Sunday, February 19, 2023

Bike Zoos

 Once again, the chat filtering in from the sales floor is about abandoning the road and only riding in car-free spaces.

How does one get to these car-free spaces? Mostly by driving, but partly by scurrying anxiously along the shortest possible route on public streets before diving into the perceived safety of the bike preserve. These habitat parks will be the last home of the vanishing cyclist.

It tolls ominously for me, one of the last remaining free-range riders looking forward -- somewhat -- to the return of transportation cycling season. I say somewhat, because I acknowledge, as I always have, that interacting with motorists exposes a rider to a certain amount of danger. Today's visitors, chatting with upper management while I did my best to be unnoticed, recounted how their son had gotten peened twice in Boston. 

Statistics may favor the survival of the vast majority of riders on the road, but that does not make any specific individual invulnerable. Someone is getting hit out there to keep our average from being 100 percent good. It could be any of us on any ride. Good habits, training, and experience improve your odds, but someone else is driving the bigger, more dangerous vehicles. 

I still wonder how much these refugees from road riding think about how bloody it would be if all of the other drivers out there jousting with them on the two-lane, and flying in formation with them on multi-lane roads were really as bad as they describe. There are places I wouldn't like to ride, and places I would consciously avoid, but the choice is guided by a lot of factors, not simply the number of drivers or an untested hypothesis about their collective lack of skill. Neither overestimate nor underestimate your counterparts on the road. I have been extremely impressed by the reflexes and alertness of many drivers over the years. Generally, if someone encroached on me it was because I had neglected to control the space properly. My major reason to suspend the commute when I can't do it in daylight is because I can't control the space when drivers have trouble discerning me in the glary environment created by multiple floodlit vehicles converging in an area we're all trying to fit through.

Because humans have not abandoned the concept of ubiquitous personal motor vehicle ownership, we can look forward to a future of continued sprawl, traffic, and parking problems, even when the vehicles are powered by electric motors instead of dead dinosaurs prehistoric oceanic plant life. If you look at the evolution of the bicycle itself, the most popular form is the one that has mutated into a motor vehicle: the smokeless moped. Simplicity and durability are so last century.

You make your own choices. Having done so, you then try to figure out if you can even operate in proximity to the choices that others have made. If not, you have to devise a path through the landscape and the shifting contours of popular culture to go where you want to go and avoid encountering the incompatible rhythms and speeds of other users. I refer not so much to the age-old problem of mixing human powered vehicles with motorized ones on public rights-of-way, but to navigating among the other purely muscle powered and hybrid cyborgs in the car-free spaces as well as in the general public traffic mix.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Nosehair Update

Since my post on January 10, nosehair-freezing cold finally did put in a brief but dramatic appearance on February 3-4. It even spawned breathless news broadcasts and articles because the Mount Washington Weather Observatory recorded a record-setting wind chill factor.

Wind chill is not temperature. Block the wind and it goes away. If you are wearing sufficient insulating layers and a windproof shell, the effect nearly vanishes. I say nearly, because most of the time our bodies and our buildings are losing a little heat even when snugged up adequately for average conditions. Outside of the enclosure, a little thermal gradient fades out from us, reducing the rate of heat loss from where we want it. Wind whipping over this strips it away, removing the invisible insulation we gained from it.

Winter cyclists have to deal with wind chill all the time, because of how we generate our own, rolling along at whatever speed we're doing. Cold-weather cycling is one of the hardest activities to dress for, because the rider is generating heat through exertion while flying along through the cold atmosphere, cranking up hills and coasting down them, with an actual wind that may come from any angle, interacting with the apparent wind created by forward motion.

I don't know anyone who tried to go for a ride on Saturday, when the temperature started out around 12 to 15 degrees below zero F, with a wind gusting over 30 most of the time. In our shop, with the furnace cranked, we spent most of the day with an indoor temperature from 52 to 54 degrees F. We finally got almost to 60 by closing time. The building was constructed in the 1860s, I believe. The walls were thin, and insulation nonexistent. In a Nor'easter, we can feel the wind actually blowing through the back wall. On Saturday, the wind was westerly enough that it didn't come through directly, but it still stripped escaping heat away from the outside. Some insulation has been added in modern times, but the thin walls mean that there's not enough space for much.

The next day, the temperature climbed steadily to the upper 30s and only dropped to the 20s. Today it got even warmer, with a bit of sunshine. Winter reverted to the temperature range it had stayed in since the season began.

The cold stab did get Lake Winnipesaukee to freeze all the way over, but I would not recommend going out on the new ice. "Ice in" is merely a technicality.

The series of storms that finally brought enough snow to open the cross-country ski trails also brought rain and wet snow in a diabolical combination that produced a thick crust on top of loose snow underneath. The crust can't support a person on skis or snowshoes. It varies in thickness so that the way it breaks from one step to the next makes snowshoeing a laborious series of stumbles as the edges of the shoes catch on the crust. On skis, the crust still breaks, and neither the crust nor the loose snow offer any grip. In bare boots, a post-holer discovers that the snow is deeper than you might expect, with the meager accumulations and long warm spells. On the groomed trails, the cover is barely adequate. Grooming reduces the snow depth and steadily wears it away, while the thinned surface is more vulnerable to the sun heating the dark earth.

The roads don't exactly beckon, but they do offer a passable option for a pedaler who has not invested in a fat bike with studded tires. Some snow machine trails are probably firm enough for a regular mountain bike with studded tires. I prefer and recommend changing to weight-bearing exercise for part of the year, but even the less helpful exercise of pedaling is better than none at all.

I don't have time on a workday to fit a ride in at either end of it until commuting season, and my days off seem to get eaten up with all the things that I don't have time to do in the margins of a workday, so I'm just deteriorating steadily until the daylight gets long enough to start getting base mile rides. I salute all you people with the strength of character to ride a trainer on a regular basis. I do not envy you in the least, but I respect your gumption. That's a lot of sweat and bike abuse.