more snow – 6 to 9 inches expected overnight.

High fashion at low temperature

…or, how do you stay warm at -30 degrees?

Now that it has warmed up by 70 degrees F (-26 to +44) [think of it – that’s like 20 to 90 degrees in 3 days], we can look back at the cold weather. What does the well-dressed cyclist wear at 30 below?

I can’t tell you, but I can tell you what I wore and what worked. We’ll go from head to toe (head, shoulders, knees and toes, for the younger set).

For the head: balaclava, helmet hat, and helmet. My favorite balaclava is no
longer available. I now have three of them. For cold weather I use a silk one with the face open – keeps the chin and cheeks warm. For colder weather I use a merino wool one with eye and mouth openings. I can inhale through the nose (and through wool to warm the air before it reaches my nose and lungs) and exhale through the mouth opening to avoid fogging/freezing lenses. For coldest weather I use a fleece one. There is no mouth opening. Some exhaled air stays inside it and is directed down toward my neck and chest. Some fogs my glasses. Exhaling forcefully helps direct more air away from the face to minimize fogging. I may join those who wear ski goggles and let you know how that works.

Upper body (from the inside out): silk turtleneck, wool jersey, wool arm warmers, down vest,  windfront “softshell” jacket (thin fleece).

Lower body: bib tights, winter windfront tights, rain pants.

Feet: over-the-calf silk liner socks, neoprene socks, Bontrager Old Man Winter boots (two layers). [Brand name mentioned because this is kind of a small niche and I don’t know how the few other brands out there function.]

Hands: Silk liner gloves, Empire Wool and Canvas bike mitts [brand name mentioned because most “winter” bike mitts are not really made for the cold, and to give a plug to Kevin Kinney, maker of these mitts up in Duluth MN.] Some folks swear by bar mitts/pogies. Since I haven’t used them, I can’t comment.

All photos shot in available light except the last one, to show the reflective stripe on the mitten.

Just to be clear, in “normal” winter weather I just wear rain pants over my work pants and the jacket (plus vest if 20-25 degrees and arm warmers below that) over my work shirt. The complete change of clothes is only for extremes.

Now this, from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/02/03/684438571/women-who-dare-to-bicycle-in-pakistan