Sunday, July 11, 2010

Riding Wet

In my early teens, my Raleigh was the way I got around. I even once rode it across town to a friend's house in a snowstorm bad enough to keep the schools closed. But once I had my driver's license, an income and a car, cycling became a recreational activity. A bike isn't getting me to work, or hauling my goods to market, so to speak. And when it rains, I have the luxury of just staying off the bike.

But as we all probably have, I've been caught out in the rain on regular workout rides, when I misjudged the weather. And I've participated in one or two benefit rides that involved a wet day on the bike. Plus there was that first day in Italy I wrote about in May. It happens.

There's a lot that sucks about riding in the rain. Your socks get trashed with road crud, you end up with unidentifiable nastiness pasted to your legs, you get a stripe up the back of your t-shirt, and if you ride in a group, the spray from the folks ahead gets all over your face. Yuck. And if you get caught out in a cold rain, as I did in Italy, there's hypothermia and spastic shivering to consider.

Then there's your gear. Water bottle tops get sprayed with God-knows-what, and need to be rinsed before you drink from them. Brakes get gritty with sand rinsed off the road, which in turn grinds away at your rims under braking, even as your brake effectiveness drops. The resulting aluminum dust stains your sidewalls, and is hard to completely wash off. Drivetrains and other exposed steel rusts. Chromed hardware, too, though water isn't generally a problem for stainless and aluminum hardware or stainless/lined cables/housings. Computers stop working reliably as water infiltrates the sensors and computers themselves (my cadence sensor is particularly vulnerable down by the chainstay bridge). Bags leak, which means whatever's inside gets wet. Leather saddles, if you have one, soak through. Bar tape gets slick underhand, and can degrade, depending on what it was made from.

And yet, there are things to relish in a wet ride. After an initial period where I resist getting wet, dread the filth, stress about the potential damage to the gear, I ultimately give myself over to the uniqueness of the experience: The rainwater washing down my head through my helmet vents. The variations in the spray hitting my shins as water depth varies on the road, and as it's redirected by the tire as I thread my way along. And on a bike without fenders, there's the small fan of water coming forward off the front tire, reaching ahead of me in its own little patterns.

There's a different head game going on upstairs, too. Feeling and compensating for reduced grip and braking capacity. Looking around and through rivulets and droplets on my glasses. Having a heightened awareness of cars -- can they see me? Are they going to douse me with that puddle? It isn't ideal, but it's far from all-bad.

I mention all of this because yesterday, the girls and I got caught out in the rain for some distance. Which itself isn't remarkable, except that it was their first experience riding wet -- a milestone they encountered far younger than I did. I knew rain was coming, but we all needed to unwind after a stressful mid-day of doing chores, and I hoped we'd be able to beat it. Nope!

When we got about two miles into what was to be a 14-mile ride, the skies pretty much opened up, so we backtracked a bit and shortened the loop. Mid-way, we stopped at a building in town that houses a Starbuck's, a Quiznos, a Cold Stone and the like, and huddled under its awnings for fifteen or twenty minutes. I left my emergency $20 and my wallet back at the house (oops), so we didn't go leave puddles inside any of the shops -- we just hung outside until the rain started easing up a bit, then made our way home.

When we got back, we were all pretty wet, but poor Ava got the worst of it. My Schwinn's fenders did a decent job of keeping the road spray off of me, but the water coming off the lower part of my rear tire was mostly directed at her, and she was wet and grungy, head-to-toe. Juli was wet the way you get wet on an unfendered bike -- a good mix of rainwater and road spray.

What was great about it, though, is that the girls pretty quickly let go of the initial stress of the situation --the unknown of riding wet, the fear of the distant thunder -- and embraced the ridiculousness of it all. Ava was in great humor about being soaked, and she and Juli chatted excitedly under the awnings, swapping experiences and observations.

As I tend to do, I went into problem-solving mode along the way, as I watched my girls, their condition and their bikes. I made a mental note to look into fenders for the Fuji, and to install the Zefal Croozer II mud guard I'd bought for the Paramount years ago on the trailer bike, which has braze-ons under the down tube/goosenesck that fit it perfectly (done). I added mud flaps for my own fenders to my list, and remembered that Rivendell has some that will coordinate well with the Schwinn's saddle, bar tape and other lugage. I imagined fitting a Nitto rack to the trailer bike, with something slung underneath the platform to block the spray, or possibly just a seatpost-mounted spray guard. And though I forgot to bring my own (I was really ill-prepared yesterday), I resolved to pick up two more Aardvark saddle covers, and two larger saddle bags for the girls, to hold them. But in truth, we don't ride in the rain much, so most of these investments don't make a lot of sense. Maybe just the bags and saddle covers.

The shortened loop was just north of 7 miles, if my (wet) computer is to be believed, though that seems a little long. Whatever the distance, when we got home, all of our wet clothes went immediately into the washer, along with a bunch of Simple Green, detergent, and Oxy Clean stuff, trying to keep the road stains from being permanent. Seems to have done the trick! My sneakers were chain-marked already and now thoroughly in need of a wash, but theirs (badly beaten up from school and camp duty) I just tossed into the trash. I hit the saddles with Obenauf's leather conditioner last night as I was heating the grill up for some burgers, and noted they were all still a bit discolored. We'll see how they do as they dry out, but if they stay that way, I suppose they'll just have that much more character.

Today, I'm going to show the girls how to go around the bike, re-lubing and rust-proofing after a wet ride. After all, if I'm successful in getting cycling to stick, this won't be the last time they have to care for their bike after getting caught out in the rain.

All for now,


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