Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tired of hypothermia

Date: April 15
Mileage: 40
April mileage: 326.6
Temperature: 38

In everything I’ve tried in my two winters in Juneau, I just haven’t found a way to stay warm during a long ride when the weather is in the 30s and raining. "Waterproof" clothing is anything but. Wet neoprene lets too much wind through. For a while I thought overdressing was a good strategy, but sweating out the inner layers before the outer ones soak through seems to nix any warmth benefit. I’ve been thinking about a seal-skin parka or a rubber suit, but one is probably pretty unobtainable and the other is very uncomfortable to exercise in. “Basically,” I’ve been trying to tell Geoff, “it’s impossible.”

Even so, I can usually achieve at least three hours of quality cycling before the deep chill slices through my meager barrier (at which point it just keeps cutting.) But that hasn ’t been the case lately. I don’t know if it’s a breakdown in every piece of clothing I own, or if my body is tired, simply tired, of being put through this crap. But I feel like every ride I embark on these days leaves me stiff and shivering, trying to remove soaked clothing with numb fingers as my rewarming skin flares with pain. I’ve had more brushes with uncomfortable cold in April than I ever did in December, January ... even February, when I did my fair share of riding in near-0-degree conditions and saw temperatures of 20 and 30 below. I hate 38 and raining. There, I’ve said it. Hate it.

It’s tough because not only has this recent weather derailed my resolve to amp up my training and keep a strong base through summer, but it’s also causing me to waver on one of my main summer goals - giving up use of my car. I was planning to wean myself slowly. By July I hope to commute every day to work, to the grocery store, to visit my friends, to see movies and plays ... everywhere (with the exception of twice-monthly trips to Costco for much-needed cases of Diet Pepsi and orange juice). I don't really expect to save much money (my car is worth too little to bother selling and I already spend more on bike food than gas). No, I just want to try cycling as a lifestyle - like touring, but with income.

It’s a beautiful dream, but right now I’m having a hard time even getting my summer-of-commuting off the ground. I think about being wet and cold not only once per day, but three times (maybe more). I’ll have to return from my training rides to take a shower, then commute to work, then completely change my clothes, then work for four hours, then eat dinner out of a microwave in the company break room, then work four more hours, then put all my wet and muddy bike clothes back on, then commute home. It’s a hugely daunting prospect to think about doing this every day. It may very well be my greatest challenge yet.

Anyone have a rubber suit they could sell to me?


  1. I here ya Jill. I hate the in between weather, especially the wet stuff.

    By the way, what's the smoke coming up through the trees in your picture. On the right side....


  2. Perhaps a paddlers jacket? You'll be wet and possibly clamy but you will most certainly not get hypothermic from the wind penetration.

    Pat R

  3. Seattle isn't nearly as challenging
    as Juneau, but a few years of getting
    around by bike has taught me a few
    things. First commuting and training
    are different. If you were a runner
    and you wanted to get to work a mile
    away without your car would you run
    and arrive sweaty, smelly, red-faced,
    and in need of a shower and a change
    of clothes (and look forward to the
    trip home in your cold damp running
    clothes) or would you walk? There
    are websites showing people in
    Amsterdam and Copenhagen getting to
    work by bike in a dignified manner.

    There are three main sources of water
    to deal with. If you are getting
    muddy, you should probably reconsider
    your fender strategy. Looong fenders
    with a good long front mudflap can
    really help change your outlook---
    they helped change mine. Look at
    Velo Orange, Peter White Cycles, and
    the Planet Bike Cascadia for ideas.
    If you are sweating and cooking from
    the inside, try slowing down. Think
    walking instead of running; hiking
    instead of trail running. Around
    town, I only work hard on short hills.
    If slowing down works for you, then
    you have more options for trying to
    keep the water from the sky away.

    For longer rides and for training,
    Kent Peterson's "comfortably damp"
    approach is relatively accessible,
    though you would know better than I
    whether this might work in Juneau.
    You might also talk to Dave Harris
    about getting quality bike workouts
    in shorter doses, to make dealing
    with the weather easier.

    Good luck! Learning to get around
    by bike is a worthy adventure.

    Matt Newlin

  4. Matt ... thanks for the suggestions. Good ones. A couple of things: I do have some Planet Bike fenders, mudflap and all, on my road bike. Mud and road grit usually does find its way around the fenders and onto my shins and feet ... could be possible I need better ones. Also, slushy and icy conditions still necessitate road use of my mountain bike. It has fenders as well, but it's hard to find good fenders for 2" knobbies.

    Comfortably damp is a good rule of thumb. Generally, I am comfortable as long as I'm damp. It's when I become saturated that I start to have problems. As far as clothing actually keeping the water out, I have yet to have much luck in this department (Even wearing a winter shell over a waterproof PVC jacket over a fleece jacket tucked into rain pants with neoprene booties and gloves.) I've come to the conclustion that the question I have to ask myself when evaluating my clothing is: If I jumped in a 40-degree lake, would it keep me dry? No? OK, how about warm? But it's this area that neoprene fails. Lakes don't have windchill.

    Sweating isn't a problem for me, especially at commuting speed. And the summer will warm up, eventually, so the chill won't be as bad. Just have to suck it up, just suck it up. :-)

  5. Duotone ... that smoke is probably just somebody else trying to keep warm.

  6. c'mon jill, i keep telling you commuting won't be too bad. i've been doing it everyday for a year now and you need to believe me when i tell you that you just won't get that wet/dirty/sweaty in the 30 minutes it will take you to get to work. just keep a pair of shoes at work and you'll be good to go.

  7. Re: fenders:

    Put a pair of Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders on the Karate Monkey. Mine kept me dry and clean all through the Juneau winter with 2.35" tires.

  8. In the past when I have commuted, I've always had three or four days of clothing at school and I leave a pair shoes there also. That works out fine. I get to school, shower, good to go. That way I don't have to carry much on the bike.

    The hypothermic feeling sucks. Rode in -42 degrees this winter with no problems aside from cold toes and thumbs. Did a 48 mile ride a week ago in pouring rain and 40-45 degrees...full hypothermia by the time I pulled into the driveway. Took me 30 minutes to warm-up in a hot shower. Talk about pins and needles in the hands and feet. That I wouldn't do on a daily basis.

    You are tough as nails!

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  9. If its really raining.... very rarely in denver =)

    I put cothes in a dry sack and throw that in my backpack... I also usealy have some ziplocks stached in my pack as well cell phone money ipod camera...

    I usealy just suffer for a bit and warm up at work or hit a shower at the gym, ymca whatever...

    i'll do abunch of short rides if its crap... I think 30-38 rainy, wet is the hardest to gear for i think cheap pvc i've had the best luck with, followed by nylon windbreakers they get soaked but as long had you stay moving still do good cutting the wind.

    Coffee shops are also key nothin like a little warm carrot to keep yah riding even if its just a hot pot of joe waiting at home =)

  10. Jill,

    Get yerself a Marmot. Not the critter, a Driclime windshirt. This is the best dang thing you can get for that 30 to 50 degrees and wet thing. Really. It's the only garment I've ever had that dries out while I wear it without chilling me to the bone.

    Dig through the archives of my blog. You can solve these problems.

  11. Hey Jill-

    I ride 40 miles round trip on my commute every day regardless of the weather, and have a few suggestions.

    To combat the little bit of rogue moisture that makes it out of your fenders, try a pair of gaiters paired with some waterproof overshoes (like the cheap rubber ones from a farm supply store, not the $50 Pearl izumi ones that don't work well). That combo keeps my legs and feet pretty dry.

    I don't know how far your commute is, but I can't not sweat. It doesn't matter if it's 0, 30, or 70, I pour sweat. So, I'm more worried about wind protection. On really crappy days (35 and rainy) I will wear a wet suit with a wind proof top, and neoprene gloves with manzella (sp?) windproof shells over them.

    So you would still sweat, but would stay warm.

    When you get to work, turn the gear inside out, squeeze it out, and find a air vent to hang it in front of. I've never had a problem getting it 90% dried out if I squeeze out as much watter as possible first then get some air flowing over it.

  12. We had an odd day this pre-spring when it rained. I had my toko xc pants on. Water beaded on the them and I was comfy, even into the 40's they are ok, they breath really well.

  13. Although Kent seems to do fine with
    homemade coroplast fenders on mucky
    roads on his mountain bike, some others
    think that the channel formed by the
    rolled edge of good metal fenders helps
    keep the spray off you. Both are
    worth considering.

    High-wind winter dinghy sailing is
    pretty cold, wet, and windy, with
    occasional solid water and lots of
    spray. Wearing a wetsuit is pretty
    standard, and a windbreaker over the
    top seems to be a lot warmer. I
    don't have much experience riding
    a bike in a rubber suit, so take
    it for what its worth.

    Matt Newlin

  14. Thanks for the suggestions everyone. I have a few questions. As far as the high-tech rain gear mentioned here, how has it held up for you over time? I've bought what I understood was some bomber stuff. Gortex winter shell ... PVC jacket. They both were great for a couple months, but then their waterproof barriers started to break down. The Gortex used to bead. Now it soaks. The PVC accumulated a bunch of tiny holes from grit, so it leaks. And because nothing I find is skin tight, it lets water in ... through the neckline, up the waist, in the arms. Period. When the rain rate is 1-plus inches an hour, it feels like someone is dumping a bucket on your head.

    An actual wet suit with a wind jacket and wind pants over the top isn't a bad idea. I might consider it for next fall.

    This is all for long rides. This post was a little tongue-in-cheek. I'm not too worried about commuting. Geoff is right. It's a half hour each way, and I'll probably get some new PVC gear to wear that will keep me mostly dry for a half hour. I still plan to change into my work clothes at work every day. I'll probably ferry them there once a week with a dry bag.

  15. Jill,
    You may consider trying out a paddling jacket made for sea kayaking like one made by patagonia. It has a huge volume hood (over the helmet??) and neoprene cuffs on arms and neck. It has a super genrous cut...so size pretty small. Not breathable exactly, but it has worked for me in Juneau and southeast out kayaking. I believe that there is some type of coating on it that doesn't break down with salt water (hence, good for paddling). You could certainly stay dry on your short commute to the Empire in one of those since sweating is not an issue with you. They make (or made at some point) pants with the same features (neoprene cuffs etc). Not cheap, but you can use it for cross purposes if you got yourself out in a kayak!

  16. I think by this point in the winter, we Alaskans just get tired of the cold. Our bodies are tired of it, our minds are mentally fatigued by the thought of it... all we want is our nice warm sunny summer back.

  17. A vacation could help ... I am considering the glacial highway in July, my first tour.

  18. Jill - your commute will be far more challenging than mine because of the weather, but your view will be a whole lot better. Good luck.

  19. Best line of your post was: "this recent weather derailed my resolve to amp up my training and keep a strong base through summer." I had to read that twice to realize that it wasn't a typo. Here in Chicago I have been trying to keep a strong base through winter so I can enjoy our fast group rides starting in the spring. Of course, your races are in the winter. Thou art tougher than I.

  20. Showers Pass stuff is fantastic. Two full Seattle winters and the jacket shows few signs of wear. I have the Elite jacket and pants. Some of the best bike $ I have spent. The eVent fabric they use is much better than any Gore Tex I have used.

  21. Sounds familiar, silly weather. I'm trying to build confidence to commute this summer as well, but the weather is not cooperating.

    Tried wearing my kayak drytop once during a bitter windy day a few years ago. Sweat myself silly, then chilled hypothermic. Hard to get those neoprene cuffs off when you go numb.

    Picked up a nice Nike Stormfit jacket on sale last fall, waterproof zippers, waist and cuff draws, nicely waterproof. Couple that with a Smartwool base and carefull venting keeps me happy. Wool is really neat stuff. I'm still carrying extra dry layers(same as all winter) in case of freak temp/weather changes that are so common during all day adventures this time of year.

    This would fix all that even better though: http://www.lightfootcycles.com/stormyweather.htm


  22. Here's another comment from another reader in the Seattle area...

    For the past 3 months, I've been biking 4-5 times a week, rain or shine (mostly rain). I've done a lot of riding on rainy days with temperatures in the mid to high 30's. I've had extremely good luck with Foxwear rain pants (http://foxwear.net/). They keep the rain and wind off, but don't bake my legs.

    That said, I'm really looking forward to "shorts and short sleeve jersey" weather. Unfortunately, we have light lowland snow forecast for this weekend... :(

  23. hey Jill-

    About the durability of your gear...if the goretex jacket stops shedding water, get a container of nikwax from REI. You wash it in, and it restores your "waterproofness" I find i have to reload my jacket every spring and fall.

    The micro holes in nylon and pvc are a little tougher to deal with. I find that if I reinforce the areas (like my behind) with something more sturdy, i have good luck...hope this helps!

    Despite all this, I've discovered that the long and short of it is that if you ride in the rain, you'll get wet!

  24. alaska jill,
    I am one of those mere mortals far south of you, say Charlotte NC, where people are reluctant to ride in dry 30-40 degree weather. Thanks for the perspective on challenging bike conditions. :)
    Best wishes on finding gear to keep you warm and dry.

  25. buffalo jackets

    Designed for Scottish winters, always cold and wet.

    Good luck!

  26. I wrote this for you, Jill. Hang in there.


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