What I wear when riding my bike during a Durham winter

Warning: talk of winter clothing follows, in a similar vein to last year’s post about being lit up for night riding. If you don’t care, feel free to stop reading right now :)

Somebody on the BPAC mailing list recently linked to a post from a man going to extreme measures to stay warm on a bike. He was using lots of layers of really expensive cycling gear. I’m sure he was really warm, but I couldn’t help but think that it was complete overkill for this area; you really don’t need anything fancy in the winter around here, you just need a bit of planning.

It’s been cold here this week, but not that cold, and it’ll never be that cold here in your lifetime (barring some really nasty climate change side effects… but I’m sure our top men and women will have that little SNAFU sorted out soon, right?). In my 10+ years of bike commuting in the Triangle, I think I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what I actually do need.

For starters, you don’t need any “cycling” clothing. Dedicated cycling gear is obscenely overpriced. Sometimes that price is worth paying if you’re a true bike nerd, but if you just want to ride a bike in the cold weather it’s completely unnecessary. There’s some nice stuff, sure, but under no circumstances do you need a $450 Rapha coat to do the job (although, if you gave me one, I wouldn’t turn it down…).

Dressing for a bike ride is a bit more challenging than dressing for walking around on the streets, and even a bit more challenging than dressing for e.g. running. This is because:

  • You’re exercising, which means your core will get really warm due to body heat, so you need to carefully choose clothing which will both keep you warm at the start and let in more cool air once you get going. This is shared with running, of course, but…
  • You’ll need to be prepared for wind. Riding downhill can result in 30MPH+ speeds, not to mention the possibility of riding into a headwind, so you can face gusts over 40MPH. But since you have to go up hills slowly and make stops along with traffic, that wind can disappear from time to time too.
  • You can’t keep your hands in your pockets (unless you’ve got incredible balance and ride fixed gear, but most of us do need brakes and steering). Your hands need to be kept warm by gloves alone.

There’s one big thing to realize: as you ride, your core will get warmer and your extremities will get colder. So, at the beginning of a ride, you should feel slightly underdressed on your core and slightly overdressed on the extremities (or have provisions to modify that balance as you go).

This is what I wear in weather like we’ve had this week:

  • Denim or khaki pants, same that I use pretty much year round. I wear Levi’s cycling jeans and pants, but they’re absolutely not required; any thick-ish cotton or wool pants will work (the Levi’s Commuters tend to hold up better to long term riding, in my experience). If I were to wear dress pants (or if it were 10 degrees colder), I’d supplement with long underwear (I have a merino/synthetic blend from Costco for this purpose).
  • Wool socks, Kirkland Signature. One layer of wool socks is all that’s needed above about 25F or for short rides; two layers of wool socks will get you through the worst the Triangle will ever offer.
  • Any shoes will work (assuming they have room for your possible double-layer wool socks). No need for technical bike shoes. I usually wear DZR clipless shoes because I am in fact a bike nerd, but I’ve worn dress shoes and Chuck Taylors and Doc Martins, and they’ve all been fine.
  • An Under Armour balaclava. You don’t need much on your head, because you actually generate a lot of heat there, but you do need something (especially to cover up your face and ears, which get exposed to the wind). A thin synthetic balaclava is the best option I’ve found; make sure to get one that can be adjusted for multiple configurations, and then you can wear it even when it’s much warmer.
  • Wool sweater. Same thing you’d wear anywhere when it gets cold. Just needs to be wool, with sleeves long enough to reach your gloves, and long enough to cover your back when you lean forward on the bike.
  • Long sleeve under shirt, whatever sort you prefer (again, Costco tends to have such things). This is not required for anything over about 25F, but if you use a cheap sweater and don’t like its feel directly on your skin this can be worn even when it’s warmer.
  • Wool coat. Just a regular wool coat. Same deal as the sweater, just make sure it covers your back and arms fully when in cycling mode, and make sure its fit allows you full range of motion. Also, ideally ensure that you can unbutton it while riding once your core starts to get warm.
  • Wool scarf. Optional and mostly just for looks, the scarf can make me too warm if I’m not careful. It’s really nice to have when it gets below 20F or so, since you can tuck it under your jacket for an extra, easily peeled away layer on your core.
  • Gloves… well, I’ve splurged on gloves. Yeah, GoreTex, really expensive, water proof, bike specific, the whole nine yards. Those are good down to the high 20s, but I need to add some silk glove liners to help when it’s colder or for longer rides. These aren’t required, of course; in the past I’ve used $20 ice fishing gloves with good results. Basically, you want something that stops wind, and anything that’s “water proof” will do that. The issues with most really cheap water proof gloves are that they 1) tend to not be very flexible, so shifting can get a little tricky, and 2) they don’t breathe at all, so if your hands get too warm you have sweat issues.
  • Sunglasses. You want glasses big enough to cover your eyes totally and ideally overlap with the balaclava. You can use any generic “wraparound” style sunglasses that provide enough coverage. It never gets cold enough to warrant full on ski goggles around here, but you do need sunglasses to keep the wind from freezing your eyeballs out. You can get an extra set of clear glasses or safety goggles for those night rides, if applicable.

See? No big deal. Unless… it rains.

Cold/freezing rain is where you start to really push the boundaries of what you can wear, and fancy/expensive things become really attractive. This is when I resort to the technological marvel that is Gore-Tex.

I have a pair of Gore-Tex rain pants and a Gore-Tex raincoat, both from the “GORE Bike Wear” line, which I use in freezing rain or rain under 40F. It’s also such a complete wind stop that you can wear it instead of a wool coat; a wool sweater and a Gore-Tex rain jacket will handle pretty much anything over 20F. I’ve worn basically that, along with a light denim jacket, in Chicago in negative temps with wind and been fine.

Do you need that stuff? No, definitely not. Wool will work OK for a while, but it will eventually soak through. You can also try wearing a generic, low cost rain suit instead. I find the main benefits of Gore-Tex to be flexibility and breathability; cheap rain gear offers neither.

So, I think that just about does it. If you stay well clothed and stay lit, you can ride year round in comfort. Give it a shot!

Cyclist killed following collision with vehicle on Duke University Rd. / West Chapel Hill St.

The collision happened on October 18. Kent Winberry was operating his bicycle, traveling east on Duke University Road. He entered the intersection of that road with Chapel Hill Road (where the name of Duke University Road changes to West Chapel Hill St.).

At that intersection, a motorist approached from the opposite direction. That motorist, apparently failing to notice Winberry, began to turn left, intending to drive South on Chapel Hill Rd.

The motorist collided with Winberry in a type of incident which is often referred to as a “left cross.” Winberry was rushed to Duke Hospital with critical injuries. He passed away last night.

My thoughts and wishes are with Winberry’s friends and family.

I didn’t know Kent Winberry, but I know where he was hit. I have ridden through that intersection probably hundreds of times.

This is the second time in as many years that I’ve written a blog post about a cycling fatality in Durham. This isn’t really what I signed up for here. Please, stop killing cyclists.

EDIT:

I rode along the stretch of road where this incident occurred and have recorded a video of the location. I hope something can be done to improve safety in this area.

The Lake Crabtree bike trails are safe – until 2015, anyway

Yesterday WRAL posted an update on the status of the bike trails at lake Crabtree, whose future depends on the continued cooperation of the RDU airport authority who presently leases the parcel to Wake County (previously discussed here):

Airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said the new deal would have an annual renewal through 2025, giving the airport authority more flexibility.

“Annual renewal” for “more flexibility.” Basically, that means that the airport wants the ability to re-use the land on short notice. This portion of Lake Crabtree Park [NB: WRAL seems to think this parcel is not part of the park, but I think they’re wrong; check out this map from Wake County which does clearly show that it’s included] can still go away on a whim from RDU.

Why would RDU want the ability to do things with the land? Why, perhaps they want to develop it, just as their plan states.

The reprieve until next year doesn’t change the equation in a meaningful way. RDU has issued vague assurances that they don’t have any plans to “develop” that land “at this time” (watch the video from WRAL), but that doesn’t mean much. They might well have plans to “sell” it tomorrow or develop it “at another time” for all we know.

Note how, in an apparent effort to avoid inspiring any confidence that the park will continue to exist, the RDU rep goes on to talk about all the reasons that the airport might want to develop its land right after saying it doesn’t have any plans to do so.

If you care about this park, don’t become complacent. I feel like the best way to really assure its future is to have Wake County buy it from RDU. I’m sure that’s a tough sell to the taxpayers in Wake County, but it’s difficult to imagine RDU leaving this land alone forever out of the kindness of their own hearts. There’s money to be made, after all!

The RDU Airport Authority may intend to sell off a large part of Lake Crabtree Park

OK, this is 1) technically not in Durham and 2) maybe nothing, but in the last few days I’ve noticed a lot of grumbling about the fate of the Lake Crabtree Park in Morisville.

This park has long been a popular destination for mountain bikers, with an extensive network of trails for all skill levels. Once upon a time, when I lived in (gasp) Cary, I would routinely hop on the greenways and ride up to the park; its central location near RDU makes it very easy to get to, and it’s still one of the most convenient trails for me to get to coming from downtown Durham.

So, what’s going on here, anyway? I was surprised to find out that the trail system resides on property that’s owned by the airport authority and leased to Wake County. That means that, should RDU ever be inclined to develop the land, a huge wooded chunk of the park will be lost and converted to [insert development type here].

The County’s current lease on the area expired last year, and RDU has yet to renew it, which has raised a lot of speculation that the end is nigh. RDU’s latest study indicates that this would be a good location for:

Partly restricted, high-performance development (office, hospitality) set back from the lakefront with direct access to waterfront park.

Some folks at TriangleMTB have been looking into the situation. They’ve also put together a web site specifically to raise awareness.

The Herald ran an article on the situation last week, and they got a response from the RDU authority:

Airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said a lease for another 149 acres, known as the “FATS parcel,” expired last year but negotiations are under way to extend it.

“We are currently working with the county to determine what the length of the next agreement will be,” Hamlin said.

Airport officials say they have no immediate plans to develop the property.

“No immediate plans to develop” – those are the Herald’s words, not the authority’s, but that phrase leaves a massive amount of wiggle room (e.g. RDU might plan to sell immediately, or plan to develop in the future, and that could still have been a technically true statement).

It’s not really obvious to me what if any impact Durham residents can have on this process, since the park itself is just across the border in Wake County. Some potential “outs” here involve some government purchasing the land from RDU; say, DENR or Wake County. But it seems pretty clear that RDU thinks this parcel holds a lot of untapped potential, and even if they don’t act on that today, its future is very much uncertain.

Zagster bike rentals show up on Duke campus

Following the end of Duke’s in-house bike lending program last year, the student government and the university worked together to find a replacement. They gave the nod to a company called Zagster, and this week I’ve started seeing the bikes on campus:

This one’s on West Campus in a not-so-visible location behind the Allen building near the quad. I also spotted one near the main bus stop on East Campus earlier this week (but failed to grab a photo).

There are four stations to start with: two on West Campus, one on Central Campus, and the one on East Campus. Although the location behind Allen pictured above isn’t exactly prime real estate for visibility, it could be pretty convenient assuming you know where to look for it. When I swung by it looked like the rack was full, except for a single bike that I saw somebody take out of the rack as I approached.

I’m always glad to see this sort of initiative, but with the bike stations located only on campus the potential for wider utility will go unrealized. I’d love to see the city some how tie into Duke’s efforts; imagine how much more useful this kind of program would be if there were stations at Ninth St., downtown, etc.

Durham DOT director Mark Ahrendsen gets necked down at the BPAC Club Blvd meeting

Mark Ahrendsen looked a little uncomfortable last night as he answered some tough questions about the W. Club Blvd neck down project.

Not much new was learned. The story as I told it before is roughly accurate. Ahrendsen insists that the BPAC’s concerns about the impact of neck downs on cyclists (which were presented to him in writing in 2010) weren’t “ignored;” instead, they were “considered” and then discarded, since the specific examples mentioned in the letter weren’t feasible to implement. Ahrendsen, of course, didn’t tell that to the BPAC at the time. BPAC chair Erik Landfried appeared frustrated by the fact that Ahrendsen ruled out the specific examples rather than responding to the more crucial general observation that cyclists deserved some attention in the project.

According to Ahrendsen, this whole thing is now on the WHHNA. There’s no facility for any of it to be revisited by his department at this point unless the WHHNA changes its mind. No amount of public input from any other community will be considered. Ahrendsen has presented two options to the WHHNA: neck downs or scrap the thing and start over – and his sole concern is to implement whichever of those options they choose. Ahrendsen threw out “three years” in describing how long it might take to implement a revised project should WHHNA change its mind now.

As I’ve never observed the process of such street designs before, I found this shocking; the concerns of the neighborhood in which a street runs surely must be important, but considering those desires in a vacuum when constructing a plan that impacts motorists and cyclists from other neighborhoods is insane. As far as I’m aware, last night’s BPAC meeting is the first time the general public outside of the WHHNA was invited to discuss this plan with Ahrendsen, and as was made clear it’s now far too late to do anything about it.

Even though it’s been thirteen years since the original study, and it’s been eight years since Club was identified as an important road for cyclists, the assumptions and implementation goals of the original plan have never been revisited. A public works employee (whose name I didn’t catch) described all of the engineering challenges associated with installing neck downs (of which there are apparently many) and offered insights into the requirements he was given (which amounted to, basically, put in neck downs). Federal regulations have changed since the original study, and the implementation details of the neck-downs were modified to support those, but the fundamental design elements have remained unmodified. No study which considers the needs of cyclists has ever been performed. The public works employee was not instructed to consider engineering any design features to aid cyclists, and so he did not.

My take is that Ahrendsen is looking to dump this hot potato on the WHHNA to avoid any direct responsibility himself. I suspect that he understands the design isn’t ideal, but he doesn’t want to be the guy that slows down “their” project any further. The WHHNA is who he’s out to appease, and by placing it in their lap, if there are problems down the road, they are the ones responsible for accepting the plan.

It looks to me, quite frankly, like cowardice. If Ahrendsen is supposed to take the transit needs of the entire community into consideration, he’s clearly failing to do that. In this fight, it seems as if cyclists have no advocate.

Furthermore, I think the WHHNA is well on its way to becoming reviled by some cyclists. It seems as if no discussion of Club can occur without somebody bringing up the death of Seth Vidal. The WHHNA board’s endorsement of an anti-cyclist road design in close proximity to that incident certainly appears callous (or at the very least tone deaf), a point which one commenter mentioned last night.

If you live in WHH, I urge you to contact your board and express your concerns. Neck downs are actively dangerous. Do not let your neighborhood be perceived as so hostile to the needs of cyclists. Demand a better plan that works for everybody.

Somebody at the BPAC meeting last night made a suggestion so simple that I can hardly believe it was discarded in favor of this monstrosity: why not simply add pedestrian crossings with triggered stoplights? My suspicion is that the economics of such things didn’t work out in 2001, because I can’t fathom any way in which neckdowns could be considered preferable to anybody. I’ve seen these dedicated pedestrian lights sprout up in the intervening years and they’re excellent solutions (see, for example, Murray Ave near the Museum of Life+Science).

The budget for the Club neckdowns is $350,000; I wonder how many triggered pedestrian crossings you can buy for $350,000?

Maybe somebody from the WHHNA should ask that question of Mark Ahrendsen.

Tonight, the BPAC will meet to discuss the future of West Club Blvd

This evening, at 7 p.m., the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Board will meet at City Hall to discuss the redesign of West Club Blvd. The current plan (previously discussed here) would add neck-downs and choke cyclists into the travel lane – an outcome which few people seem to believe is ideal, but some WHNNA residents seem to feel is better than the status quo for pedestrians. The BPAC, it should be noted, is solely an advisory board with no authority to impact policy directly; rather, they can make recommendations that the city is encouraged to follow (but is free to ignore).

Since my previous blog post, the neckdown plan has been the subject of an article at newsobserver.com and an editorial in the Herald-Sun. In its editorial, the H-S specifically endorses re-examining the project:

In an email Gronberg reported, Councilman Steve Schewel, who lives in Watts-Hillandale, mused “Is there a way to make Club Boulevard friendlier to both cyclists and pedestrians? I expect there is. Would such a plan be worth the wait?”

As much as we sympathize with the neighborhood’s impatience, we think the answer is yes.

In addition to the newspapers weighing in, there’s also a response from Bike Durham which (unsurprisingly, seeing as how “bike” is in the name of the group) encourages the city to reconsider:

Bike Durham would like the city to align streets designs with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans. In the case of West Club Boulevard, this means revisiting and likely updating the design to meet the needs and safety concerns of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.

The BPAC is encouraging people to attend the meeting and provide input. Mark Ahrendsen, director of the Department of Transportation, is expected to be there.