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Bicycling in the winter, what to wear

Guest post from veteran KC urban bicyclist Shawn Tolivar

Winter bicycling at first might seem like a daunting task, It’s cold, dark, wet, and miserable. Why would anyone in their right mind do this? For many, bicycling seems like a Spring, Summer and Fall activity, and it’s only natural to store the bike for the winter. For others, winter bicycling is a necessity, a challenge, or just another day.   Let’s dive into the why, the how, and the what to wear.

The Why:

Winter in Kansas City is everything from zero-degree days to highs In the 50’s and 60’s, and sometimes both in the same day. Winter provides another season to get out and stay active. Winter cycling doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can pick your comfort level, but by putting your bike away for the season, you are going to miss many great days of cycling.

The How:

Pick your own comfort level. You may choose to ride on snow/ice free days and take the bus or drive on days when you feel it is too slippery or dangerous to ride.  How about combining public transportation with your ride?  Even just a day or two a week will help keep you in shape and energized.

Be mindful of snow, slush and ice.  Your bike should be in top condition, and you will want fenders or some way to keep water and grime from getting all over your clothes.  For a bit more grip, you might let a little air out of your tires. Lower pressure tires puts a bit more rubber on the road which can mean more grip.  I run mine about 10-20 psi lower in the winter. 

Lights and reflectivity are critical. You will want lights to light your way and to be visible to traffic. As the sun rises later in the morning and earlier in the evening, it is not uncommon for commutes to be in the dark both ways.

Bags, or Panniers. If your commute is more that a couple of miles, or work requires a certain dress code, you are going to need a good bag. I suggest either a waterproof backpack or waterproof Panniers such as Ortlieb Back Rollers to carry your change of clothes. A little trick I found is to also carry a large plastic shopping back inside to put in your wet cycling clothes. This keeps your wet clothes and shoes from getting the inside of your bag wet for when you change out of your day clothes for your commute home.

Clothes:

Let’s hear from three year-round commuters, Zeke, Matthew, and Maggie

Zeke:

Dress for the LAST mile, not the first, and lots of wool.  I have wool or wool blend underwear, socks, t-shirts, caps, arm warmers, leg warmers, gloves, and jerseys.

Protect your core, ears, fingers, & toes. (I have a bigger issue with my toes getting cold than I do with my fingers. There have been times that even in my winter shoes my toes are cold but I’ve taken my gloves off because my hands are so hot)

Layers and a bag (prefer on the bike vs on your back) to shed layers into if need be.

Oh, and a Positive Attitude. Sometimes the hardest part of the ride is getting out the door to do it.  

Matthew:

Wool, anything wool is good.

Hands: Wool glove liners for not so cold days, below 30° liners inside of Pearl Izumi Amfib lobster gloves, 30-40° liners with Specialized gloves

Head: 30-40° helmet liner, below 30, Walz wool cap with ear flaps, below 15 balaclava

Feet: Layer wool socks. 40° and above thin wool socks, 30-40° medium wool socks, below 30° heavier wool socks. As temps get colder, I layer thin wool socks with heavy or medium over them, and below 10° all three. This way when I ride home and its 20° warmer, I have some flexibility.

Thorax: 40° and above short sleeve wool jersey and windbreaker. 30°-40° long sleeve wool jersey with windbreaker. Below 30° I add a wool t-shirt to the above. Below 15 I add a polar fleece vest under shell.

Legs: Down to about 30° I wear bike shorts with 3/4 length pants, 20°-30° I wear full length shell pants,Below 20° I wear a pair of long underwear under a shell., Below 10° I would go with my Amfib tights.

Maggie:

Legs: Leggings or THICK tights (with a dress or skirt). Leggings or liners under dress pants (take off when get to work). Wool socks (ALWAYS– there are some taller wool knee socks that work well with skirts/dresses).  Leg warmers over socks and leggings (can coordinate with a dress/skirt)

Core: Top/dress + cardigan + thick coat (for a 3-4 mile commute). For a longer commute, you would burn up in a thick winter coat, so LAYER UP. Shirt + sweater/cardigan + one more layer + windbreaker jacket and a scarf.

Head: Ear band + scarf when it’s above 25°. Balaclava + scarf when less than 25°, and eye protection. I have not found a pair of goggles that I like, but when it dips into single digits, having eye protection is huge because the eyes get super cold and weird (plus your eye makeup freezes off)  

Hands. I bought thick snow gloves from Costco last year and they work well for my 3-4 mile commute. There is enough room to also put on a glove liner underneath as a second layer when it’s really cold. 

Shoes: I tend to ride in whatever shoe I wanna wear for the day but commuting in snow boots isn’t so bad. Plus, snow boots tend to be water resistant. Pack your work shoes in your bag or leave them at work.

Zeke, Matthew and Maggie have given us several things to think about.  A lot depends upon how far your commute is, what type of commute you have and what expectations you have when you get to your destination.  Sweat is you worst enemy in winter commuting. It makes you uncomfortable, and can cause a rapid cool down at stops which can make it hard to get warm again.  Experiment with what makes you comfortable, keeps you warm, but not over-heating and enjoy your winter bicycling.

Random E-bike Observations–November 4

Riding in on the State Liner (Route A) at 7:05a this morning, I was reminded how peaceful this route can be. By the time I reached the first busy street, the Southwest Boulevard, which is three-fourths of the way to my office, I had been overtaken by but a single car.

That’s five miles of nearly car-free riding, in the heart of the city courtesy of zero public bike infrastructure. All it took was an e-bike, the right route and an early start.

I’ve finally assembled most of my cold-weather riding gear. Today’s 46 degree temperature wasn’t really much of of a challenge for it, but certainly tougher tests are to come. If you’re interested in details, here’s what I’m wearing for our early fall mornings:

  • Wool cycling socks
  • Blue Jeans
  • Medium-weight polyester base layer from North Face on the Plaza (which I intended to soon compare to a Merino wool version)
  • Softshell cycling jacket in “Visibility Yellow” from Shawnee Trek store.
  • Merino wool beanie from Shawnee Trek.
  • Head gloves from Costco.

The softshell jacket is an adequate windbreaker even at 30 mph and everything is breathable, so I didn’t feel sweaty by the time I arrived.

I finally added a side mirror, and after just a few rides, I wouldn’t ride without it. I was reluctant because previously had a helmet-attached mirror, which was worthless.

All in all, a cloudy, dreary early November Monday morning is vastly improved by a bicycle commute to work.

Shortcuts added to routes

I use Route B: the Midtowner often to get from my office in the Crossroads to the Broadway Cafe in Westport. I would usually ride over to Main Street at 20th to pick up “B” and take it the rest of the way, and was perfectly content with that route.

Then Kevin Klinkenberg suggested I ride around the Penn Valley Park to Summit and then to my office. Turns out, it was a great suggestion, carving several minutes off the trip.

But it also presented a dilemma: how to add these segments to the overall map without it becoming too confusing and complex? The answer: short-cuts.

These routes are handy segments that are great for e-biking and may prove useful for some riders. But they don’t really justify a formal route of their own.

We’ve added two short-cuts to the system map to start. One is the Penn Valley cut, and the other is a reader-suggested route that connects KU Med and Route A to Westport and Route B along 41st Street. And we will add more as they are identified.

The short-cuts are on their own map layer, so they can be hidden to keep the overall map less cluttered. Like the major routes, the short-cuts can be downloaded to RidewithGPS for detailed directions on a smartphone.

My favorite weather app

I’m not one to let a little forecasted rain keep me from e-biking. But I don’t like riding in the rain either. That makes my choice of weather app important. 

I use AccuWeather (#2 weather app on Apple’s App Store; free). It provides a circle graphic that shows projected precipitation for the next 120 minutes. The length of the segment shows the duration and the color shows the intensity. And it gives a pretty dang accurate projection at a precise location.

Today the overall forecast was a 67% probability of rain. AccuWeather’s hourly forecast revealed a morning and afternoon window for riding that suited my schedule, so decided to ride. I took an unplanned detour to a coffeeshop to get some work done, and by the time I was ready to leave, rain was starting to come down. AccuwWeather’s “rain circle” showed light rain in the area for the next 7 minutes, so I took shelter for a bit and let it pass. The remainder of the drive was dry.

When I was ready to return home, I checked the rain circle:  no rain at my starting point for 120 minutes, but rain beginning in 28 minutes at my destination, a 25-minute ride away. So I had a 3 minute margin of error. A minute from home, it started to sprinkle. 

I find the AccuWeather to be, well, generally accurate, and very useful for trip planning like this. In six months of riding nearly every day I’ve only been caught in the rain once, and that’s because I didn’t check the forecast.


Connecting the downtowns

Want to see just how close KCK and KCMO downtown are? Just hop an e-bike and head west out of River Market. There’s a couple of options to get down to the West Bottoms, but taking Woodswether is the most enjoyable. The bridge coming out of River Market provides a great view of the river, and there’s almost never any traffic, From there, pick up the Riverfront Heritage Trail right under the never-ending construction on the Lewis and Clark viaduct. While dodging homeless people, residents of the community release center and some potentially other illegal activity, you’ll get a window into the KC you didn’t know well.

But not to worry, you’ll fly by it very quickly,

Soon you may encounter some lovely odors from a treatment plant, and enjoy “art” on concrete slabs.

Still, it’s all worth it. The bike/ped bridge over the Kaw must be the most unused piece of cool infrastructure in KC. Once across the bridge, you can either ride up the short hill to downtown KCK / Strawberry Hill, or take a turn and head to Kaw Point Park. The park, which used to be a dump, is another one of the best views of the city and a very unheralded place to sit and enjoy some beauty,

That total ride from River Market to KCK is about 5 minutes, No traffic, no parking issues, and a unique experience you won’t forget.

Why would anyone drive this?

Crosstown routes taking shape

North-south travel patterns dominate in KC, making identification of east-west (crosstown) routes difficult. There are fewer options; they are generally narrower and carry heavy traffic. So we’ve been slow to identify recommended crosstown routes. However, after a summer or riding, and thanks to the suggestions of readers, we’re beginning to add such routes to the map.

Our first, Route AA: Armour, uses the city’s only protected bike lanes as the backbone for a route that runs from Broadway on the west along Armour to where it becomes 35th Street east of MLK and all the way to Benton Boulevard, where it connects with Route G, the East Sider. It’s a straight shot. Along its relatively brief 2.4 mile route, it connects routes B, C, E and G and is one of the flattest routes possible in KC, with a maximum grade of 1.1%

Our second, Route BB: Meyer, runs from Route A: the State Liner at the Belinder Circle in Mission Hills east along Tomahawk to where it becomes Meyer Boulevard, and then along the entire length of Meyer to the front gates of Swope Park.

One glitch here: Google Maps only supports 10 layers, and since each route is on its own layer, we’ve hit the limit. Route BB, therefore, isn’t yet shown on Google Maps. We’ll probably need to restructure the map so all Crosstown routes are on the same layer, and then provide separate links to the RideWithGPS pages for these routes.

Katy Trail e-bike friendly

Fall is a wonderful time to ride the Katy Trail, and e-bikes are allowed. The trail speed limit is 20 mph and e-bikes are not subject to a power limit. Here’s a year old archived Reddit post about riding the Katy on an e-bike.

Quick Take: The Hyde Parker

Note: Quick Take posts are comments from a single ride along a route. As such they aren’t intended to be comprehensive evaluations or conclusive.

Today I strayed from my regular morning commute on Route A to take Route C: the Hyde Parker to get an impression of this route during rush hour. In particular I was worried that traffic would be breathing down my neck along Brookside Boulevard. I needn’t have worried. Traffic was light the whole way.

Here are some random observations:

  • I’m not sure if I were starting in Brookside and heading Downtown I would take this route. It may swing just a bit too far east. Route C comes near connecting the southern end of Route B: the Midtowner, so I think it’s worth seeing if they can be connected. On the other hand it was 25 minutes from Brookside to Downtown, which isn’t too bad.
  • For its namesake neighborhoods (South, Central and North Hyde Park) as well as for Longfellow, this is a fabulous route. I used to ride Gillham, enduring the traffic for what I perceived was a more direct route. Yet the Holmes/Charlotte pair used by Route C is far better in all respects.
  • The only point of congestion was in the middle of the Truman Med complex thanks to a long line of delivery trucks camped in the left lane. It warranted an extra measure of caution.
  • The Holmes/Charlotte section is amazingly quiet. It felt like a Sunday morning.
  • The pavement along the route was in reasonably good condition–especially by KC standards

Reconsidering Grand Avenue. Nope.

Our downtown routes use Walnut Street, one block west of the official Grand Avenue dedicated, unprotected bike lanes that were over seven years in the making.

In the spirit of always searching for a better route and always questioning the existing routes, I reconsidered whether we were right–whether Walnut beats Grand. And after all, a lot of time, energy and money was spent on the Grand Avenue lanes. Grand is a wider street. It’s the official way to go. So I did what we do: I got on my bike. I rode the streets in traffic.

And yeah no, Grand stinks.

It’s a bone-rattling, frame shattering ride. The condition of the pavement is simply dreadful. And it’s not from potholes, but from endless street cuts and terrible patch jobs. In many places, the utility covers are several inches below the street surface–a kind of intentional, permanent pothole. So unless the intent was to create a bike slalom course, this street should never have been considered until repaved curb to curb.

And of course there is no maintenance of the painted lane markers, which are now badly faded and incomplete. Apparently it’s acceptable to pour a big pad of concrete and simply ignore the need to re-stripe for the bike lanes.

At several intersections, the bike markings completely disappear and it’s not at all clear where a cyclist is supposed to be once they arrive at the other side of the intersection.

I know we have ambitions to climb the rankings of cycling friendly cities, and I’m optimistic that someday we will, but I’d suggest that until we’re serious about doing better, that someone from the city go down and power wash this mess away.

So is Walnut a great route? No. But it’s better than Grand, and our routes that use it stand unchanged for now.

California provides incentives for e-bike purchases

California Governor Gavin Newsom has just signed legislation that expands the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program to include vouchers for e-bikes. The bill is California Senate Bill 400 (SB 400). The program has provided support for buying electric, hybrid, and plug-in cars and mobility options such as car-sharing memberships and transit passes. Now e-bike purchases are included.

An editorial in Outside Magazine makes the case that the current $375 million in annual subsidies for electric cars would go a long way if applied to e-bike purchases instead.