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Riding when it's COLD!

Riding when it's COLD!

Cold-Weather Riding in Northern California

Car driving on snowy roadPerson with bike standing on snowy road

01/29/02- IF YOU THOUGHT PARKING was sometimes a problem at our Redwood City store (with the construction next door), look at the lengths the guy in the truck (left photo) went to!  These photos are from my ride up King's Mtn on 1/29/02.  Curiously, I was the only one who showed up.  Not even any tire tracks from other bikes in the snow and ice.  Rather fun at the top, watching cars have to turn around because they couldn't negotiate the ice at the Kings/Skyline intersection.  How I got through it I don't know, but it was one of those few times I was actually thankful for sand on the road!

12/22/98...almost as cold as the day of the month! 

Bicycle Riders looking at weather forcast Monday night you listen intently to the weather reports...Tuesday morning is going to be the coldest day on the SF Peninsula in 10 years! Four of us rode the Tuesday/Thursday climb up King's Mtn, including Renee V, a runner who has seen the light, Dick Kiser & Bruno Colchen from our Redwood City store and, of course, myself (Mike). Note the 26 degree temp on the Radar computer and the smiling faces. Right now we're laughing in the face of absurdity.
Just a short distance into the ride and we hit the coldest spot I know of on the Peninsula...just a quarter mile or so prior to the climb on King's Mtn Road. We're now at 23 degrees, and the smiles are gone. How could three degrees make such a difference?  I'm not sure, but even hours later nobody's in a mood to repeat the experience to find out! Bicycle riders dressed for winter riding
Bicycle riders dressed for winter riding The payoff. About halfway up the climb you begin to see snow at the side of the road; but shortly before the top it looks like a scene from the Sierras! Plus it's a nice 28 degrees at this point, and the climb has kept us warm. Shown here are Bruno, Renee and Mike (one of the few pictures of me on the website); Dick's taking the picture.
The top! Normally we'd head left (south) on Skyline and take 84 back down to Woodside, but the possibility of large amounts of ice across the road led us back down the same way we came (which, surprisingly, had very little ice). And normally, we'd complain about a temperature of 28 degrees. Clearly, we're anything but normal. Bicycle riders dressed for winter riding
Bicycle riders dressed for winter riding Halfway back down King's Mtn we just had to stop and admire the spectacular view. This is just below the Huddart Park entrance, and it also had the attraction of a relatively-balmy 36 degrees and radiant sun! This was yet another memorable ride, and perhaps even more so since we were the only cyclists on the road... everybody else stayed in their nice warm houses and probably thought that nobody in their right mind would be out on a day like this.

February 8, 1998...CABIN FEVER!!!
It had been two and a half weeks since I'd been on my bike, partly due to being out of town on business, and partly due to nasty weather.  Well, that much time off the bike really takes its toll on me...blood pressure rises, belt tightens, and one has to start considering whether you can really eat that next doughnut or not.

Well, Saturday night I pretty much decided I was going to ride on Sunday, one way or another.  The weatherman had said that we were supposed to get a brief break in the storms that have been pounding us lately, with another storm moving in later Sunday afternoon.  So at my wife's prodding, I go out in the morning since, even though it was raining a bit, it was supposed to be much worse in the afternoon.

So I leave in what is quickly becoming "real" rain and not a drizzle.  In fact, within three or four minutes from my house, it is really coming down!   Fortunately I'm prepared for this, with Bellwether rain pants, a TREK Gore-Tex jacket, standard jersey, Hind arctic-drylete base layer, full-finger gloves & neoprene booties.  Oh yeah, also one of those drylete face masks that make you look like you're planning to rob a convenience store!

My original plan had been to ride up King's Mountain Road and back...and with the rain growing ever-heavier, this seemed optimistic.  But somehow the absurdity of it spurred me on, and the climb up Kings Mountain, which started at a very slow pace, quickly picked up speed.  I remembered just how great it was to be out on a bike, and the weather was nasty enough that I didn't even have to worry about sharing the road with many cars!  In fact, the many impromptu creek crossings and boulders fallen on the road greatly outnumbered the cars I saw along the way (which is just as well, since visibility was not great).

At the top, I decide to head down Tunitas Creek a ways to see the various wash outs that are supposed to render the road impassable...but none were to be found, and I headed back towards skyline via Starr Hill road.  What I forgot was that the turn onto Swett road (which actually takes you back to Skyline) proceeds up a short, but very steep (10%?) grade, and I literally circled around the bottom four times before deciding to go for it, not believing that my wheels wouldn't slip out from under me.  Amazingly, traction was not a problem (and, in fact, I can't say enough about the wet-weather capabilities of the Conti GranPrix 3000).  The temperature at this point had dropped to 39 degrees...still with a heavy rain.  But I was enjoying life...must have been some special ingredient in that latest batch of Cytomax.

Once on Skyline you head down to SkyLonda, past a very impressive rock slide on the left (that looks like a lot more could come down at any moment!) and a lot of very slimy roadway.  The descent was without incident, but got to admit that it was great to be at the bottom and get back to work pedaling...that 39 degree stuff interspersed with downhills makes it difficult to contemplate long-term survival!

All in all, a really great two hours on the bike (which is now "draining" in the garage).  When I was young, stupid & had no future, this was the type of thing I did all the time...but somehow it seemed even more fun this time.

January 1st, 1998
...the annual New Year's Day ride up Mount Hamilton.   No, this isn't a "scheduled" or published's just something a lot of us do every year, sometimes rain or shine.  It's a great way to start the year, and it means that, no matter what else happens the rest of the year, at least you accomplished something!

This year there were fewer people on "the hill" than usual, despite beautiful weather (47 degrees at the bottom at 8:30am, up to the high-50s in the middle of the climb, and a breezy 51 degrees at the top).  I believe four people were on the hill ahead of me, three of which we passed on the way up and the fourth must have left very early since he was heading down by the time we were only 1/4 up the hill!  But overall, probably 30 people this year (but again, remember that this isn't any sort of formal's just something people do...but I've seen probably up to 100 people some years!).

I wish I could say this was an easy ride for me, but this year that wasn't the case.   I was recovering from my second case of a throat infection in three weeks, and hadn't been doing a lot of riding...but it still felt great just being out there.   Maybe not nearly as fast as years past (heck, nowhere near as fast...this one was 1:54 for the climb up!)...but it was worth it.  And the usual spectacular views on the way up, and, at my speed, plenty of time to enjoy them!

One thing that sure hasn't changed...the descent is as bad as ever.  This has to be one of the all-time least enjoyable descents on the planet...18 miles of narrow twisty curves, broken road surfaces and gravel at random intervals...and the few spots where it straightens out aren't steep enough to get any speed up!  In fact, you actually look forward to the 2 mile-long sections where you climb instead of descend.

Read about our 1999 Mt Hamilton ride!

January 14th (1998)- 27 degrees, on a road bike, and almost comfortable!Some nights you go to bed looking forward to the next-morning's ride. Then others, almost hope for nasty rain so you have an excuse not to go out because it's going to be soooooooo cold. This was one of those days. The weatherman said it might be the coldest day of the year, and darned if he wasn't right. But, with the right clothing, it really wasn't that bad. Here's what it took-

Wool cycling socks (80% wool, 20% stretch nylon) from Superwool
TREK neoprene booties
Drylete tights (or TREK Polartek, or Pearl Izumi Ultra-Sensor, all roughly equivalent)
Standard cycling shorts (any type, mine are TREK century)
Drylete base layer (mine is Hind, but the TREK Polartek is virtually the same thing)
Standard jersey over base layer (the type makes very little difference, since the base layer performs all the magic!)
Conventional "fluffy" sweater garment...just adds a bit of bulk to hold air
TREK Gore-tex jacket
TREK Polar-fleece gloves

This combination is quite comfortable without excessive bulk. The ride varied from 27-35 degrees (temperature verified with a TREK radar cycling computer...highly recommended!), and really wasn't that bad. Of course, still had some of that fun feeling in the shower as the toes are thawing out and half-itch/half-hurt. But over-all, it was a good ride, even though its 1600-foot climb up King's Mountain Road sure seems a lot steeper during the winter!

Oh yes. I should add that Chain Reaction sells everything mentioned above, although the exact gloves (the TREK Polar-fleece) are no longer made so we'll have to set you up with a suitable alternative. But, as you can see, we ride what we sell and our practical experience can turn your potentially miserable ride into, well, at least a survivable experience that you can live and talk about!

December 11, 1997, 7:30am and I remember

  • Why I don't like winter
  • Why I could never live in the Midwest
  • Why don't I just eat less so I could skip those 35-degree mornings and not have to worry about that "plop" feeling when you bend over and that roll of skin (ok, flab) pops over your beltline?

Last updated 12/19/06