Thursday, February 13, 2014

Urban Winter

Mother Nature has seen fit to remind us what winter is really about. She thinks we have gotten soft with the past few mild years. From what I have seen from the news and listening to the hum of the masses, she was correct. I would say on a scale of A to F, her grade for us would be a D-.

This is my first winter in over a decade that I have not had full time access to the comforts of a car. In the span of a few months I have had to adapt to commuting by both bus and bike, braving these single positive and double digit negative temperatures. These are  the most important things I have learned in that time
SLC-360 Instructor Torc Binns
A good and comfortable base layer is a must. With a good base layer, you can focus on the other layers. Balance is the key here, knowing how many layers and of what do you need. When the cold blast hit, I over did it with a base layer, heavy pants, coveralls, insulated hoodie and my M-1 flight jacket. It made for stiff riding and overheating became an issue. I have since dropped the hoodie and went to khakis and let the coveralls cover my legs and core, the M-1 blocks the wind and lets my arms breath (the area of heaviest perspiration for me.)

Bike messenger inspired bags have outdone my pedestrian packs. I have two packs, a hiker and a military design. My hiker bag was roomy and water resistant, worked decently when I compartmentalized my gear, but I had to work my gear to match my pack. The problem was worse with my assault pack. It has too many compartments, too many zippers and not waterproof off the line.

I have purchased two bags from cycling oriented companies, The High Roller from Green Guru Gear and a Chrome Bravo. Both are top rolling closures, a large bag with carrying hardware. The High Roller is made from recycled bike tubes, storm proof and will fit my gear, not the other way around. I could easily pack my compartment bags, rain gear, food, and the like and still know all would be dry. The Bravo is a backpack style, more room than I know what to do with, bombproof and with hardware that will last forever, lifetime warranty of construction included. It can grow with my gear and is easy to access all compartments, all of which are storm proof. Between the two I have 76L of space at my disposal.

The Urban sprawl can be as challenging as any trail, sometimes doubly so. With the variations of snow, ice, rain and at times all three and add people and cars. My typical commute puts my concentration to the test but getting around has been much easier. Like on foot, cycling around a city is not restrictive as with a car and can be a lot faster. You also learn the lay of the land like no other way. Find a guide or take part in city group rides to learn the city. It is knowledge well worth the time.
Studded snow tires are a must if you are going to be riding side streets and bridges. A lesson learned at the hands of ice and sudden greetings from the asphalt. There has been nothing I cannot transverse with my snow tires and a down shift of gears. Unfortunately they will not last past the season, so having a few sets doesn't hurt.
Light yourself up like The 4th of July

With all the distractions a driver has already, watching for a cyclist or pedestrian falls to the bottom of the priority list. So help them out. Find the brightest lights you can and preferably multiple lights. I have three tail lights, one on my rack, one on my seat post and one on my helmet. I use Knog Blinders personally. They are blindingly bright and have a number of different flash patterns to get and keep people’s attention. Use them any time you are out and about, day or night
And know your watering holes. I know the location and hours of the majority of the coffee shops on both sides of the river. So I am not far from a recharge, food or shelter if needed. Getting to know the locals also can help if you get stuck in city should SHTF. The cycling community can be a valuable network in such situations.

Taking to the sprawl by cycle brings the Scouts motto “Be Prepared” to mind daily. Unlike my earlier prepping efforts, this is a daily thing, not a plan for the future. I wake up; checking the weather, temperature at that time of morning, having to decide, in a sleep fogged mind, what I need for the day, what it’s going to be packed in, thinking on the conditions will I be encountering and what routes I need to take for the safest, easiest commute.

It’s said that the city is a concrete jungle, to me it is one large obstacle course.

by SLC-360 contributing writer and
Urban Skills Instructor
Torc Binns

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