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Tag Archive: winter

Cold as Ice – Layer Up!

Wow. I mean, WOW. Were you guys out on the bike last night? Did you feel the wind cutting through every piece of you that was not covered at least twice in layers as you caught every light on that downhill?

I DID! Cantaloupe is a beast, with her new sweet fenders. How could I resist a cold as ice night commute?

Let’s back up a bit. It’s in the 20’s here in Portland, and this girl has Hawaii body-core temperature still coursing through her veins, so don’t laugh at the pathetic attempt at layering if you are a seasoned winter warrior (you guys should leave tips in the comment box below, instead). I know some of you commuters are out there pedal-pushing in the single digits. Brrrrrmmmmnesota.

I’ve taped this photo to the inside of my front door for inspiration… it keeps me from wein-ing out and opting for a run for the bus:

Okay, so I did get a major flat and had to sprint for the bus the other day, only to find out that I had zero cash on me. Fail! Crap monkey, where did I leave my teleportation device…

My neighbors and I biked home together at about 7pm, or 20-something degrees o’clock here in Portland. And I am proud to say that I somehow survivor-ed the coldest commute of my life. How did my sissy-la-la pants make it happen?

Layers, Cycle Gators… layers! And lots of them. I’m no expert on looking fly riding home in the cold, but here was this night’s order of operations:

  • Step 1: Pull on your skivvies and cover up your underparts… Cycle ladies and gents, I would not recommend anything that’s gonna give your crotch a case of seam anxiety, but that is a very personal choice. Y’all know what works with your saddle, and what doesn’t – immediately!
  • Step 2: Pull on some Darn Tough wool crew socks.
  • Step 3: Next, some super-high waisted fleece-lined leggings. Do Cycle dudes wear leggings? No, but some kind of bike base layer tights might do the trick. Just ask Jack.
  • Step 4: Then your outer layer of pantalones. I chose the Chrome Vanya knicker for it’s stretchiness and crotch action (make sure you follow Step 1, re: crotch anxiety).

Getting warm yet, people? Okay… Keep going to the top layers:

  • Step 5: T shirt/tank/base. I wore a cotton tee tucked into my leggings/tights.
  • Step 6: Long sleeve zip-up running jacket thing. Stretchy, thumb-holey, and a freebie from my stepmom via Costco.
  • Step 7: Oh yeah, ANOTHER long sleeve, with more stretchiness, a super long back to cover my butt, and a high collar from that Lululemon review back in the day.
  • Step 8: Fruffy vest. Marshmallow it and warm up your core! I love puffy vest like my future unborn child.
  • Step 9: Patagonia Torrentshell with pit zips open and hood tucked in.
Untitled

Seriously, everybody on bikes looks like this today. All color combo Do’s and Don’ts go out the window for this weather, kids. I look like a bag of Skittels had a civil war on my torso.

And on to the peripherals (“I see a ficus tree…”):

  • Step 10: North Face gloves: inadequate – not cycling specific, but it’s all I got right now.
  • Step 11: Ear grips over ponytail.
  • Step 12: Buff over the neck, over the ear grips, ponytail, and up to the top of my head like a wetsuit hood.
  • Step 13: Shoes, helmet, and the obligatory Mir fannypack.

So, yeah. It did the trick. More winter wonderful commuting tips coming your way. In the meantime, hook us up in the comments box with your favorite or newly-discovered layering goodies. Go eat a bag of tiny donuts, cold weather! Props to all the winter pedal peoples out there.

Winter riding – suicidal? Just bring on the mittens and snow goggles!

We’ve hardly had much “winter riding” lately in Chicago. Just this Monday and Tuesday, temps hovered in the 50s and 60s! But the rollercoaster, topsy turvy weather ride has plunged us back down to real winter temps and now our Chicago temps only hover at or below 0-degrees with windchill… bringing back the need to properly layer for the daily bike commute.

For me – the cold, sub-zero windchills mean it’s a snow goggles and mittens kind of “BRRRR!” (BRRR as in BRRRRING IT ON!)

No skin exposed on the “BRRR”-est of days


My body is cozy – covered in layers of a wool base layer and a thick cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. My legs also get a nice wool base layer and then just khakis (sometimes I add a wind pants layer – especially in wet/messy condition) and thick wool hiking socks under my BOGS boots. My head = no skin exposed; I use a double-layer balaclava system (one thinner one pulled up over my nose), plus goggles, plus helmet on top! Over all that is my hi-vis yellow commuter jacket to block the wind. Wool gloves covered by big primaloft mitts and I’m ready to roll.

I’m more bundled than the average pedestrian, plus I’m generating body heat – more than the mere walker.. and I’m definitely warmer than the person just standing there waiting for the bus or train.

So – when I saw a post by “He Who Knows” on local Chicago suburban social site entitled “Bicyclists are insane riding in winter’s deep freeze!” and claiming that winter riding is suicidal, I had to chuckle. Seriously? He Who Knows certainly doesn’t know much about cold weather activity outdoors. On the other hand, we who know layer appropriately and reap the benefits of year-round cycling in any weather.

Should we be surprised by such a general posting by someone who is clearly not a cyclist? Isn’t this what happens when anyone and everyone can post their opinion online? “He Who Knows” likely has no authority on the topic. Though I do find his take humorous… since it is just so ridiculous! But just to clarify and set the record straight for would-be winter bike commuters, do not take his statements seriously… Based on this guy’s opinion, I would have killed myself cycling through winter years ago.

Take it from this guy in New York who bikes (even in winter) 40 miles to work in Manhattan!

I’m alive and well to let you know that – even on the harshest of days – cycling brings me sanity.

Ride on…

Eva! Review: booq Mamba Laptop backpack

True love, Wall-E and Eva say happy V-day!

Hi everybody!  Anyone out there considering a commuter backpack?  Long time no review…  The PR peeps reppin booq hooked it up back in October of 2011 with this Eva look-alike, the Mamba Shift L.  Although it isn’t a bike commuter-specific backpack, my Trek one-strap messenger bag was in tatters and hardly capable of holding anything expensive like a laptop.  I decided to give it a shot, considering the Mamba Shift’s sleek and seemingly sturdy exterior.  Here are some fat stats about this futuristic laptop backpack:

booq: Mamba shift L

Lightweight, extremely functional backpack uses a clean and compact exterior design to conceal a plush and roomy interior

  • 1680 denier ballistic nylon exterior with water-repellant coating and interior water repellent ripstop lining
  • Diagonally overlapping interior accessory pockets, provide easy access to all your gear
  • Separate accessory zipper pouch to carry cables, external hard drive, etc.
  • Elastic pop-out iPhone pockets integrated into shoulder straps
  • Airmesh back padding increases comfort and allows heat to escape
  • Equipped with Terralinq service, helps reunite you with your lost bag (author note: I never registered my bag, but consider it a lost and found registration service!)

Available at: BooqBags.com and various retailers Stores.Booq.com

Price: $149.95 (13″-17″ Mac or PC)

Website: www.booqbags.com

The booq website actually has some detailed photo spreads showcasing the intricately designed layers of pockets, flaps, hook-and-loops, and zippers in this space-inspired design.  Eva came with me on our jaunt around Europe and is a great transitional bag from bike to plane to bike.  Let’s do a photo-battle throughout this review: mine vs. my Dad vs. theirs!

Mir.I.Am fotog skillllls:

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Typical contents of Eva the Mamba Shift on a commute to work. Lock and cable are left at work M-F.

LIKES:  I love the pockets in this backpack!  Orange interiors make it easy to find things (no blending into the black hole material like standard bags) and different sized layers make it easy to separate and store pens, computer stuff, takeout lunch, clothes, and baby pandas.  The key clip is detachable and near the top of the bag so you can easily find your bike lock key or key fob to your apartment (I heart this feature, hard).  I clipped my flat-pack water pouch onto it, antibacterial goop, USB keys, etc.  Also, the Mamba Shift backpack is slim at the bottom and carries most of the weight at the top, relieving some strain off your lower back while on the bike.  The profile is streamlined enough that is doesn’t interfere with looking over your shoulder while changing lanes for us mirrorless bike commuters.  The booq Mamba Shift has sturdy construction and can hold a half-size drawing set, a big plus for snarchitects like myself.  The laptop compartment is velvety smooth like the finest bathrobes you’d steal from a Singapore hotel!  You can store a full-size U-lock and cable for proper lockups in either the laptop compartment (without the laptop, duh) or in the main compartment, easily.  Lastly, the Eva-esque shape and color make it stand out from typical laptop bags and backpacks; the herringbone/tweed pattern of the material received several compliments from architects, bike commuters at stop lights, friends, and family.

Retired Asian Dad “skills”:

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Sand over black sweater: better than nothing for night riders. (identity of bike commuter has been obscured out of embarassment of Dad’s butt shots)

COULD BE BETTER:  Granted, the Mamba Shift is not a commuter-specific bag; this bag is NOT waterproof!  Water-resistant, maybe.  Waterproof enough for me, sure!  Reserve this bag for clear-weather commutes or days with puddles but no downpours.  The thick material did keep interiors dry on all but two days of extreme rain-pain on my commute (you can read about one of those days here).  Although a great protector of your laptop with ample padding all around the back, it can also get a bit warm like most backpacks do during a high-intensity bike ride!  My only major/minor gripe about this bag, was that if you like to carry bike water bottles on the side of your bag, or have more accessible pockets during your ride, no luck with the Mamba Shift: as the side pockets fit only flat objects.  (I did manage to shove a baguette in each side once, when the main compartment was rather empty – take note, Frenchies.)  And to wrap it up, this backpack takes a little breaking in, as it can be stiff like a TMNT half shell when you first get it, turtle power.

The pros at booq:

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Not a bad fotog, of the awesome layers of orange pockets with Mac obsessed gear to boot!

WRAP IT UP!  Ok, to be nice to my Dad (wink) let’s call the photography contest a three-way tie.  My overall sentiments of the Mamba Shift after a four-month review: a compact bag with max protection for your laptop, an almost all-weather commuter companion, with space-age style, and a neatly organized space-age interiors.  If you’ve got a 150 bones to spare for maximum protection of your techie-gear and fair weathered commutes, the Mamba Shift a.k.a. Eva is right up your alley!

P.S. – booq, Vanya, Xootr Apparently I’ve been relegated to weird-named cyclicious product reviews!

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Ending 2011 with a Cycling Photo Expedition

I’m happy to report that I rang out 2011 on two wheels!

My friend Dottie from LGRAB and I began our bike adventure with a ride down Chicago’s Lakefront path. The weather here in Chicago has been so mild (no complaints!) that I just knew I had to get out to enjoy the sunshine we had on New Year’s Eve. How joyous to have Dottie join me; she even took video of our ride down the lakefront path and posted it on LGRAB.

And of course we just had to pause for some lakeside photos!

Dottie and her camera at the Chess Pavilion

And me in my Santa hat for the holidays

Our first destination was the Art Institute to see the wreathed lions; 2011 represented the 20th anniversary of this Chicago tradition. Of course, we had to battle throngs of pedestrians and Segway tourists to get our photo op.

Segway riders tour the Art Institute's Wreathed Lions - view of the south lion

As noted on the Art Institute’s website, the lions have quite a history in Chicago.

What are the names of the lions?
The two bronze lions that flank the Michigan Avenue entrance were made for the Art Institute’s opening at its current location in 1893. They were a gift from Mrs. Henry Field. They have unofficial “names,” which were given by their sculptor Edward Kemeys that are more like designations. You’ll notice that the lions are not identical, and thus are named for their poses: The south lion “stands in an attitude of defiance,” while the north lion is “on the prowl.”

We then began our journey back north to the Streeterville neighborhood. Before any more photos, though, we had to warm up our fingers and toes… so we ducked into Fox & Obel’s for coffee and hot cocoa! Mmm…

Warming Up!

Once warmed from the inside out, I had one more stop on my list — to see the 26-foot Marilyn Monroe sculpture set for all to see over on Michigan Avenue. Chicagoans have definitely had mixed responses (some saying it’s hideous) to this larger than life statue. Needless to say, I just had to photograph it for posterity while it remains on display.

Marilyn towers over Michigan Avenue across from the Wrigley Building

We concluded our bike ride at the locally owned Unabridged Bookstore in the Lakeview neighborhood.

Our final stop - the local bookstore

I don’t get out for leisurely rides like this often… and it’s even rarer during the winter months. But, Chicago’s been known to have it’s share of winter warm-ups like the 50-degree weather I posted about last February.
The best part of the day – sharing the ride adventure with a friend.

Sharing the ride with a friend

How are you getting out to enjoy this winter’s riding conditions?

No need for mitts yet… ???

I’m in denial that winter is here. We’ve had minimal snow fall in Chicago so far this fall/winter and fairly mild temps – mostly hovering in the 40s and high 30s. We’ve even asked our Facebook readers to post photos of any snow commutes since we here at Bike Commuters haven’t seen much – if any – snow yet… not that I’m complaining. Then I woke up to today’s arctic weather — to temps only in the 20s when I left my house this morning – BRR!

Yet, I refused to bust out the mittens and admit that cold weather had finally arrived. No siree!!! I left the mittens at home, put on my fleece gloves with lobster outer shell combo and set out. (And I probably would have been just fine if I hadn’t made a stop along the way that required me to take the hand coverings off entirely to lock my bike.) By the time I arrived at work, however, my fingertips were getting blue and hurting. Never a good sign.

Then I had a discussion with a fellow bike commuter who told me that her feet were really cold on her ride in to work today. We shared our stories of woe and wondered how it is that we still can’t get our clothing and gear right to stay warm – after years of Chicago riding. We also mused about how effective mittens seem to be over gloves…. and wondered “do cycling-specific mittens exist?” She claims to have seen a pair years ago, but I have never seen such a wonderment.

In my random searches for newer and better tips to keep my hands warm, I stumbled upon some tips posted on an Instructables page:

The easiest way to keep your feet warm is to wear rubber boots over your shoes. For the hands, rubber gloves over some knit gloves. Sometimes insulated rubber gloves are good enough.
(source http://www.instructables.com/id/Warm-Feet-and-Hands-for-Winter-Cycling/)

Now I don’t have insulated rubber gloves (yet!) but I can say that waterproof overshoes do help keep the feet warm and dry. Even my Bogs boots are great (though provide minimal traction on the sole to grip anything, especially wet pedals).

As I continued in my quest for hand protection, I even found the Exhale gloves that allow you to blow warm air into them to keep your digits toasty (and these newer models are tech savvy enough so you can use them with your smartphone!).

In my accessory arsenal at home I do have a pair of BarMitts for road dropbars, but my faithful commuter – Toro – is equipped with bullhorn bars and I have yet to find any such mitts/pogies that will fit the bullhorn handlebar setup. 🙁

For the ride home I decided to not be so stubborn and to try out the mittens a co-worker had gifted to me after his wife didn’t want them; I’d been keeping them in a drawer and had almost forgotten I had them. Although they seemed a bit snug (fingertips and thumbs both at the end of the mitt with no additional room), I figured the evening bike commute home would be a good test to compare them to the warmth of my glove/lobster shell combo.

The verdict? Technically it’s not a fair test — since the temperatures were about 5-degrees warmer for the ride home and wind was at my back. Overall, though, I’d say the mittens won – even this slightly snug pair.

Mittens – for me at least – pose a slight inconvenience. Though much warmer, when I wear mittens while riding my commuter, the mitt part seems to always remain draped over my brake lever, since all that material seems to be too much to easily fold my hand back in around the handlebar. Since my fingers have plenty of freedom within the mitt, I usually end up curling my fingers within the mitten to grip the bar. It’s not the most secure grip, but it seems to work on my flat bar brake set-up.

mittened hand properly gripping handlebar - not an easy task in bulky mitts!

PLUS – even with the mittens, I suffer from cold thumbs! Tucking the thumbs behind the handlebar for warmth does help to block them from the wind but they still get cold.

I better figure out if there is a better solution to my cold hand woes, because the worst of winter may still come in 2012, if this Chicago weather forecast holds any truth! At least I know my trusty oversized REI mittens will keep me warm… I had just been hoping for a solution that allows me greater dexterity and protects my thumbs too.

For more about cycling in mittens, see Noah’s post about mittens from last December.