As A Box of Rocks…

Background Reading


Yesterday the ChainLink crowd was urged “Want to have fun on an Oak Park comment board?” It turns out that a fellow was commenting on the vagaries of winter weather riding. He evidently uses a ski suit to ride in. I have noticed an awful lot of folks who cannot afford the rather expensive cycling clothes that are available for those wishing to exercise in the cold and not freeze to death from hypothermia tend to use ski suits. The kind I am thinking of are probably nothing like the ones the jet set wears in Vail, CO but are rather cheap knock-offs that can be purchased in stores which cater to those with just enough money to buy China-made goods. And of course these suits trap moisture (i.e. sweat) and are probably worn over jeans which are in turn worn over cotton underwear and voila you have perfect storm for hypothermia. The ChainLink wags however found his seeming ignorance (of the avaiable winter riding clothing possibilities) laughable and decided to poke a bit of fun.

Meanwhile (as if on cue) my friends at the New York Times wrote a rather revealing article about a commuter who does a 40-mile commute in winter. This is equivalent to riding the entirety of the Chicago Lakefront Trail round trip to get to work and repeating that feat on the way home. To do that kind of ride you really need to be warm and dry or you suffer and die. The Times article begins this way:

At 4:40 on a 28-degree January morning, Christian Edstrom readied for his commute from Chappaqua, N.Y., to downtown Manhattan.

Having sheathed his legs in NASA-worthy Capo bib shorts — woven from high-tech fibers that compress leg muscles to minimize fatigue — he pulled on a pair of winter cycling tights lined with fleece from the waist to the thighs. Next came over-the-calf Smartwool ski socks under Sidi Genius 5.5 shoes strategically packed with chemical toe warmers. To shield his torso, he wore a wool base layer under an Italian long-sleeve racing jersey, and a windproof vest reinforced in front to block freezing gusts and meshed in the back to vent excess heat. On his head, an Assos Fuguhelm racing cap with vents on top to minimize sweating, and a pair of Oakley Jawbones sunglasses. The final touch: a pair of $19 insulated work gloves, coated with beeswax to make them water resistant.

Fastening his helmet, Mr. Edstrom stepped outside and into early-morning indigo. In a minute he was rolling down the driveway of his snow-covered Cape-style house, his headlights aglow, on a 40-mile journey to his workplace, JPMorgan, at One Chase Manhattan Plaza, a trip he would make entirely on a Zanconato cyclocross bicycle.

Notice how much more advanced is the clothing of this gentleman. And more important is how expensive this sort of gear really is.  I buy my clothing from either Cabela’s or REI most of the time. Both places carry the kind of practical outerwear that I like. And they even have the extended cold under-layers that make riding in freezing weather less of a challenge and thus safer. But I recognize that not everyone can afford even these relatively modest clothing outlets. Times are hard, which is why the decision to ridicule this fellow from Oak Park was a bit troublesome for me. ChainLinkers like to think of themselves are Liberals, but despite the labels we choose to wear all of us have either a mean streak or a generous heart beating beneath that in the final analysis tells us who and what we really are.

But before I run afield let me itemize this outfit that lets a fellow ride 40-miles each way in the dead of winter. Now to do this I have to find a clothier who specializes in the brands mentioned in the article and that means an outfitter like The Colorado Cyclist. These folks outfit lots of what are known as “roadies”. You know the type, they are Tour de France wannabes whose entire outfit probably costs a weeks pay. But if you really want to know how to ride 40 miles in the dead of winter and live to tell about it, “watch and learn” from them.

The Cost of Dressing for Success in Winter
 Capo bib shorts  249.99
 winter cycling tights  379.99
 SmartWool ski socks  16.99
 Sidi Genius 5.5 shoes 349.99
 wool base layer 179.99
 Italian long-sleeve racing jersey 369.99
 windproof vest 369.99
 Assos Fuguhelm racing cap 64.99
 Oakley Jawbones sunglasses 259.99
 insulated work gloves 19.00
 Zanconato cyclocross bicycle (frame set) 2,900.00
 Campagnolo Record 8-piece component kit 1,999.99

I guess you get the picture here. The guy from Oak Park never had a chance when compared to someone like this. I have no idea what the folks who decided to “have a bit of fun” at his expense on the Oak Park blog but I can say without a doubt that his assessment was no doubt limited to his experience. Few of us have the kind of resources that our intrepid New York Times commuter has. So it stands to reason that few would feel comfortable in launching out in below freezing weather with what they can afford on a modest budget. Bully for the more affluent.

Riding Conditions Are Another Thing

Clothing is expensive and not easily obtained. But everyone knows that bridges when wet are slippery. My dog knew that and he was not an Urban Cyclist. My dog knew that when there was ice on the ground he had to be careful. Keep in mind that unlike you and me he had four legs. So you would expect dogs to be intrepid walkers in almost any kind of weather. Skipper (a.k.a. Beezodog) was not a lover of icy pavement. Had he however been a cyclist my guess is that he would have chosen to ride either a recumbent trike or to take a bus in bad weather assuming the family car was unavailable.

So perhaps we need to ask the question why ChainLinkers can be such “smart alecks” when in comes to cycling clothing but cannot seemingly avoid falling on wet or icy bridges. Take a gander at this thread:

Be extra careful on bridges today, they’re icing over

Posted by Cameron 7.5 mi on January 13, 2013
Like the title says, the metal grates are much worse than normal. I went down on Dearborn and the bridge was so slick I could barely stand up and walk off.

Reply by Julie Hochstadter on January 13, 2013 at 1:26pm
and remember the trails, like bridges, can have ice even when everything else is thawing.
A family member had to have a hip replacement due to a fall on a trail friday morning :((

Reply by David P. on January 13, 2013 at 4:59pm
Glad you’re OK, Cameron. My honey had the same thing happen to her this afternoon on the Webster bridge. Fortunately there was no traffic around when she fell, and she’s bruised but OK. The Cortland bridge is OK.

Reply by h’ 1.0 on January 13, 2013 at 6:14pm
Agreed. Generally I find warnings about the dreaded “BLACK ICE” to be silly, but I would definitely pay attention to darker pavement and stay light on the handlebars until we’re buried in salt.

Reply by Juan 2-8 mi. on January 13, 2013 at 8:40pm
2013011315.47.57I almost took a nasty spill with my fully loaded bicycle on the Dearborn bridge. It is one big sheet of icy metal, I had to carefully walk across it to the end near Wacker.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi on January 14, 2013 at 6:23am
Thanks, Juan. I think I will just walk across from the beginning this morning. 😉 Let’s hope that the bright sunshine melts it today.

Reply by Tony Adams 6.6 mi on January 14, 2013 at 9:10am
Yes – thanks for the warnings everyone! The grates on Loomis were in the same condition this AM. I walked over them. I’m not sure I would have looked as carefully if I hadn’t read these reports on the Chainlink!
The much hoped for plates however, are not necessarily going to solve the problem during weather like we are having now. The plates on the 18th St bridge in both directions are more or less covered with solid sheets of ice this morning.
This is a shot of the north side, which was in the sun. The south side was even worse:
ice18I’m not at all opposed to plates. They usually make for a much nicer riding experience, but bridges are gonna be vulnerable to icing up no matter what the surface – and the plates, at least as they are configured on 18th, being non-permeable(?) , seem to hold a layer of water pretty well.

Reply by Bill Savage on January 14, 2013 at 1:34pm
If you do the North Shore Channel Trail south of Devon, be extra careful on all of the underpasses: like bridges, they tend to be icy even when the trail on either side is clear. The spot under Foster is a death-trap: there’s a drain that is open onto the path, and it’s a sheet of ice.
And fun with physics: why do bridges ice over when other roadways are clear? Because they’re exposed to the air above and below, and so they are colder than regular road surfaces, where only the top is open to the air.
Ride Safely!

Reply by Stephanie Combs on January 17, 2013 at 6:20pm
So glad I found this blog, and I just signed up 🙂 too bad I didnt read this before saturday night. I was riding down division on the metal grated bridge right before Halsted when I fishtailed, and fell…
I dragged my bike to the side as if it were a dead body and sat down. after finding blood all over my hands i looked down to find a very busted knee. I locked my bike to the bridge and took a cab to the nearest hospital where I got 10 stitches to my knee and two to my elbow.
I’m glad i walked away with just a metal grate tearing my knee, and not a bone, and also glad there was no oncoming traffic to hit me while I went down since i fishtailed to the left. Be careful out there this winter I HATE THOSE BRIDGES!!!

Reply by william 2 hours ago
a beater wheelset tucked away with studded tires mounted and ready to go is a good idea for days like this.
ride safe dudes.

A time I am almost certain that this group loves to swap “war stories”. It is almost impossible to believe that fully functioning adults who see ice on a bridge would not get off and walk in all situations. Why chance a spill? But I guess the more gory your story about having braved the vicissitudes of a Chicago winter and those damnable bridges is a bit like telling people you are undergoing therapy for some nasty disease that brings out the tears and kind words.

At any rate I would be happy to loan out virtually any of the dogs on my block to assist ChainLinkers is knowing how to deal with snow and ice. Walk your darned bikes across bridges when they are wet or icy. And for an extra measure learn not to poke fun at folks whose wallets are not as thick as yours even if they live and ride in and around Oak Park.

On second thought I would bet that this fellow has enough sense to come in out of the cold, walk wet and icy bridges and as my father would say “believe that fat meat is greasy”. Evidently ChainLinkers are operating on a level a bit lower than most canines.