How cold is too cold? As the weather makes a less than smooth transition from winter to spring, that’s a question I find myself wrestling with some mornings. I’ve heard that a local club has what they call the 50/50 rule. If there is a 50% chance of rain, or it’s colder than 50° they don’t ride.
I’m barely 10 blocks from work, so I can get by with a little more bravado than some. When I got my first bike several years ago, I made it a point to ride it to work unless there was a force 5 hurricane or worse. Cold didn’t figure into it. I discovered that if I dressed warm and rode at a reasonable speed, the 10 short blocks from my house to the paper was easily bearable under any conditions Northeast Texas could throw at me. My coworkers egged me on a little by always asking if I was on the bike. Some questioned my sanity while others praised my fortitude. I’d even ride through a light sprinkle.
One fine January morning I woke to temperatures in the teens. Sure it was cold, but we hadn’t had rain in weeks so I knew the roads would be ice free. This was a real opportunity to demonstrate my stup….. eh ..fortitude..
I was on a little 250 Nighthawk in those days. I geared up and strapped a thermos of coffee to the sissy bar and headed out. I don’t remember the actual temperature that day, but I do remember that it was below 20°. I was going as slow as I could go and stay on two wheels. I didn’t want the air blowing over me any faster than absolutely necessary. Turns out to have been a good thing.
I rounded the post office on State line heading south. As I made a slow speed right off state line onto fourth street, the back tire suddenly came out from under me. There was just no traction and I went down like a ton of bricks. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I was barely moving so there was very little forward speed added to the impact as I hit the ground. And, thanks to the cold weather, I was well padded in layered clothing topped off by a heavy coat.
The top busted off my cheap thermos spilling steaming coffee all over the road. I was surprised to find it frozen into a thin layer of brown ice in a minute or less. As I reached down to pick up the bike, I almost went down again. My boots were slipping over a clear coat of glaze ice covering the road. No wonder I went down. Where the heck did it come from? We hadn’t had rain in weeks, but the entire lane was covered in ice for at least 40 feet. I gingerly pushed the little Nighthawk off the ice patch and eased the last block and a half to work.
That was the last of the cold weather for a while that year so it was several months before I again faced cold weather. The mystery of where the ice came from was cleared up a few days later as I followed some guy pulling a trailer with a water tank around the post office. The tank must have been empty by the time he got to where he was going because he was slopping gallons of it over the scene of my recent accident as he made a right onto fourth st. The moron must have made the same trip a few days earlier, just before I got there.
That was something of an epiphanal moment for me. Feeling that tire go out from under me made the concept of a wreck real to me. I also realized that there were factors outside of my control. This time it was a guy with a water tank. Next time if might be somebody’s sprinkler system. In that light the decision to ride in weather that cold seem more foolish than tough.
Years later, I now have a very different philosophy. I don’t ride to impress people. I ride for fun. And if it’s too cold to be fun, why bother?
– Guy Wheatley