Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Deceptions of Early Spring Sunshine

Here in New England, early Spring might be the trickiest time to ride. At least in the winter you know where you stand: It is cold, very cold - wear your warmest. There are no expectations for a stark January day to turn balmy, and the winter sun has an icy brilliance to it that promises only sparkle, not warmth. But come March, the smell in the air changes; the quality of light changes. We want to believe that nice weather is coming.

There is something about the early spring sunshine that distorts our feel for temperature. A 40°F March morning can feel like 65° when the sun is out, causing optimistic cyclists to dress for a 65° day. But as soon as the sun disappears behind a cloud, the chill of the real temperature quickly takes over, making it feel like the dead of winter again.

Setting off in the morning, it is natural to expect that the day will grow warmer, causing us to shed layers as we go along. But this does not always happen in March. A beautiful, seemingly short-worthy morning can be but a cruel prelude to a freezing day.

Much as I want spring to come, I've learned to anticipate these deceptions. If the forecast says the temperature is colder than what it feels like, I dress according to the forecast. The piles of snow outside are also helpful: If the snow is not melting, then it is not actually warm, even though it might feel like it.

Yesterday, I rode off into the lazy warm sunshine, gentle and inviting. An hour later the temperature dropped and it began to hail violently, giving way to a bleak and freezing afternoon. Crossing paths with a blue-legged cyclist pulling up his knee warmers, we nodded at the sky, then at each other in mutual "WTF was that" acknowledgement. I zipped up my jacket's vents and rode faster, just as fledgling rays of sunlight tried to charm me once again with their promises of spring warmth.

21 comments:

  1. I agree that some of our erroneous perceptions of the weather come from that warm looking sun. My theory is that as the sun moves higher in the sky with the changing seasons, the more direct sun makes us "feel" warmer. Of course (as you mention) the sun goes behind a cloud, and wham, it's January.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are so right about these warm mornings and cold days we've been having, it has totally thrown me for a loop. I now carry extra layers on every ride, but it's annoying to stop and put them on. Do the vents in your jacket actually work, or do you do layers in addition?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you say, when you're already cold it is tough to stop the bike and take off your jacket in order to put on another layer underneath. So this time of year I err on the side of overdressing (base layer, midlayer, jacket) and make use of the vents. My jacket has vents that stretch from mid-way along the inside of the arm to half way along the side of the torso, which provides a huge range for temp regulation. I am comfortable with this combination in up to 50F (actual temps), if I open the zips all the way.

      Delete
  3. It's hot, it's cold. Sounds like bike riding.

    All bike tech is officially banned from your blog by winter, apparently. For shame.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The sun has shifted, definitely, and longer days. My mom said that where she is in still in the depths of this harsh winter, very cold, loads of snow, but the sun is so warm that it actually is melting a bit of snow when it's at it's peak, so people are fooled into thinking it is warming up, which it is not.

    ReplyDelete
  5. These astute observations help make the case for one cavernous quick and easy-to-use pannier dedicated to switching out upper body apparel, gloves, hat, rain gear, folding snow shovel, bike skates, sunscreen, in a distance commute scenario.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That Honey has the sam color scheme as my bike!

    http://sixelevenbicycleco.com/journal/filter/road-bike/mrs-lugged-road-bike/

    ReplyDelete
  7. To me the sun is neither lazy nor charming and spring usually guarantees vast swings of temps and conditions which is part of it's appeal.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My layers range from 1 in the summer (shorts & T - I don't go commando but I'm not counting the undies either) to up to 2 bottoms and 5 tops in winter. Sometimes I'll keep an extra top layer in my pannier and, if in doubt, gloves and a headband. Today's a 4-topper of thin layers (T, long T, Oxford dress shirt and light jacket). Be Prepared, as we learned in Boy Scouts, and one shouldn't suffer discomfort.

    As much as possible I try to stop at mile 8 for outdoor coffee - as long as it's sunny and out of the wind it's usually quite pleasant - year round. Cold is so often just a mind game.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree that the weather is still too dicey to fully embrace spring. But the trend line is good. And I rode home without gloves on, so I always see that as progress.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I did about 34 miles today from Bay Ridge Brooklyn to Breezy Point Queens passing through Coney Island (650B - the B is for Boardwalk!). Was semi-ovecast with some clear blue, then puffy white and menacing dark blue clouds with some wisps of rain veils off in the distance looking from the Marine Parkway Bridge. I wore my Izumi heavier tights, would be safer with than without. Ear muff / band things which are good for me down to 20 degrees. Was like 45(mostly) - 55 (a little) today depending on the sun and wind. Big NorthWest headwind coming home.
    The spring cometh, ... but slow!
    vsk

    ReplyDelete
  11. It's a lot different where I'm from. The heat can kill a healthy cyclist if he's not careful.


    ReplyDelete
  12. No matter how many seasons I go through I still often get my layers wrong, and so the days when I do get it right really are special, and the other days can just be called character builders, I guess. [Note to self: maybe if I hired a soigneur to follow along behind me in the Peugeot.]

    ReplyDelete
  13. I headed out the other day after work for a ride with a neighborhood friend, also expecting the temps to stay in the low 40s for the duration of the evening. Less than halfway out it started to hail. Luckily it didn't last and we stayed dry for the rest of the ride. But when I got back I noticed that the temp had dropped 8 degrees in less than two hours. I hadn't shed any layers on my ride, as it got gradually colder the more I warmed up.

    In this type of weather, I do more than err on the side of caution. I pack additional layers in my bag in case things turn really bad, for instance freezing rain. While I only had a pair of light gloves on for the ride, I kept my bulky lobster gloves packed, just in case! Shoe booties and a couple of heat packs too. It added unnecessary weight to the ride, but after reading another blog about a cyclist having suffered mild frostbite after temps dropped and he got trapped in a wintry mix far from home, I carried these things along without hesitation.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Forgetting to bring gloves is the worst thing I have done in weather like this, ouch it got painful! Nice sunny day here in Toronto, perfect excuse to take the Brompton for a ride along the lake - I will bring the extra layers...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After a case of near frostbite I always stash a pair of gloves in my jacket pocket so I don't forget!

      Delete
  15. This time of year, mornings here (Sweden) are several minus degrees C. It is best to still pull on the extra kneewarmers under the tights, and wear all the other warm cycling gear.
    It sucks to mess up your knees at the start of the season (did just that last year) just because you didn't want to dress to warm.
    I am still using my Northwave Arctic shoes as well.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Well, I can relate to the cold weather because the snow is sometimes in the way to stop us from hoping on a bike (we received a 20+ cm (8 in.) of snow last week). Of course you have to wear some warm clothes but still ok for a quick ride to the supermarket if you're feeling it. One more layer can't harm you if you want to ride anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  17. cold and rain in antrim... again

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can imagine, considering that temps were in the 40s more often than not when I was there last May! Well at least it's consistent : )

      Delete
  18. Weather across the pond is just bizarre at the moment. I started my ride in mild sunshine which rapidly deteriorated into heavy snow which then fled in the face of a welcome emerging sun which then....... gave way to yet more snow :-) Spring? Yes? No?

    ReplyDelete