Progress to Date

  • Original Loan Amount: $204,000.00
  • Balance at Beginning of 5-year Goal (1/1/08): $188,983.82 @ 6.00%
  • Balance at Refinance in February 2009: $148,000.00 @ 4.625%
  • Outstanding Balance: $0.00 (PAID IN FULL!!!)
  • Latest Payment Date: April 2011
  • Latest Additional Principal Amount: $17,623.22
  • Amount Ahead of Schedule (since refinance): $121,462
  • Time Ahead of Schedule (since refinance): 7 years 10 months
  • Interest Saved Last Month: $23,972.48
  • Total Interest Saved: $28,435.55 ($1,037.74 on original mortgage; $27,397.81 on current mortgage)
  • Months Remaining in 5-year Goal: 20
  • Average Monthly Principal Needed to Meet Goal: N/A (Goal achieved)
  • Progress List Explained

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Winter Cycling

Now that spring has officially arrived, I've had a chance to reflect on my success in cycling through the winter. In 2009 I resumed commuting to work by bicycle during the last full week of March, and now that the same calendar week has passed in 2010, I can truthfully claim to have been a year-round New Hampshire cyclist.

I started riding my bicycle to work in the spring of 2007, and continued through 2008 and 2009. In previous years I always stopped cycling by the time Daylight Saving Time ended (late October or early November). I didn't have the confidence to ride in the dark, nor in cold weather. Since my wife and I share one car, we had to carpool during the October-March stretch. This was less enjoyable for both of us: my wife had to stay at work longer than she might have liked, and I had to spend more time driving in afternoon traffic to pick her up. I looked forward to the start of spring riding so we could both regain our transportation independence.

Some time during the past year I met another guy who works at my office who regularly rides his bicycle into work, winter months included. He also introduced me to another gentleman who rides to work year-round in Boston. Both of these men are in their 50s, unassuming, and not what anyone would call muscular (in fact, one of them is pretty scrawny-looking). I figured if they could ride safely during the winter, so could I (since I am of course young, incredibly fit, and nigh-invulnerable). So I solicited their recommendations on clothing, equipment, and riding techniques.

I will say that riding a bicycle during the winter requires more preparation than in the warmer months, but once I got into a routine, it didn't seem all that different from my summertime rides. In my opinion, there are four main challenges to overcome, listed more or less in order of importance:

  1. Illumination
  2. Sharing the road with winter traffic
  3. Keeping warm
  4. Keeping the bicycle maintained
I believe proper Illumination is the most important consideration when riding after DST ends. During the darkest months (November through January), it can get as dark by 4:30-5 PM as it is at midnight. I used one high-intensity LED lamp mounted to the top of my helmet as my "headlight" (with a steady white beam) which enabled me to see the road/trail ahead in total darkness. I also attached four flashing lamps on my bicycle to allow others to see me as I pedaled down the road: one flashing white LED in the front (mounted on my handlebars), one red flashing LED on the end of each handle (shining right and left so I could be seen from the sides), and one bright red flashing LED on the back of my bicycle.

I was pleased to observe that when I rode with all of my lights shining brightly, most cars seemed to give me more clearance when passing then they tend to offer when the sun is shining and I am riding without lights. Still, I found I had to adopt a few strategies during the winter while sharing the road with winter traffic in order to feel safe. First, and in my opinion most important, cars are not expecting to see a bicycle on the road in January. For this reason, I rode more slowly in the winter, double- and triple- checked before making turns or merging with traffic, and paid close attention to trouble spots (like narrow streets, hills, and spots with poor snow clearance or large snowbanks). Second, although I purchased and used studded winter tires which made me feel very confident about my ability to gain traction on snow and (especially) ice, I was not always confident that cars would be able to stop in time to avoid colliding with me in tight spots. So I made sure to yield whenever a car might have had trouble passing me, and kept off the main streets whenever possible to minimize my chances of coming into contact with heavy traffic. Even though the side streets get less attention from the snow plows, I figured I would be better off working harder to ride down snowy, empty streets than I would be fighting for space on the narrow side of a heavily-trafficked (but better-plowed) main thoroughfare. (And as a side benefit, it allowed me to avoid snow plows when on a bicycle...they are no fun to be around, whether they are in front of you dropping salt, or right behind you looking to clear the road on which you are pedaling).

Although it might seem like it would be at the top of the list in order of importance, I found that keeping warm was not as difficult as I expected. Though I'll concede that the winter of 2009-2010 was not one of the coldest I've experienced during my years in NH, I still rode on mornings when the temperatures were in the single digits F. Keeping my core warm was remarkably easy: I used a single wick-away shirt as a base layer, with a pair of thermal bib cycling tights for my torso and legs, and a lightweight barrier shell jacket (windproof/waterproof) on top. On days when the temperatures were below 30 degrees F, I used a balaclava for my head and face, so that only my eyes and nose were exposed to the elements; on "warmer" days I used a simple skull cap. Regardless of the headgear I always wore glasses (clear or tinted depending on the time of day) to cut down on the cold wind hitting the eyes. I had been given special "lobster" cycling gloves for my hands, but I found that on the coldest days, those gloves were not warm enough, and I relied on an old pair of standard ski gloves which kept my hands warm and dry. The footwear was probably the biggest challenge for me. The method which I finally adopted was to tuck a thick wool sock into my high-top Gore-Tex backpacking boots. The boots were heavy, and probably to the disappointment of the cycling purists, there was no way to attach them to the pedals, but they kept my feet warm, which was my top priority. With this set of clothing, I never found myself too cold to ride, and by the time I reached my destination I would often be on the verge of overheating, even on the coldest days.

Keeping the bicycle maintained in the winter is definitely a challenge. The roads get covered with sand and salt, which when mixed with snow and ice makes for a nice corrosive coating on the chain, gears, and brakes. On top of this, it's not really feasible to hose down the bicycle when it's 17 degrees outside and sleeting. So some sacrifices have to be made. I bought a heavy-duty lube which I would never use for summer riding (as it would attract far too much road gunk) and liberally soaked the chain and other moving parts with it. It kept things in decent working order. I took old t-shirts and wiped down the frame and other parts when they got especially wet and grimy. I also used a stiff-bristle brush (made for cleaning tile grout) to scrub off the chain and gears. On a couple of fortunate weekends (when the temperatures had risen to the high 30s during a thaw) I did take out the hose and sprayed down the bicycle, though this was more an exception than the norm. And I counted on the fact that I would need to replace the cassette and the chain after the winter ended, since the sand/salt mixture put far more wear on those parts than they are subject to during the rest of the year.

My wife also started riding her bicycle to work during the winter. She has to be more selective about the days she rides (since she does not have a place to shower at work) and therefore she stuck to the dry, clear days when she would not get soaked with precipitation or road spray. She adopted similar dressing and riding strategies as I did, though she did not opt to buy the studded snow tires this year (I think I'll encourage her to do this next winter).

Of course, there were some days when the snow was falling too fast or accumulating too quickly for me to feel safe on the bicycle, but fortunately they were not too common. For example, the month of January had 19 working days; I rode my bicycle on 14 of those. As a reward, I find myself in the best shape at the start of the spring season as I can remember for many, many years. And the sense of accomplishment is carrying over into other aspects of my life, giving me confidence to keep trying new things which had previously seemed daunting (like home repairs).


Simple in France said...

Thanks for posting on this! We've just moved to a climate where year-round cycling is tough (the Southern Alps in France). We've had a wet and snowy winter and I've been really starting to think that it might be hard to go without a car around here. . .but your suggestions are perfect for a place like this. By the way--I like the way you point out that people are not expecting to see biked on the road in January. I agree.

Also, I understand your wife's hesitation with biking to work when she has no shower available. I'm hoping that next year my husband and I will be able to do most of our commuting/errands by bike so I'll keep your advice in mind.

And yeah, cold, icky weather can really trash a bike. I'm considering just getting an old 'beater' for bad weather biking.

The Executioner said...

I forgot to mention that waterproof bicycle bags are great for winter (and rainy) days. I have a pair of bags made by Ortlieb which mount on the rack above my rear wheel. It can be absolutely pouring outside, and I'll be riding through puddles, but when I get to my destination, the contents of the bag are still nice and dry.

Get out of Credit Debt said...

This is really nostalgic. I remember i drove bicycle last time in schools. I wish i could do this now, but my life is really turned hectic and i have to take time out for this.