Thursday, November 4, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

In the morning they did warn me
it would be a day of rain.
But how could I've predicted
such tumult on its way!
Stroke after stroke I pedaled
with a swift and forceful motion,
but water fell upon me
as if amidst a stormy ocean.
Water, water everywhere
and not a drop to drink!
Water, water everywhere,
my bike did nearly sink!

And so November is upon us, and with it the November Rain.  Funny, because I don't remember it being quite this bad last year, but I've probably just blocked it out. Today it rained so hard, that the water not only covered my face, but went inside my nose and mouth. Feeling as if I might drown while cycling was a curious sensation. I could hardly see anything in front of me, but thankfully drivers seemed to all be showing remarkable courtesy. Maybe they just couldn't believe that a cyclist was on the road in such a downpour and felt sorry for me. 

When it is raining this hard, I prefer to be on a heavy, upright, and exceptionally stable bike. When I owned my Pashley, I often talked of how good it was for cycling in the rain. To my relief, the vintage Gazelle is the same, if not better. The handling makes this bike unfellable. The enormous wheels and wide tires part lake-sized puddles, grip slippery surfaces, and float over potholes. The fenders release a mighty spray and keep my beige raincoat beige. Defiant in the downpour, I cycled with dignity even as water streamed down my face. And I arrived at my destinations only slightly worse for wear.

The other two things I like to have when cycling in the rain are good lights and a saddle cover. I was not sure how well the bottle dynamo would function when wet, but it was absolutely fine (I am beginning to develop a  fondness for the bottle) - and my LED-modified headlight made me highly visible. As for the saddle cover, despite having accumulated many Brooks covers at this point, my preferred method is to use a ratty plastic grocery bag. The plastic bag performs two functions: it is more waterproof (gasp!) than a Brooks saddle cover, and it makes the bicycle look considerably less appealing to thieves. Not that many thieves would be tempted to drag away a 50lb clunker with a locked rear wheel in a downpour...

And speaking of dragging: I must say that carrying a wet, slippery 50lb bicycle up the stairs is even more delightful than doing so with a dry one. I have noticed that when it comes to lifting a heavy step-through, it is important to find a comfortable spot to grip - one that is well balanced and will prevent the bicycle from twisting or buckling in my arms as I attempt to maneuver it. Despite being heavier than my previously-owned Pashley, the Gazelle has a better "sweet spot" in this regard, and so I find it easier to carry... just not when the frame is slick from the rain. Still, I managed to wrestle the enormous Dutch creature up the stairs and through the door without either of us taking a spill, after which we had a cup of tea and recited poetry together. It is essential to have a bicycle that is more than a fair weather friend. 

51 comments:

  1. I had a similar experience a few days ago, My train got cancelled and I was stuck with my DL-1, 17 miles from home, in jeans and a suede jacket in the pouring rain and blustery wind. I decided that I was already soaked and that I may as well be warm from riding rather than being cold and wet in a railways station for over an hour. I felt very proud to make it home in a little over an hour. Definitely a bonding experience for me with the bike.

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  2. Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner reference! You are officially my favorite blogger now. Just thought I'd let you know.

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  3. First off, I'm just going to give you big props for the GNR link. What a way to bring me back to not-so-sweet (but sweeter in retrospect) junior high. Awww. :)

    We had a day like this on Monday, thankfully I just got a new poncho so I managed to make it home mostly unscathed except for the bottom 6 inches of my legs, which suffered from a puddle that was much deeper than I thought it was :) I've thankfully found that wearing a hat with a brim (which I usually do even when it's not raining) keeps me from getting hit directly in the face with water for the most part, though it is kind of annoying when it starts running off the brim :)

    Around here, people always seem to drive faster on normal city roads when it's raining, which is kind of confusing, since they're sitting in comfortable boxes not getting wet. I always try to drive more slowly when it's raining that hard so I don't crash into something, but you know, that's just me.

    I was however surprised to note that there were pretty much just as many people as usual out riding on my way home from work. Maybe they just didn't expect the downpour, but had to get home anyway, I dunno. But I have been noticing more and more rainy-weather riders here over the last couple years.

    Having a bike that is good for riding in the rain/snow/whatever is indeed essential - since you still have to get around. Having one that likes tea and poetry is an added bonus. Always nice to commiserate or laugh about your ride over a hot cup after returning home.

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  4. Ah, I slogged in too and have to slog home and am very grateful for the dynamo lights though i do add front and back flashers as well.
    As for lifting a step-thru. I recall reading that way back when (1940's or 50's) there was strap that could be attached to carry the bike over your shoulder so you could carry it upstairs like a diamond frame. For some reason, I remember this in connection with Italian city living but I have no idea where I came across it.

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  5. Also, watching that video again makes my eyes water a little bit with embarrassment. Ah, the '90s.

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  6. I know, the Ancient Mariner and Guns 'n Roses in the same post - I am so well-rounded : ))

    portlandize - We must be the same age. This was early junior high for me, before the transition to the Pixies and Nirvana. Of course later I denied ever liking GNR or thinking that Axl (and Stephanie Seymour!) was hot...

    Anon 6:45 - Today they have these plastic top tubes that are used to strap the bike onto a car rack. Of course it could not be carried as easily as a flexible strap.

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  7. Heh. I drove. :)

    My drive is like <10 minutes, same time as riding. No point getting all wet...

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  8. i love riding on rainy days like this! i prefer riding in steady, heavy rain over light drizzle or short rain squalls. i dropped my daughter off at school (on our tandem) just as it started to rain. the 20" wheels seem to spray more water than standard size wheels (is that because of more centrifugal force?). of course, i have fenders, and it's fun to watch as the stream of water exits the front of the fender in a fanning pattern as it is flung from the spinning tire. i got to work before it came down heavy, and didn't bother donning my rain gear. but for the solo tandem ride home in the heavy stuff, i got my rain pants and waterproof jacket on, and just enjoyed mother nature for my 20 minute ride home! (strangely, i don't experience the rain entering my nose and mouth. the only annoying thing i feel on my face are the rain drops dripping off my nose),

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  9. I should get me some rain pantaloons.

    This way I'll be able to arrive completely dry and enjoy riding in the rain more.

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  10. "Not that many thieves would be tempted to drag away a 50lb clunker with a locked rear wheel in a downpour..."

    Heehee, I would pay $5 to watch that.

    Portlandize - Can you share some deets on the poncho?

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  11. I am giggling to myself about how similar this report is to my ride today. It was my first time taking my ANT out in the rain, and I was very impressed with it's wonderful stability in the rain. I even had the same thoughts about how wonderfully unappealing my "recycled" shopping bag saddle cover made the bike look, and the unusual courtesy level of the drivers. Glad to see there were a few other cyclists out there today for the drivers to "feel bad" for. :)

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  12. Ooh we have a day of rain forecast for tomorrow here in London. Not looking forward to it!

    :)

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  13. Carine - Oh so *you* are the one who got that beautiful white Philly expo ANT! I think the drivers were giving you space because they were stunned by your bicycle. Congratulations! I have decided that if I get an ANT it will be a truss frame, possibly fixed gear. And now I am wondering how that would look in white...

    somervillain - You missed the best of it: It briefly *snowed* around 1pm!

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  14. In the very hilly terrain of North Florida, I get nervous about the days it rains while riding my Raleigh DL-1, in traffic, with its already tenuous when dry rod brakes. Dry is a relative term since it remains in the 70 to 90 percent humidity range most of the time here.
    But living dangerously is half the fun.

    I do like bicycling in the warm rain though.

    At some point I want to locate a vintage front hub brake for the DL1.

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  15. Velouria - Is your fork tweaked ever so slightly?

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  16. Forrest Lee Causseaux - I can imagine! Have you read about my Coaster Roadster?

    Herzog - No. Tweaked how/ in what direction?

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  17. Slightly back, like from a front impact?

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  18. ha ha November Rain. Nov Rain and the Ancient Mariner have in common the fact that they both make me cringe. I for sure thought one of them was suuuper cool in ninth grade, though. I will leave you all to guess which one.

    It was so heinous today and I am sick so I took the subway to a meeting in midtown. It took forever and was gross. Fin.

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  19. LOL, I'm going to be singing that all night now! Ah... middle school... :)

    It rained, then flurried and rained and then flurried, rained and hailed here. So I've gotten a good mix intro to winter cycling today! My only problem so far is that no matter what coat I wear, it always blows back from across my right leg, which ends up soaked. Maybe I need to add more buttons to all my long coats.

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  20. david...no the other one!November 4, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Here is the Pacific Northwest, where real rain is when you cannot see across the street, everything else is just a shower. I do so love a torrential downpour, it's akin to showering outside. But of course we have neglectful riders, so Velouria tell us do, what you do to comfort your wet companion aside from the warm cup of tea?

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  21. I love that you mentioned the "sweet spot" for carrying - it's so true. My old single-speed isn't a whole lot heavier than my Raleigh hybrid, but the Raleigh is *so* much easier to carry! I've got the perfect spot on the back of the frame to grip it, and I can carry it up and down flights of stairs. It's one of those things you don't really appreciate 'till it's missing, y'know?

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  22. I have a Brooks B-17 saddle (on my Soma Smoothie ES) and it came with one of those plastic-y covers. You're right, it really doesn't protect much from rain, and I've never understood what it's supposed to do.

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  23. way to brave it out in the rain! i'm getting ready for those rainy days here in sf and look forward to finding some good gear for those wet rides. any recommendations?

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  24. On days such as your describe, I am getting along and staying dry by donning a bicycle rain cape, sky blue in color. I may look a little silly, but there is no way that people can't see me coming in it, and even my feet stay dry as long as I am not splashed from the side.

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  25. I like the idea of rain capes, but in practice find them too floppy; I feel as if I am wearing a batman costume and the crinkly noise they make bothers me as well. Having lived in England, I got really good at shopping for waterproof trenches. I own two: one that I still have from England and another one that I bought in the US a couple of years ago. Both look like normal trench coats, but are waterproof, 3/4 length so that they cover the things, and strategically placed buttons to keep them from flopping open above the knees. I wore one of them today and stayed almost entirely dry.

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  26. Wow! You are amazing. I read your post like an adventure novel. My hat's off to you. Ypu and your bikes are Top Drawer in my book.

    best,

    JimP

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  27. for a seat cover, i have the one from velo-orange that is waterproof and elastic. when stretched over the saddle, it looks like a regular, "generic" saddle. sometimes i also use a white plastic bag.

    for rain gear, my collection is still evolving, but right now i have a breathable, stretchable form-fitting synthetic fall cycling jacket that can keep me dry for about 1/2 hour in steady rain. after that, water will begin to seep through, especially at my elbows and shoulders. the reason i use it is because i'm rarely riding in the rain for more than 30 minutes at a time, and it breathes well and i don't sweat! i also use it as a dedicated fall jacket, rain or not, and with a couple of extra layers beneath it, it can be a winter jacket. i got it from performance bike on clearance pretty cheap. my other rain jacket is a true rain jacket which is waterproof, but it doesn't stretch, it flops in the wind, and i sweat to death in it. honestly, i'm wetter from sweat than i would be from just riding in the rain without rain protection.

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  28. I bailed on my ride to work because it was raining this morning. I normally don't care if I get caught in the rain on the return trip, but I tend to take public transit if I wake up and see rain as my bike ride takes about 30-40 minutes and even with rain gear my hair and face would be a mess. I especially hate it when rain wets my contacts (my eye doctor told me never to allow water to come into contact with soft contacts because bacteria will breed). The couple of times it has happened I've tossed the lenses and thought I should buy some goggles or something. Also, someone needs to develop a line of fashionable cycling clothes for us loop frame-loving ladies. Just like you'd never catch me in spandex, you'll never see me in a bright orange Mountain Equipment jacket either.

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  29. I used to cover my saddle with plastic bags too, but sometimes wind would move them out of place. Then I found something that has always worked, even on windy days: a shower cap from the dollar store. It's 100% waterproof, slightly thicker than the plastic bag and has an elastic that I shove inside the bottom part of the leather saddle (it fits my Brooks B33, so I suppose it would fit any saddle...) I've been using the same since May and it's still working fine, so I suppose it will last at least a year.

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  30. Would be curious to know how that pannier held up in the rain? Thanks.

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  31. when I picked up a Brooks Team Pro from Broadway, they were out of Brooks branded saddle covers and I got a Serfas one instead. It fits perfectly and is also a nice way of camouflaging the brand while also being more durable than a plastic bag.

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  32. Velouria - Yes, I am certainly a lucky devil :) The color is actually a SUPER pale grey (I once heard a French girl call this color "dirty white"), which I believe would be very much to your taste. I am excited to see the ANT Truss in some other colors besides black... I met a customer at the expo who has ordered a pale green one with red rims and cream fat frank tires!

    And for the curious, here's a diamond frame in "Telegrey 4":
    http://www.boutiquecycles.com/bikes/details/grey_motobecane/

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  33. Hey, folks, where can I find big, rubber mudflap(s)?

    I saw a "Bibia" brand one on a bike the other day...

    I made one for my Pashley Roadster and LOVE it, but the material is rubber Stair Tread from Home Depot - and when it hits a curb, it doesn't deform enough for my liking, especially in the cold.

    Big mudflaps are just Amazing for keeping your feet dry. Fenders seem useless without them, once you've had one.

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  34. NorthernMike -- I managed to pick up a nice rubber mudflap at Urbane Cyclist when I was in Toronto a couple of years ago. You might want to check in with them? If I recall, it was something that I had to ask for; but that they were happy to provide.

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  35. northern mike: regarding mudflaps, i have good luck using black plastic stiffener often found in various things: notebook covers, retail packaging, etc. the thicknesses can vary, but i recently made a mud flap from the plastic stiffener card from a $8 cargo net:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5091082986/in/set-72157625011352879/

    the other thing i've discovered is that the width of the flap and curvature are not overly important, while the length is everything. i have narrow honjo fenders on one bike, but they are so long that there is no room for even a small mudflap, and they keep my feet and bottom bracket totally dry! a dutch bike that i used to have had a huge, wide (and heavy) rubber clip-on mudflap (axa brand, got it from a local dutch bike importer for $5), but it performed no better at keeping the water at bay than the narrow but long honjo fender.

    i agree with you that the stair tread material works, but is a little too stiff. and i agree, once you have a mudflap (or a long fender) anything less seems useless.

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  36. i've only been in one bad rainstorm and while most drivers behaved normally, i had one who honked because he couldn't go right on red. meh. reading about carrying your bike up the stairs, i'd like to know how exactly! my cruiser is probably 30 plus pounds and i haven't figured out how to carry it up without knocking the wheels into stairs. and it's so cold that my gloved hands don't grip on the bike very well.

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  37. Rebecca19804 - The pannier is totally waterproof; no problems.

    somervillain said...
    "my other rain jacket is a true rain jacket which is waterproof, but it doesn't stretch, it flops in the wind, and i sweat to death in it. honestly, i'm wetter from sweat than i would be from just riding in the rain without rain protection."


    That was the problem for me when I was looking for a road cycling rain jacket: everything I tried was either not breathable enough, or not water resistant enough. I finally found one that was both, but it took me a while. Not an issue on my upright city bikes though.

    Re saddle covers - I also have one from Rivendell, and it is a lot better than Brooks as well. The colour is a subtle gray. But can anything beat the classiness of an inside-out supermarket bag? I don't know...

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  38. Carine - Or, how interesting that the ANT is a pale gray! I wonder which RAL colour it is. There are too many beautiful colours to choose from.

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  39. When I lived in the Netherlands, we rode bikes everywhere, rain or shine. I wore a skirt every day, so when it rained, the solution was to wear rain pants. I learned how to get the pants on and off without flashing anyone. I'm sure I looked ridiculous with a skirt bunched up around inside the top part of the pants, but my longish coat covered it, I think, and I didn't really care--I stayed dry!

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  40. LOVE the poem! Fun and well-written. Thanks.

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  41. Melissa - That is one of the many reasons I love longish coats - they cover everything. I sometimes need to run errands while in the midst of painting or cleaning, and don't feel like making myself presentable. Throw on a coat and a hat, and I am all set. This is especially important in Vienna, where people don't generally go out looking disheveled.

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  42. That was a lovely post. Thanks!

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  43. I'm such a wus. I don't like riding when it's raining or cold. Dear God, give me the strength. :-) I'll get out this month. But, Dec.- Feb., I just don't know. I admire you all-weather cyclists. I strive to work up the courage.

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  44. Hi Velouria, not relevant to this post but have you seen this beauty:

    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=160502500699

    wow!!

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  45. for awhile now, big fan of shower caps as saddle covers. trick learned from my fellow bike diva adrienne :D

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  46. Rain Legs and a good waxed Carridice bicycle rain-cape seem like the ultimate protection in the humid Summer months when a gortex suit is transformed int a sauna suit. Dutchbike in Chicago has Dutch seat covers that are bright colored and durable. You could make one by sewing some vinyl "oilcloth" fabric with waxed linen thread.

    http://thelazyrando.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/rain-legs/

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  47. sorry if you've answered this already, but what do you wear on such rainy days so you don't arrive soaked or semi-soaked to your destination? I've never ridden in the rain so I'm wondering about methods to stay totally dry during a commute.

    http://stephmakingfashion.blogspot.com/

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    Replies
    1. I wear a raincoat and a hat. Here is a review of a couple of nice raincoats and here is one of a cape.

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  48. It's not too difficult to make a mudflap from something plastic or rubber. But i've bought dutch made Bibia ones from here http://www.dutchbikebits.com/ for a more professional look.
    A proper rain cape is also perfect for the rain, unlike ponchos which are designed for walking or standing in the rain. A cycle rain cape is larger to allow it to stretch out to the handle bars and will have loops to hold in your hands while cycling. The great thing with a cape though is while the mudguards (fenders) with their rubber flap stop the water splashing you from underneath the open bottom of the cape lets air circulate. A lot of waterproof clothing makes you perspire, even decent goretex material wont dissipate all perspiration so you end up feeling just as damp as if you'd not worn water proof clothing at all. Carradice make a cotton duck cape, while there are various PVC type ones made by dutch/german companies. It's needs to be a weighty material though so it doesn't blow up in the wind.

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  49. I ride 18 miles to work in specialist cycling clothes (warning! MAMIL!), then get showered and changed at the office. I chicken out if it's raining not because I don't like riding in the rain, but because I can't dry out my clothes, specially my shoes, at work ready for the ride home. I've had various jackets that keep my top half reasonably dry, but it's the feet that are the problem. I've tried neoprene overshoes, but I find them impractical. I used to find my big old CRT computer monitor great for drying my gloves - these flat panel LCDs are nowhere near as good.

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