Technically, it’s still fall in New England. You would never know it judging by the frigid overnight temperatures. Or by the ever shortening days.
Each mid-November morning, this year, has started off with brisk, chilled air. Exiting a building, causes cold to smack you in the face. Warm indoor breath sprays out in wispy clouds. And exposed skin cools precipitously.
Cycling at this time of year is predictably unpredictable. A smattering of autumn sun can take the edge off of the displaced winter air, making it seem as if warm weather is possible.
Mid-day brings a tepid sun. It forces one to squint from glare, but it does not permeate one’s body with the blazing warmth of summer sun. In other words, the weather looks one way and feels another.
Observing other cyclists at this time of year can be very interesting; not so much for the way they ride or where they’re headed, but for how they approach the weather. Cyclists have different outfitting strategies and antithetically opposed philosophies about how to dress. This may not seem relevant at first, but when you delve into the extreme variety of attire brought on by this deceptive season, you begin to see how different cyclists really are from one another.
Over the weekend, I decided to ride mid-day, something I rarely do. I did this because I was in no mood to bundle up for cold weather. My arctic weather gear is still in storage since October brought us many days with temperatures in the 60’s and I didn’t want to prematurely take up prime closet space with clothes I wouldn’t wear. Actually, the closet space requirement is just a ploy to procrastinate in doing something which signifies a change in my cycling ritual.
I don’t mind riding when it’s cold outside. Warm layered clothing and vigorous pedaling usually keep me comfortable. But what I don’t like is the bulk, the feeling of being a sausage on a saddle to keep from getting chilled to the core.
Thick gloves encase my fingers. Heavy socks or neoprene booties insulate my feet. And a hat is mandatory if there is any wind or no sun to keep my ears from freezing off. In mid-November, I wasn’t ready for this.
On my rides, I noticed that cyclists utilized different methods to stave off the inevitable winter weather. For instance, one guy who I pulled up behind at a light was dressed in what appeared to be a medium weight windproof jacket, mid-weight tights, overboots for his cycling shoes and full fingered gloves.
Half of him was dressed for winter and half of him was dressed for fall. It seems he couldn’t make up his mind, so he did a little of both, hoping they would cancel each other out.
Quite a few cyclists wore insulated jackets, possibly with a jersey or base layer underneath. They kept their summer weight shorts on, but put on leg warmers to keep the cold air off of their legs. These were recreational or competitive cyclists for whom speed and time counted, so tight fitting clothing may have been a priority.
There were not many commuters or errand runners on the roads for comparison. The few I saw were bundled up in winter coats. One even went so far as to don a down jacket and a scarf. This, I thought, was overkill since even the wind chill factor only brought the temperature down to 39 degrees. Could they really be that cold? I would not be able to ride in a down jacket with temperatures over 35 degrees, so this extent of thermal protection was hard to fathom. Perhaps their slower speed necessitated the extra insulation, I reasoned, but even that was a stretch.
As I contemplated this, I spotted a cyclist riding in a long sleeved jersey and cycling shorts. I did a double take as I passed him. While it may not have been cold enough for a down jacket, it was certainly too cold for shorts.
I’m no wimp, but I would not wear shorts when the temperature dips below 45 degrees, for the sake of my knees. In fact, I would not ride any distance in temperatures below 55 degrees without knee protection. Exposing knees to such cold temperatures, especially with muscles taut from the cold, is a sure fired way to strain your knees. What was this guy thinking?
I was about to bestow a Darwin award upon him for not keeping his leg muscles and joints sufficiently warm when I noticed another cyclist in shorts. One was an anomaly, but two was a trend.
Given the lazy nature of the day, I had to get to the bottom of this. Why were people cycling in shorts with temperatures in the mid-40’s? Perhaps it was for the same reason I hadn’t taken my warm winter gear out of storage yet: they didn’t want winter to arrive.
These riders were clinging to the hope of more warm days. They were savoring the idea of summer, despite the bitter air. Maybe on some level, they were in denial that winter was around the corner, even if it was fall, and it was cold.
Attire can sometimes make us believe we are in a different time or a different place. It can alter our frame of mind. It can even make our bodies more resistant to cold. But, unfortunately, what it cannot do is ward off winter.