A Practical Matter


Standing in the loom of the garage door with rain dripping from the wide jamb. Water pooling in oblong puddles in the road, small mirrors to the gray sky and power lines. The autumnal breeze sweeps the street and shuffles the few leaves not already stuck to the ground. It’s a fitful rain. Hard to tell whether what makes it to ground is from the clouds or just heavy globs stirred from the trees by the wind.

I stand there in my pristine kit, gloves still warm from the dryer, one hand on the bars, one on the saddle. This is the testing moment.

Dressed by the bedside in the shade-drawn bedroom, only the digital forecast beamed in through the phone to guide my clothing choices, now I wonder, have I gotten it right. I pull up my arm warmers, re-layer the jersey where they overlap. Snug up my light rain jacket at the collar. I try to imagine myself riding out into the maw of the weather. Without moving, I can feel the first fat, cold drops landing on my back.

I know that in an hour I will be wholly wet and not care. I will have been soaked by the rain and also from the upspray, my front wheel spitting against the downtube, the rear cascading water up my back, my chamois soaking through, cold at first, but then body-warm.

Even in this leaves-down cold I will sweat, my core temperature rising to meet the challenge of the weather. And everything will be fine and comfortable as long as I am moving, the effort drawing all my attention away from sodden socks and that one dangling drop at the front of my cap.

But in this testing moment I always waver. Those first minutes of soak-through and of real body cold are deeply imprinted. I know them like I know their opposites, the first sip of hot coffee on the other end of the ride, or the steamy warmth of the shower with road grime streaming off my legs.

I could not be doing this. I could turn and hang the bike from its hook and walk straight back up the stairs into the dry, warm kitchen. The wife would hardly bat an eye. The kids, anaesthetized by Saturday cartoons, never knew I left, wouldn’t register my return. No one is forcing me out. There is no noble purpose. This is a practical matter.

This is how I go to meet myself. This is how I reconnect to the world after I’ve spent the week with abstraction and distraction, gazing into this glowing rectangle, trying to make it pay. The way is cold and wet today, but it is the only way to get where I need to go.

It all comes full circle in my head, and then I’m just standing there in the half shelter of the garage. I throw my leg over and push out into the ride, cleats snapping into pedals, pedals turning over, the trees shaking their leaves in a warning I ignore.

Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot.

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24 comments

  1. Ashley

    This is absolutely and exactly the feelings I get when I’m about to go out on a rainy ride, substitute fiance and dog for wife and kids. Before the ride I’m hesitant to deal with the cold and the rain. During the ride there’s relief that I’m at least on the bike riding, and afterwards it’s all the sweeter.

    I did a rainy ride the other day and had a different take on how to comment on it: http://aerochick.com/2012/10/5-states-of-riding-in-the-rain/

    Thank you for posting something that’s motivating me to get out and ride, no matter the condition.

  2. SpeedyChix

    Most wonderfully written and the emotion and feelings conveyed. It’s more of why I love riding. Truly a ride that comes from within.

  3. John in Miami

    Sorry, but I am spoiled living in South Florida where the weather permits 12 months of riding with no loss for snow days. Now rain is a different matter. I prefer cold to rain, and cold is relative (under 50 degrees and it equals rain). Heat, even into the 90s just means, you ride earlier than normal to be back by 10am. Before I transform myself into a weekend cyclist, I am a weekend weather man.

  4. Buck

    Fenders? Practicality sacrificed for what, exactly? A better, colder & more epic story? Maybe the chamois of those $300 bibs needs a few gallons of scummy road spray to break in properly?


  5. Author
    Robot

    @ Dustin and Buck – Point taken. Fenders are cool. I prefer not to use them on my road bike. My commuter is fully fendered. It’s two different rides for me. I’m also reasonably certain I don’t own (and didn’t mention) a pair of $300 bibs, so I’m not sure where that came from. Thanks for reading though.

  6. Disch

    Just had that moment of “meeting myself” a week ago on a very rainy ride in the Austin hill country. Rainy rides are rare here in Austin because it’s so damn dry, but there is something amazing about rolling out of town, kitted up, knowing everyone tucked into their cars and cafes are looking at you, thinking you’re crazy.

  7. Les Borean

    I remember the moment I decided to become a cyclist. Reading a cross-country trip blog by the bassist of the Ditty Bops, who in their heyday did a cross-country concert tour on bicycle. Ian Walker wrote of his epic day on a bicycle, in which he rode 140 miles on a rainy day. I thought that was so cool! I took out an old 90s vintage bike from the garage and started on my mission which continues to this day.

    Living in SoCal I don’t have a lot of rainy days to contemplate, but we do have early mornings that are 30-40 degrees, which to this SoCal boy is chillingly cold.

    When preparing pre-dawn for a ride on one of these winter or spring days, I have the same thoughts and doubts, and wondering why I’m not one of those dudes eating eggs and pancakes at the counter in some nice warm coffee shop instead of heading out seemingly almost naked into the cold dark morning.

    But every time, there is that moment, a moment while I’m in preparation that my mind does the switch, and my being, my mind switches focus to the day’s journey. By the time I get to the bike, it’s all systems “go”.

  8. tinytim

    Fenders and a rain poncho. Really a poncho. Check out Rivendell bikes. Theres a sweet, bright yellow pvc poncho that has a hood, and it tightly drapes over the bike. Couple the poncho with feners and you are straight up water proof. The cool thing about the poncho, is that its the only rain related article of clothing one has to buy and that you can just wear tighty-whities under the thing (and a tube sock over the precious bits for x-tra warmth). When on the the front of the train, leading the group out for the proper city limit sprint, the poncho wearing rider is giving off the same draft as a SUV. I like to gussy up my rain poncho with some stickers from Steivel Kinevil. Rain water enemas are for fools in the team replica kits. We dont like that here.

  9. Andrew

    Great article. I bike commuted for years in Seattle- getting out of the house in the dark and the rain was sometimes really, really tough. But I never regretted any of those wet rides, especially looking at the people stuck in traffic while I zipped by in the bike path. Now here in MN the decision is about how cold I want to be- I’ve never regretted going out, no matter how awful it seems at first. But I’ve definitely regretted not riding.

  10. S M

    Last Saturday my window to ride was at 10 AM….. 35 degrees and raining, or is that snowing. Maybe it was sleet. Figured I better ride because Sunday wasn’t looking like it would happen. I saw one other rider, whom I applauded when they passed in the other direction. Sometimes one has to do something crazy to remain sane. Fenders would have been nice. Warmer socks would have been even nicer.

  11. DavidA

    Robot, Pros and Elites/beloften riders use fenders, or”spatboorden” in Flemish. Use the clip on the seat-post rear kind and the front for racing bikes. In Belgium it rains alot in the winter and spring so everyone uses them, you are looked at as strange if you dont have fenders on your race bike over there.

  12. slappy

    just to second buck, sks raceblades go,on the roadie in the time it takes to doubt, and the beneficial sensations are swell

  13. gmknobl

    Wish I was there with you. Or rather, I wish I had the cojones to ride on days like that. I console myself by riding on the trainer on such day that I need to ride but the weather is nasty.

    It’s frustrating at times like that when the pull is between laziness, the family and something frivolous or entertaining and riding. I know I must ride but only want fair weather.

    This type of article gives me a little inspiration to ride when it’s not so convenient.

  14. randomactsofcycling

    Great piece of writing.
    Reminds me of the first swim of the Summer: wading out into the surf, knee deep and waiting for the first cold wave to hit me in the crotch!

  15. A Stray Velo

    Nice post.

    I’ve never been able to commit to riding a trainer in the winter at least only in the rare case of an emergency will I get on the rollers in the shed. Last year I finally got a light to go along with the front wheel I have with a dynamo built into it. The experience has been so addictive that all summer I was looking forward to fall and winter so I could get back out into the cold, dark and sometimes wet weather of the off-season.

    For me the choice to go out in the rain is always an easy one. I just think to myself, what else am I going to do? It’s only water.

    For anyone who wants to read more on the experience you can check it out here,
    http://astrayvelo.com/2012/07/29/a-bright-idea/

  16. JoePete

    You’ve inspired me to go ride this rainy Saturday morning in Iowa, it’s been too long since my last rain ride. However, the wife has already made plans, and her persistence is stronger than my will to ride, I have failed my fellow cyclists. Enjoy your rain rides my two- wheeled friends!

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