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?

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

Hello sunshine! Hello rain! My first (long overdue) commute of the year

I couldn't have picked a more eclectic day, weather-wise, to make my return to regular commuter cycling.

In the morning, the air was crisp and cold but there was gorgeous sunshine and an eternally blue sky.

In the evening, it was ice-cold, the wind was howling a gale, the rain was pelting down and, in some places, the cycle lanes resembled free-flowing rivers. And did I mention it was dark?

VictoriaMemorial

But there were lots of good things about my commute.

  • That feeling of freedom (and elation) at being back on the bike!
  • Very little motorised traffic on the route in, so that the roads were relatively quiet.
  • The feeling of arriving at work all energised and motivated for the day ahead.
  • The gorgeous (wintry) London scenery and landmarks I never see when I commute by tube. Even the Victoria Memorial (pictured above) looked beautiful in the pissing-down rain this evening. (I only stopped to take a photograph because I needed to check my new bike computer was working.)

The best part about today's cycle, however, was being able to use my new Garmin wireless speed and cadence sensor, together with a new heart-rate monitor, all Christmas gifts from my Other Half, to replace the wireless bike computer that died a mysterious death last November. Together with my iPhone5, that means I can now record all kinds of stats about my commute, map my journey and find out how well I am doing fitness wise.

For instance, I can tell you that on this morning's commute I cycled 6.08 miles, it took 38.29 minutes in total (32.52 minutes moving time), my average speed was 9.5mph and I burned 299 calories.

This evening's commute — the same route but in much worse conditions — I cycled 6.31 miles, it took 51.44 minutes (40.45 minutes moving time), my average speed was 7.4mph and I burned 247 calories. (I then wasted god knows how much energy having the world's hottest shower to regain feeling in my numb-with-cold hands, feet, legs, arms…)

Garneau-saphir-helmet
And, finally, I even got to wear a new Garneau saphir bike helmet on the cycle home, having purchased a much-needed new one at lunch time! (After seven years of continuous use, the padding on the inside of my poor old Specialized helmet had rotted away and the straps were slightly worse for wear — it didn't owe me much.)

First ride of June

IMG01885-20120618-1123

The weather has been so wet and miserable in recent weeks that I haven't even thought about cycling much less braved the great British outdoors. Plus, I've been extraordinarily busy — office-based freelance shifts during the day, home-based editing or social events in the evening — that I'm not sure I could have fitted in any cycling anyway. If that sounds like an excuse… well… you're probably right.

Anyway, I had a free day today and after sorting out some admin (issuing invoices and chasing others), I decided I'd go for a trundle to Richmond Park before it rained.

The weather conditions were very mixed. I wore longs and a t-shirt with my cycling jacket on top, so not exactly summer attire.

The sun would come out for a while, then disappear behind a bank of heavy grey cloud, only to re-emerge about 10 minutes later. It kept doing this for about two-thirds of my journey, before it just went dark and grey.

As soon as I hit Richmond Park, it was like entering a giant humidifier. The overly-long grass is holding so much water from a fortnight of ceaseless rain that you could practically see the steam rising off the fields as they baked in the sun. But once I got going around my usual route, it felt quite coolish in the shade of the trees.

Some things to note:

  • Lots of birdlife around today, including the heron pictured above
  • Lots of skittish bambi-like deer near Cycle Route 4
  • Saw a cute little puppy while I was having a rest by a pond — he bounded up to me, sniffed my bike wheels and let me have a little pat. His owner kept calling him in a rather high-pitched voice. The dog's name was Ozzie.
  • Nearly got squished by a London bus, driven by an impatient arrogant driver, as I cycled back over Hammersmith Bridge. Cycling over that bridge is dangerous at the best of times, so I try to take the lane, rather than get pushed off the road onto the pillars (which is what happened to a cyclist recently), and cycle very fast (I can do 18mph when I put my all in to it). And yet this bus driver thought he could overtake me by giving me about two inches of space. It's times like these I wish I had a video camera on my helmet to record registration numbers etc.

After so much time out of the saddle, I admit that cycling felt a bit too much like hard work today — but I enjoyed getting out and about. I think my bike computer struggled with the return to work as well, because part-way through my cycle it decided to stop recording my speed or distance. The figures below are guestimates of what I think I did.

Total distance: 15.55miles (25.10km) | Ride time: 1hr 28min and 59sec | Average speed: 9.6mph | Top speed: 21.5mph

Oh bicycle, remember me?

IMG01851-20120516-1450

It's been so long since I've gone cycling I'm surprised I remembered how to do it. The one-month absence from the bike has been a combination of many things — bad weather, laziness and a trip away to Canada — but this week I decided I couldn't let any more time slip away. The weight is piling on and I don't want to lose my cycle fitness. So, on Wednesday afternoon after I'd completed a freelance commission, I dusted off the bike and trundled my way to Richmond Park.

It was a glorious cycle. Even though it was cool enough to wear longs, a cycling jacket and gloves, the sun was out and there was little or no breeze. Perfect conditions for cycling actually.

And despite all my time away from the bike, my fitness was up to speed. In fact, for much of the cycle I felt very strong in the legs and would have done an extra loop of the park if it were not for my fear that I might overdo things and regret it the next day.

It was lovely to be out and about in the open air, too. I love seeing how Nature comes alive at this time of year. All the deciduous trees are in leaf, the bracken fern is returning to the undergrowth and the grass is a lush, deep green. And Richmond Park is alive with baby deer.

Total distance: 15.10miles (24.29km) | Ride time: 1hr 24min and 41sec | Average speed: 10.6mph | Top speed: 21.1mph