Friday, April 24, 2009

Cold Morning Commute – How to dress right with the help of AA Milne

Or Ground Effect should definitely sponsor me!

The season is definitely upon us now, here is Christchurch anyway, where the commute into work in the morning is just that little bit harder to get excited about. The weather is still mainly clear and sunny, but the weather gods have a penalty for these mornings, one with a bite. Take yesterday morning for example. The sun was just up and casting a beautiful soft orange/pink light across the city, the paddocks I bike past had an ethereal layer of mist rising just over a foot off the ground and the trees were dropping their rust and golden and crimson leaves in the still morning air. It was gorgeous. And bitterly cold, for the other feature of the scene was a very light frost on the ground.

The price to be paid for these beautiful clear mornings is frostbite on your extremities. Often when I wake up on these cold mornings, and spend an extra 10 minutes hiding under the covers to avoid the cold, I’m reminded of an AA Milne poem I used to listen to when I was a child. We had a tape (audio) of his poetry with a fantastic English narrator who really bought each verse to life. The one I’m thinking of started with this line from the narrator:

"Oh, those frosty mornings when it nips at your ears and your nose, that’s when I wish I could be a furry bear."

I couldn’t put it any better myself. Then the poem by AA Milne. I highly recommend you read this in as deeper voice as you can, especially the last two words, to achieve the full beary warming effect.

If I were a bear and a big bear too
I shouldn’t much care if it froze or snoo
I shouldn’t much mind if it snowed or frize
I’d be all fur lined in a coat like his

For I’d have fur boots and a big brown wrap
And brown fur knickers and a big fur cap
I’d have a fur muff-a-ruff to cover my jaws
And brown fur mittens on my big brown paws

With a big brown furry-down up to my head
I’d sleep all the winter
I’d sleep all the winter
In a big

What you may not realise on first reading of this poem is that AA Milne is cunningly informing you of the appropriate attire for cycling on frosty mornings, using colloquialisms of his time. The second verse is full of handy tips. Let’s take my frosty morning commuting attire as an example and you will see that Mr Milne was obviously an avid cyclist.

I’d have fur boots. I have neoprene booties. They stop my toes feeling like they have frozen into a lump of stinging white pain and that all blood has ceased to visit them. If you commute in frosty weather with even the slightest of breeze, particularly in cycling shoes, you’ll know what I mean.

A big brown wrap. Ok, so this is a bit of a stretch, but I find that wrapping myself in merino undergarments adds significant pleasure to those chilly morning rides. If you haven’t experienced the joys of merino, where have you been? Get out and get some, it is truly The Business.

Brown fur knickers. That’s easy, my Witches Britches are furry and knickers and keep my knees nice and toasty. I’m sure the winter commuters amongst you are familiar with the bright red knees syndrome whereby your knees and lower thighs take the blast of the icy air rushing past you as you speed to work and are frozen in the process. Personally I find the worst thing about the snap frozen knees is walking into my warm office and experiencing that very uncomfortable burning sensation as the livid red skin is hit by air that has a significant temperature differential to its surface. This peril is completely removed with my fuzzy Witches Britches.

A big fur cap. For me this is a bit more of a puzzler. I’ve experimented with various head and ear warming devices. My first choice was a hand knitted beanie from my Nana. It was not the best choice. It did fit under my helmet, but it made my forehead very very itchy. My next trial was what I like to refer to as my gimp hoodie. This is a Hot Toddy which is a long sleeve riding top with a hood designed for going under the helmet. When biking this has some big advantages. It keeps your head, ears and even neck warm on cold mornings. The disadvantage I found was it works too well for those "a bit" cold mornings. I discovered the optimum temperature for me to use the hood is anything below -5°C, that’s pretty chilly. I think it comes from having long thick hair. I had a similar problem with my Baked Beany (hmmm, this post seems to be turning into an ad for Ground Effect – hey guys, wanna sponsor an average cross country rider?). Fantastic for really cold mornings and also for after rides on cold nights, but I tend to over heat when it’s only averagely cold. The other thing about the gimp hood I forgot to mention is that that hood cannot really be worn in public without a helmet over it due to its cunning form fitting nature. I still like to wear it around the house and while visiting friends for comedic value and scaring small children, but it’s a bit too much of a fashion statement for everyday wear. So finally I can upon the perfect solution. My own hair. It is very thick and long and with the application of a head band (yes it is also Ground Effects one, I have 6) to cover my ears it insulates me perfectly for most cold mornings.

Now my favourite line – I’d have a big fur muff-a-ruff to cover my jaws. Last winter my lungs got soft, or maybe just weren’t happy with the night-racing-cold-air-torment I subjected them to. It got to the point where breathing the cold morning air was too painful for any sort of speed on my commute and I wouldn’t dare try to tackling even the smallest of rollers for fear of coughing up a lung. Then I discovered the Ice Breaker Chute and all my problems were solved. I’ve tried riding with a scarf and that always used to move round and fall down or cause my glasses to completely fog up (before I got the laser eyes). Plus all my scarves were itchy. The Chute can be pulled right up to eye level, protecting you poor exposed nose and cheek bones from icy wind. I found that my glasses didn’t even fog when it was worn like this. And breathing was sooooo much better as the air is warmed slightly as it passed through the double layer of merino goodness. The best thing is once you reach optimum temperature, which for me is about halfway to work, you can just pull it down and you’re no longer too warm. Perfect. Best muff-a-ruff I’ve ever had.

The only part of the story I have to dispute good old AA on is the brown fur mittens. Mittens are not good for cycling, gloves, with their individually differentiated fingers are the best option. Given my penchant for over heating halfway through my commute, I like a bit of versatility. To achieve this I start off with my normal fingerless roadie gloves with a pair of thermal gloves, the kind you get for about $10, pulled over the top. Then when my hands have achieved full finger circulation I whip them off and stuff them in the side pockets of my bag (it’s a Ground Effect one, shock horror).

As you can now plainly see AA Milne was obviously an onto it cyclist and with the except of the slight faux pas regarding the mittens, knew how to dress appropriately for winter conditions. Of course on the weekends, when I don’t have to ride in the icy weather, I take his best bit of advice and stay in bed under layers of warm blankets (one of which is even furry).


CrazyChris said...

Pah! It's not cold yet! I'm still in my shorts and shirt + jacket each morning. However, I also have resorted to the tried and tested fingerless gloves + fluffy over gloves in the mornings when my fingertips got so painful on the way to work I almost considered stopping. The double-glove thing is such a great idea, I'm glad others do it too.

In your next report, can we have a range of Ground Effect clothes for the boys? I have a couple of pairs of Supertankers and some Daddy Long Legs for when it's actually snowing (they are toasty warm but still way too warm for the above zero riding presently). I use a CanTeen bandanna on my head to cover my ears, which then doubles as a sweat catcher when riding up hills, removing the excuse to stop and wipe my brow while climbing.

Stay warm & ride hard (but not too hard!)

Tinkerbell said...

Hmmmm, perhaps I could raid my husband's wardrobe just to appease you. But it's unlikely as he's almost a foot taller than me and I'll look silly in his various GE bits. And I think you know how much I hate to look silly. ;)