On Beer Can Koozie Ear Warmers and Other Freezing Saddles Secrets: Winter Cycling with Kate

It is our secret that riding is so much more fun, and probably faster and less stressful than the alternatives! And that doesn’t even account for all the great winter days, when the sun is shining on the sparkly snow, or there is a fabulous sunset over the river, or a big moon rises as you pedal uphill to home. You don’t get to see that from the Metro.
Kate

It may not feel like winter this week and hey, I’m not complaining. You know cold weather will return soon enough, and the Freezing Saddles interview series continues. Today I’m talking with a fellow Freezing Saddles teammate and year round rider, Kate from Silver Spring, Maryland.

Coffee break on the commute!
Coffee break on the commute!
Thank you so much, Kate for sharing your approach to winter riding and Freezing Saddles experiences. Tell us about yourself.

I have been cycling all my life. I like riding because it is fun. I have done some great long-distance touring, fun rides, errands, and commuting.

I am a career Federal employee and I started commuting over 6 years ago. I commute daily, year-round, in all weather. My current trek is from north of downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, to Federal Triangle in D.C.

In winter my “long routes” to and from work are invoked far less often in favor of the shortest possible commute, about 17 miles roundtrip. I have a bike set up for commuting, with fenders and racks for my panniers.

I use my waterproof panniers in winter. My hybrid has knobby tires, so I switch to that bike when it is very snowy. Until Freezing Saddles, I was unlikely to ride on winter weekends.

Kate
Kate’s snow steed. All photos in post courtesy of Kate
What inspired you to join Freezing Saddles the first time?

I heard the name Freezing Saddles during the fall of 2014 and I thought it was a challenge that included a speed component. No one would want me on a racing team! I failed to find out more so this is my first year riding Freezing Saddles.

In the fall of 2015 I took the time to learn the real story. Freezing Saddles is a challenge about riding – getting out there and just riding – without that dreaded speed factor. Well, I joined up! I can ride every day, and I can put in respectable mileage. I just won’t do it very fast.

Repeat? Oh sure, I will do Freezing Saddles again next winter.

What do you enjoy most about Freezing Saddles?

I am enjoying it, even in the recent spate of cold weather and snow.

I like the fun competition and the great camaraderie across the teams. People I do not know give me kudos on some of my rides. That makes it worth suiting up to ride to work on a raining/snowing morning!

The Freezing Saddles Kickoff Happy Hour was nice, and the side bets are interesting. I like watching the leaderboards.

I have met most of my team; we had a team happy hour, and some of the team have reached out to ride with me or to meet for coffee.

I do this because it is fun. I am attempting to ride every day and I have done so, so far!

Besides the obvious – riding in the D.C. winter weather – I have taken the trouble to arrange to ride when I was in Georgia on a (too-small) borrowed bike.

I even squeaked one midnight sleaze ride in before I left D.C. for Georgia (more than one mile, less than two miles). I was flying out the next morning and unsure of getting that bike when I got there.

I find myself taking the longer routes when the weather and my schedule allows for it, just to add a few more points for my Team (Team 4, the Fourth Awakens!)

Freezing Saddles is a great idea! Winter cycling is safe and enjoyable. I am going to ride to get to work anyway, but Freezing Saddles gives me an extra reason to ride every day. The new friends are a plus. What’s not to enjoy?

Kate and her Sugoi Zap jacket
Kate and her Sugoi Zap jacket
As part of Freezing Saddles, you must also be a Strava user. What are your thoughts on Strava?

I was new to Strava, so I installed the app and began practicing in December. I like it, but I like gadgets.

Strava has a few quirks: it fails to begin recording sometimes (I am willing to admit user-error here) but I am learning to love it.

I like to ride in little doughnuts or to add zigs and zags when I ride just to go home and blow up my route and looks at the silly designs I have made.

I also study others’ rides to see where they go, to learn new routes, and I like looking at the Flybys, to see who else was out there.

Winter setup
Winter setup
Let’s talk winter riding! Tell me about your essential winter gear and cycling setup.

First, full disclosure: I am originally from Wisconsin, so winter in D.C. is a bit of a relative term to me.

Being warm is essential. I layer up:

  • 2 pairs of bike pants if it is under 40*; long pants over shorts/capris.
  • Tall wool ski socks, a moisture wicking shirt, a fleece vest or pullover, a neck scarf, topped by my big blue anorak (“Big Blue”).
  • Then lobster claw mitts over glove liners, a fleece headband or a full balaclava under my winter Bern helmet, and bike shoes with toe protectors under full calf-high waterproof shoe covers.
  • Add sunglasses for day, and clear glasses at night.

Still cold? I have tried putting chemical toe warmers in my shoes, and, during the Polar Vortex last winter, I rode with my ski bibs over pants.

I also do toe push-ups while riding to keep the circulation in my feet up—these are more aggressive than “wiggling your toes” and I do them in sets of 10 every mile or so.

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

A rider must be seen to be safe!

From the top:

  • Nightrider 600 Lumen headlight on top of my helmet, a blinky light at the back of the helmet.
  • Reflective striped yellow vest goes over Big Blue, my anorak. My other jackets are very reflective. The shiniest is the Sugoi Zap Versa jacket — rainproof and mega-reflective when hit by headlights. It is amazing.
  • There are reflective patches on my pants, shoe covers, Ortlieb bags, reflective stickers on my pedals, fenders, and a red blinky light on my cheese-wedge spare tube holder.

I also added reflective rim tape and I believe being seen from the side has saved my life.

Last, I have a Dutch “lollipop” reflector to which I added a red light, and it adds visibility and the appearance of width.

Kate
Editor’s note: I have lollipop envy!

I am all about safety. I want to arrive alive so I can ride again tomorrow. I am a WABA Bike Ambassador because I love giving out blinky lights to those awful bike ninjas out there at night!

I try to model safe riding, and being seen is the main way to stay alive.

What’s so great about riding through the winter? 

If you ride in winter, in all winter weather, you get to be smug. Let’s face it, it is way more cool to bike to work during a Polar Vortex or on a school snow closure day than the alternative: slogging through the weather to the bus or Metro and walking the rest of the way to work.

It is our secret that riding is so much more fun, and probably faster and less stressful than the alternatives! And that doesn’t even account for all the great winter days, when the sun is shining on the sparkly snow, or there is a fabulous sunset over the river, or a big moon rises as you pedal uphill to home. You don’t get to see that from the Metro.

Is there a threshold below which you will not ride?

I have not hit it here yet. If the Office of Personnel Management says the government is open, then I am pedaling. I do have the freedom to flex my hours a bit, so I can choose to work late until a rainstorm blows through, but I still ride in the rain or snow if I have to. If I can still bend after layering up, then I ride.

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

You can do it. Start small. Take it one ride at a time.

Get your bike tuned up. Then take a test ride going around the block and stopping at home to sample various layering options until you get your system worked out.

Invest in a few key pieces to ensure your hands, ears, neck, and feet are warm enough. If they are warm, you will be able to ride happily. A budget-friendly idea: try using beer can koozies over your helmet straps as earmuffs—this works great! Turn them inside out for subtlety.

Kate
Can Koozie Ear Warmers!
What tips and tricks can you share?

I dread dooring and try to watch the stopped and parked cars carefully to avoid getting doored.

It is ok to stop and to rest, especially if you are new to this. Sit on a bench or go in a café for a coffee! Taking a break while getting there is half the fun.

Talk to other riders, we are a friendly bunch and you will learn something or make a new friend.

Support your local bike shop and get your bike turned up regularly if you use it a lot!

Freezing Saddles teams should realize that “old ladies” are a huge team asset because we ride dependably, we have a competitive spirit, and we have the stamina to put in the miles!

I heard old is a state of mind, Kate, and that ain’t you. Thanks again for being part of the Freezing Saddles series. See you on the Flybys.

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