Five tips for cycling in the summer rain

Rainy_window

I don’t want to speak to soon, but I think I may have my cycling mojo back. This morning, despite a dismal forecast of rain, I got up early and trundled into work.

Typically, it began to drizzle about a mile into my cycle — and it kept on raining throughout the length of my 6.5 mile journey. To be honest, I didn’t care. It was actually quite fun. It wasn’t cold and the rain wasn’t heavy enough to turn me into a drowned rat.

Plus, the road was relatively quiet — I think the weather had put off a lot of fellow cyclists — so my journey time was super-quick (36 minutes) despite having to take it easy in places because of the slippery conditions.

All this got me to thinking about cycling in the rain. Goodness knows I’ve been doing it for years — almost a decade, in fact. So here’s some tips that may help if you’re a relative newbie at urban cycling:

1. Make sure your bike has mudguards! I know it’s summer and maybe you don’t think you need them because it will ruin the “look” of your bike, but honestly, if you don’t have them you’ll get super wet (a lovely line of road dirt splattered up your back, for instance) and anyone unfortunate enough to cycle behind you will get a face full of road dirt and water. This will not win you friends. I was livid this morning when this happened to me, not once, but twice! Personally, I think it’s a simple courtesy to make sure you’re not splattering everyone within a 5 metre radius — and I wish more London cyclists would keep this in mind!

2. Check your brake pads are okay before you head out. You should do this pretty regularly anyway and change them long before they wear out completely. Note that it can take longer in the wet to stop — a good reason to keep your speed in check when it’s raining (see point 4 below) —  and also be aware that pads can become coated in grit and debris thrown up from the water on the road so may not work as smoothly as they do in dry conditions.

3. Wear appropriate clothing. It’s difficult in summer, because the humidity is often high when it rains, so make sure the jacket you don is waterproof and breathable — something with ventilation zips you can undo to let the air circulate is ideal. Alternatively, at this time of year you can brave the rain without a jacket — skin is waterproof after all — because you’re unlikely to get too cold. But make sure you have something warm and dry to change into at the other end.

4. Take it slowly. The rain’s likely to wash extra grit on to the road and you may find the surface is extra slippery, especially if there hasn’t been a downpour in a while: the water will bring all kinds of oils and pollution to the surface (there was a lovely long patch of oil on Upper Ground in Southwark this morning, for instance). Cobblestones can be particularly precarious when it’s wet, and try to stay off the double yellow or double red lines painted on the roads: the paint is slippy at the best of times, but when it’s wet it’s super dangerous. Manhole covers and the like also become slightly harder to see when the road is wet, so watch for them too. And finally, don’t take the corners too hard!

5. Finally, just enjoy it. Why let a little bit of summer rain put you off?

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Westminster sunset

Westminster-sunset

And this is why I love cycling home after a long day at work. Just look at that sunset!

After two months of cycling home in the dark, it lifts the heart and the spirit when I leave the office at around 5.45pm and it’s still light outside.

This evening the sky was awash in a perfect blush pink, which deepened into peach and gold, as the sun moved closer to the horizon. My route home is west-bound, so it was like cycling into a beautiful watercolour painting.

When I got to Westminster Bridge I decided to park the bike up for five minutes so I could take this quick photograph on my iPhone. It’s not particularly sharp or well framed, and it doesn’t even begin to capture the vivid richness of the colour, but it gives you some idea of this evening’s magical sunset… It’ll probably snow tomorrow.

Good morning, Albert

Albert memorial

Yesterday morning I succumbed to temptation, stayed in bed longer than I should have and ended up catching the tube to work. It was horrendous. By the time I got to work — 15 minutes late because of delays to my journey — I had my grumpy head on. It certainly did not set me up in the right frame of mind for the day ahead.

Today I was determined to cycle in. Forget the warmth of the duvet, just get on the bike and and DO IT.

And I did.

In the icy wind.

But the sun was out and the sky was blue — and it felt good to be out and about, making my way to work on my own terms under my own steam.

The traffic was quiet, as it usually is on a Friday, so my cycle in was pleasant and quick. I even had time to stop by the Albert Memorial for a quick snap (see above). I missed saying hello to my old friend, Albert, yesterday — and I’ll look forward to waving at him again on my way home tonight…

Getting my motivation on

Cycling at this time of year is difficult. It’s cold, often wet, occasionally windy, and always dark. The last thing I feel like doing at 7am is getting on the back of my bike, exposed to the elements, when there’s a lovely warm duvet I could be snuggled under for another hour.

The trick, I’ve discovered, is to not check the weather forecast in advance. And it’s better if I simply get out of bed when the alarm goes off and get myself dressed for cycling WITHOUT LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW TO SEE WHAT THE WEATHER MIGHT BE DOING. If I know it’s raining (or going to rain) I’m less inclined to want to cycle.

And anyway, once I’m dressed up warm and (relatively) water-proof in my cycling kit, it doesn’t really matter what the conditions are like.

It also helps to remember that when I’m finally out on the road — with my headlight and tail lights flashing, and my bike bag toting my breakfast and a change of clothes  — I’m going to feel like this:

What cycling feels like

Image tweeted by @Patsykins_X

And when I  get to work super early, feeling motivated and keen to tackle anything that might come my way, I know it’s all been worth it.

The joys of cycling in Richmond Park: open space, deer and variable weather

March is a funny month for me. I'm working from home doing a big edit job for a think tank, which means I miss out on my normal commute. I have to force myself to get out and do exercise, otherwise it would be quite possible to not leave the house for days at a time. In fact, when I did this job last March I only seemed to leave the house when I required food or needed to post a letter!

And of course, when you have to make time to cycle it is all too easy to look out the window at this time of year and find excuses not to go outside. It's too cold. It's too wet. It's too windy. It's snowing. I don't like the look of those clouds. The traffic will be too busy. If I leave now I'll hit the school run. If I leave now I'll get caught in the lunch time rush. You get the idea.

As a consequence I have only cycled three times this month, which is pathetic, but they were three longish cycles to Richmond Park, so you can't say I'm not putting some hours in the saddle. And while I might be missing out on my regular commutes to the office in south London (an easy way to clock up 40 or 50 miles per week), when I work from home I love that I can take two hours out of my day to go on a cycle and just make up the time afterwards.

Open-space

And of course nothing beats the joy of cycling through Richmond Park — once I've survived the occasionally stressful five mile journey to get there. It's all the rugged fields and trees and beautiful vistas and the whole feeling that so much space evokes — you could be in the middle of nowhere, not in one of the world's biggest and busiest cities.

Cycle-path-and-deer

At the moment the park is filled with gorgeous deer. And while I'd love to stop and take photographs of them all, I have to be selective about it — sometimes I don't want to ruin my momentum on the bike or stop in an awkward place where other people can't get by. But on Tuesday, when I took the above photograph, I didn't have much choice. The deer — mostly females with their young — crossed the path ahead of me. By the time I'd fumbled around, taken off my gloves, extracted my iPhone from my pocket, unlocked it and turned on the camera, they were safely on the other side.

Deer

I saw those same deer today, almost in the same place. A little further down the road I came across a herd of giant stag and tentatively cycled by them, hoping they wouldn't suddenly stampede across the road or starting clashing their antlers together in a display of power. These animals are so huge they scare me. There are signs all over the park warning visitors that they are wild animals and shouldn't be approached. Fortunately, the stags today ignored me — they just continued grazing by the roadside while I pedalled by.

Cloud

The weather has been kind of weird, though. When I cycled last week it was shirt-sleeves weather. It was roughly 15C and the sun was out and the sky was blue — absolutely perfect for cycling.

But when I went cycling on Tuesday it was damn cold. I wore two pairs of ultra-thick woollen socks and my feet were still numb by journey's end. It was also incredibly windy, which meant I cycled very slowly — and my attempt to go up Sawyer's Hill, the notoriously steep ascent I normally avoid by cycling round the outside of the park on the Tamsin trail, was snail like. I practically crawled up it in the lowest gear, while MAMILS on expensive road bikes whizzed past.

Today, by contrast, was somewhere in between: there was no wind and the sun was out — but only for a bit, as the photograph above shows. I'd stopped at this pond for a little breather after doing a circuit of the park and the next thing I know the sky went very dark, a chill descended and I was convinced that was a snow cloud coming in. I hurried the six miles home, hoping to avoid the expectant downpour, but not a single drop of precipitation fell.

Here's some stats of my cycles:

Tuesday March 5, total distance: 15.98miles (25.72km) | Moving time: 1hr 28min 11sec | Average moving speed: 10.9mph | Calories: 671C [Tamsin Trail, warm and sunny]

Tuesday March 12, total distance: 14.69miles (23.65km) | Moving time: 1hr 18min 13sec | Average moving speed: 11.2mph | Calories: 622C [Sawyer's Hill, cold and windy]

Thursday March 14, total distance: 16.21miles (26.09km) | Moving time: 1hr 10min 54sec | Average moving speed: 10.3mph | Calories: 721C [Sawyer's Hill, extra 'loop', mild and sunny]

A beautiful morning for a cycle

HydeParkMist

It was a bright, beautiful, sunny morning when I headed out on the road at about 8.15am.

The road seemed quieter than normal (it’s half-term) and despite a chill in the air it didn’t feel quite as cold as it has felt over the past week or so. Either that, or perhaps my toasty warm layers (and socks) are doing their job properly.

At Hyde Park I was rather captivated by the low-lying misting hovering over the playing fields by the South Carriage — especially when coupled with the powder-blue sky and the lovely languid shapes of the bare-branched trees. I just had to stop to take some quick snaps (above and below).

HydePark

It’s wonderful mornings like this, when it’s bright and cold, and the sun’s rays filter down through the trees that I’m so grateful I made the effort to cycle rather than catch the tube.

Total distance: 6.51miles (10.47km) | Moving time: 37.03min | Average moving speed: 10.5mph | Calories: 306C