Christmas Eve, and the temperature outside is 17 degrees Fahrenheit.That’s 7 degrees below zero Celsius.
I am wearing trousers over sweatpants, a flannel shirt over a T-shirt, and a watch cap. That way, I am comfortable with the thermostat in our house set below 60. Church, with Christmas Eve service, is 1 1/2 miles away. There is a good, reliable car in the driveway.
I put on a fleece jacket, and over that a parka; my cycling shoes, which I bought a half-size large so they would fit over two layers of wool socks; I tuck the cuffs of my trousers into the socks; I don my bicycle helmet. reflectorized legbands and vest, lastly fleece-lined leather mittens.
I disconnect the battery for my bicycle lights from its charger and carry it out to the garage. I slip it into a pocket of the touring bag on my Raleigh Twenty bicycle, and plug it in.
The streets are almost empty. I am comfortable and warm except for the parts of my face that are not covered by my beard or eyeglasses. The exercise feels great. In 12 minutes, I am at church. I park my bicycle against a railing right in front of the door.
It took me about ten minutes to get ready for this ride. I could have gotten into the car and been at church just as soon, even counting the extra walk from where I would have had to park.
Nobody but me, of the 60 or so people at the service, arrived at the church on a bicycle. How many people would go to the trouble to take a short trip like this on a bicycle in the cold and the dark? Well, there’s your answer, for now.
As for me, why did I? Certainly not to save time. I do reflect on the irony of a worship service which makes such a contribution to use of non-renewable resources and environmental degradation, but as one among 60, I’m not doing much to turn the tide on that. I did win on comfort — I was warm from the indoor heat when leaving my home, then from exercise inside all those layers of clothing. If I’d dressed for the cold in the car, than I’d have been sweaty once the car warmed up. Mostly, though, I rode my bicycle because outdoor exercise is the only way I know to beat the winter blues.
Cold weather is not conducive to long bicycle tours, because feet might get cold, because there’s no way just to sit down and rest comfortably on a park bench or a stump by the side of the road; because most social activity happens indoors.
On the other hand, winter cold poses little problem for short cycling trips. Summer heat and humidity are much worse — ever notice how in hot countries, people switch from bicycles to motor scooters as soon as rising income makes that possible? In cold weather, though, motor scooters really lose out.
A hot climate is a serious impediment to transportation bicycling; cold weather needn’t be, as long as the streets are clear. In winter, there’s no sweat, and no need to freshen up or change clothes on reaching one’s destination — only strip off the extra layers.
Getting ready does take extra time, though, and for shorter trips this can be a concern. Ice and snow in the streets also certainly can be a problem, though there were none on that Christmas Eve. I do have studded snow tires for one of my bicycles, though I haven’t taken the trouble yet to install them. The streets get cleared soon enough here that there are only a few days each winter when I would need them.
For me, the feeling of physical well-being justifies the extra time getting ready. Yet, often I pass people at bus stops who spend more time waiting than I did getting ready for my ride, and who are stomping their feet to stoke up the warmth that I get automatically from cycling.
When I get where I am going, some people marvel at how I could brave the cold, to which I reply: people go to Vermont to ski down mountains. I’m getting as much exercise as they do, with much less wind chill!
I enjoy riding in winter, and maybe I can encourage you to give it a try if you don’t do it already. But I don’t expect to attract a massive following. Come to think of it I have read that Boston’s Hubway community bicycle program has shut down for the winter — which makes sense, I suppose, as a business decision.