Cold Feet Over Winter Riding

I don't like riding in cold weather.

Yeah, I've got all the gear -- shoe covers and lobster-claw gloves, thermal cycling tights, a helmet cover, a balaclava, and all that. It's just that no matter how warmly you dress, at some point some part of you is going to be cold. Or when you stop for a short rest, the sweat pouring down your back starts to freeze.

I don't like being cold.

It's scary, but I'm starting to understand why old people migrate to Florida and Arizona. It always seemed like a joke before.

On my last ride here in Prague, on December 24, ice formed on my eyelashes, for god's sake. That's just not right.

As my friend Rob (he of the 6,000 kilometers in 2007) said in a text-message to me from out on the trail on December 22: "I froze my water bottle!"

Nevertheless, I did don my gay apparel and head out on the trail on Christmas Eve for a short ride, just to get my blood flowing and endorphins singing. It was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit (around minus 2 Celsius).

I took this frozen trail from the top of the hill in Statenice to Velké Přílepy.

The route itself was not of particular note -- a 20k ride from my house in Černý Vůl, a tiny village about eight kilometers northwest of Prague, meandering through some nearby villages such as Statenice and Velké Přílepy, on my way to (no surprise here) Okoř, and then home via Tuchoměřice.

Regular readers of this blog know that Okoř is one of my favorite cycling destinations. It's got a dramatic crumbling Gothic castle, a good restaurant in the village, and lovely country roads leading you there.

I highly recommend a pedal out there. From Prague city center, it's about 45 kilometers round-trip.

My ride on Christmas Eve day was cold, but oddly not as lonely as I would have guessed. I passed one other bundled-up cyclist on the road through Tuchoměřice, and saw two cyclists pausing for a breather and a chat in the field below Okoř castle.

I guess Rob and I aren't the only crazy ones out there.

The problem with riding in the winter in Prague is not only the cold, but the lack of sun. I've lived in many cold places in my life (for example, 15 years in Syracuse, New York, the snowiest metropolitan city in the United States), but while it's cold, the sun also makes frequent appearances.

In Prague, we routinely suffer from a meteorological phenomenon known as inversion, which blots out any trace of the sun for weeks at a time. It's psychologically debilitating.

There's a good explanation of inversion on the Radio Praha web page by Jan Moravcik of the Hydro-Meteorological Institute in Prague: "In meteorology, the term 'inversion' literally refers to a reversal of normal temperature patterns in the lower atmosphere. In wintertime, temperature inversion occurs when cold air close to the ground is trapped by a layer of warmer air. As the inversion continues, air becomes stagnant and pollution becomes trapped close to the ground."

Here's a picture that perfectly illustrates inversion. This was taken from the top floor of a building at the top of Wenceslaus Square in central Prague. Normally from this vantage point, there's a lovely view of Prague castle and St. Vitus Cathedral on the top left. They've disappeared, along with the sun and any desire to live.

As the article notes, it could be sunny, warmish and beautiful in the Czech mountains, while in the city it feels like it's twilight at midday. It's awful. Now I know what causes it, but I've never heard an explanation for why Prague suffers from it so much. I'd never heard of inversion until I came to Prague.

I guess I should pat myself on my (sweaty) back just for going out at all in this kind of weather. Ugh.

Length of ride: 20 kilometers
Average speed: 16.3 kph
Maximum speed: 39.8 kph
Time on the bike: 00.59.27
Distance ridden so far in 2007: 1,911.5 kilometers

I came across this Christmas scene out in the woods near Velké Přílepy. It also shows the inversion clouds pretty well.

Interesting graffiti on an old building in Velké Přílepy. I rather like the creature on the left. I don't know what it is, or what it means, but I like it.

Fog frozen on treetops on a ridgeline above some Czech country cottages on the road between Statenice and Tuchoměřice, with an airplane caught in the clouds as it prepares to land at Prague's main airport.

Lilypads of ice on the banks of the creek that flows beside Okoř castle.

Bird tracks in the snow (as if I needed to tell you).


The drearyness of the day is very evident in the photos.

I like my winter rides, but when that perspiration thing you mentioned hits, it can be very chilling.
gabby1 said…
Great pictures. I can't imagine living without the sun for weeks at a time...I'd get extremely grouchy!

BTW...I was born in Auburn, NY...funny how it really is a small world!

Still riding out here (IL) although I'm doing the road bike still while waiting on my new commuter bike which will be better equipped for snow and ice.
Happy Riding!

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