Staying warm through the fall on a bike

Earlier this year, I moved in to a new house, which meant my commute went from being about 20 minutes by bike (~7 km) to a little over 40 minutes (~17 km). Fortunately, the area we ended up buying in has a nice, relatively calm ride in, most of the way on 60 km/h roads with a shoulder, or 50 km/h roads with a bike lane.

Through the summer, when biking is easiest, I’m mostly wearing shorts and an athletic shirt in the morning and evening, so nothing too specific or hard to find. As the temperature begins to fall, though, it gets to a point where you need to layer up, or you’re gonna have a bad time.

Over the last month or so, I’ve found a few nice cycling accessories that specifically lend themselves very well to biking in the colder weather, which I thought I’d share here. I bought all of these at Costco in Ottawa, but I’ll share as much detail as I can about them since they’ve all made it way easier (and warmer) as we march steadily towards winter.

Gloves

These gloves were under $20 at Costco, HEAD brand, and the fingers work with touch screens. They’re thick enough that I didn’t feel the need to double layer even at 0 degrees (Celcius), but not so thick and warm that my hands were all sweaty when I was done. The palms are also quite grippy so I wasn’t worried about losing control of the handlebars.

Shirt

This long-sleeved t-shirt is Rough Dress brand, and it was only $12 at Costco. I ended up buying two of these, and I consider them nice enough to wear as a regular shirt, but warm and cozy enough to use as a layer in cold weather or as my only layer in warmer fall weather. The shirt is 90% cotton, and 10% spandex, so it’s quite stretchy but not so much that it feels like it’s skin-tight or confining.

Balaclava

This is a piece of gear that I should’ve gotten a long time ago. I’d been using a combination of a neck warmer (used for skiing and very thick/itchy) and a hoodie hood under my helmet, and this is a huge improvement in so many ways. It was $12, BULA brand, and is incredibly versatile in varying weather. For example, you can wear it around your neck only, or independently control the hood portion and neck portion depending on conditions and your temperature.

This is a much less bulky option than my neck warmer/hoodie combination, and kept me just as warm, if not more so, while also letting me easily cover and uncover my mouth and nose as needed depending on temperature. It fits just fine under my helmet, barely requiring any loosening as compared to a hoodie hood, and it’s not so tight that you can’t fit headphones (mine are wireless, YMMV) under the helmet if you like a podcast or album while you ride. My hearing of the environment was not impacted at all by the balaclava either, and I could actually fit my glasses over the fabric, in stark contrast to my hoodie which is very baggy in comparison.

Conclusions

Biking in the winter isn’t for everyone. In addition to what I’ve picked up above, I’ve also ordered a pair of cycling glasses with different sets of lenses, including a clear pair for biking in the early morning when the sun is just coming up. It’s a real challenge trying to see through sun glasses at that time of day, but you still want to keep dust and bugs out of your eyes, and to protect the top part of your face from cold as much as possible.

I’ll share my thoughts about the glasses once they come, but if you’re considering biking in to the fall, I’d definitely check out Costco, as they seem to be specifically catering to this kind of thing in their options for fall/winter clothing. Safe travels, everyone!

The Fable of the Caterpillar

Imagine this scenario for a moment: You’re out driving your car, on a residential street, well under the speed limit, when all of a sudden you smush a caterpillar under your wheel. Picture something like this little guy, hairy and about an inch long ⬇️.

Photo: Andrew Hill

I’m willing to bet that you didn’t see the caterpillar, and that now that I’ve told you about it, there’s a good chance you don’t really care all that much that it’s dead now. If you feel bad, it’s OK. These things happen. It’s possible that you have no regard for life at all, and in general, most decent people wouldn’t go out of their way to kill a harmless caterpillar minding its own business. In this case, there was no real way for you to avoid this happening, your car and the road it’s on are not designed or built with caterpillar survival in mind.

When I was out riding my bike yesterday, there was a caterpillar in my path. I was on the shoulder of a road (the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway, if you’re interested) where the speed limit is 60, and I was going about 30 kph. Because of the differences between cars and bicycles, when I was about 15-20 feet away from the caterpillar, I noticed it and adjusted my path to avoid hitting it. As somebody who tries to be mindful about the environment and my surroundings, this small act triggered something in me that I haven’t been able to shake since.

As a society, I think we can learn a lesson from the fable of the Caterpillar, about respect for those we interact with in our everyday lives, about how we design our transportation systems, and about mindfulness when it comes to how we treat those around us who wield less power than we do.

For me, this comes in to focus most obviously when considering the comparison between getting around in large motor vehicles (cars, SUVs, and trucks, for example), and more person-centric modes of transportation like walking, cycling, or inline skating. On city streets, these large vehicles have all the power, both literally in terms of their weight, momentum, and protection from collision, but also metaphorically, in that city streets have been built to prioritize cars around the world since shortly after they were invented.

Safety systems in vehicles have come a long way in recent years, from seatbelts and airbags to more advanced technology like lane assist and emergency braking systems. However, all these systems are optimized primarily to protect the people inside the vehicle, and less so anybody outside. And while these safety features help increase the safety of driving, other technology lets drivers pay even less attention to the road around them, like in-car entertainment systems, and adaptive cruise control which by human nature leave drivers with less reason to pay close attention.

The other major factor that shifts the balance of power to the side of cars over human-powered transport is the shape and design of the car itself. With trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, passenger comfort and looks drive the design of the car, which leads to SUVs with hoods that hit shoulder height on a regular adult, and which leaves kids effectively invisible standing in front of a car.

Another big issue with car design is blind spots, which can be helped with rear-view and side-mirror cameras, but the view from the driver’s seat of most vehicles is obstructed in the front and back corners very effectively. This doesn’t matter too much with proper shoulder checks when dealing with other drivers, but when cyclists and pedestrians are involved it’s all too easy to miss somebody who has inadvertently found themselves in your blind spot.

Can you imagine trying to see a caterpillar on the street out in front of you while you’re driving an SUV? Of course not, it’s ridiculous to even ask that question, right? But what if we designed not only our transportation, but our streets to protect the most vulnerable road users at the cost of a little efficiency for its most comfortable ones? To me, it’s well worth the trade-offs. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to get where we’re going safely, and don’t we all deserve that?

By the way, later on that same bike home, I saw another caterpillar out in front of me, this time on the bike path. And when I saw it, I thought to myself “Nice to see you, caterpillar.”

What’s Missing from Gmail (Compared to Inbox)

It’s been a long time that we’ve known that Inbox by Gmail is going away, and to be honest, I understand the decision to deduplicate the development time required to keep two apps and sites updated (Gmail/Inbox). However, I’ve never actually taken the time to describe in detail the missing features that never made it over to Gmail, and they’re the things I like the most about using Inbox. So here goes!

Missing from Gmail (In no particular order)

Bundles

When Inbox first launched, one of my favourite new features was bundles. The ability to put emails that are still in your inbox in to different sections, still sorted by date and conversation thread, was just unbelievably powerful. Having the further ability to keep bundled emails from showing up in the inbox right away was another amazing feature that kept me from being distracted by ‘Promo’ emails more than once a day, and let me create any number of other sub-sections of email that wouldn’t interrupt me or be visible in my email until I wanted it to. There are ways to work around this in Gmail with Priority Inboxes, but it’s nowhere near as powerful or customizable.

The other really neat thing about Inbox’s design when it comes to bundles is being able to open a bundle and have it expand but have all the other bundles/emails stay in context and in order, without disappearing off the screen. It never felt cramped or busy, and you always knew exactly where you were, and the design was the same on desktop and mobile, so it was very difficult to lose yourself in your email.

Swiping (sweeping) away all the emails in a bundle in to read was also very useful, and one of the big selling points of Inbox when it was released. Having an email set as ‘Done’ or not ‘Done’ in the Inbox was also nice because you didn’t have to worry about the read status of an email when it was done, but coming back to Gmail this month, I have hundreds/thousands of unread emails that I now have to mark as read (and will need to manage on an ongoing basis rather than just archiving them).

Another feature with bundles that was one of the premiere features of Inbox was for things like trips. Having your flights, hotels, rentals, events, etc. that are part of a trip all automatically show up in one bundle was SO convenient. This going away is going to make travelling and keeping track of emails quite a bit less convenient (could potentially be worked around with a custom label for a trip, but nowhere near as easy).

Saved Links

This feature has been a beautiful thing the last few years, keeping a bundle with a list of saved links right next to your emails, and having a share extension on Chrome (desktop) and on iOS (mobile extension). Not only will it be very tough not being able to use this feature, but there’s no easy way to view this list outside of inbox, so I had to manually open and copy each of these links because I don’t know where I’ll be able to find them in April.

Filing Messages

With Inbox (mostly, but not only) on mobile, it is simple to drop an email in to a bundle. Now, these are just labels in Gmail (as they always have been), but it’s way more steps to label emails on mobile in Gmail. I realize it’s just a different metaphor, but if you file your emails with labels, it’s really difficult to do regularly on mobile, whereas it was really easy and intuitive on Inbox.

Reminders

Having reminders show up (and be created in) Inbox was also a super convenient feature, and I’m probably just going to use reminders less now that it’s no longer going to be integrated in to my email.

In Conclusion

To wrap this up, since the first day Inbox was released, I have used it exclusively and preferred it to Gmail in almost every possible way (especially the ways described). It is very sad that it is going away, and I honestly have likened it to Google Reader going away, in that my use of email will probably be forever changed with the disappearance of Inbox.

Inbox made me hate email less when I needed to use it, and it will be sorely missed.