Monday, 3 February 2014

Cycling In The Rain

"A wet man does not fear the rain"

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So said Confucius - along with many other clever things. This post is a bit of do as I say, not as I do really, since I am a complete wuss about cycling in winter these days. It happened around the age of 54. After cycling 10,000miles across the world I felt I had earned the right to take it a bit easy on the cycling front. I don't enjoy getting cold much so I tend to cycle far less in winter. Rain during the warmer months I don't mind, however. Once you are wet through you can't get any wetter and so long as it's not freezing out that's tolerable. It's a bit like getting into cold water – it feels cold if you dip your toe in but jump in and you'll be fine in under a minute (I'm a surfer and in Europe that means getting in the water in winter as the waves are often better then).

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Modern Equipment
There's a lot of rain about in Europe at present. When I was a younger man we used to wear capes for cycling in heavy rain. They came right down over your knees and could cover your hands on the bars. You wouldn't want to try cycling fast with one of these or you'd take off. The capes also often get caught in the wheels. Most bikes were so heavy then, however, that cycling fast in rain with wet gear was unlikely anyway. Some people still insist on using them, but then Asians cycle holding umbrellas! The worst thing about cycling capes and all other forms of anoraks in the olden days, was that they didn't breath. The slightest amount of exertion would cause extreme condensation. In half an hour you were almost as wet underneath it as if you hadn't bothered with a waterproof at all. But that all changed with Goretex and other breathable clothing that are now relatively affordable. I say relatively affordable but we are still talking about £100 plus for a breathable waterproof cycle jacket. However, even without breathable outer layers, there is an alternative.

This sort of setup will only work up to around 2mph!
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Modern cycle clothing is more than just a fetish
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Just Get Wet
Yes, don't bother trying to avoid it - just learn to live with getting wet. Outside the chillier winter months, this is not as bad as it sounds. Even in winter I would never wear waterproof trousers, so why bother with a waterproof top unless it's to keep your wallet dry (that's what your waterproof backpack / bum-bag is for). The fact is that these days you will notice that more and more cyclists are wearing lycra. Okay for many newbies this is a fashion statement. Just like motorcycling I have known people take up riding just so they can get into the gear. Surfing and wetsuits are the same. Let's face it we are talking fetish here! But it does not take a cyclist long to realise that there is a purpose to this lightweight stretchy stuff beyond feeling sexy (I say 'feeling' rather than 'looking', because nobody in their right mind thinks men or women look good in a pair of shorts with a pad in the bum that looks like you're wearing a nappy underneath). Firstly lycra avoids chaffing. Chaffing is unpleasant and ensures you will not want to cycle the next day. Secondly, they are lightweight and don't get in the way. Thirdly if you get drenched it only takes about half an hour even in overcast weather for them to dry. Finally, when you get home or to your B&B, you can wash a pair of padded lycra cycle shorts in the basin or shower, hang them up and they'll be dry by morning. That's a Godsend. So given all that, what's the problem with letting your lycra cycle jersey (that's a zip-up shirt with pockets at the back) get wet in the rain too? None whatsoever, so long as it's not cold. This is why most cyclists carry at least a superlight windproof shell. Even if it isn't waterproof it can be put on after your wet to stop you from catching a chill. One of these will fit in your pocket (if you have one), into a bum-bag or in a seatpost bag (that's what I do).

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Superlight Means More Pleasure Less Hassle
There is no doubt about it, carrying gear when you're cycling is a pain. Especially if you have a nice light bike and like to dart about or cover distance quickly. When preparing for our 10,000mile Ireland to Japan cycle trip, my son Sam and I did a few shorter rides (around 3 to 5 days). The idea was to see how far we could comfortably ride in a day (we agreed around 62miles / 100kms) and to see how much stuff we needed to carry. Every trip we did we realised we had more stuff than we needed. In the end we took about the right amount which fitted into two rear panniers and a bar-bag each plus a small tent. We could have managed with less. What we noticed during the big trip, was that on days where we cycled without all the gear (on days off) it was an absolute delight to be without it. This made me realise why it was that the very experienced long-distance cyclists who we met in places like Laos (some of these people ride thousands of miles abroad every year) seemed to be carrying very little. Yes they were staying in guesthouses and had flown to Bangkok or somewhere similar, but they were still doing vast milages. They had learned by painful experience, they told us. If you use modern fabrics and wash stuff every evening you can get away with hardly any clothes. A multi-tool, a first-aid kit, a phone, a tiny washbag, a pair of lightweight long trousers and shirt for evenings, a spare tube, a sun hat and a silk sleeping bag liner in a small cycle daypack is almost all some of them had apart from a passport and credit card. In my book, 'Ultralight' is really just a spare tube, gossamer-thin outer shell jacket, multitool, credit card, toothbrush and passport.

Straight off the plane and ready to go
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With this amount you can go anywhere (& no broken spokes - weight = breaks)
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This pic was on a blog under a heading "Ultralight Cycling"
It doesn't even come close to "Light" let alone Ultralight.
The saddle angle is a bowel disorder waiting to happen. Mental!
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Read more about my 10,000mile cycle trip with my son in our bestselling book 'Long Road Hard Lessons':
or put the title into your local search engine. Also available at good bookshops in UK.

1 comment:

  1. Zimco Cycle Wear clothing is designed to keep you comfortable on your bike - whatever the weather. Waterproof cycle clothing is particularly useful for commuters wanting to get to work dry and clean. Road cyclists can get the look with Lycra for performance and style, while MTB riders can choose baggy shorts for greater range of motion.