First day of winter.

The first day of winter has arrived. I’m referring, of course, to the actual first day – the celestial designation of December 21, the Winter Solstice. We’ve had plenty of other winter-like days already this year, including sub-zero wind chill factors, a dusting of snow, plummeting temperatures, and a couple of days of 45 mph winds. But those days – officially, at any rate – were still autumn. And now winter has officially arrived here in Missouri.

I hate riding indoors on a trainer. It’s boring and I suppose it’s really counterintuitive to say that you just don’t get to go anywhere on a trainer. Of course, it helps me to keep my legs in shape over the long, gray months and I do get to catch up on listening to music while I churn away, stationary and sweating. But I love forward progress. Movement… momentum! While forty-five minutes on a trainer seems like an eternity, it’s only enough to make me feel as though I’m only just getting started when I’m outside and moving down the road. But once the thermometer begins to hover at numbers below thirty-five degrees, I have little choice other than to put up or shut up. And so I mount the trainer in my studio and wait for a relatively wind-less day to stretch out to the mid-40’s.

Yesterday and the day before began in the upper thirties, but I was happy when Monday actually reached 48 and Tuesday 43 – riding weather! I tend to average around two hundred riding miles a week during the seven or eight months of warmer weather, but it’s amazing how fast I lose the “hill muscles” and sustainability when I’m not on the road every single day. Even though I spin on the trainer at the highest settings all winter long, it’s just not the same thing as riding up and down actual hills. With this a given, and coupled with the cold, I found myself huffing and puffing up comparatively short inclines yesterday!

Because the roads have been wet with melted snow, it seemed like a good day to ride my “winter bike,” the 1976 Centurion Super LeMans I picked up at a yard sale and built up for inclement weather. It’s got nice fat 27″ tires and I’ve added vintage aluminum fenders from an 80’s-era Peugeot. The MKS Touring pedals are great for this kind of riding and the rack-mount bag I have on the rear is great for when I’ve built up a head of steam and the perspiration forces me to stow my top layer someplace. On such days, I wear under armor with insulated wind tights, and a long-sleeved merino wool top. I can’t say enough about merino wool, by the way – it’s soft and bears the brunt of repeated rides without ending up smelling like the synthetics tend to do! It’s a costly material, especially if one decides upon a vintage or throwback cycling jersey, but I simply visit thrift stores in search of light weight sweaters made from the stuff. I have about a dozen on my shelf of cycling garmentry, and not one of them has cost me more than 75 cents!

My shoes are another matter though. I have Montrail trail runners, which are generally pretty great shoes for most purposes. They’re even slightly stiff in the soles and make a decent enough general purpose cycling shoe. They breathe incredibly well, which is a blessing in the hot months. It is, however, a decided drawback during the winter, and as a Diabetic my feet already get cold enough as it is. I need to get a good winter shoe to use but I haven’t decided upon a good option just yet. My ears, too, get cold and so I sometimes wrap a bandana around my head and ears. When the weather takes a turn toward the bitter, I have an ear wrap I originally purchased for skiing many years ago. It is like a headband with enlarged flaps to snugly cover one’s ears. It’s light, (mostly) unobtrusive, and works great.

I also have a lighting system that I mount on whatever bike I’m riding in the cold months – and not just for when the short days and overcast clouds turn the outdoors dark too soon, either. Drivers aren’t used to seeing cyclists in the winter in my part of the world and I turn on front and rear lights as a defensive measure.

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