Waiting for the Weekend

The polar vortex has moved on, and Central Texas is enjoying unseasonably mild weather today. I’ve been waiting for this day, because it’s my last one before spring semester begins. Actually, I’m still doing a lot of course prep work, but I’m doing it from home, so it feels like I’m taking the day off — even if I’m not.

It’s been too long since I’ve ridden the bike. I watched the forecast eagerly as our record low temperatures started to climb, and when the forecast high for the weekend was predicted to be 70 degrees (21C), I got almost giddy with anticipation.

But the light rain, drizzle, mist and fog we’ve had for the past few days is continuing. There’s standing water in the street near my house. The ride I’ve been waiting to take all week is being put off again. (Yes, I could go out and ride in the wet, but I don’t do that sort of thing, as readers of this blog are well aware. Besides, we have so much nice biking weather around here that I can easily wait out a dreary one.)

But this won’t be a bike-free day. It’s a great opportunity to do some major bike cleanup, chain lubing, and seat bag checking. I discovered to my chagrin last week that I had not put a good spare tube in my wife’s seat bag. She doesn’t get many flats, but it has happened. A trip to the bike store is in order, because I need to get her a new tire, anyway. (Update: They didn’t have what I was looking for, so I had to backorder it.)

So I’ll putz with the bikes as I think about the good riding to come, all the while hoping that by this afternoon, the gloom clears away and I can get back on the bike for a quick spin.

(Update: It did clear, and I got out for my first ride in seven days. Cut short when I remembered we had an appointment for my beagle at the vet. She’s 12 years old, looks great, but has developed a heart murmur.)

October Washout

Well, here we are at the end of October, and I have this feeling that my biking efforts are falling short.

October ends in just a few days. I probably won’t get in another ride before the end of the month, so I’ll wind up with a total of 184 miles for the month.

Pitiful.

To be fair, there are reasons for my woeful performance this month. First, we’ve had a lot of rain. In fact, we had quite a thunderstorm in the early morning hours today, and I wound up canceling my participation in our club ride. In fact, the whole club ride was canceled, with several people getting in rides as the day wore on and the roads dried out. I went out about 2:30 this afternoon and did a 17-mile ride just on area streets.

The rain has been welcome. It’s eased our drought somewhat, although a PR type for the local water authority reminded everyone this week that a green lawn does not equate to an end to the drought. I’ll take as much rain as we can get, even if it does interfere with my cycling.

Then, there’s a tendency to ride fewer miles than usual. Last week, I was on my own instead of riding with the club, so I cobbled together a nice ride, but it was only 24 miles — well short of the 30 miles plus I expect to do on Sundays.

I notice, looking back at my riding log, that I have ridden 30 miles or more just once this month — and that was the first ride of the month. And that was for exactly 30 miles.

I also find myself riding only on weekends. I got in a Tuesday ride just once. Otherwise, it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday — and one week, I didn’t even get in a Friday ride. Mileage is generally down — not just on my Sunday rides. Instead of rides in the 20-plus range, I’ve contented myself on a couple of occasions with rides of only 12 or 13 miles.

It’s easy to blame the weather. As I mentioned in my last post, our remodeling project has cut into riding time, too. But I think the main reason I’m riding less is that my body is telling me it wants a rest.

I’m not the greatest a pacing my rides. I typically don’t follow a fast workout with an easy neighborhood ride, or a long ride with a short one. The pace on most of my rides is roughly the same. That can wear down a fella.

So, I guess I’ll chalk October up as a rest month. Next weekend, I’ll try to build in some more miles to my schedule, depending upon how crowded my schedule is. Then we’ll see if it’s been the weather to blame — or myself.

Rain Riding Tips

bikersintherainHere in Central Texas, mid-summer is a crazy time to write about riding in the rain, since we typically have so little. Still, I was caught in a downpour several weeks ago, so it can happen.

I noticed while riding in that downpour that I am a lot more skittish now when riding in wet conditions than I used to be. That’s because I’ve had some bad experiences in the rain. A couple of falls caused me some injuries, and at my age, it takes longer than it used to to recover from injuries.

So I asked Bike Noob readers to send me their tips for riding in the rain. I got some good ones. Here are the best:

Slow down. This is a no-brainer, I think. But there are good reasons to make this the number one rain riding strategem.

  • Visibility is down. Your glasses get spattered with water.
  • Motorists can’t see you as well.
  • Rain will spread oil residue around before washing it off.

Corner slowly. Take corners slower than usual. This is where I screwed up. In one crash, I turned from an older asphalt surface that absorbed the rainwater, onto a newly resurfaced street where the water stayed on the surface. My front tire slid out from under me. If I had been prepared for this possibility, I would have taken the curve much slower than I did. In the second crash, my rear wheel slid out because I turned too quickly on a wet street (It wasn’t even raining anymore!).

Some experienced riders suggest leaning the bike a lot less than usual when cornering on wet roads. Other riders say this is bunk. But because of my personal experiences, I try to lean my body a bit in a corner, while keeping the bike as upright as possible.

Pump the brakes. Since the brakes work by gripping your rims, you have less stopping power when the rims are wet. So it’s a good idea to allow more time to stop. Pumping the brakes from time to time will squeegee water off the rims. Of course, you should start pumping them early as you approach a stop.

Reduce tire pressure. Letting about 10 pounds out of the tires will increase contact with the road surface. That should give you better control.

One thing that struck me about this advice is that I’m already practicing most of this. I’ve been tripped  up in the past by not stopping to let some air out of the tires if I get caught in the rain. That, along with more cautious cornering, are probably the two most important things I can do to give me greater sense of control while riding in wet conditions.

Oh, and thanks to everyone who sent tips about dressing warmly, equipping the bike with fenders and wider tires, etc. In Texas, few riders I know have “rain bikes.” And since we don’t get a lot of rain, I don’t know anyone who has a set of fenders handy to mount in the event of a shower. I was mostly interested in riding techniques for this post.

But a couple of acquaintances told me they enjoy the rain. “Riding in a torrential downpour is something you won’t forget,” said one. Another recounted a 100-mile ride done mostly in rain. “It was probably not the wisest decision we could have made,” he said, “but in the end, the ride turned out to be epic.”

And whaddya know, overnight we had a pretty good thunderstorm. When I got up early for the Sunday club ride, rain moved in again. I finished breakfast and watched the lightning brighten up the block, and sheets of rain nourish our already-browning lawns. It was a great opportunity to put some of these rain riding tips into practice.

Instead, I invoked my first rule of riding in the rain (which some of you also shared with me) — I don’t. I waited for the rain to end and the roads to dry. Then I went out.

How Do YOU Ride In The Rain?

Okay, I have to ‘fess up. I am hesitant to ride in the rain. I shouldn’t be, and I have a reasonable amount of experience at it — although in Central Texas, we have far less opportunity to ride in the rain than people in other parts of the country.

Here’s what triggered this post: I have fallen four times on the bike since 2009. Two of the four falls were the result of rainy or wet  conditions. Each time, I had little in the way of open wounds, but took a long time to recover from being banged up. Shoulders, ribs, hips, etc.

I joke with my friends that “I’m too old to fall.” I say that because at my age, I know recovery takes longer. And yet, back in March, I did fall.

And three weekends ago, I was on a club ride when the skies opened up. Oddly enough, it happened on a stretch of road where I had been caught in a downpour just last summer. Then, I recall sticking with the group, and covering about 10 soaking miles. This time, I found myself reacting in a skittish, almost timid way to the rain.

I slowed way down. The guy I was riding with took off, and in no time was a quarter mile ahead of me. The shower we were in didn’t last long, and the road actually started drying out after the next couple of miles.

A member of our club whom I don’t know well was recently hit by a car, and although his recovery is nearly complete, I’m told he has a sort of post traumatic stress disorder about it. He’s almost scared to get back on his bike and ride in traffic.

I’m not that bad about rain, but I’m a lot more cautious than I used to be.

And yet, people ride in the rain all the time — relish it, even. So, readers, I’m asking for some reader participation here.

How do YOU ride in the rain?

Rather than post in comments at the bottom of this page, I prefer that you email me. I’ll compile the suggestions, tips, skills, guidelines — whatever you want to call them — and put them in their own post sometime in the future.

It’s unlikely I’ll be looking for rain riding opportunities even after I get some tips — but I’m hoping I won’t be as hesitant about it as I am now.

Again, to respond, just send an email to rainycamp AT yahoo DOT com.

Check The Radar!

I waited at Starbucks for other B riders to show up for this morning’s ride, but only one did. He was new to the club, and this would be his first ride with us. I wondered where the other B’s were, because it sounded from their posts earlier this week that they would be out.

But as I walked by Bruce, one of the A riders, he remarked that we would be in for some wet riding.

“What?” I exclaimed. “The forecast didn’t say anything about rain.”

But Bruce called up the Weather Channel radar on his iPhone, and sure enough, there was a line of showers bearing down on us from the northwest.

I should have known better. Last week, we got lots of rain — and the various TV weathercasters and other sources blew that, too. Why would this week be any different? Now I knew why there were no other B riders this morning. They had been smart enough to check their weather radar, and decided not to ride in those conditions.

Since the ride was headed south, we figured we could stay ahead of the rain for awhile. We made fantastic time, getting to Buda about 15 minutes sooner than it usually takes me. The other new guy and I had no trouble keeping pace with the A riders as we sailed along the road.

At an intersection, though, we had to make a decision. The clouds hung dark and low to the north. We could turn back toward the rain, or continue south. The new rider said he wasn’t ready for the kind of distance a southerly ride would involve, so we turned north — smack into the wind that had pushed us out so kindly.

In about a mile, we were in a downpour. We took shelter under some trees along the road, and waited for the rain to pass. It didn’t take too long, and the sun came out and dried things quickly. After going another mile or so, we were back on mostly dry pavement.

I suppose if I had done what I usually do on ride mornings — check the weather radar — I too, would have stayed home until the rain came through. As it was, it wasn’t as bad as it looked on the radar, and it was nice to get in a decent ride.

Riding When I Want To

Not a great riding weekend. I look forward to the weekends, because lately I have not been able to squeeze in a ride during the week. Late Friday afternoon, then, is something I wait for all week long.

I got out for a 20-miler Friday, and anticipated a longer ride Saturday. But Saturday morning dawned overcast and misty. The roads were wet. I decided to wait until conditions got better.

They never did. In fact, they got worse. It never really rained, but the mist got heavier. I decided to forget about riding, and wait for Sunday.

The Sunday forecast called for rain in the morning, but according to the weather radar, that had passed through the area about an hour before I woke up. Again, the streets gleamed with light reflected from standing water. I decided I wouldn’t be doing the club ride at 8.

It amused me to see how panicked some of my fellow club members got over the weather. The 8 a.m. ride was delayed until 9:30. The Yahoo board lit up with posts from people debating whether to go on the planned ride (about 55 miles into a very hilly suburb to the west) or do something flatter and potentially safer. Then some folks decided to go at 10 instead of 9:30. I leaned back in my easy chair to drink some coffee and read the paper.

I guess everyone got out all right. I rode with my wife at about 2:30 p.m., when the temperature had risen to 67 degrees (19C) and the roads had dried off. Ever notice that 67 in February is much cooler than 67 in June? It’s true. I was underdressed on our ride, and downright chilly pedaling into a light wind from the north. When my wife turned into our neighborhood, instead of peeling off to put in some more miles, I went with her.

So my mileage for the month is way down, what with one-and-a-half rides this weekend. You know what? I don’t care. We enjoy good biking weather here year around, and if this weekend wasn’t so great, I know great ones are just around the corner. From here on out, I’ll take advantage of that, and ride when I feel like riding. That means I’ll skip some days because they’re too cold for me (on that day, anyway), and other times, I’ll be first to show up for a ride in even colder weather. I’ve decided to skip riding during rain, and even in wet conditions after the rain. Call me a wuss, if you like. I enjoy my bike too much to ever feel like I’m forced to ride.

Re-Learning How to Ride in the Rain

The club ride was heading south to Kyle this morning. It’s a ride I enjoy, and I was looking forward to riding it on the Airborne. We had a brush with rain the previous evening, but it petered out before it got to our neighborhood. Still, things have cooled off quite a bit, and we headed out into an overcast morning with threatening clouds and temperatures in the 70s. The hour-by-hour forecast indicated we might get rain this afternoon, but our ride would be long over by then.

Our regular ride leader is out of town, and the volunteer who took over led us down Slaughter Lane. It’s a main east-west corridor through South Austin, and the heavy traffic we usually find on that road keeps me away from it. Today, though, we kept going — past the high school where we usually turn off, past a couple of north-south arterials where we could have turned. At least Slaughter has a bike lane for much of its length. But it’s only wide enough for one bike. Finally, we reached a cross street and turned south.

Riding this stretch, I chatted with Rick about the Airborne. It’s his bike, and he’s letting me use it for a few days while mine gets some TLC from the club bike mechanic. It turns out the bike size is 62 cm. No wonder I had trouble fitting it to my body. My own bike is 56 cm. But as we talked, I felt small raindrops hit my face. We pulled into the parking lot at the Walgreens in Buda in a light drizzle. Some riders debated whether to keep going or turn back now.

They were uncertain about riding in the rain, and I don’t blame them. After last summer’s drought, we’re all out of practice with our wet weather riding. We had some rain earlier this spring, but lately, it’s been dry as  a bone once again. The upside is, we get to ride all the time. The downside is, we don’t get much chance to hone our rain riding skills. But most of us gamely got back on the road — and then the skies really opened up. A few more riders turned back. “I don’t like riding in the rain,”one said, as she passed me going the other way. Our peloton split into two groups, and the leaders quickly left us behind.

As I slogged on, I mentally recalled some of the rain techniques I once knew. Ride slower — not a problem for me; remember that your brakes won’t stop you as quickly as when dry — that was very much the case with me today; and when turning, lean your body, but keep the bike upright.

Just past downtown Buda, it was hard to even see in the downpour. A rider at the head of our small group turned into an elementary school, and parked his bike under a covered walkway. We all joined him, making a compact pack of six in the narrow space.

Laura was on her brand new bike for only the second time — and the first time on a ride of any length. “I can’t believe it,” she wailed. “Riding my brand new bike and this happens.” It’s a custom carbon fiber Seven, white with teal trim. It even had her name on the top tube.

I realized that five of our six bikes were carbon fiber. I was on titanium. “It wouldn’t be good to wipe out on a plastic bike,” noted Rick.

“The last bad crash I had was during the rain,” said Pippa. Mine, too.

“It could be worse,” said Brian, the club Canadian. “It could be snow.”

But the rain subsided within ten minutes, and although it was still coming down lightly, we decided we’d risk it. We would ride west on FM 967 until it met FM 1626, and then head north back to our starting point. We would have an abbreviated ride today, but that was okay.

The problem is, both those roads are two-lane with no shoulder. Traffic was heavy in both directions, so cars coming up behind us had to wait for oncoming traffic to pass before they could swing out and pass us. To complicate matters, the edge of 967 was pock marked with cracks, patches of gravel, and small potholes. “As far to the right as practicable” turned out to be in the center of the lane sometimes.

The worst part came when we had to make a left turn off 1626 onto Brodie. It has a left-turn lane, but we had to “take the lane” to get to it, slowing down a line of cars behind us even more. I must say, most drivers were patient with us. I heard one honk, and Rick said someone shouted at him, but that was it. We rode several miles up Brodie, made a dangerous left across oncoming traffic into a residential neighborhood, and took a shortcut through Bowie High School’s parking lot. It emptied us out onto Slaughter again.

“What do we think about Slaughter?” asked Steve T., an A rider who wound up with us today.

“After getting through 1626, we can handle Slaughter,” I remarked.

We turned onto Slaughter, and the first thing to catch our eyes was a warning sign: “Loose Gravel.” Laura let out a yelp. Pippa laughed. The road on this side had been resurfaced, so loose gravel covered both lanes for another mile. Not only were we all soaked to the bone, but now a layer of grit covered us from head to foot. The neighborhood Starbuck’s couldn’t come fast enough.

“I think I broke about five of my riding rules,” observed Rick. “Don’t ride in the rain. I did. Don’t ride on wet roads. I did. Don’t ride carbon in the rain. I did. Don’t ride on Slaughter Lane. We did that both going out and coming back.”

But we were back. No one was the worse for wear. The barista at Starbuck’s even gave Laura a free coffee, because she looked so miserable.

“I don’t want to ride in those conditions again anytime soon,” I told Rick. “But when you do, it makes you a better biker.”