Dealing with Adverse Weather while Bicycle Touring
Riding in the rain!
Earlier today I read a question on bikeforums.net where someone was asking about whether or not they should go on tour despite the forecast of a week’s worth of rain so when I bike commuted home on my longest road route in a steady rain today I had some time to really think about the question.
Most people seem to prefer riding on warm and sunny days when going on a bicycle touring adventure. I usually hope for sunshine when I tour too but I have to admit that I’ve had some mighty fine rides on days when the skies have opened and the water has poured down upon me.
With the right rain gear, some fenders and a positive attitude aimed towards enjoying yourself no matter what happens it is indeed very possible to enjoy a ride in the rain. When touring it is also important that you protect your dry clothing, your thermarest (or equivalent) and your sleeping bag so that no matter how rough the downpour you still have a dry bed and a change of warm clothing to look forward to. As long as you have that then you can probably handle just about anything that’s thrown at you.
An interesting thing about the rain is that it can really brings beauty out as the trees, bushes, grasses and flowers soak up the water. Rivers, creeks and streams also fill up so that what would normally be a quiet and peaceful body of water becomes a raging torrent with some very beautiful rapids.
If you have the opportunity to ride a bike path that goes through beautiful parkland then you will notice that the rain scares away the crowds leaving you to enjoy the surroundings in peace and quiet.
Right now it is spring in Ontario so the colours are especially vivid and after months of snow and ice you can’t help but be overwhelmed by them.
What? You don’t believe me?
Well the pictures on this page were all taken today while enjoying the rain falling around me. I took them with my handy water resistent Pentax Optio WR33. This camera is also my touring camera so that when I tour I can take pictures despite any storms that might be raging around me. I took a total of 93 pictures. Unfortunately I didn’t put them all on this page for you to enjoy!
When I finally did arrive at home after playing around in the rain for over two hours my rain jacket, rain pants, gloves, helmet cover and boots were wet on the outside but I was still warm and dry on the inside plus I was filled with the satisfaction of a fun ride, some nice pictures and a few more memories.
It’s scary to think that if I had been scared away by a little bit of rain then I would have missed all of this!
Back when I decided to go around Lake Erie I was greeted with a very intense rain shower on what was supposed to be the first day of my tour. When I say intense I mean that taking a shower indoors would have resulted in less water pressure then just standing outside with a bar of soap in my hand! Even worse the next four days were forecast for rain.
I discovered that in reality I dodged storms throughout that first day until I outran them. After that I actually stayed ahead of the storms until I reached the eastern end of the lake and headed back towards them causing me to experience thirty to sixty minutes of rain daily until I reached the western end. After that I was rain free all the way home!
So the next time you are looking at a long term forecast that calls for rain every day of your tour please consider your rain gear as well as your ability to keep important stuff dry. If these things are in place then think about going for it anyway. You may just enjoy it!
Fighting a headwind
Few aspects of bicycle touring can seem so cruel as a persistent and overpowering wind that seems to be doing everything it can to push you back to your starting point. My first eight days going around Lake Huron seemed to consist of days with constant headwinds even though each day I was changing my general direction as I followed the coast line of the lake. As bad as the headwinds were the hardest part was that each day they seemed to increase until the eighth day when I fought against the wind for hours only to come upon a windsurfer roaring along the water at full speed courtesy of my friend the wind. As both a windsurfer and a cyclist the contrasts between heaven and hell all packaged into one made for some interesting thoughts during the remainder of the ride.
Eight days gives you plenty of time to really think about things to try to make you go that tiny bit faster. I discovered that removing my rain covers appeared to add another two km/hour to my ground speed. Cinching the front saddlebags horizontally tighter seemed to add another two km of speed. Moving stuff off the rear rack also had some real impact as well.
After these experiences and many more I’ve discovered a few things that seem to help me to have a much more pleasant day even while the wind is blowing.
Although seemingly obvious try to pack lightly and focus on reducing the horizontal bulk on your bike. Think of a knife in water. You want your bike to present as narrow an edge to the wind as possible. Wider bikes complete with over stuffed saddlebags present a much larger cross section to the wind which results in a much slower forward progression.
Smaller saddlebags will encourage you to take a lot less extra gear with you. When fighting a wind it’s a lot easier to push a bike loaded with 50 extra pounds of gear then one loaded with 100 pounds.
Keep stuff packed as low to the ground as safely possible. Studies have shown that the force of the wind increases with height. Check out a sailboat sometime on a relatively calm day. You will likely notice that the top of the sail seems to receive a lot more power then the bottom. Kite sailors use this same principle to get out on the water on the same days that windsurfers are stuck on the beach. In practical terms removing unneccessary stuff from above the rear rack seems to make a significant difference.
Sing, hum, whistle, or listen to music especially stuff that instills a feeling of happiness. Head winds are at least partly mental in addition to their actual physical force. If you can keep the wind from completely taking over your day then you stand a much better chance of feeling good about your day.
Avoid trying to muscle your way along. There is a very easy tendency to push hard against a low gear. This has the impact of working you harder then necessary so that you end up tired earlier and when you wake up you also get to feel sore too. Instead go down a gear or two and spin the pedals at a faster cadence. At certain speeds spinning can almost seem effortless as the mechanical aspects of the gearing seem to take away at least some of the load.
Get up with the sun on days forecast to be windy. There are many reasons why most cyclists seem to enjoy getting on the road early in the morning. For some it’s an opportunity to escape the heat of the day and arrive at camp earlier. Another feature is that most of the time the wind is either calm or very light first thing in the morning.
Take a good long break during the early afternoon. Find a museum or a nice tree to relax under. Most of the time the wind is the strongest from around 14:00 to 17:00 in the day. If you find the wind is pushing you backwards then just stop the bike and take control of the situation.
Take a peek at the map. Are there any cross roads that head in a more wind friendly direction? Perhaps you could have a cross wind instead of a head wind. You may do more distance over the ground but end up getting to your destination by using a bit of creativity.
The wind can be a very powerful and dehydrating force. Make sure you drink fluids often and take a longer break periodically to eat some food. For most people the wind has the ability to creep inside the head and make you forget everything else other then it’s powerful effects. Unfortunately running out of energy and becoming dehydrated can make the wind seem even more unforgiving.
A less obvious option is to simply opt out. Rather then stay in the flatlands head for the hills. At least there you will have the climb to blame for the slow speed and the valleys you dip down into will give you wind blocking benefits as well as some fast descents.
For some people getting down to the handlebar drops seems to add some value. For me although a short time there can be useful I typically find that dropping to the drops drastically reduces the scenery while providing only marginal benefit from the wind.
Probably the most important thing to remember is that the wind will play with your mental state. It’s up to you to determine exactly how much you are willing to allow it to control your day. After all, if you were in a rush would you really be riding a bike?
Getting your head in the clouds!
Watching the clouds float around in the sky are one of my favourite touring past times when out on a bicycle touring adventure. It seems that my attraction to clouds only grows after every bicycle touring adventure and it’s not really hard to understand why.
I find that when I am out on the open road I have plenty of time to really drink in my surroundings. Often a very prominent and important part of that is the sky.
From a purely practical viewpoint watching the clouds helps to predict upcoming weather so that you can be prepared in advance whenever possible for whatever is coming.
In all honesty I just enjoy watching the clouds. They come in all different shapes and sizes along with many different colourings that seem to evoke different emotions. I’ve often thought of them as a more natural and educational form of television.
The sad thing to me is that when I return to “civilization” and talk about the beauty of clouds in the sky (and not in a raving lunatic kind of way - grin) many people really, really don’t understand what I am talking about. I suppose that in our everyday lives we’ve become relatively separated from the weather around us. Although many people can tell you if it’s sunny, rainy or snowing outside very few will ever connect to the weather and the other natural events around them in the same way as you will during your bicycle touring adventure.
You will notice similar disconnects when you discuss upcoming terrain with people in cars or if you exchange notes about an area with someone who drove through it versus someone who rode a bicycle or walked.
For me a bicycle touring adventure is about taking it slow, enjoying myself and having some fun. Although you might be a bit skeptical yourself when you next go on tour take a few moments to REALLY notice your surroundings including the objects found in the sky.
A bicycle tour is one of those times when it’s quite all right and natural to have your heads in the clouds from time to time.