Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ode to Steve Williams

I've wanted to share my recent cold weather experience since last Tuesday, but this time of year is nuts for me and time is not my friend.

The Vespa is basically off for its winter snooze in the garage. Last week I thought I'd do one last commute. When I set off at about 7 a.m. it was below freezing. Frost was heavy on the lawn and on cars that spent the night outside.

I was wearing ski gloves, a fleece under my Corazzo 5.0 jacket, full face helmet, and jeans.

Half way to the office I had to duck into a McDonalds for coffee to ward off the cold. Half an hour later I set off to complete the 30km ride after switching to ski mitts.

I got to the office and was so thoroughly chilled, I hooked up a space heater under my desk and ran it full blast until lunch time.

To say that I regretted that last ride is to put it mildly. At lunch time I picked up some of those disposable hand warmers. For the ride home, I used one in each ski mitt, and one in each shoe.

Here's where I learned something useful. The helmet keeps my head warm. My hands and feet were kept nice and warm by the disposable warmers. The rest of my body was chilled though. So chilled that after I changed out of my riding gear, within half an hour in the house my hands were cold. It took all evening to get the chill out my body.

Ironically, I had just a few days earlier read the sections on cold weather riding and the risks of hypothermia in David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling.

I live in a city where I have experienced minus 40 several times (Celsius or Fahrenheit, it's the same), and have skiied in bitter cold, and yet never really gotten chilled like I did last week on my Vespa in much less cold weather.

I was definitely not hypothermic, but the combination of being essentially still, coupled with the rush of air that increases the cooling effect, makes riding a PTW in cold weather a bigger challenge than it appears to the uninitiated. The risk is that the cold combined with the chill can affect your judgment. You want to get the ride done, so you ride faster than you would in more clement weather, and thinking about how uncomfortable you are reduces the focus otherwise devoted to the road and surroundings. Plus, numb fingers don't react as fast as warm ones.

The eye-opener for me is that keeping head, hands and feet warm, doesn't compensate much for the overall chill your body is subjected to.

If I had been wearing more appropriate gear (armored lined pants, cold weather lined jacket, etc.) I would have fared better. But I guess my point is, that cold weather riding needs to be taken seriously, particularly if the commute lasts an hour or more. Heated grips might keep your hands warm, but given my experience on the ride home, warm hands is just not enough protection if your legs and torso are not sufficiently protected.

So who is Steve Williams and why is this an ode to Steve?   Steve Williams' Scooter in the Sticks blog documents, among other very fascinating pursuits, his intrepid cold weather Vespa rides all through legendary Pennsylvania winters.  He has so much to teach fellow riders about what it takes to ride in cold weather.  And I have so much to learn.

The next post will be the wrap up of lessons learned from year one of the scoot commute.  I started this adventure with 1,304 miles on the Vespa's odometer, and, as you can see, I've piled on 4,642 of my very own miles.  Wow!  Even in the cold, the scoot commute is still a hoot!

Stay tuned.

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