3 Nov 2015

3rd November 2015. Does this scull cap make my bum look big?

Tuesday 3rd 43F, 6C, breezy, heavy overcast, distant mist. Somebody has nicked my squashed-plum Smart rear light on Sunday's ride! Fortunately I hadn't left the other lights on the trike. I just hope the silly little batteries were flat! Now I shall have to remember to remove the lights even in the dark and thick mist while parked outside the supermarkets. I also need to find another compact, saddle height light to replace the victim of this heinous crime! Bøøger!

Talking of lights: I managed to capture a shot of the killer robot, traffic light! The killer robot obviously thought that if it stood very still I would not notice it but I'm far to observant for that sort of ruse! It was this traffic light which toppled right across my path in gales last month! Two seconds earlier and you would have been spared from ever having to read my nonsense ever again! My [conspiracy] theory is that it was hacked!

Can you spot the 60mph speed limit sign in this picture, children? That's right! There isn't one! And now, for the illiterate and innumerate drivers amongst us: 50kph = 30mph! It is not the starting bid for an auction! Highest bidder does not win!

A quiet walk down the lanes in thick mist, slowly clearing. The comfort envelope of walking and cycling is remarkably narrow. Walking into a gentle wind is very different from stopping and just standing still. Yet the difference is only a couple of mph, m/s or kph. Cycling is very wind sensitive. Not only for its higher speeds, than walking, but wind chill becomes a far more serious factor as temperatures drop. Every cyclist knows the huge difference in their speed when a tailwind or headwind intervenes in their plans. Speeds can easily drop by a half or more into a headwind. While just as easily doubling the rider's speed with a beneficial tailwind. Both walking and cycling require their own clothing to be comfortable in all temperatures and wind conditions:

Wind-proofing is far more important than mere warmth. So don't even think about cycling in a duvet jacket! The moving human bod can easily generate enough warmth. Provided, that is, its heat isn't being dragged away by wind infiltration of one's outer clothing.

Waterproofing is usually a complete disaster if the outer material cannot breathe. The body's natural leakage of moisture condenses on the inside of the waterproof garment and things deteriorate rapidly into a mobile sauna. As I discovered yesterday with my proofed jacket. The same held true for the nasty proofed nylon cagoules of my youth. The cloth was so moisture tight that the bod and its inner clothing quickly became wetter than standing under a shower without the cagoule!

The moment one started exercising the bod started sweating and the sealed envelope of the cagoule acted just like a hideously expensive trash or bin bag. Decades ago I bought a cagoule for my daily 30 mile [round trip] commute just as winter started. A horrible mistake which I regret to this day. I was much better off with a leaky jacket with a newspaper stuffed up the chest. A shower-proofed traditional cotton anorak would have been infinitely better than  either garment.

I would arrive at work sweating profusely. Unable to cool off because of the cagoule, which I couldn't take off without freezing to death in sopping wet clothing. I would be suffering from heat exhaustion into the bargain! It was a vicious spiral of runaway climate warming. As the bod increased in temperature it would sweat even more profusely as it desperately tried to cool itself. Just as it had done perfectly well for the last 5 million years before they invented plastic bags cagoules. With no shower facilities and only a toilet cubicle to change in, removing every item of sopping wet clothing before starting work was a nightmare! I rode home in my working clothes so every working day produced two lots of laundry. Like a fool I believed the Damart thermal vest hype from the saturation advertising on British TV. So I had two Damart vests to dispose of too. The modern, dirt cheap, polyester underclothes are superb compared with their useless wares. They were far too thick and caused heavy sweating which felt cold against the skin. Unlike the thin stuff which has no capacity to soak up sweat and so rapidly gets rid of it for you without a single TV advert being involved. I stopped buying anything heavily advertised on TV after that. If it doesn't sell by word of mouth alone it is mentally filed under "complete crap." 

The trouble back then was that big names in climbing [like Blacks of Greenock] sold these damned, polyurethane proofed, nylon, bin bags with arms and taped seams. Cagoule sounds so much more more of everything compared with long, shapeless, baggy, nylon anorak, which catches the wind and makes you sweat like a mobile sauna, if you so much as think of moving a muscle while wearing it. It even sounds French. Which means "posh" in English even if you do have to shout loudly to be understood. No doubt many a camping and climbing shop rang to the cries of an Cagoule, silver plate! Or not, as I seriously doubt many buyers even made the Froggy association of a 1950s balaclava with their ridiculously over-sized and soon to be steamy, poly bin bag with arms.

I always felt that my overheating problems were entirely my own fault. These same bricks and mortar, box shifters even sold polyurethane proofed shells over wadding duvet jackets. Specifically for climbing in the wet of South American mountaineering expeditions. Where real down would get wet and lose all its thermal insulation. So I made my own anorak shell over a wadding jacket. Whereupon I quickly began to sweat profusely on my first winter ascent in Snowdonia. There I was at the top of the ridge soaked to the skin and rapidly chilling inside a perfectly dry jacket outer. With the wind blowing hard it was impossible to remove the jacket to cool off and dry naturally. All I could do was descend in great discomfort to my tent and rip off the waterproof outer as I sat there shivering.

Modern "technical" outdoor clothing is supposed to breathe as well as shed external wetness. Rain will hopefully roll off by beading long before the material becomes saturated and [therefore] as non-breathable as a hideously expensive, polythene bag. We are often talking about many hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros here! Failure to bead comes with normal wear and time so the cloth needs re-proofing to avoid internal wetness.

Better to be cool and damp on the outside than sweating and saturated from the skin outwards. Once your underwear is wet there is no changing room out on the open road or up on that mountain. Take off the shell, which is directly causing your wetness, and your protection from the wind is instantly gone. Now it's exposure at the very least. Hypothermia if you get it badly wrong. You can't even work harder to make the sweat saturated clothes and yourself dry again. It's runaway thermal reinforcement which causes even more cold, wet sweat to form right next to your skin!

I now have several [charity shop bought] outer cycling jackets and use them all in turn depending on the day's temperature and wind. Each has its own degree of wind-proofness and breathability. If I choose too warm and windproof I know I will sweat profusely. Which is far worse than being wet through from the outside. Because I cannot dry out naturally inside my windproof bag. Better to be slightly cool than the slightest bit too warm. Early and slightly chilly discomfort will often be rewarded with later warmth and perfect comfort. All without sweating if the choice of jacket was right for the day. Nor do you want the wind blowing "right through you." So the outer jacket choice is still a difficult one on some days. Removing your scull cap and opening the jacket on long climbs obviously helps. Though it has to be done before you feel that horrible tingle of wetness on your back. Only to freeze on the inevitable descent that follows every climb.

The advantage of lucky charity shop finds is that there is no huge investment involved. Buying an expensive jacket means you will want to wear it even when it is inappropriate on the day. It will often be the only one you own. Further reducing a vital freedom of choice. Read the user reviews and do not be fooled by the potato-stenciled hype of the manufacturer's advertising claims. Which are repeated over and over [and over] again on every box shifter's website. Read the vital negative reviews and weigh them carefully against the many 'glowing' positives. How can one person be so wrong when so many others are so [unfailingly] honest? Think about it before smelting your plastic to some online box shifter's website.

My early years on the trike in Denmark were an uncomfortable mixture of being much too warm and being achingly, agonizingly cold. As my wardrobe steadily improved I could stop wearing fleece jackets. Which usually looked the part but were far too warm for cycling while hopelessly open to the slightest breeze. Finally, I had a jacket suitable for every 3 degrees from -15 upwards. Even then I would often have to take a jacket off and stuff it in or on top of the saddlebag. Which might make me feel a bit exposed to the cold but was far better than sweating.

In winter I went through daily agonies of finger and toe pain through a lack of suitable gloves, socks and shoes. I bought "ski gloves" from supermarkets at first. Only to discover they had no windproof qualities at all! My feet would look literally dark purple to black in the bath afterwards and I suffered endlessly from cracked heels and itchy chilblains. I now use MTB winter boots and the agonizing pain is [almost] long forgotten. Ventilated cycling shoes are for summer but still make excellent drains for rain to run through.

They offer no protection from the cold and many overshoes are expensive, short lived, waterproof crap. Nor do they offer a seal to the sole where water is thrown up by the front tyre. Some "big name" overshoes won't tolerate a walk around one supermarket before the crap tape they use around the edges is badly frayed. Zips are a fragile and vulnerable area of a cheaply produced, ridiculously priced, polythene bag with decorative advertising graphics and superfluous guff. You might as well tie a supermarket carrier bag over each shoe. Now there's an idea! I've actually used the thin ones from the tear-off roll at the checkouts when my feet were soaked and achingly cold. These bags are best thought of as disposable [one use] though. Much like some very expensive overshoes!

Most of the GripGrab gloves I've tried are poor in my own personal experience. The "winter" gloves are either not remotely windproof enough for winter, or sweat badly due to being far too moisture tight. On borderline days the gloves will often not come off. Or not go back on again due to the lining becoming uncomfortably wet. The palm padding is complete crap and has nothing whatever to do with cycling anyway. Cycling on the tops and bends of dropped [racing] bars places the handlebars directly between the pads on the gloves. Even when I have the handlebars padded with silicone strips and layers of tape aching hands are almost expected within a few short miles.

Not so with my scooter gloves. Which aren't well padded but don't give me aching hands either. The deplorable quality of the internal stitching of GripGrab often makes changing gear on the Campag Ergos a really painful experience on the finger tips! That doesn't leave much to like, does it? I wear the GripGrab fingered gloves when it becomes too cold for finger-less mitts. Below about 50F, 10C is my usual, borderline particularly if it is raining. Moisture on the bare fingers suffers from accelerated evaporative cooling due to the air movement of cycling. What is comfortable when dry is certainly not when wet and exposed. The scooter gloves are usually brought out below about 40F and are good well down to freezing. Thin polyester gloves are used as liners when it gets really cold. The liners can be removed if they prove too warm without having lost the advantage of the outer gloves. The scooter gloves have a breathable membrane which is rather marginal at times and varies between identical examples. Presumably the manufacturer's get different batches or the membranes are punctured y poor workmanship. The membrane is absolutely vital to stop the wind when it is cold and any leakage can be sorely felt.

The decision to remove any clothing has to be made quickly. Overheating is always bad and will cause acute discomfort equally quickly. Climbs are the worst cause of overheating but you never feel you want to lose your speed. Stopping, dismounting and taking off clothes, hat or gloves is always a tough choice. Particularly if it is windy.

I wear a proper, finely knitted cycling cardigan with rear pockets when I need extra warmth in the cooler months. It has very little wind-proofing so goes under the outer jacket of the day. As soon as I feel that slightest tingle of warmth on my spine the jacket comes off followed by the cardigan. Back on with the jacket to stay warm. I soon learned I had to stuff the jacket temporarily between my knees. Haning it anywhere on the trike made it an oil or grass and gravel magnet. Due to its thinness and flexibility the cardigan can be stuffed unceremoniously into a corner of the saddlebag, Then I can put my gloves back on and I'm off climbing again.

I usually choose a break in a hedge for shelter from the wind while I change. Performing a simultaneous "natural stop" can save stopping later out of sheer desperation when there may be no privacy at all! Many "serious" Danish cyclists will just stop on the side of a busy road. However, the more reserved Englishman prefers some shelter from prying eyes! Old age and natural stops seem to go hand in hand. [If you know what I mean.]

I do like GripGrab's scull caps under my helmet in autumn/winter/spring. Keeping my head warm makes a huge difference to my comfort on the trike. They are also very easy to remove if I do start to overheat. GG do two types with the thicker and warmer one a life saver for the ears when it gets much below freezing. The autumn/spring one is also soft inside for comfort. Both caps are neatly cut to fit a real human head and are available even in my [compound inflated] size.

Some scull caps are no more than nylon bobble hats without the bobble. These rely far too much on stretch for a fit. Which compresses the sticky-out bits of your noddle which have absolutely no desire or need to be compressed. Particularly in cold weather! The GripGrab scull caps just fit superbly without the slightest feeling of pressure over the ears. I tried several different balaclavas for the -10C and below days but hated them. I couldn't breathe through the cloth without it getting rapidly wet and smelly. I feared bronchial problems from the constant build up of bacteria in the cloth.  

I wear scooter gloves for most of the coldest winter but even these can become sweaty due to the membrane not breathing well enough. Fortunately they are always chosen to be slightly over-sized so can be easily removed and replaced without leaving me at severe risk of frostbite. Unlike the completely and utterly worthless Sealskinz. Polythene bags with thin cloth over them in my extremely costly and extremely painful experience! They quickly became saturated inside on one very cold ride. I stopped and removed the gloves with great difficulty and then found myself with no usable gloves, miles from home, in very cold conditions!

Nothing I tried would make them go back on because the finger linings and membranes had dragged themselves out on my strangely moist fingers! At such low temperatures sweating is completely unforgivable for anything claiming to be a "technical" glove! Before you jump to any conclusions: They fitted easily when dry. After that I wouldn't even  use them for taking out the dustbin! They make far better dustbin fodder. And did! I wouldn't give them away to a charity shop because they might have put somebody else in the same danger as I had experienced. Some scooterists would be grateful for any gloves. I have lost count of the number of idiots who ride with one bare hand on the bars and the other in their pocket! Maturity often beckons but is seldom heeded. 

I should mention that I wear supermarket-cheap, long, thin, polyester underwear in the cooler months. There may be better stuff in the cycling shops but Bangladesh will probably be involved whatever you buy. Just check for hard seams or [worse] hard knots in the crutch area. Or you will get saddle sore as surely as sitting on a house brick to do that hundred mile ride!

I prefer bare legs, even when it is cold, because it seems to be a form of natural temperature self regulation. I have even been told off for having bare legs by other cyclists because the pros always cover up at anything below 90F even in full sunshine. It is a regular talking point outside supermarkets as [usually pensioners] ask if I my legs are not cold?

Not wearing tights under racing shorts tends to cool the nether regions far more than my calves. So this is why I start  wearing them as the temperature drops. They also protect my bare leggies from cold and unpleasant tire spray of course. Denmark is not remotely as wet as the UK or all this warm clothing nonsense would make even less sense. You'll need to learn how to cope with the wet without sweating. A far more difficult exercise than surviving mere cold. 

Everything I wear on the trike, except the jackets, get washed in the machine on a daily basis. NO exceptions. The jackets take their turn about once a week or even more often. It doesn't seem to do them any harm at all at 30 degrees. Though I don't have any of the [hideously expensive] lightweight, patented waterproof stuff to worry about. This may need special treatment so read the seemingly compulsory thick stack of attached, hype labels first!

None of the above is "gospel." It just works for me after years of practice at getting it completely wrong. Learning from your mistakes is far more valuable than living and dying in sublime smugness. I find that there are more than enough "perfect" people to go around already. So I see it as my job to tell it how it is in the real world. Which seems to have surprisingly little to do with the endless hype and gushing product loyalty of the forums and "independent" reviews. I ignore all commercial reviews as total bølløcks as  matter of personal survival. All this "awe" for a label attached in the same Asian sweatshop? Where sleepless children are routinely chained to their sewing machine benches between disastrous fires? Yeah, right! Let's all have a good drool onto our disposable CF crossbars.

There are some British firms too which are resting on very tarnished and badly faded laurels. "Hand made" in the "dark satanic mills 'oop north" does not make them any better. Just much more expensive and more obviously "hand made". Mills exist, where I can only imagine they employ new recruits on a daily basis. Then fire them at the end of the day if their output wasn't complete and utter crap. Perhaps I was just unlucky in receiving several rejects filched from the waste bin in the yard and sold through approved box shifters online dealers? Whatever.

A short ride in thinning mist under heavy grey skies. Returned suitably laden for my troubles. 9 miles trying to avoid stopping to search for my lights [again.] 


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