A Mighty (Cold) Wind

Winter is kicking my ass already.  The extreme freezing temperatures more common to mid-winter arrived early on Thursday: 2 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius) with 25 mph winds, 40 mph wind gusts, and a windchill of -20 degrees (-29 Celsius). Despite the severe weather, I dragged Oma out to bike to work as usual.

Oma in the Snow

At first everything went smoothly. My studded tires crunched over the ice with ease.  Dressed in wool leggings, tweed slacks, wool undershirt, wool sweater, wool overcoat, wool socks, wool scarf around my head, Bern winter helmet, leather snow boots, safety glasses, wool-silk blend glove liners and heavy duty Gore-Tex goose down mittens, I was feeling good. I even put chemical warming packs in my mittens.

After one mile, however, my hands were hurting like hell. I knew I could not make it all the way to work like that, so I rode to the nearest L train stop, locked up Oma and took the train the rest of the way.  I’ll have to improve my mitten set-up or revert to the suede-shearling J.Crew gloves that got me through last winter.  But it was an abnormally cold and windy day, a perfect day to take public transportation. No shame in staying warm.

To compensate for my missed bike commute, I set out for a long walk during my lunch break. Here are pictures from Michigan Avenue, aka the Magnificent Mile.  I am a sucker for capitalist holiday cheer.

John Hancock Building

Water Tower

Saks Michigan Avenue

Tiffany & Co.

Nieman Marcus Window Shopping

Macy's Holiday Spirit

This week is supposed to be much better: mostly sunny with temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s F.

How has winter been treating you so far?

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38 thoughts on “A Mighty (Cold) Wind

  1. Dwayne says:

    Once again, you make Chicago look like the most beautiful city in the world. As far as winter, I don’t have to deal with it the same way you do. I live in Southern California. Stay warm… or at least don’t freeze. Maybe you could set a temperature limit for yourself. If it’s below a certain temp, you take the train. Just thinking while I type.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Cold here! A high of only -17 f here…brrr, stayed home, as there was no reason to go outside. Tommorrow, I’ll have to really bundle up as it will be -22f in the morning. (hopefully, no windchill) Did the previous mitts you used last year work pretty good? It’s hard finding the perfect mitts, isn’t it?

    I will be walking to work rather then biking as it’s going to be pretty harsh outside. Too bad there are no buses running that early in the morning. (6ish) I live fairly close to work thank goodness!

  3. Aaron says:

    It was cold in Boulder last week. On Sarah’s advice, I started wearing an old pair of mittens. While my fingers still burned after the commute, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as when I wore gloves. However, despite my under-helmet hat, ear warmer, and baklava, I managed to get a cold-induced headache at the beginning of each ride. It doesn’t help that both ends of my commute have little hills so that the first thing I do when I’m still cold is go fast without effort. I took the longer back route most days to stay away from the majority of traffic; the bike lanes were a mess.

    I like to think that I stoically take on the elements, but the cuss words that emerge from my mouth every time I just miss a light tell me otherwise. The build up of cars that I’ll have to contend with after the light changes is matched only by the fog crawling up my glasses. I’ve heard that gel toothpaste can prevent fogging — have you any experience with this atypical use?

    • Aaron says:

      and baklava,

      Sarah informs me that if I switch from wearing a Greek pastry on my face to wearing a balaclava, I might be warmer. That’s good to know.

  4. Scott says:

    I’ve been hanging in there. My oma was kaput this week after the shifter cable froze on the way home on Wednesday. All the shops were closed but the REI on Halsted let me use their tools to get it into a rideable gear for the rest of the ride home. I brought it into Boulevard Bikes yesterday — I had to replace the cable and housing. I took the train on Thursday because the oma was not available. Walking to the el stop and standing around on the elevated platform wasn’t so warm either!

  5. mike says:

    thank you for showcasing Chicago so nicely! Michigan Avenue is the cleanest urban area in the Western Hempisphere. A few days in Chicago and the grime of San Francisco becomes very difficult to bear.

    Thanks also for putting “cold” in perspective. I balked at riding one or two days this week due to the unseasonable cold. For us, that meant about 40f or so…

    I’ve lost my midwestern hardiness, I’m afraid.

    I’d be so nervous leaving Oma at an El station. Did you take any extra precautions against theft?

    • dottie says:

      I liked San Fran during a quick visit a couple of years ago, but it did seem a little grimy.

      I didn’t take any extra precautions with Oma. I’m never really worried about her with the o-lock, Abus chain and her weight. She seems to sturdy and reliable to get herself stolen. That said, I parked about a block from the L stop on the sidewalk, near a busy diner.

  6. Zweiradler says:

    We are expecting -10 °C this week … that’s laughable compared to your weather. :)


  7. So there I was thinking about how I should get out on my bike more. Even use it to get to work. How good would that be? Then I was thinking, but it’s often about 35C and 80% humidity and I would be a pool of water by the end of the trip. But then I read this. And those crazy winter temperatures. Wow! If you can brave that, I can brave the heat.

  8. HowardBollixter says:

    We had our cold spell last week, hovering at 0 to 5F daytime. One thing I have found to be helpful is when the fingers start to freeze I get off the bike for a minute and do some vigorous windmilling of the arms, forcing warm blood out to the fingertips. For some reason it doesn’t work so well to do it before setting out, and you don’t want to wait too long or you risk the thaw pain, but I’m surprised how well it works, the hands stay warm for quite bit longer after that. It can look pretty goofy but by now we’re all used to that, right?

  9. Doug D says:

    pogies – which are also spelled several other ways, are like big mittens that stay on your handlebars and allow you to work the controls and still have warm hands. I can ride in -40 with a thin pair of gloves and still have warm hands.
    For contrast, without the pogies I would wear so many layers of mittens that brake levers would be inoperable.

  10. Um, wow I am speechless. I did not realise it gets so cold in Chicago. Your casual and cheery attitude towards cycling in this weather is admirable! – and those J. Crew mittens sound very nice!

  11. miss sarah says:

    You’ve probably already read over at girlsandbicycles. Winter is kicking my ass too. -37C/-34F. WTF?!

    But cold is one thing. Wind is ridiculous. It takes “cold” to an exponential degree of craziness. And you guys have wet cold. Ours is dry cold, which I believe is easier to bear.

    When it gets -20C I’m fine with foregoing the bike for transit or car. I’m SO GOOD the rest of the time…

    And I’m happy to ride with Dexter when its dry and the temperatures are not freezing, but I don’t think the Madsen is an ideal winter bike for me. Dexter will return to two wheels when it’s decent and humane.

  12. Laua says:

    It hasn’t been so cold here in Philadelphia – in the 30’s. But since I’ve been carrying my dog to work in my new DoggyRide Mini Trailer, I’m staying pretty warm. Pulling 60 lbs (40lb dog, 20lb trailer) behind you will keep you toasty!

  13. cycler says:

    ahh, winter in the midwest….
    People like to B*tch and moan about it here and Boston, and we do get more snow here than where I grew up in Missouri, but there’s always a week or two there where it doesn’t get above 10F and the wind whips all the heat out of your body.

    I count myself very lucky to be able to take the train when it’s godawful outside. I want to like bicycling to work, not feel like it’s a punishment.
    Taking the T to work is so inconvenient that it definitely makes me look forward to riding my bike again.

  14. bongobike says:

    You are one tough cookie just for trying that first mile! I got the chills just reading about it. No cold tolerance for this old tropical boy…

  15. Step-Through says:

    I’m intrigued by the hand covers that attach to the handlebars. I saw a pair on Copenhagen Cycle Chic (December 2nd). Also, my friend who rides a scooter got a pair of “Tucano Urbano” hand grip covers for the winter. We will not need them where I live, nor will we see much in the way of civic pride and holiday spirit.

  16. Doug says:

    I just Love downtown Chiago. We’re in the Chicago area now and made it downtown for a show at the Chicago Theatre on Friday night. I really like where we live in Northeastern Minnesota, but I need a Chicago fix at least once a year.

  17. anon says:

    I rode through last week. The day of slush was the worst and I had wool gloves that soaked through. I survived Thursday, however, relatively unscathed. I bought Rivendell’s new winter gloves. Three sizes two big for me. So really not a permanent options. But shockingly warm. I wore them straight with no liner and was finger-wise my entire commute.

  18. Amy says:

    I actually miss working downtown when I see pictures like that, and Daley usually does have the most (or at least puzzling) displays in the medians. Gloves are definitely the hardest part. I usually have a couple of layers which makes getting dressed in winter so time consuming.

  19. Katie says:

    Dottie, have you ever tried choppers? They’re a wool mitten lining (removable) inside of a leather mitten. I know L.L. Bean sells them. The leather acts as great wind break, and the lining keeps my perpetually cold fingers pretty cozy. They’re my mitten of choice on frigid MN winter days.

    I love this blog – it inspired me to start commuting to work by bike. I live in a rural area but am lucky enough to have a bike trail that runs along our property and goes into town. Unfortunately it isn’t plowed, so after our big snow last week my bikes have been garage-bound. :(

  20. Patty Huber says:

    I bet you’re disappointed that your new gloves aren’t cutting it. You inspired me to give winter riding a real shot and I actually had my first real winter day of riding on that super cold day last Thursday. I rode about 20 miles to and from work that day. I had almost too many clothes on and never felt cold except for my fingers and toes.
    The scary thing about the cold is the ice on the street. I normally take the lake front path, but thought that it would be too difficult with the strong wind that day. I realized that wind and ice mixed with cars was pretty scary!
    I don’t plan on making rides in those temperatures a regular thing, but now most conditions will seem doable with that under my belt.
    Thanks Dottie for being an inspiration!

  21. Ian says:

    OMG I never realised it was so cold in Chicago. It must be like living at the North Pole, watch out for the polar bears Dottie…..ha ha. (And I thought we were having a really cold snap in England today at 37F )

  22. sara says:

    We are having the most bizarre weather– temps jumping all over the place. I choose not to ride with the boys this morning after a huge rain yesterday & I worried about the streets being super icy. And right now, it is totally balmy & I just wish we had the bakfiets. Anyway, we had a couple of super cold rides but I always think to myself,” It’s not as cold as what Dottie & Miss Sarah ride in….”

  23. LC says:

    Dottie, you’re so good… I am so bad… It’s been only -2 to -5 celsius and I have reverted back to buses, feel really bad. How do you do it? The more I cover up, the more I get hot during the cycle ride, but if I wrap less I am cold and I end up getting ill… I really don’t know how to solve this conundrum… I will try harder though, must conquer this little english cold weather ;) Lorenza xxx

  24. donna says:

    Your Oma set up makes my bike seem so inadequate. I am going to have to buy some new tires because even on dry pavement mine have been known to slide out from under me. I’ve never tried riding in the snow but I’m going to get studded tires before attempting it.

  25. Ann says:

    I retired to the far northern US Rockies (to get away from urban congestion). We had our first blast of very cold air and snow in early October and I found I couldn’t keep my hands warm with 2 pairs of gloves. I got a pair of ATV pogies on sale at Amazon for $17.99 and couldn’t be happier. I can now ride comfortably with 1 pair of gloves. I would suggest pogies (a.k.a. handlebar or Moose mitts) to anyone who bikes in cold, wintry weather. There are some specifically made for swept-back handelbars too, if you think those made for straight handlebars wouldn’t work. Cycle Chic had a photo of a fancy pair of black ones in his blog of 22 Nov. 09.

  26. Last week we had an Arctic blast, followed by a 30F on Saturday. It felt so warm. Tonight, it’s back down to -10F. On thing to remember is you’re body will adapt to a change in temperature, but it takes a few days. I bet you’ll do better tomorrow, even if it’s still that cold. Another thing to remember is while it’s nice to look good on your bike, sometimes style needs to take a back seat to survival. Nobody looks stupid, except the fools who are underdressed. I’m always amazed by the people who won’t wear hat or gloves. They shuffle to their car and crank the heat. An indoor existence is not enough for me.

    Next time, pack some extra’s, just in case you underestimated the chill. Or just have an L wherever you’re going.

  27. JB says:

    I used to commute to work in Colorado. Gore Tex mittens are great and wind breaking synthetic shell over wool and polypro kept me warm in any conditions.

  28. Johnny says:

    No shame in going for transit. :)

  29. myfiveminutecommute says:

    Just got back Tuesday from a short trip to Chicago and loved seeing the cyclists around the city, no matter that it was 15-30 degrees the few days I was there. Gives me inspiration about winter biking in my much smaller Midwestern city. For me, congestion & parking aren’t issues, so the choice not to go car takes on different considerations.

    Note to self: Must get arctic mittens.

    Loved the capitalist holiday cheer photos. Thanks for the pics.

  30. Karen says:

    Thanks for another great post with images of Chicago! I hate having to throw in the towel and not bike due to the weather but if one is in dreadful pain then the bike commute isn’t really that fun. Luckily, Chicago has great public transit and walkability so you still have to opportunity to take in your surroundings.

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