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?

First cycle since May, first cycle of July

IMG_9438There’s nothing like a tube strike to force one to get back on your bike.

Today I extracted mine from storage and cycled the 6.5 miles into work, leaving at 7.30am to avoid the worst of the traffic, and it felt as if I’d never been absent from the road. But the truth of the matter is that since my March wrap-up I have only cycled once. That was on Wednesday 27 May when I trundled into work only to realise my left leg* hadn’t fully healed: it throbbed and ached and I found myself limping again.

The upshot? I cycled home (slowly) and put my bike in our storage room, where it’s stayed ever since.

Despite this I’ve still been able to do lots of walking — I do a minimum of five miles a day and yesterday I wracked up 10 miles — so clearly it’s a cycling-related problem, which is why I was a bit nervous about getting on the bike this morning. But I’m pleased to say I needn’t have worried. While the knee itself felt a bit “tight” (almost as if there’s something not quite right inside it), my shin was fine — it didn’t ache or throb afterwards and there was no need for me to limp.

Who knows, perhaps I’ll get back on the bike again tomorrow and get back into the swing of regular commuter cycling once again. I could do with the exercise.

 

* Dr Google tells me it’s a haematoma on my shin, just below the knee.

March wrap-up: two leg injuries in a month (or why I haven’t cycled much)

March-wrap-upOkay, okay. I know it’s almost the middle of April, but everything’s been so crazy lately (including starting a new full-time job) that I haven’t had time to write my March wrap-up… so here goes.

After a really positive start to the month — a fantastic leisurely two-day trip cycling the Viking Coastal Trail in Kent — things went a little down hill…

On Sunday 22 March, I decided to go for a run — not my usual activity but having clocked up some 2,500 miles of walking in just a year (thanks to my fitbit), I thought it might be time to up my activity level and try a new challenge. I did a 1.5 mile run earlier in the month and loved it.

So, on this particular sunny but cold Sunday afternoon I took to the streets. Despite doing lots of warm-up exercises beforehand, something didn’t feel right  about one-third of the way through my 1.4 mile jog — the calf muscle in my right leg felt very tight, almost as if it had cramped and had got stuck in that position. I figured if I kept moving it would relax and I would run it off, so to speak. But it didn’t feel any better. It got worse. I stopped once to try to stretch it, but that didn’t help at all. By the time I got home my leg was in agony.

I took painkillers, applied a warm cloth to it (which I later found out was the wrong thing to do — ice is better) and kept it elevated.

It did not swell up but the next day I could barely walk on it. There was a tight twinge deep inside the my calf. I hobbled into work feeling rather foolish — I was clearly too old for this running malarkey.Bandaged-leg

On Tuesday, I booked an appointment to see a sports massage therapist for a deep tissue massage. After lots of painful prodding of my lower leg — “Feel free to yell if it hurts too much,” she told me — I was diagnosed  with a pulled muscle very deep within my calf. She massaged my leg, gave me a “prescription” for massage oil — a pleasant smelling combination of ginger, geranium and black pepper — told me to take ibuprofen regularly, strap my leg up with a compression bandage, keep it elevated as much as possible and seek further medical attention if it did not improve within a week.

I spent the next day lying on my bed  reading books.

It was still very sore on Thursday but by Friday it was feeling much better, but it took at least another week for me to comfortably bear weight on it and walk normally.

Then I injured my other leg.

PedalsI’m almost too embarrassed to confess how I did it here, seeing as it involved a bike — and some clip-in pedals. But basically, I was trying to teach myself how to use them — I was confident cycling with just one foot clipped in and was building up to clipping the other one in when it all went horribly wrong.

I did one revolution of the pedals and then wanted to stop, but instead of putting my unclipped foot on to the ground, I tried to use my clipped-in foot and forgot it was clipped in. So by the time I figured out that I needed to lift and twist it out, it was too late. I fell sideways with my foot still in position. Talk about uncoordinated!

Fortunately, I was practising on a private road, so there was no danger of traffic running over me, and I was wearing gloves, otherwise I would have shredded the palm of my right hand which took the brunt of my fall. My left knee hit a curb stone, and when I rolled up my trouser leg my shin bone was grazed and bleeding.

I hobbled home, put the bike away, and lay on the bed for the second time in less than a month, this time with a bag of frozen peas on my leg! It was very painful, although two ibuprofen washed down with a cup of tea helped.  A horrible bruise the colour of an overripe blackberry soon bloomed on my knee and I daren’t look at the hard shin bone immediately beneath the patella because it was throbbing like a heartbeat.

The next morning I hobbled into work once again, my leg all strapped up using the compression bandage I’d used for my other sore leg the week before. Of course, everyone in the office assumed my original calf injury had flared up. It was mortifying to explain it was the other leg and that I’d fallen off my bike!

A week has now passed and the leg is healing slowly. My shin is a bloom of yellow, as if I have jaundice, and the knee cap is black with a bloodied wound just beneath it (it never seems to form a scab, probably because that part of the anatomy doesn’t stay still long enough), which I swab and disinfect every day. I’m hoping that by next weekend it will be completely healed,  because I’m itching to get back on the bike again — but not with those pedals!

In total, I cycled a measly 89 miles in March, but I think I have a good excuse. If I was a horse, they would have shot me long ago…

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.

Cycling the Viking Coastal Trail — on a Brompton

Brompton-by-the-beach

Remember that lovely little magenta-coloured Brompton I received at Christmas? Well, she made it to the seaside on Friday (pictured above). It was her maiden voyage — and she performed superbly.

I’d been wanting to cycle the Viking Coastal Trail in Kent for years, but I’d never actually got myself organised enough to do it. But having a Brompton at my disposal meant it was simply a matter of heading to Kent on the train — all I had to do was (learn to) fold-up the bike and I’d be on my way.

So, on my day off last Friday, my Other Half and I caught the train to Margate from Kings Cross St Pancras, with overnight rucksacks on our backs, bike helmets on our heads and Bromptons neatly folded in our hands.

Viking Coastal Trail sign

The idea was to tackle the 32 mile route in a clockwise fashion over two days: Margate to Ramsgate on Friday afternoon, then Ramsgate to Margate, via St Nicholas-at-Wade and Reculver, on Saturday.

DAY ONE

Margate-to-Ramsgate

Distance: 10 miles

We didn’t leave London until after 12-noon, so by the time we got to Margate and had figured out how to unfold the bikes (!), it was almost 2pm. Fortunately, we weren’t in too much of a rush because we’d already pre-booked a hotel room in Ramsgate and didn’t have to check in until 5pm, giving us plenty of time to cycle the 10 miles along the coast.

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In fact, we didn’t set off until close to 3pm, because we had a bit of a potter along the harbour arm first (pictured above). We even snuck in a delicious half-pint of craft ale at The Harbour Arms, a microbrewery on the waterfront. Indeed, it was so relaxing sitting in the sun, nursing our beers, we half-contemplated the idea of spending the entire afternoon there and catching a taxi to our accommodation instead of cycling.

But that would destroy the purpose of our visit — which was to give our new bikes a little outing. So we mounted our Bromptons and headed east, following the well-marked Viking Coastal Trail / Regional Cycle Network 15 signs, which hugged the coastline.

Kent coastline

It was only a relatively short journey, but we took our time. We stopped frequently to take photographs or to admire the scenery. It was such a perfect day for leisurely cycling: blue sky, sunshine and a little nip in the air, although the strength of the breeze increased as the afternoon wore on.

There were also a few hills to tackle, mainly along the Eastern Esplanade, which proved testing on a bike with just six gears. But on the whole the route was largely flat, with just a few inclines. My OH may beg to differ.

Broadstairs

When we at last reached Broadstairs we went slightly off route and headed for the harbour. Here, we tucked into a very late lunch of freshly cooked hot chips, while we sat on white plastic chairs and admired the view — the colourful beach huts lining the seafront; the higgledy piggledy buildings hugging the curve of the bay; the distinctive-looking Bleak House (pictured above) sitting atop the east cliff, made famous by Charles Dickens, who holidayed there in the summers while he wrote David Copperfield.

Then it was back on the bikes for the final push to Ramsgate — only to find that we had to get off, because cycling is not allowed along the waterfront parade.

Ramsgate marina

When we did eventually get back in the saddle, we reached Ramsgate in ultra-quick time. We had about an hour to fill in before we could check in to our accommodation, so we headed to the Belgian Cafe on the seafront for a well-earned cherry beer. We drank it outside, as you do on a chilly evening in early March, and then, with hands and feet too numb to cycle, we walked our bikes about half a mile to our hotel, which overlooked the marina. The view from our hotel room (pictured above) topped off what had been a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

DAY TWO: MORNING SESSION

Ramsgate-to-Nicholas-at-wade

Distance: 10 miles

After a rather good night’s sleep in a comfy four-poster bed, and a hot cooked breakfast, it was time to continue our little cycling adventure. But first we had to buy a spanner: Other Half’s seat post kept slipping down and needed to be tightened up. Once that was sorted and we’d stocked up on some water, we were on our way: destination St Nicholas-at-Wade.

From Ramsgate the coastal trail followed the coast down to Pegwall Bay, past the distinctive-looking Pegwall Bay Hotel, before heading inland — and onto trafficked roads — at Cliffsend.

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A little further along and we came across the route’s namesake — the viking ship Hugin (pictured above), a replica of the ship that sailed from Denmark to Thanet in 1949 to mark the 1,500th anniversary of the invasion of England by two Saxon chieftains: Hengist and his brother Horsa.

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The heritage landmarks kept on coming: at Ebbsfleet we were wowed by a giant Celtic cross in the middle of a field. St Augustine’s Cross, erected in 1884, commemorates the landing close by of St Augustine and 40 monks in AD597. He was charged with bringing Christianity to England, from Rome, and it is said he preached his first sermon near this site and met King Ethelbert, whom he later converted.

From there we rode through Minster (where we compared vehicles with a 90-year-old chap on a mobility scooter who was intrigued by our fold-up bikes and wanted to have a long chat), Monkton and then the pretty little village of St Nicholas-at-Wade, our lunch-time destination.

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At the Sun Inn, we sat outside in the front beer garden, where I enjoyed a half-pint of beer, a pint of soda and lime, and a feed of rather yummy fish’n’chips.

DAY TWO: AFTERNOON SESSION

Nicholas-to-margate

Distance: 14.5 miles

But we weren’t even half-way yet — and the best was still to come.

Our next destination was Reculver on the coast: we could see the twin towers of the former monastic church on the horizon, some five miles away. The trail, largely traffic-free along this section, wound its way through fields of flailed maize and other crops.

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And then the road turned almost 90-degrees, crossed some flat marshland and the busy Thanet Way, before we found ourselves competing for road space with Saturday afternoon traffic, including the local bus service, all headed to Reculver and its architectural wonder perched by the sea.

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The imposing landmark of the Reculver Towers (pictured above) was a sight to behold. Until I’d researched this adventure, I’d never heard of this ruin before. Once a 12th century Anglo-Saxon church, and before that a Roman fort, it reminded me very much of Whitby Abbey — but far less Gothic.

From its position on top of a hill, we could see a seaside town to the east and presumed it was Margate: it was, in fact, Birchington-on-Sea. We reached it by cycling the sea wall, a relatively wide pathway shared with pedestrians, that seemed to stretch on and on forever (pictured below).

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We stopped for water and shared a snack (a Pret chocolate brownie bar if you must know), but it was too windy (and cold) to stay still for long. So we mounted the bikes, again, for the final few miles to Margate.

This was a quick section to ride, mainly because it followed the promenade along the waterfront, some sections of which cycling is banned between May and September (make a note if you’re planning to do this journey in the summer months). It was amazing riding along here, not least because one false move (or faulty brakes) and you could find yourself sailing off the edge and into the sea below (there are no safety rails), but also because it was so quiet — we barely saw another soul for three miles and had the entire route to ourselves.

When, at last, we reached Margate it was back to the Harbour Arms for a celebratory pint. Sadly, the outside seating was in the shade and because the sun was low in the sky it was too cold to linger long: once we’d downed our beers, we headed back to the train station, folded up our bikes and caught the 16:53 to St Pancras.

It was a lovely little cycling adventure, the perfect way to appreciate a mix of rural and urban sights, seaside towns and inland villages. It wasn’t too physically demanding either — though my OH, who hadn’t been on a bike in almost two years, may not quite agree.

Total distance: 34.5miles | Ride time: 5hr 34min and 17sec | Average speed: 5.7mph

Product review: Reflective BUFF®

When cycling during winter there’s nothing worse than feeling cold. It’s uncomfortable, saps your energy and takes all the joy out of being on a bike in the first place.

I’ve been cycle commuting across London for 10 years now and I’ve had time, through trial and error, to work out what works best for me on those chilly mornings when I’d rather be tucked up in bed. I generally wear fleecy longs, thick woollen hiking socks and trainers (I don’t do the cycling shoe thing on my commute) to keep my bottom half warm, and up top I wear a wicking t-shirt (long or short sleeved depending on how cold it is), a fleece, a waterproof/windproof jacket, gloves and helmet.

The only part that ever feels exposed is my face, my ears and my neck. (I have long hair but tie it up in a pony tail when I cycle, although, occasionally out of sheer desperation, I’ve been known to keep it down on those really icy mornings simply to keep me warm.)

And then, only a few weeks ago, a colleague joked that maybe I should wear a balaclava and be done with it. “Or what about a buff?” suggested another. And so this is how I came to try the Reflective BUFF®, a “tube” of material which you wear around your neck to keep the draughts at bay.

Black Reflection Buff

What I like about the Reflective BUFF®

  • It’s lightweight (just 41g), so it’s comfortable and unobtrusive.
  • It’s long (52cm), which means you can tuck plenty of it under your collar and pull it up to cover your mouth and nose, if you so wish. (An instruction sheet that came with mine suggests that you can wear it in plenty of different ways, such as a head covering, hair tie or face mask.)
  • It’s soft (it’s made out of 100% polyester micro fibre), so doesn’t feel scratchy against your skin.
  • It has two retro-reflective strips on either side, which can help make you more visible in low light conditions.
  • You can throw it in the washing machine and it comes out looking like new. I’ve washed mine several times now in non-bio detergent and the reflective strips don’t appear to have deteriorated in any way.
  • It keeps you really warm! Wearing it has been a bit of a revelation — I had no idea so much cold air was going down the back of my neck until I started wearing this.

What I don’t like about the Reflective BUFF®

  • It’s slightly too big — I reckon about 2.5cm off the existing 24.5cm width would make it the perfect size for my head/neck. Perhaps a ladies’ version is needed?
  • The reflective strip can feel a little cold against your face, but this is easily solved by making sure the strips are on either side of your head when you put it on.

Overall opinion

I really like this buff — but let’s be honest, it’d be hard not to like a piece of super-soft material that keeps your neck/face warm. It’s promptly become part of my regular winter cycling kit — and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ve cycle commuted for so long without one.

Where can you buy?

You can order the Reflective BUFF® from Kitshack.com. There’s a range of colours and patterns available, priced from £14. The product I tried (pictured) was the R-Black, priced £18.50.

My Reflective BUFF® was supplied to me for review purposes by Kitshack.com.