In near future I’ll make a broader post about winter cycling gear; but for now, just a brief review of one component that I recently bought, the Craft brand neoprene cycling booties.

Riding in colder temps, the cycling shoes we all use, whose well-ventilated design is great for summer, are a detriment. Feet very quickly get cold even in 40 degrees, let alone 30, 20, or lower. Thicker socks certainly help, and a good pair of wool socks is indispensable. One inadvisable thing would be to layer multiple pairs of socks; this leads to compression problems with the feet and symptoms basically identical to being cold; besides which, the cold soon permeates the extra pair and your feet are just cold anyway.

The solution favored by many riders who insist on continuing to ride in the cold season – commuters, randonneurs, or just those hardbitten fools who love to ride – are cycling overshoes, or cycling booties.

These come in a variety of materials and designs, but the basic idea is the same: cover the entire foot (shoe and all), add another layer of wind protection, and insulate against the cold.

After reading a bit on various options, I decided to go with the advice of friend and local endurance rider Keith “Red Leader” G, and pick up a pair of Craft neoprene booties.

Below is a picture of me wearing one on a recent ride (the yellow ankle band is something I wear atop them; it is not part of the boot).

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First thing for the prospective buyer to be aware of is: BUY LARGE. Meaning, larger size than you need on paper. There are sizing charts out there for translating your bike shoe size to size of overshoe/booty; and, one piece of advice you see everywhere is, “buy larger than this indicates you should!”. I heartily second that. After referencing such a sizing chart, I bought the next size up; however, the ones I received are still quite tight. If I had it to do again I would have bought yet a larger size.

The shoes work great for me. I’m still fine-tuning my wardrobe for winter riding, but currently I wear these in anything less than probably 36 degrees or so (depending on ride distance). I’ve worn them down to nearly single digits (with a good thick pair of wool socks in that case) without feeling cold. My feet did feel “chilly” by ride’s end when it’s been that cold, but they never felt outright cold, or uncomfortable. This would never be the case with straight socks and cycling shoes.

Full disclosure, I DO think that, for me personally, if I were riding a prolonged distance – let’s say 25 miles or more – in 20 degrees or colder, I think my feet would be a little cold. Probably still not COLD, but, cold. So these aren’t a magic bullet. They do insulate your feet, they do hold in warmth and add another layer of wind protection, but they aren’t a fireplace. THIS winter specifically, I think there’s no likelihood that I will ride far enough in cold enough temps that I’ll need more; but, by next year, I expect to be up to doing long rides pretty routinely and for such outings, would possibly want – and need – more.

The shoes “fasten” in multiple ways. There’s a velcro strap across the foot bottom (somewhat visible in below picture); a zipper up the side/back (visible in picture above), and another velcro strap that closes across the top of the zipper.

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The shoes being quite tight on me as mentioned, it took me a short while to work out an easy way in and out of the shoes, but I’ve got it down pat now, as follows:

After putting on bike shorts, socks, leggings if appropriate, etc, I put the neoprene booty on one foot. I first zip up the zipper and fasten the top velcro; then, grasping it firmly around the top, pull it over my foot like a boot-style slipper. With the bottom velcro left open, I’m able to “peel back” the rubberlike shoe, bunching it around my ankle, to fully reveal my foot. I then put my shoe on that foot, tighten it up like normal, and then, grasping the “toe” portion of the neoprene covering, stretch it out and over the toe of the shoe. A second or two of adjusting the back and sides (especially over the ratchet strap on the bike shoe), and the shoe is well fit. I simply close the velcro on the shoe bottom, and then repeat with the other foot.

Upon arriving home after the ride, I take them off in exactly the reverse order. Undo the bottom velcro, pull the shoe back (toe portion first) to give some slack, unbuckle and remove bike shoe, then undo top velcro on Craft shoe, unzip and remove from foot.

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For comfort while riding I give these a 5 of 5.

For secure snug fit, also 5 of 5.

For protection from cold, probably 4 of 5. Again, depending upon your precise mileage and temps, these will be hugely useful in a wide range of conditions.

For weight efficiency, 5 of 5. The shoes do add weight, of course – they have mass – but it isn’t noticeable, and especially not for the value they add. Picture a lightweight, flexible, quasi-rubber set of slippers atop your bike shoes – that’s what these are.

For safety, I give them 4 of 5. Each shoe has a small reflective strip down the back (visible in picture #1), and the very tops of the boots as well as those “circles” on the shoes in the picture below are semi-reflective. I personally always wear the yellow reflective ankle bands in anything other than broad daylight, so those combined with these shoes = great awareness to following cars that you are there.

Winter here this year has been pretty mild, and I’ve not been able to really test these in LOW LOW temps and/or for longer mileage. But with my ride distances slowly creeping up, I am hopeful of another couple of good really cold days for me to test these guys for some distance.

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Weekend wrap-up of #bikehour rides.

The daily ride is finally growing up, as evidenced by this weekend’s mileage.

Friday 2/6:

Late-evening start to ride. Headed out around 8:15 PM, after a short nap (yes!) at home. Temps were quite nice – I don’t recall exactly but roughly around 40-45. I took a route that I rode periodically prior to my recent fall from fitness/nutritional grace – here in Ottawa, I take Eisenhower, south to Old State Highway 50, which meanders along through some rollers, some flats and some long gradual grades, to John Brown Highway. I take that a few miles back east to 59 Highway, where I make the 8ish mile finish back home. Overall route is about 26.5 miles.

My first 20+ mile in this streak; in fact, my first 20+ mile bike ride in some 5 weeks, and my first 20+ mile ride in the state of Kansas since mid-October. That last ride was a much slower-paced, with frequent stops, group ride on the Katy Trail with about 10-11 other friends; prior to THAT, my last 20+ mile bike ride in Kansas was actually the Bike MS ride in mid-September, a shocking 4.5+ months ago and before the entire saga with my mom’s passing.

I won’t claim this 26 miler was easy for me; in fact, considering that my longest ride in the streak to date was basically 18.5 miles (which I’ve done 3-4 times), this was 40%+ longer than anything on the streak so far. That’s a big jump up. But, I handled it (including the hills, which really reminded me how much difference even 10 pounds of body weight makes when climbing) decently well. The highlight of the ride was probably the stretch east on JB Highway. For one, I had a little tailwind behind me, and for two, I was headed directly at a sometimes-cloud-shrouded full (or near-full) moon which hung brilliantly in the sky. Listening to an awesome Pandora mix, riding along a nearly-zero-traffic road into the late Friday evening, chasing the moon – magical.

Saturday 2/7:

Weatherwise even nicer than Friday. High temperature today hit something like 70! But, a combination of the gym, which I’ve recently returned to, plus my unusually (for me in current era) long ride of Friday, meant I was SORE. Like, no exaggeration, 8 or 8+ on 10 scale. Therefore, I didn’t see the need to attempt a “heroic” (air quotes because it’s all relative) ride distance today. I was quite content with 12.1 miles on the “airport road” route, on a 4 PM ride. Full spring outfit for me – shorts, t-shirt, fingerless gloves. Excellent.

Sunday 2/8:

Back to a slightly longer ride, on which I set out about 8:30 AM. Nice out, maybe 45-50 degrees at that time. I’d just missed a REALLY beautiful dawn, which would have been awesome to ride in if I’d left 60-90 minutes earlier. All the same, nice.

I employed a route that I’ve not ridden in some time – basically getting on 68 Highway from 7th street here in town and go due west. 10 miles gets you to Franklin, at which point I typically (and did so today) return.

Wind was fairly nasty. It was stronger than I anticipated from my weather app, and coming from about the NNW. This meant I was mostly going into it heading out and mostly had it with me coming back; but, being not straight on, it was always threatening me a little bit. More than a couple times, a sudden strong gust almost took me off the bike in one way or another.

The only other excitement of the ride was a nice little dog encounter just ~3 miles in. Battling the headwind meant I was rolling along at between 10.5-12.5 mph during this stretch. At some point I heard a dog just behind me barking. Riding the bike enough and being chased enough by dogs gives one the ability to tell pretty quickly from a bark both the size of the dog and its intentions, and right away I knew this wasn’t good. I never DID see the animal, but from the bark it was a larger one, and it was serious. It gave chase for a short time, barking, and then essentially rammed or sideswiped me on my left leg! This startled me and upped the adrenaline. In that split second in which many thoughts race through, I realized that it was conceivable the dog could do this again, with more emphasis, possibly knocking me down, at which point there would be a confrontation. Fortunately, this “swipe” from the dog was its parting shot, and it dropped off the pace and receded down the road.

I knew that on the return, I would have a very respectable tailwind and be going MUCH faster, and didn’t have much worry; in fact, I looked forward to the dog coming out again to greet me, to shifting up a ring or two, and dropping the beast. Alas, on the return, as I kept my head on a swivel not knowing precisely which house was “his”, I heard a single token bark from the porch as I rode by. Making 17-20 mph during this stretch, I’m sure the dog realized I was already going too fast to be worth attempting to run down.

As I said at the start, the daily ride is growing up. Friday was the streak’s longest ride yet; Friday + Saturday was my highest 2-day mileage yet; and with Sunday’s ride, I had my second 20+ miler and the highest 3-day mileage yet. Things are coming gradually easier now, and I can discern gradual progress in several aspects of fitness and my on-bike ability.

Streak extends to 23 days, and we’re just getting started!! At start of Sunday’s ride I thought with a smile, I’m not sure how many of my friends & family would have believed at the start of the streak that I’d actually make it to 23 days without faltering, but I’ve gotten here and am just getting warmed up. The really fun days are still ahead.

Catching up on the last few rides.

Streak is still alive; it extended to day 20 with yesterday’s ride.

Tuesday 2/3 – got in 18.6 miles on an evening ride in Ottawa. My longest ride of the streak thus far – by a massive 1/3 of a mile. My now-familiar route of riding to Princeton on Hwy 59, back to Ottawa, taking the “cemetery connector” (side road beside Wally World), then instead of going directly home, just another couple miles in town. Longest ride of streak to date and one of the least taxing. Progress is definitely occurring.

Most prominent on this ride (and the ensuing couple that have followed to date) is that The Factor Which Shall Not Be Named – which I alluded to in the 2/2 #bikehour post with this:

The ride was also great for another reason which I’m not yet ready to make public. Sometime, I will.

…was very much in evidence here too. It may be weeks before I’m ready to disclose this publicly, but, it’s all kinds of good.

Wednesday 2/4 – 4:50 AM ride in Ottawa. The “airport road” route. 11.7 miles total. Not especially significant for any particular reason. I remember it was quite cold, and also The Factor Which Shall Not Be Named was still rollin’.

Thursday 2/5 – 5:30 PM ride in Ottawa. More or less the same “airport road” route but with just a couple additional miles on 59 highway thrown in. There was quite a respectable wind from the south, so I was making quite good speed (for me) on the last several miles back to the house. Temperature was around 30 degrees, and there was still ice on the ground from the recent spate of bad weather; fortunately, the ice was confined to the FAR edges of the road shoulder and in the grass, so the roads were totally safe for bikes. The Factor Which Shall Not Be Named still in play.

I’m quite glad that I’ve been able to maintain the streak without needing to resort to inside riding. I still give myself that out if necessary – as I have since day one (for example, if there’s 8 inches of snow on the ground, I ain’t riding my road bike) – but, I’m making it a point to avoid it if at all possible. With the next several days looking quite spring-y, neither snow nor ice is anywhere in sight. Only another few weeks of potential winter weather remain – then, after that, clear sailing from a weather perspective.

I wanted to quit.

Last evening I felt like stepping back from the streak. I’d somewhat miscalculated the amount of ice left on the ground in Ottawa for the evening ride I had planned, and I was very apprehensive about falling. Muddled up in my feelings was the old familiar demons of “will I ever be able to succeed at what I’m trying to do” – referring to losing lots of weight and getting into very good shape. Sometimes it seems like you’re giving it 100% and it’s not enough.

I could excuse myself from my very public reporting on my streak: “too much ice. I misjudged. I’ll start another streak later.” But searching my insides, I found that in thinking this way, I was really looking for a way out.

I didn’t like that.

I’ve taken several steps recently to turn around this fitness & weight situation that I’ve fallen into post-my mom’s passing. I reminded myself yesterday evening how much work I’ve done and even a couple of specific recent steps, which should tell me all I need to know about how much I want to keep fighting and win. Don’t give up now.

It’s true, there was more ice on the ground than I bargained for. And I WAS very nervous about falling. But I knew that a will always finds a way. Let’s go to Forest Park, I thought, drive around there. I bet the circle there is clear. Will be a pretty boring ride – 10 laps around a circular ~.8 mile “track” – but, it’s infinitely better than cashing in. I drove up and surely enough, road there was totally clear.

24 degrees out with windchill lower, so it was cold. I dressed about as warmly as I currently have the ability to for a bike ride – again, another post later on winter riding apparel – and set out. I was in fact never vaguely chilly, let alone cold, during the ride. Granted that it was only 10 miles, versus 20 or 30 or 50.

Ride started out in a similarly crappy mindset. First, I’d forgotten to turn the tail-light on at the house, so I wanted to stop and do that. If you have the light, you should use it. Second, I experienced some issue with my front derailleur, which I still need to sort out. I could ride only in the small ring. Not a huge issue for now, but it does greatly reduce the gears available. Third, in my “full winter wardrobe” I felt fat and bulky, and pictured myself as a large fat man rolling down the street on a bicycle. “Who am I kidding” time in my mind. I was not in a good headspace.

Things changed not long after I entered the park. I reminded myself, you tend to view things very mathematically and objectively. Yes you’re not in the shape now that you want to be in, but let’s see how long it’ll take to get there. I’ve long viewed miles on the bike as “little calorie machines”. That is, (within common sense limitations) the more miles you ride, the more calories you are going to burn. YOU control your progress, to a significant extent. Progress doesn’t control you. So as I glided around the track again, and again, my mind worked, turning over models of average daily mileage versus net calories burned per mile versus calories in a pound. And as I continued taking silent circles, punctuated only by my breathing, around the track under a brilliant watchful moon, the ride turned into among the favorites I’ve ever taken. *I can do this*, I realized. It’ll be work, and effort, and it’ll be commitment, but I can reach my goal not in years or decades, but months. Things will gradually come easier as the weight ebbs away, cardio improves, weather improves allowing for lighter riding and further mileage, etc. I arrived at a few key dates in my head and accompanying milestones. I renewed my intensity and my commitment to see the work through. I can do this, and I will do this.

I view this ride as a turning point. In future there may – and almost certainly will – be others. For now, this one was huge.

The ride was also great for another reason which I’m not yet ready to make public. Sometime, I will.

Soon enough the 10 miles was over, and I was back home. There, in the bathroom brushing teeth and getting ready to shower & go to bed, I looked up into the mirror and I saw a winner.

#bikehour extends to 16 days, with two cold, rainy weekend ride days under the belt; and it leaves behind its first month (not a complete month though) and enters its second.

Friday I got in 13.5 miles in an evening ride in Ottawa. East on 68 up to Wal Mart distribution center, around their giant parking lot a time or two, back, and then up Montana to Sand Creek and back home via 59.

Saturday was the first rainy-day ride on the streak. Left the house (Ottawa) about 6:20 AM. 32-35 degrees out and raining; sub-30 degree wind chills. Not idyllic weather. For the first time, I rocked my full rain ensemble: usual outfit with the exception of head gear, which was, in this order, cycling cap, hood of rain/wind jacket, bike helmet.

I rode Storm, and she doesn’t have fenders, so I knew it was unavoidable that I’d get wet and somewhat gritty. It had already been raining for several hours, and roads were soaked.

Being still raining, I put all the stuff that I carry in my belt-bag, into a ziploc bag. Actually, I put two items that I carry with me in memory of my Mom into a ziploc, then put THAT bag into a second ziploc, which held all the other stuff (a gel or two, spare tubes, tire changing stuff). Wrapped it up and put in belt bag. Stayed bone dry. Phone also got the double-ziploc treatment. No earphones and music on this ride.

Route was a very simple one – up to Princeton and back (without the “cemetery connector”). 16.6 miles. I wanted something with very few turns, to acquaint myself with the wet-weather riding I was getting into. I’ve not ridden a ton in rain, and not at all in 4 months (almost to the day).

Ride was fairly uneventful. It was pretty epic what with the cold steady rain which fell wire to wire on the ride. My body was fairly chilled when I reached the house. More musings on winter gear to come in a separate, non-#bikehour post.

Sunday’s ride was not quite as pleasant. Saturday night I stayed up north with a friend watching the UFC PPV, so I didn’t get to sleep until close to 1 AM. Woke up just a few hours later to head out into more of the same as Saturday’s ride, before conditions get REALLY bad today from a wind perspective. Precipitation is supposed to taper off this afternoon, but temps will be falling to “really really” cold and winds will really pick up. I didn’t want a piece of that, so wanted to get the ride knocked out early. As a consequence, my body is still pretty fatigued and this morning’s ride – some of it into a respectable north headwind – wasn’t the easiest.

Headed out around 7:30 from the area of the office where I work. I rode a simple “Tetris L” shaped route. Nall south to 143rd, west on that to Switzer, back north to 135th, east on 135th (very little traffic at this time on a cold rainy Sunday morning, so I had the full right lane with no issues), back to Metcalf, north on that to 119th and back to the start/finish. Most of the ride went ok, but I started to hit some kind of wall of fatigue on Swizer. I attribute a combination of not a ton of sleep last couple days, riding in cold/rain, headwind, and body still getting used to riding every day. The turn north on Metcalf was especially tough. I crawled up Metcalf in some pretty low gears, looking forward to getting into warmer, dry clothes and a good breakfast.

Riding the bike in general is about taking the bad with the good; and attempting to build a long streak will certainly contain a good portion of both. All in all, while this weekend’s rides contained some challenges, on balance they were great, and enjoyable; and, as is pretty much always the case, I’m glad I did them.

Weather tomorrow looks very dicey; for example, at 5 AM in Ottawa it’s forecast to be in single-digits with sub-zero windchill. From a sheer TEMPERATURE perspective, I could handle 10 miles of that; but I’m concerned about possible icing on the road with all this precip. So I will play it by ear, knowing that I still allow myself the weather-mandated-bailout option of riding indoors.  I was fairly sure I’d have to exercise that option today; I was able to avoid it, but tomorrow it may be unavoidable.