Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Let it Snow, Let it Snow.

Winter has arrived in Ottawa with a brace of snow. No more denying it, no more pretending, it's simply a particular cool autumn day. No Winter is here.
First Snowfall
Of course the other clue winter is here is the numerous how to "Winter Bike" articles.
Articles like:
Baby it's Cold Outside Dressing for the Weather or The Procrastinator's Guide to Winter Bicycle Commuting
These are fun, probably a little tongue in cheek, but maybe, just maybe, over complicate the issue a little bit.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think the specific advice is bad: per se. After all, I love gear; Merino wool, awesome stuff. Allergic to wool, Lifa or polyester base layers will keep you dryer then wool and almost as warm. Gore-tex WindStopper or Shells, great stuff. These fabrics will protect you from the elements while allowing the wearer to stay dry.  Cycling "booties" to defeat cycling shoes built in ventilation, are great. Don't forget to replace your shoes insole, Superfeet make wool, and cycling shoe specific models...
Have you decided to take the bus yet, maybe the car? Maybe invest in a trainer and spin a few times over the winter, to keep the legs in shape? Or leave the bike in the garage and maybe pull it out in the spring. All the gear is for enthusiasts, it really does help I wouldn't suggest winter running or cross country skiing without some specialized gear. Still these articles are aimed at the curious commuter who having gotten used to the freedom of the bike is wondering how to extend the season, maybe avoid the bus and keep the car parked at home more.
As I said in a previous post What to Wear for Winter Cycling, the only truly mandatory bit of "gear" is fenders. Even that may be a stretch, I am biased, I will admit, fenders on a commuter are very much a good thing. irrespective of the season. But what about the rider? It is cold and dark and cold! Here is the best advice I can give someone who wants to ride through Ottawa's bleak winters, do it. Embrace the cold, get out the season pass faster and will be slightly less miserable. As for clothing dress for a brisk walk. Don't over dress, it is good to be cool to start, don't be afraid of experimenting. A scarf, a coat a hat, what you'd put on to walk the dog. hands and feet are the most frequent winter complaints, for all activities. My recommendation boots you can walk in. not boots that you can stand at the bus stop for half an hour. Warm feet are great, wet feet are cold. it is a similar story with hands, a thin pair of leather driving gloves probably won't be enough. Downhill ski mitts maybe to much, maybe. Hands are in the wind, often not moving much, it is worth oveer doing the gloves to be on the safe side. Consider a helmet, I'm not their biggest advocate, all but the best add warmth and falling opportunities are much greater.
Last bit of advice. Take your time. Average commute in Ottawa is roughly 8 km budget 30 to 40 minutes. It really is nice once you get going. Pay atention to yourself hands cold? Get some glove liners first. Then buy new gloves. Don't feel safe with fresh snow? (I love fresh snow, but to each their own) There are plenty of dry days, just give it a try. Winter biking is not that hard or mysterious. Honestly the worst bit of winter cycling, is not the cold or the difficulties dressing "properly". Winter cycling is dirty the roads are covered in salt and grime. It can be hard on the bike and your clothes but a little attention, fenders go a long way. Winter cycling needn't be complicated. You don't need to ride every day. Give it a try, you might find yourself hooked.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hi-Viz? No Thanks

This comment was posted on Citizen Cycle a local cycling blog sponsored by The Ottawa Citizen:
"I see a lot of cyclists wearing dark outfits. These are even worse at dawn and dusk…there is a reason why construction workers have orange and yellow all over their jackets at intersections. We can learn from that in picking our clothing. Don’t worry about fashion, worry about being seen." 
Sensible advice, surely. Cyclists are always struggling to be seen, what better advice then to dress in violently bright yellows and oranges. Hi-viz as it is known is hugely popular, jackets, vests, helmet covers even thermal booties are available in noxious yellow.

Image lifted without permission from visit the store relieve my guilt.
Now what is wrong with dressing like a ripe banana, if it improves your safety? Maybe I was just psychologically scared by day-glow in the '80s. Or perhaps just insufferably vain, feeling these shades reflect a slight jaundices in my complexion. Or maybe it is because dressing like a construction worker/crossing guard (love the Britishism "lollipop man" BTW, just doesn't work in North American context) simply doesn't work. As this video shows in low-light or dark conditions white or "bright" colours don't actually help:

Sure, 3M is selling reflective treatments, and the human eye is more sensitive then any camera in low-light conditions...
All the justifications you can think of do not change the fact that human eyes don't see colour very well in low light conditions. Much better then white or yellow at dusk is reflective treatments. Further, better then reflective elements would be active lighting! Or, put another way actual lights, after all reflective elements can only reflect light directed at them. A light shines in all directions.
You know what trumps all of that and makes even the light-less shinobi shozoko (Ninja uniform according to Google) clad cyclist visible on city streets? Street lights! Yes, since roughly 1875 according to Wikipidea, urban streets have been lit enabling citizens to navigate on moonless nights. This if very much appreciated in northern latitudes where the sun sets before four in the afternoon. Really what an urban cyclist needs is well lit infrastructure that limits interaction/conflict with automobiles. Not hideous yellow coats... 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sept 16-22 is Sustainable Transportation Week in Ottawa

Next week September 16 - 22 is Sustainable Transportation Week in Ottawa! I`m sure you can guess what form of sustainable transportation I`ll use.

This year Ottawa won Share the Road Cycling Coalition`s Gold Bicycle Friendly Community Award. It is a big deal, the first gold awarded after all. While I think that there is still a lot of room for improvement in Ottawa`s bicycle network and over all friendliness, lets focus on the positive. 
Using a combination of off road paths, community streets and occasionally unavoidable main arterial roads. It is possible to traverse the entire municipal area by bike. Make no mistake this is no compact European town.

Despite this the average work commute in Ottawa is merely 8.1 kilometres. O.K, among the longest in Canada, still a bike-able distance no mater your fitness level. The cool autumn temps are perfect for a casual morning ride. So, why not give it a try? Even just once. that is all it takes to enter the envirocentre`s contest. Of course I`m biased toward the bike, but there are other options available, walking, public transport even car-pooling. 
So why not get involved? You may even discover a new more enjoyable way to get around the sprawling Ottawa city.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cycling In Normal Clothes Summer Addition

This is the time that many people leave their air-conditioned houses in the morning, get into air-conditioned cars to get to their place of work, which is of course air-conditioned. Not that I have anything against air-conditioning. I for one find it absolutely a necessity, in the heat of July and August.
Cycling at this time of year can be a sweaty, sticky affair. Aided some what by specialized clothing and sports drinks. All the major apparel brands use fabrics that offer to enhance the cooling effect of evaporation. UV protection is huge, too. The latest must have for sports cyclists are "Arm Coolers".
Arm-coolers & UV Protection
 Arm coolers are the exact opposite of the cyclist's staple arm-warmers combining sheer wicking fabrics and UV protection, absolutely essential if like me you don't like sunscreen. It is just not possible for the fair-skinned to spend several hours in the summer sun without getting burned.
Summer Weight Jersey
Jerseys for summer cycling are light weight, tight fitting, to promote cooling. I prefer light colours but the magic is apparently in the fabric, so dark colours work too. The ubiquitous black Lycra cycling short or bib short are not actually the best suited to hot weather. Here too, manufactures have come to the rescue weaving in wicking fabrics and breathable panels.
All this innovation works together to make 100 km Sunday tours comfortable, reducing the the risks of heat exhaustion. Allowing the cyclist to worry about the town-line sprint and important Strava segments.

As great as all this high-tech apparel is, its not much use for the 8.1 km* commute to work. Or for that matter the shorter neighbourhood trips to coffee or the shops. Lets face it wandering around in cycling gear will make one look a bit or a prat. How can the lowly bike compete with the air-conditioned convenience of the car. It can be done with a few simple tips the bike can be a comfortable and stylish ride even in the summer heat.

Slow Down: First key bit of advice. A relaxed pace will not generate as much body heat think walking not jogging. A walking level of effort will go a long way to keeping cool. You'll still cover more ground then even a brisk walk but with less effort.

Let the Bike Take the Load: No backpacks! messenger type bags are okay. Best option is a rack and pannier. You can carry what you need without putting heavy un-breathable fabric against your body, trapping heat and sweat. If you cheat even a little on the first bit of advice a pack or bag will let everyone know.

Leave Early: This helps with the first point, you will need more time to get to your destination after all. There is a practical aspect to this too. Mornings tend to be the coolest time of the day, if it's over 24c before eight you can be guaranteed it is going to be a warm day. Obviously this bit of advice is best suited to the commuter, for more social bike trips flip the advice and leave latter. Grab some lights and enjoy an evening on a patio rather then lunch in the heat of the day.

Avoid Stops: I'm not advising running red-lights or stop-signs, honestly I'm not. Stopping on the black-top even with morning sun heats up very quickly. if you can avoid it by route choice or riding more slowly, do it. Racing for a light is probably counter productive. If you slow down considerably after clearing the intersection, maybe.

Chose a Shady Route: The sun is not your friend. Shady routes are cooler in both senses of the word. They tend to be the less direct more scenic quiet routes through a city. Its OK you've got lots of time because you left early. Watch out for stop-signs, these routes usually have an abundance of them. This helps keep competition from cars to a minimum, also cool.

Dress Appropriately: Sure this is easy advice if you work in ultra casual high-tech or retail. What if your office is a little more formal. There are still options: buy a light summer weight wardrobe. Summer weight suits do exist but can be hard to find. Pack your jacket, wear an under shirt. Jackets are the heaviest and therefore warmest parts of a suit an under shirt can help protect your dress shirt if you ignore the first bit of advice. Worst case take a spare shirt to change into when you get to the office.

A Bare Head is a Cool Head: Oh, sure modern helmets are well ventilated, and an important bit of safety equipment.** If, you follow the first bit of advice and go slow the venting won't work. As every winter loving Canadian knows: you loose most heat from your head.*** In summer your head is your natural radiator any hat, helmet or other covering will inhibit this natural function and lead inevitably to over heating.

The Hottest Part of the Ride is the End: Get yourself an iced coffee, lemonade or cool drink of your choice. Go to the washroom and wash your face, change your shirt if necessary. Find that cool spot under the air-conditioning vent and allow yourself to cool down.

That is it cycling in regular clothes is possible. Getting out of the air-conditioning for a while and enjoy the summer. It is far to short autumn will be here soon enough.

* Average Ottawa commute
** A surprisingly controversial bit of safety equipment. That may not actually be that effective at the one job it has.
*** This is apparently, a wives tale. One that I am happy to perpetuate.