It seems such a long time ago now but I remember very clearly the first year I cycle commuted all the way through a winter. In previous years (and many since) there always came a point where conditions forced me to give up and I resorted to the bus or underground. It felt like a real achievement, I’d become a ‘proper’ cyclist.
The range of garments featuring performance fabric we take for granted today simply weren’t available then. Athough it was available twenty-some-odd years ago as a ‘poor student ‘I couldn’t afford GoreTex. Keeping warm through a freezing rainy London winter was a real challenge when my primary winter garment was a jumper my mum had knitted and staying dry was easy enough if I didn’t sweat too hard inside my non-breathable cagool. I remember the grim driving sleet of that winter. Often I didn’t properly warm up until I reached my destination. Sometimes I wouldn’t warm up at all.
Thankfully garments and the fabrics from which they are taylored have moved on in leaps and bounds since then but there remain some problems which the march of technology hasn’t solved. The big challenge then and now is retaining heat in the extremities without adding excessive bulk. Fingers are particularly susceptible to cold but adding insulation inevitably adds bulk and this seriously compromises feel, grip on the bars and most importantly a rider’s ability to shift and brake. The warmer the glove the worse it gets. Mittens and ‘Vulcan salute/Nanu-nanu style gloves aid heat retention by allowing your fingers to huddle but are the most rubbish gloves of all for operating a bike safely (and seriously hinder digital communication with other road users..).
Breeze Blocker may have found a solution. Recognising that a significant component of the coldness that a cyclist experiences is wind-chill they’ve designed a range of handlebar mounted ‘wind shields’ (for want of a better term) which keep your hands warm by reducing their exposure to moving air.
I trained as an industrial designer. I’ve worked in the cycle trade a long time and seen many products come and go. I’m a self confessed know-it-all who’s seen it all. Yet when I saw Breeze Blocker’s stand at the Cycle Show in London in the summer I was rather taken aback. I cast my cynical eye over the range of products on display and could only conclude that this is a genuinely good idea! They come in different shapes to fit drop bars or flat bars, don’t cost an arm and a leg and are really easy to install. They stop cold air passing over your hands and fingers, eliminate wind chill and make it easier to keep your hands warm. They even do a model which attaches to your pedals to cover your toes.
The only criticism which can be levelled at them is that, to an eye unaccustomed to seeing a pair of Breeze Blockers installed on a bike, (ie almost everyone) they look a little strange. But if you can get your head around the ‘form follows function’ ethos of pure industrial design these things make perfect sense. Motorbicyclists have had similar things for years and the style police turn a blind eye.
I fitted a pair to my Africa Bike just before the recent -14C cold snap and my hands now stay warm for the whole journey. Usually by the time I get to Cyclorama HQ the ends of my fingers are starting to feel blue. Cold fingers are a thing of the past – and that’s very cool.
And if you needed any more convincing they actually make you go faster; by improving linear airflow over your hands they reduce aerodynamic drag.
(Not by much granted, but at my age I need all the help I can get!)