Monday, 19 December 2011

The joy that is Winter.

It will have not escaped the attention of many of you out there (well at least those in the Northern Hemisphere) that Winter is now well and truly upon us. Last Winter I had only just started cycling but any journey was merely an evening ride of about 7 miles trying to get used to cycling and in an attempt to get fit enough to do the 22 miles work commute on a regular basis. This time round though (ice, colds and broken ribs excluded) I am doing the commute into work through the Winter.

So what have I learnt / noticed so far. Well firstly let  me say how truly impressed I am with modern cycle gear! In temperatures as low as 0c I have not found it necessary to wear any more than 3 thin layers (one base layer, on wind proof jacket and one luminous over-jacket) all layers together are no thicker than a lightweight jumper. Still at the end of each commute I find that I am not only hot enough but in fact I am  sweating. As for my legs one pair of thermal Lycra pants and they are plenty warm enough. I have of course switched to slightly thicker gloves but apart from that the only one other thing has been to wear overshoes, these I have found to absolutely indispensable! My feet are the one part of my body that seems to get freezing (maybe I should also get some proper socks sometime) but the overshoes not only keep your feet dry but they also keep your feet much warmer. The only sadness about these overshoes is just what a Muppet you will look like when you have them on (on the plus side they do also have quite a bit of reflective material). 

I have had occasion to notice a few crazy souls out there – picture the scene it is getting dark (3:30pm) and the temperature is about 1c – a man cycles past me as I walk up the road in my suit, scarf heavy overcoat all tightly bundled up and this man is in a t-shirt and pair of football shorts – no gloves and I am not sure he even had socks on. I am not certain what he was trying to prove, whilst believing he was giving out a message of manliness I personally believe he was giving out a message of madness.

Apart from how warm cycling clothes are, another thing I have noticed is the massive drop off in number of cyclists I see on the road. This does seem to vary, for example around Southwark bridge I do still see a reasonable number of cyclists – but on my route heading South East out of London the number of riders is probably 5 to 10% of what I see in the summer. Now this raises (to me) a very important point which seems to be glossed over by every cycling advocacy site I see. No matter how many cyclist there are (and yes the average number is growing) and everyone starts banging the drum of how cycling is the only realistic future of transport, we need to be realistic about how the numbers drop off in the cold weather.

If you are planning public transport or road layout then obviously road usage figures need to  be taken into account and this drop off in cycling during Winter months is going to affect things. It seems to me that whenever the question of cycle lanes etc. are talked about, cyclists happily trot out the number of cyclists in summer and conveniently forget about Winter. The truth of the matter is that some days, even for me, cycling is just not practicable. I really don’t want to risk slipping on ice into the path of a lorry (that itself is going to take longer to stop) and on a personal level, I just don’t like riding in gale force winds (especially those that blow me sideways). With the best will in the world I cannot cycle every day. Cycling cannot be the answer for everything all the time – yeah I am sure for some hardy souls this may be the case but for me (and it seems like more so for most others) it is just not going to be my preferred choice of transport on every occasion.

The above said – I still think the severity of the drop off rate is a real shame. At this time of year the colds and viruses multiply, this is not because it is cold but because of the increased amount of time people spend indoors in closer proximity to one and other and we commuters get the full benefit of this when we get onto the train / tube / bus. What better way to avoid all this than being on your bike as often as possible. Also there is nothing better for blowing the cobwebs of the day in the office with all the heating blaring out, than a bracing ride in the elements.  Another interesting thing I have noticed is the drop off rate of women cyclists is far lower than that of men – no idea why this is, but really guys man up!

Having just read the above I realise there are a few reviews of equipment I have never bothered to write and really I think I should. Apart from joining everyone else in moaning about the Bow roundabout, there really isn’t that much to talk about right now.

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