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...