From BikeDC to Missoula, MT: Freezing Saddles with Emma W.

One of the reasons I became interested in Freezing Saddles was thanks to all the posts of support made by Emma W. – who I interviewed this summer for my Women BikeDC series – on the Women & Bicycles Facebook group. She first exposed me to the idea that Freezing Saddles might embrace a larger group of riders than I initially thought.

Emma has since moved away from BikeDC, but she continues to participate in the Freezing Saddles challenge from her new home in Missoula. That’s right. The Missoula in Montana, a place that delivers winters distinct to those we usually experience in D.C.

Thanks for being our far-flung Freezing Saddles correspondent in Missoula, Emma! Tell us a bit about your riding.

I started riding for health reasons – to combine my commute with a workout – in the fall of 2011. I started commuting year round in 2013. I rode for transportation. I increased time spent on my bike, and then started using it for weekend recreation as well.

Now, I primarily ride my bike for transportation. I don’t own a car and live less than a mile from work. I’m also getting into mountain biking, and I’m currently shopping for a mountain bike!

Emma and the snowbike. Courtesy of Emma Wimmer
Emma and the snowbike. Courtesy of Emma Wimmer
What kind of riding do you generally do during the winter?

My boring transportation commute. I’d like to do some longer weekend rides, which might be my goal this month as the roads and paths are becoming clearer and my cabin fever is reaching a pitch.

What inspired you to join Freezing Saddles the first time?

The first time I joined Freezing Saddles, it was to get myself out there in the cold. To no longer have an excuse to take the bus. I needed that extra push to get me out the door on my saddle instead of on the bus.

I only missed two riding days that year (2013), and rode more than I ever imagined, even riding in snow and ice.

How many times have you done the Freezing Saddles challenge, and why have you continued to do it?

This is my third year doing Freezing Saddles and I continue to do it for the motivation. I’m more motivated to get out there and ride at least a mile every day so I don’t let my team down.

I love the social aspect of the forum and the Strava groups. While it’s not possible any more, in the past, I enjoyed doing rides with teammates or other participants who aren’t on my team. I also like meeting other people who love cycling, and having an excuse to go for a ride!

What is it like for you to ride Freezing Saddles in Missoula while the majority of participants are in the D.C. area?

It makes me a little sad, I have a little bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I love Missoula and the lifestyle here. I may be biking less, but I’m cross-country skiing more! I love my job here at Adventure Cycling Association, but I miss my 10-mile commute. I miss having the hordes of cyclists in BikeDC to ride with.

Sometimes, though, it’s ironic. It’ll be snowing and nasty here, but my D.C. teammates are riding in beautiful weather. A few weeks ago, it switched – a huge D.C. blizzard really encouraged me to do a sleaze ride before leaving on a ski trip!

I like the extra challenge here in Missoula. They don’t plow side streets (which can often be my favorite routes), so I’ve finally put on studded tires. I’ve really gotten used to riding on thick ice, especially the little half block of rutted alleyway from my house. Fishtailing and ruts are good practice for my summer singletrack, right?

Mostly I am glad Freezing Saddles is letting remote participants this year (provided we participated in the past) because Freezing Saddles is what makes me absolutely LOVE winter riding.

April and Emma, courtesy of Emma Wimmer
April and Emma, courtesy of Emma Wimmer
What is your approach to Freezing Saddles?

Last year, I competed with myself. The first year I participated, I rode every day except two, and hit just under 1000 miles total. (The challenge runs from January 1 through March 29.)

The second year, I rode every day and passed the 1000-mile mark! This year it’s a bit different. I’m not sure I qualify for any prizes, and those last-minute airline tickets are too pricey to allow me to visit D.C. for the ending happy hour, so I make my own competition with myself.

This year, I hope to be the everyday rider with the lowest mileage. Creative, and sort of bizarre!

The team aspect of Freezing Saddles is very encouraging, with every person doing their part, so to speak. One year, our team tried to keep up with the person closest to our mileage in the team directly ahead (or behind) us.

We ended in first place, so maybe this strategy worked? SLOPPY SECONDS 4 LYFE!

What do you enjoy most about Freezing Saddles?

The social aspect times 100! I miss not being in D.C. for the Freezing Saddles kickoff and closing happy hours, the little team rides and Best Buns visits, or rides after work off the Capital Crescent trail really makes me miss BikeDC even more than usual.

I still hang out on the forum, though, and have been chatting with my team (the Thundercats) on Strava as well. I love seeing everybody’s rides, too!

As part of Freezing Saddles, you must also use Strava. How do you like using Strava?

I LOVE STRAVA. When I first started biking, I had no idea how long I was biking or how fast I was going. I had no bike computer.

I’m not sure when I added Strava, but after I did, I occasionally started recording rides. I loved noticing how much faster my commute would become. I could see if, on days when I felt like I was going really fast, whether I really was. If I didn’t get enough sleep the night before a ride, I saw that I might not be as fast.

I like being able to post pictures of your ride, seeing where you went (very helpful for wayfinding in a new place), and seeing where the people you follow on Strava go.

Using Strava even encouraged me to start recording my other activities, like walking or hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

I’m not really *that* into the competitive aspect of Strava, at least with other people. Of course it’s great to get that QOM (queen of the mountains) notification, until someone steals it anyway. I like seeing PRs (personal records) though, and fastest/second fastest times on segments.

I know some people criticize the timing of segments and the KOM/QOM notifications due to the danger of people wanting to get those titles and riding dangerously (such disregarding traffic and egregiously breaking the law [c’mon, we all roll through stop signs…but blowing through a red light where there are cars going?]). Riding dangerously due to your Strava profile is a choice (some? stupid?) people make.

Emma's Globe, doing the winter work. Courtesy of Emma Wimmer
Emma’s Globe, doing the winter work. Courtesy of Emma Wimmer
Let’s talk about your essential winter setup.
What bike do you ride?

I ride a Globe “Work” from 2012. Globe is a former subsidiary of Specialized, and I don’t think it is made anymore.

My Globe is great. I returned to biking as an adult and used it as my first commuter, and it’s now become sort of a beater/around town bike, particularly for the winter.

It’s not too heavy, but sturdy enough. The drop top tube makes it a little steadier to get on and off when you’re on slickery* ground, and it’s a very comfortable ride. Going slow is no problem, and I’m not tempted to go too fast.

I have got fenders on the Globe, a rack to carry my stuff, and a chain guard, which keeps my clothes clean. I like that this bike can take wider tires. I’m on 28 studs right now, but it came stock with 38s.

The Globe is my older bike so I don’t feel bad “abusing” it. Someday, I’d like a fatbike, for those deep snow days!

*Editor’s note: Slickery is a Midwest term, no? I’ve only heard slickery used there.

What clothing and cycling gear do you consider essential for riding through the winter?

Essentials are SO tough. It really has been pretty mild here, but for the worst winter weather my essentials are:

  • Face mask of some type.
  • Thin hat or ear band for under helmet.
  • Wool socks.
  • Winter boots.
  • EITHER long underwear OR knee/leg warmers. Both is best, but you don’t NEED both.
  • Beefy gloves. Ski gloves are great; they don’t have to be cycling specific
  • Lights!

Things that are really NICE to have (in order of expense):

  • Bar Mitts.
  • Studded tires.
  • Second wheel set for those studded tires if you only have one bike that you can really take advantage of and abuse in the nasty weather. I’m using my old hybrid, which has become quite a good townie/beater bike.

Currently, I have Bar Mitts and studded tires on my hybrid. I wear a Buff, headband, and wool cycling cap under my helmet.

Usually I bike in my regular work clothes (which are casual). Since it’s winter, I wear long underwear of some variety nearly every day, as well as wool socks.

For my old setup (when I only had one bike), I used Continental Travel Contact tires (smooth down the middle, a bit of knob on the sides). I regularly wore a full-on balaclava under my helmet, and wore a cycling-specific outfit of bike shorts, knee warmers, long underwear on top, wool socks, a cheapo outdoorsy jacket from Costco.

On really cold days, I wore my vintage Sorel Caribou boots, and vintage Cabela’s ski gloves. My parents gave me the last two items, because they no longer needed them. That exact outfit kept me warm even in the lowest temperatures (anyone else remember the polar vortex?).

What lights and reflective-wear do you use for shorter days?

My saga of lights includes a Serfas True 250. It was my first powerful bike light, and it was stolen. Well, I forgot it somewhere, went back for it, and it was gone.

That was followed by a Cygolite Metro 360. I lost that one going down a bumpy mountain pass. So much for secure attachments!

My most recent light is a Light & Motion Urban 650.

For the rear, I use a Fly6. I had a Serfas Thunderbolt that I also lost. I miss that light!!!

USB rechargeable is ESSENTIAL for me because it’s easier and means I’m not buying batteries all the time. As long as your light allows you to see (e.g., on a trail) and be seen (e.g., in the city), you’re good.

I like to have a driving friend sit in their car while I bike around the neighborhood a bit, and ask them how well they can see me to test.

Wow, that is an expansive collection of lights you’ve gone through, Emma. Now how about reflectives?

I used to have a hideous reflective vest (which I feel are very effective), but I lost it in my move. Ankle straps are good (and cheap), but I don’t typically use those, either.

My pannier is super-reflective, and I have a green, reflective “Freezing Saddles” band (thanks, Steve-O!) around my seat tube. A friend saw me riding one night (while she was driving home) and I asked her how visible I was. She said “SUPER visible!!”

Alright, Emma, what’s so great about riding through the winter?
  • Feeling tough.
  • Not buying a car.
  • Still getting in my (greatly reduced amount of) exercise.
  • Enjoying the fresh air, and freezing your butt off on the move instead of waiting for the bus.
  • Fewer people on the trails (This was more applicable when I was in D.C. There are not so many paved trails here).

There are a lot of winter bike commuters in Missoula, though! And this town is really so small, that it doesn’t make sense to drive.

Milwaukee Trail in Missoula, with Mount Jumbo in the background. Courtesy of Emma Wimmer
Milwaukee Trail in Missoula, with Mount Jumbo in the background. Courtesy of Emma Wimmer
Is there a threshold below which you will not ride? 

Nope! I’ll ride in anything.

Maybe if a derecho were to blow through, I might not ride. There was a tiny microburst my first month here and THAT was terrifying. Wind and falling branches are much worse – and more dangerous – than polar vortexes.

Bad weather and temperatures may affect how or where I ride, though. I might not go on a long ride if it’s very cold or snowy here simply because there are not very safe places to ride in that weather. The further away from town I am here in Missoula, the more danger I am in of dying of exposure or something if I couldn’t get back home (this is obviously a bit hyperbolic, but you get my point).

What would you say to somebody who is interested in riding through the winter, but doesn’t know where to start?

Start with warm clothing. It makes riding in the winter a much more pleasant experience.

And you don’t have to splurge on bike specific clothing. Use those old ski gloves you found at the thrift store. Costco has great merino-blend base layers in the fall/winter. Wool socks can also be sourced there.

Don’t feel like you HAVE to ride EVERY day. If you’ve biked through a chilly fall, just add more layers.

If you don’t want to do your usual rides, try a short errand. Ride a mile away to get coffee. If you can do those short trips and dress appropriately, change up your layers and go longer! Convince your friends to ride with you when it’s cold but not icy/snowy.

What is the biggest challenge to riding in the winter?

The first year, getting my layers right was incredibly difficult. I would frequently overheat on my commute.

The other big challenge is just getting out there, especially on those gray days. Or, for the Freezing Saddles competition, it’s tough to go out to ride a mile (the minimum qualifying ride) after putting it off all day.

Keeping the rubber down can also be difficult! I’ve only fallen once so far this winter – on a huge patch of ice in a roundabout. They don’t really plow streets here. I’ve fallen in winters past, too.

Another challenge (in Missoula) is finding people to ride with when the weather is like this. A lot of them (and it’s becoming me, too,) would rather go skiing.

I think skiing is also a good alternative, Emma. Whatever gets you out the door into the fresh air! Thank you again, for being part of the Freezing Saddles interview series, and a big hello to you from BikeDC.

Ride Like Your Life Depends On It: Liz and Exu

One of the most referenced posts on this blog is about naming one’s bike. I never thought much of calling my bike by anything but the name the maker gave it. Then I received this beautiful post from BikeDC’s own Liz MacGregor.

In her writing, Liz shows how a bicycle can be an intimate companion that also represents a new lease on life. And when that happens, how can you not give your bike a name?

Thank you, Liz, for sharing the story of you and your bike, Exu.

Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Will Lynn
Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Will Lynn
In the pantheon of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, Exu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, the opener of doors. He has special responsibility for travelers and roads, especially crossroads.

But Exu is also a trickster, a harsh teacher always ready with a lesson to humble the proud. His colors are black and red, and his salutation is “Laroyê Exu!” which means, “Protect me,” or more literally, “Save me, Exu!”

When I purchased a new commuter, a black and red Cannondale, “Exu” seemed an obvious choice to christen my bike. After all, I am a year-round commuter with a 29-mile round trip.

I go through 41 intersections, and that’s just on my way to work. To invoke divine protection for my travels – protection from the elements, trail hazards such as deer, and most of all, from motorized vehicles piloted by inattentive drivers – seemed a sensible hedge.

My suspicions that Exu would also be more than willing to play a few jokes on me were confirmed within a few days. As I perched in a wobbly trackstand, pondering which way to turn, Exu unceremoniously dumped me to the pavement in the middle of a lonely suburban intersection.

Exu at the Cherry Blossoms. Photo credit Liz MacGregor
Exu at the Cherry Blossoms. Photo credit Liz MacGregor
But I was looking to Exu for protection and salvation from more than just the assorted road hazards I expected to encounter. Six-and-a-half years ago, nearing the end of chemotherapy, I had peppered my oncologist with questions, based on exhaustive online research, about how to prevent a recurrence of cancer.

She gently interrupted me, looked directly into my eyes, and sagely intoned, “If you want to prevent a recurrence of cancer, you need to get your weight into a healthy range and get an hour of vigorous exercise every day.”

Exu in Ashland, Oregon, on a 24% grade. Photo credit Liz Macgregor
Exu in Ashland, Oregon, on a 24% grade. Photo credit Liz Macgregor
Before my diagnosis, I had been an intermittent bike commuter. It was the convenient way for a harried mother and professional to exercise, but also the first thing to be sacrificed when the schedule was too full.

The oncologist continued talking but my mind wandered off. I had not been on a bike, or done any other real physical activity, since my diagnosis seven months earlier.

I thought of the last new commuting bike, purchased two months before my diagnosis, gathering dust under the basement steps.

There is virtually nothing I can control about this nightmare, I thought. But give me one thing that’s in my control. One thing that I can do, and that I love to do. I’m going to ride as if my life depends on it. Laroyê Exu.

Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Mark Blacknell
Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Mark Blacknell
My return to the bicycle was accompanied by an urgency and seriousness of purpose that had not existed before. Gradually, my mixed mode commute – 12 miles round trip by bike, the rest by train – gave way to a bicycle-only commute. Two days per week became three, which led to four, and then some riding on the weekend, too.

In a gesture of defiance, I rode my bike to and back home from one of my last chemotherapy appointments. Riding became a refuge; two hours of daily solitude in a life that was hectic and sometimes sad.

Riding was a chance to get lost in thought or have no thoughts at all. Sometimes, I rode just to get lost. It was a routine or habit that became second nature. Riding made me feel healthy even as I harbored doubts about whether reality matched the brave front I put up.

I have a well-rehearsed answer when someone asks, “Is it safe?” Eight-five percent of my commute is on a protected trail or bike lane. After all these years, the urban drivers and I know each other well, and have long since made peace with our imperfect coexistence.

Danger panda. Photo credit Liz MacGregor, of course
Danger panda. Photo credit Liz MacGregor, of course
But really, I just want to reply, “How is it safe not to?” I’m a human being, a living creature. I am not meant to be passive. I am meant to be out in the world, to move, power up a hill panting, go flying down the other side as if ready to take flight.

I’m meant to feel the hot sun beating down on my back, and to gingerly brace myself against a fierce crosswind on a dark, frigid night. To overcome the tedium of thousands of pedal strokes over the same route, day after day, by making it transcendent.

To do more than exist. To live. What’s the point of being alive, if not to live? I have to do this. I ride as if my life depends on it.

Laroyê Exu!

What’s Stopping You? A Freezing Saddles Talk with Carol C.

As Washington, D.C. continues its major dig out from the weekend Snowzilla/MakeWinterGreatAgain storm (yeah, I know it’s not like this other places, believe me I know), I’m kicking off a new interview series about winter riding and the D.C.-area’s Freezing Saddles competition. I’m participating for the first time, and I wrote about that here.

My first interview is with Carol, who is also my Freezing Saddles teammate (Team 4: The Fourth Awakens!). Carol is a long-time transportation cyclist who rides year round and is participating in the Freezing Saddles competition for the third time. Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing your knowledge with us, and for starting us off. Continue reading What’s Stopping You? A Freezing Saddles Talk with Carol C.

Blizzard Weekend in Washington, D.C.

After months of unseasonably warm temperatures and thoughts that winter might pass us by, mother nature treated the D.C. area  (or punished, depending on who you ask) to record-setting snowfall.

Exactly how much snow is still somewhat in dispute, since weather officials at National Airport failed to follow the recommended snow measuring technique. Continue reading Blizzard Weekend in Washington, D.C.

New Year, New Me: Freezing Saddles

At the encouragement of my randonneur and real life spouse, I signed up for a D.C.-area winter cycling challenge called Freezing Saddles. Now in its fourth or fifth year, Freezing Saddles has woven itself into the fabric of the local cycling community, such that it feels like it has always been here.

The challenge began on January 1 and runs until the first day of spring on March 20– one of my favorite days! All participants are divided into teams of around 10 or so people. The full set of rules is here, and a shorter summary follows below: Continue reading New Year, New Me: Freezing Saddles

Will Ride (or Run) for Kudos. Joining Strava

The virtual world of Strava always struck me as a dangerous place. A place where people competed for the fastest times on arbitrary segments of road, sometimes at their own peril– or worse, by risking the safety of others.

Strava was a world for spirited, competitive roadies. Transportation and touring cyclists like me need not join. That suited me fine. My private Excel spreadsheet was all I needed. Continue reading Will Ride (or Run) for Kudos. Joining Strava

The Right Tool for the Job: Bike Friday Tikit Commutes

Over our many years together, the relationship between my Bike Friday Tikit and me has been nothing if not tumultuous.  Continue reading The Right Tool for the Job: Bike Friday Tikit Commutes

Forward: Run Goals Unlocked

Normally around this time of year, I find myself in a state of contemplation, reflecting on the year behind me. I thought I’d post a summary or two about 2015 running and cycling, but when I sat down to write, it didn’t work.

This year I devoted a lot of time to “big thoughts,” sad thoughts, fears. I reflected on how I can do things now that I may not be able to do in the future. I thought about how good health is a gift that can only be maintained and managed to a certain point, and then an event will happen to remind us that nothing is a fountain of youth. Continue reading Forward: Run Goals Unlocked

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015: Finishers and Honorable Mentions

‘Twas the night before Coffeeneurmas, and all through the house… As we all know, coffeeneuring is a season, not a day, and what a great season it’s been. This year, 247 people rode their bikes to the finishers circle, and 8 achieved Honorable Mention.

Finally, the time to announce the Finishers and Honorable Mentions for the 2015 Coffeeneuring Challenge has arrived. Thanks to everyone for their patience as I organized the submissions. Continue reading Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015: Finishers and Honorable Mentions

Last Ditch Efforts

Annual mileage goals– I never set them, preferring to focus on the events or plans I make in any given year.

And yet, when the twilight of any given year is upon me I find myself inventing, and then fervently striving, for an arbitrary finish line.

My accumulated miles for 2015 are not really remarkable, but I’ll share them anyway.

Bicycle miles: 5,975

6,000 miles is just around the corner.

Danger panda

Running miles: 916

Tantalizingly close to 1,000. But 1,000? Feels overly lofty.
So how about 950? Better. Likely, even.

This matters why? I’ll let you know if I come up with an answer.

But I have done the math and roughly mapped out plans from now until midnight on December 31. They’re in perpetual draft, but they do exist.

I admit it’s a bit silly. Does anybody else do this?

No matter. A little sport in December helps keep end-of-year activities interesting.

Wish me luck!

Coffeeneurmas Gift List

Holiday time is here, jingaling, a time where many of us rack our brains to think of gifts for those dear to us. To help, I’ve put together a little Coffeeneurmas Gift List for the coffeeneur in your life. Continue reading Coffeeneurmas Gift List

Coffeeneuring 2015: Almost There! Still Time to Submit, and Honorable Mention, Too!

It’s the Coffeeneuring Challenge’s biggest year yet, with more people participating than ever before! After weeks of compiling, most results have been entered into the official Coffeeneuring Challenge database. It’s taken the judges and the coffeeneuring administrative staff longer this year due to (insert excuses here).

Even if you missed the deadline, there is still a window to submit. And, if you were unable to complete all seven rides but did at least half of them, then how about sending in your entries for Honorable Mention? Continue reading Coffeeneuring 2015: Almost There! Still Time to Submit, and Honorable Mention, Too!

12 Months By the Potomac River

Ever since I moved near the D.C. waterfront, the Potomac River has silently shaped my movement. I sidle along it to leave the city and head into Maryland. I must cross it by way of one of two or three bridges to reach Virginia. Continue reading 12 Months By the Potomac River

Friends Don’t Let Friends Sit on the Couch: Horsing Around Sugarloaf 200K

Lately I’ve had the uncomfortable sensation that my life is on top of me, its everyday demands pushing me into the cushions, reducing me to a sedentary state. It hasn’t felt good. Continue reading Friends Don’t Let Friends Sit on the Couch: Horsing Around Sugarloaf 200K

Giving Thanks for Long Rides: Jerry’s 2015 Coast to Coast Bike Tour

As we head into Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share a recent conversation with our buddy Jerry, who rode his bike coast to coast this year, beginning in Alaska, passing through Canada, and back into the United States until finally reaching his Washington, DC., home over nine weeks of riding. Continue reading Giving Thanks for Long Rides: Jerry’s 2015 Coast to Coast Bike Tour

on 2 wheels (or feet) in washington, d.c.


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