Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wet Lands

Forest Cyclists
By way of a New Year's greeting, I received a text from a friend containing the following joke:

US tourist to Irish child: Does it ever stop raining here?
Child replies: I don't know, I am only 8.

Okay, so it hasn't quite been eight years. But for the past several weeks it has been raining here continuously, the water stopping only once in a while and for no more than a couple of hours at a time, as if to catch its breath before proceeding with renewed vigor. In the beginning I would try to time my rides to correspond with these drier windows of opportunity. But eventually this proved futile, and so eventually I adjusted my notions of "decent weather" to the present reality.

Gone is the luxury of merely describing the roads as wet vs dry, the weather as good vs bad. Wet is the new normal. Gray is the new normal. And by now I have grown attuned to differences not only between infinite shades of gray, but also between infinite degrees of wetness.

Have you ever cycled upon a seemingly paved road and felt the water wrung out of it, as if from a porous sponge, under the weight of your bicycle's tyres? The land is boggy here. It retains water like a cotton rag. And the roads, more chipseal than asphalt, do not altogether disable this feature. After multiple days of rain, I can feel the road heave beneath me, like some gritty dough my tyres are kneading. After many "quality miles" on squishy, soggy tarmac my understanding of what could constitute "wet roads" had grown infinitely more nuanced.

We have not gotten the floods that other parts of the Isles have suffered from. But roads do get submerged with some regularity and cycling along them has been an adventure. Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to cycle through standing water. However, it is less risky if you are sufficiently familiar with the road to know what lies underneath. You can then proceed slowly (but not so slowly as to lose momentum) and cautiously, coasting with pedals held horizontal through stretches deep enough to swallow your toe on the downstroke.

One time - ironically, in the suburbs of Boston, and not in rural Ireland - I was caught in a flash flood and ended up cycling through water so deep the bike got submerged past the bottom bracket. As it happened, this wasn't my own bicycle, but an unfamiliar carbon fiber test bike I was riding to return. To my relief, it steered safely through the flood waters, maneuvering past the cacophonous mile-long traffic jam without incident. Later it was placed upside-down to dry and seemed not much worse for wear.

Though I don't recommend it unless absolutely necessary, when all is said in done it is infinitely less unpleasant to cross standing water by bicycle than to walk through it - especially in the cold!

While a road that is only marginally wet might seem least problematic, in the winter it is actually quite dangerous. Under heavily overcast skies it is hard to distinguish the sheen of wet tarmac from black ice. Better to see the water running across the road in thin streams; that way at least it's clear that it has not frozen.

Snow Day, Showerspass Rogue Hoodie
When exchanging advice for how to cycle in the rain - what to wear, how to outfit our bikes, how to carry stuff, etc. - there is an assumption that the rain is an occurrence that is both finite and occasional. But what about when it is frequent? constant? Clothing, shoes and bags that are merely water-resisant no longer do the job. Even things such as lights and the functionality of our brakes might need to be reconsidered, should we find ourselves in the situation of the proverbial 8-year-old Irish child.

For the most part though, for me it is about mood and energy. I am quite accustomed to riding in bad weather. And, for a delicate neurotic, I am surprisingly hardy when faced with tricky road conditions. And yet, cycling in the rain, day in and day out without respite, has been more draining than I would have expected. The relentless wetness is un-cozy, the grayness and un-lifting fog unsettling. I am battling it by consuming copious amounts of soup, constantly drying things by the fire, and mixing it up with bright clothing. And reminding myself that I'm lucky to be able to ride my bike at all in the middle of winter! For those who live in wet lands, what are your coping strategies?

35 comments:

  1. OY! I'm guessing fenders are a must! How are you keeping your hands and feet dry?

    This past spring was crazy here in Denver, it just rained and rained and rained... and since 300+ days of sunshine/year is the norm here, we are decidedly NOT used to that sort of thing! Most of the bike paths that I frequent run along the rivers and streams, and I got pretty used to detouring onto the side streets because every underpass was flooded out - flooded as in over five feet of standing water! Not being willing to risk my bottom bracket, I waded through many a flooded path/street carrying my bike to keep it dry.... well, dry-ish. CatMan wasn't so lucky though, and he ended up riding through water up to his knees at one point... on his 1790's Peugeot where NOTHING is sealed... he then got to spend a week taking apart his hubs, free wheel, and bottom bracket to re-grease everything.

    Anyhow, at this point we're dealing with ice. The temps have FINALLY gotten above freezing, but there are still large patches of glare ice several inches think all over the place, and I haven't been brave enough to try it even on my mountain bike. CatMan was going stir crazy and finally gave in and dropped $250 on a set of studded snow tires which he is raving about. But honestly, I'm way too wimpy to ride in sub-freezing weather anyhow, so I think I'll be waiting it out a bit longer. Sigh.

    Anyhow, stay safe & warm... I would say stay dry, but, um... well, that's probably pushing it! :-)

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  2. I much rather take our Boston winter than such soggy Irish mess. At least it doesn't rain here but snows properly. 0F and dry is certainly better than 35F and downpour.

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    1. I didn't mind the cold or the snow in Boston. But I am afraid of ice on the roads and it was a huge stressor, particularly when roadcycling outside the city. The rain is annoying, but all in all I rode more in the winter here than there, and I feel better for it.

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  3. We've had unprecedented rain and flooding here -- biblical -- and it's daunting to get around via bicycle. Brakes and visibility are seriously compromised, the road is filled with new debris washed onto it from rushing water, and worst of all is the cars splashing water several feet high with enough velocity to knock one over. The good news is it won't last forever so short term solutions have been lot's of wool, rubber boots and gloves, garbage bags to keep things dry and lot's of cursing.

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  4. Thanks to El Nino, Portland has been inundated with record amounts of rain since December and it has not been great. Landslides, flooding, leaves and sticks everywhere, and now snow and ice have arrived, ugh! I'm coping by eating lots of spicy soups, knitting warm sweaters, and buying waterproof gloves because nothing is more depressing than wet wool gloves on a cold night. Lots of people around here go to Mexico during the winter, and I am seriously considering that this year...

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    1. I feel for my mossy friends in Portland. It sounds particularly bad this year and there's nothing more discouraging and depressing than constant rain. One couple has a routine of getting in their car every weekend and heading east until they find sunshine! Having lived sixteen years in the Willamette Valley, I get it. Keeping hands and feet dry, for me, are key. I wear industrial rubber gloves over my wool liners and rubber boots, too.

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  5. Thank heavens for rain, if it produces the magical scenery you captured in the first photo! Breathtaking V!

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    1. That's what I think as well... I just try to keep it in mind on Day X of constant downpours!

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  6. Do you wear a rain cape during these times? Are your rides for commuting purposes or sport?

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    1. Both commuting and sport, on corresponding bikes.

      I do not wear capes. I have tried, but can't get comfortable with their billowiness.

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    2. In Scotland the roads have been neglected to the point that the first frost creates countless thousands of potholes. First sign of rain they fill and it becomes impossible to know where they are, bit of ice and it is worse. The saving on road repairs was a tiny fraction of the costs incurred by cyclists and motorists for physical damage to their machines!

      How about this cape? https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/boncho/boncho-the-bike-poncho

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    3. With sport riding I don't much worry about the rain. Usually it's on quiet roads and my clothing can get wet with no worries. It's when I commute that constant rain is problematic. I hate it. An old Cannondale cape helps when moving slowly through town. But rain remains the most discouraging aspect of daily cycling, period.

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    4. What about the Rain Wrap which you reviewed?

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    5. I can and do wear the (Georgia Dublin) rain wrap, but only on step-through bikes. On a diamond frame it freaks me out too much.

      Doesn't matter though, as - like Anon 5:06 above - with "sport riding" the rain doesn't really matter to me, as I'm going straight home and changing after the ride anyway.

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  7. Oh how funny. I ordered that very jacket just this morning. Will you be reviewing it?

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  8. There is no way I would continue to ride in either freezing cold conditions or rain - when the weather is thus inclined, that is my walking time. With warm clothes and an umbrella I can manage very well but not on my bike - it would takes any pleasure out of the ride and I ride for enjoyment as well as transport - fortunately I live close by to every where I may need to go, so walking is quite feasible. I admire those of you who bundle up and ride off in ultra-bleak conditions.

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  9. Living in a semi-arid state that is likely to experience El Nino-induced drought conditions has its advantages. But it's less fun when crops wither and the forests are ablaze because of drought.

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  10. There are two essential items for winter cycling in wet climates (or for soil sampling fieldwork in Ireland for that matter): dry wool socks - pack 'em in a sealed ziploc and change when you get where you're going - and a vacuum flask of hot tea. Everything else is small stuff if you've got those two things...

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  11. I have a yellow rain cape that not only covers me but also most of my bike. Yes, they are a bit billowy, but I don't mind easing back and accepting it's a time to travel more slowly. Caped, gloved and toasty-toed, I cycle with a broad smile, enjoying the moodiness of the day, the different light and smells.

    Ice is another matter. I seriously don't like it - the picture of the bike going from under me depositing me under a vehicle is enough to make me leave the bike at home for another day!

    I love reading your blogs from Ireland, please keep them coming.

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  12. Very dry in N. Florida, except east and south. The weather current is off. Now we're getting more rain but not as much as we need with a warmer. Flowers are blooming early and some leaves still haven't fallen. So my rides have mostly been pleasant. I have fenders on all but one bike and wear a light rain jacket when it rains. I usually put a plastic grocery bag crumpled under the helmet. Light rain - no problem. I've been in storms on a bike but don't like it so I always check weather forecasts and dart out when I get a weather break. Thats the luxury of being retired.

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  13. Love the Joke; emailed it to all my friends! - masmojo

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  14. It feels exactly like it's rained for 8 years solid here in Lancs... when will it stop!

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  15. I live in Vancouver Washington, I feel your pain!! lol

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  16. Your bike needs to come in and get warm by the fire too. Simply a matter of limiting the rust. Does your frame have a drain hole in the BB? If not, drill one. If yes, check to see that it is clear. Home drilled drains are always on the small side and they clog easily. If you do not have a BB drain it is imperative to have an open top seatpost, and that much more important to bring it in by the fire. Any bike operated in the cold and wet is cold and wet inside the frame and needs to be dried.

    Let some air out of your tires. Once again, the Berto/Heine pressure chart is not a recommendation, it is empiric determination of the tire engineer's design point. Frank Berto talked to engineers working for tire mfrs and each and every one of them said they designed for 15% section drop. Myself I usually ride about 10psi above Berto and that's consistent on any size tire I ride. I am instructed daily by passing cyclists that my tires are low. When it is sloppy outside I ride the Berto pressures or a little less. Then I listen to an endless chorus telling me I have two flat tires. If no one has told you recently your tires are flat most likely you could get by with a bit less pressure. The extra security of good grip is worth a 0.1% loss of speed and worth enduring the peanut gallery. Tire pressure is not reduced by subscribing to BQ, tire pressure is reduced by depressing the valve stem.

    The foul weather in UK presently is not a normal Irish mist. It's quite extreme. Long-range forecasts are only worth so much, but they have the deluge continuing through the winter. For further reading try James Hansen or Jeff Masters.

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  17. Check out the great Sean Kelly riding through the floods last Sunday in Waterford, water up to the cross bar. Of course very few of us are as tough as Kelly
    http://www.stickybottle.com/latest-news/anyone-cycled-through-floods-deeper-than-sean-kelly-in-these-photos/

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  18. When I work in San Francisco, I commute by bike and bike on train, no matter the weather, and it is really raining hard this week. My biggest problem is pedestrians with umbrellas angled so they can only see their feet. They will walk right into you even if you are stopped! The ubiquitous metal plates on streets become very slippery, standing water obscures the road surface and whatever garbage lies on it. Leaves are slippery. And there is ice in the morning in the suburbs. My seat gets wet and stays wet for days.
    My "solutions" are a high-vis vest, lights on always, several sets of raingear. And fenders, of course.

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  19. On behalf of delicate neurotic cyclists everywhere, I feel justified in saying your performance under mood-crushing conditions is nothing less than heroic. I live in a semi-arid place, but it rains some in the winter and that's more than enough for me. We're in the middle of what's forecast to be a two-week spell of rain now because of El Nino. I'm sure it would be enough to overcome my commuting resolve were there a car available to me during working hours.

    Recently a colleague moved away and tried to give me her car. She didn't want to take it with her. My wife was for taking it. The colleague and other coworkers didn't understand my refusal. One explained that it could be an emergency car--I wouldn't have to use it except under necessity. There was a general lack of sympathy for the whole project of not having a car. Peer pressure, subclinical seasonal affective disorder--a delicate neurotic has a lot to put up with.

    Walter

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  20. I've put up a piece of leather on my front fender, it's convenient. I take care about aerodynamic and mine is narrow: 6 cm which is more or less 2,36 in.
    You can see my DIY stuff at this link: http://www.kirikoo.net/image.php?nb=487614
    Surprisingly I don't see this equipment on the picture, if my eyes are good.

    L.

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  21. If ever I'm going to bail and take a bus instead of bike, it's due to worries over black ice. (Or that one memorable winter deluge... A minute into my journey the rain began to fall more heavily so I stopped at a bus shelter to throw an extra plastic bag around my gear and strap on some rain pants before carrying on to meet a friend at a cafe. A man waiting there asked if, given the growing storm, I was going to be joining him on the bus. I was cheerily defiant and scoffed that rain was no problem. Ten minutes later the skies really opened up. Rattling downhill in the downpour, my 'waterproof' gloves became sodden and chilled, my 'waterproof' rain coat began to cling as though painted to my blessedly protective wool layer, and most disastrously, I'd accidentally tucked my rain pants into a boot on one side and it began to fill. My sock was instantly an icy sponge and as the wind began to blow the rain spattering my glasses and going up my nose, I had to call time and jump on the next bus, steaming and dripping with one miserably squelchy foot. I looked like quite the drowned rat upon joining my friend for coffee.)

    Here on the 'wet coast' of Vancouver, we've actually had a stretch of rather dry winters given our usual rainforest norm, and though we often go weeks without seeing the sun for more than a minute, it tends to go between light drizzle and hard rain on and off for days. I ponied up for a better rain coat and wear the rain hood under my helmet. Gives me an extra brim and keeps my hair dry. The rain pants are cheaper but for whatever reason have held up well, and have velcro straps to secure them around my almost-knee-high rain boots. I like knowing I can put a foot down and no matter the puddle, my socks are secure! I find this and a couple plastic grocery bags to reinforce 'water resistant' gear does the trick.

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  22. Velouria,

    Great article, and hats off for all of the wet riding you do! When I was in Kenya, everyone was a pedestrian, and it rained every day during the wet season. We all took it in stride, and we all were in the same boat! Getting soaking wet and nasty muddy was just a part of living. Having ridden occasionally in the rain, it is tough! I see you have gone with internal gearing, that is a good choice! I had to rebuild my whole rear end from free-hub to derailleur this weekend from just a few constant days of rain. Great advice on waterproofing by the way. One really would like a dry set of clothes to change into when the destination is finally reached. So, good luck, thanks for a great read each time I log into your post!

    the Oldcyclist

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  23. Hi, I'm in Sligo and understand where you're coming from. It's the dull wet low cloud and general gloominess that seems to sap my enthusiasm to touch the bike. Wet wet wet might have been OK as a band but it's far from ok out your front window. Most of us don't mind getting wet on a ride as long as the ride begins dry. It was reported as the wettest December on record . This week was quite good out so things are on the up.

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    1. It is indeed much more difficult the set out in the pouring rain, than it is to start dry, or at least dry-ish and have the rain sneak up on you gradually. I just try to get it over with quickly - and once I'm in the rain it gets easier. Kind of strange even when it suddenly stops!

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  24. In Eugene, OR here...and when we don't have underpasses flooded we have black ice. I try to commute every day regardless, but I won't when it's black ice, too much for me.

    I survive with lots of wool layers, my favorites are my wools that have softshell outers on the front face and I used goretex pants and rain jacket (neither are bike specific because I'm too cheap to replace my hiking ones with bike wear till they wear out), waterproof knee high Merrell boots that I reapply german leather conditioner made for leather with membranes. I love my shower's pass wool lined waterproof gloves. I work an office job, so I give my stuff a chance to dry by changing when I arrive to work and we have a drying rack with a big fan set up at home. I splashed out on some monkey lights for my front wheel this year, it helps cars and pedestrians pay attention when it's dark and rainy for the ++ day. I try to look at the bright side that I'm dodging less on the trail and can notice hawks, nutria, herons, beaver and water fowl instead. But I do love the occasional bright, non grey day.

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