Getting through the cycle of winter months

CYCLING

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Jack Crowe

The weather this January was unnaturally warm and wet in a way not quite right for cycling. At this time of year, a cyclist can usually count on weather that is consistently in the mid-20's and below. These are good temperatures to get in some easy base miles with low intensity.

The most dangerous weather for winter cycling is when it hovers around freezing. The rain wants to be snow. The snow wants to be rain, and it is all very slick. Even morning dew at around freezing can cause serious problems for a road cyclist.

This has been the problem lately. The roads are wet and freezing in the morning, although my cycling friends who are lucky enough to work at home can get out for a spin in the balmy 40 degree afternoons.

The lousy weather (and winter ennui) are why I have had precisely four road rides since the first of the year. So what is a cyclist to do?

Many are riding indoors on trainers or rollers or at spin class. But this is a mind-numbing (not to mention rear-end-numbing) activity. Some cyclists can ride for hours on these contraptions. Not me. Anything more than a half hour on rollers and I start wishing I was reading a good book.

Other cyclists are busy cross-training. Some are swimming at Concordia. Some are doing weight training or running. A group of us are climbing stairs in local garages and we "ran" the stairs at the Aon Building this past Sunday in a charity event.

The best local male climber was Jared Rifis of River Forest who climbed Aon's 80 floors in 14 minutes and 47 seconds. The best local woman climber was Elizabeth Herman at 18 minutes and 53 seconds. The overall winning time was an exhausting nine minutes and 46 seconds.

Climbing stairs gets the cardio up and hopefully prepares the legs for the grueling hill climbs that start just around the corner in February and March.

The Lake and Harlem Group's annual end-of-January bash at Molly Malone's in Forest Park is another sign that spring is not too far off. This year 70 cyclists and guests got together to drink Guinness and talk biking.

This is a chance for cycling widows and widowers to bemoan their common fate: a spouse/friend/lover who never sleeps in and must go to bed early every night so as to ride at dawn.

Another big part of the annual dinner is the awards ceremony. There is an internal debate among our cyclists about the qualifications for Rider of the Year. Some purists believe the award should go to the person who flat out rode the most miles at the fastest pace throughout the season.

Others believe that things like sportsmanship and cycling etiquette should matter more. Luckily, this year's winner, Oak Park resident John Ryan, embodies all these attributes.

While wearing a vintage (ie. wool) Moltini jersey and riding a retro Rivendell road bike, John road more miles than most anyone. He commutes downtown daily, even in lousy weather. He successfully completed his first ironman triathlon this year. He never uses his highest gear even when climbing knee-crunching hills out by Galena. Importantly, John is a considerate and steady cyclist who understands the group dynamics of riding in a peloton.

Tim Sutton of River Forest received the award for most improved rider. Tim rides a 20-year-old carbon Trek with old fashioned shifters on the down tube. He raised his game this year with lots of weekday early morning rides. He loves to contest the sprint on Longcommon Street in Riverside. Now if we could only get him on a new bike.

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