- I’ve commuted by bicycle almost every day since I started my PhD in 1998. That’s a lot of kilometres, a lot of near accidents, a lot of hills, and a LOT of rain (we’re talking Glasgow and Vancouver here, two cities notorious for their wet weather). And yes, I’ve always ridden year-round, rain or shine, although I do take the bus on icy or snowy days. Really, if you have the right gear and your journey takes less than half an hour or so, how wet are you gonna get?! Plus it’s still cheaper, faster, cleaner, and more fun to ride in the rain than to take a steamed-up bus full of wet people. With a hot shower available at both ends of the trip, the worst thing about wet weather riding is the ickiness of putting still-damp leggings and shoes back on at the end of the day before the ride home, but that’s just a fleeting sensation. I’ve done this for so long now that it’s part of my identity, and if I’m 100% honest I do feel a certain sense of superiority over fair-weather cyclists, enabled by friends and colleagues who say things like “you rode today?! Wow, you’re so dedicated! I’d never ride in weather like this!”
This autumn, though, feels different. I sense a growing reluctance to ride in the rain, characterised by a bad case of the DON’T WANNA!s when I look out of the window on wet mornings. I blame the Vancouver-Seattle ride I did in June: I got thoroughly drenched on one of my long training rides, damp on a couple of others, and soaked to the skin to the point of what a nurse colleague tells me was almost certainly early-stage hypothermia on the ride itself*.
Now, if you’d asked me back in hot and sunny August what effect those experiences might have on my commuting habits in the future, I’d probably have said “none” – surely after all that misery, I’d power through my wet 20 minute commutes thinking “this is NOTHING!”, right?
I think that second day of the ride just plain ol’ exceeded my tolerance limits for rain for the year, if not longer. Rainy rides now just take me back to the misery of that second day, when the rain and the hills just. Would. Not. Stop., and I got so cold I started making near-fatal bad decisions. I just DON’T WANNA! any more.
I’m going to try to push through this. I don’t want to be a fair-weather cyclist, I don’t want to take steamed-up buses full of wet (and germy) people, and more importantly I feel the need to get out there and make all the naysayers realise that yes, there IS a point to building new cycling infrastructure in a rainy city, because people WILL use it year-round (a major point of contention in Vancouver right now as our awesome mayor and council commit to building more and more separated bike lanes downtown and elsewhere).
I’ll let you know how it goes…
(don’t worry, the remaining bullets are much shorter)
- As a caveat to the above: I no longer ride on (most) Fridays. I started this habit during my training, as I did two long rides most weekends, and Friday seemed like a good choice of rest day. But I quickly realised that there are other benefits, such as not having to choose between the “leave bike at work and then not have it over the weekend” and the “ride bike to pub/friend’s house and then either ride home after drinking or leave it at friend’s house” options when a friend texts at 3pm on a Friday to suggest a spontaneous get-together.
- When I first learned to ride a bike, I started on a two-wheeler with removable stabilisers (training wheels, if you’re from North America). So did all the other kids in my town. But all the kids I see around here who are just learning to cycle have two-wheelers, no stabilisers, and no pedals – they push themselves along with their feet. I guess that sometime in the last 30 years or so, someone decided that it’s better for kids to learn balance first, rather than mastering pedalling/steering first, as I did. It makes sense, actually, and I wonder how many bruises and scraped knees I might have been spared if I’d learned this way!
- Once the local kids graduate to pedalling normal bikes, many of them start to accompany their parents on rides on the city’s designated bike routes (side streets with some traffic-calming measures in place, but which are unfortunately still very popular with drivers because you get favourable stop signs, plus lights to cross all the major cross-streets). This is great – with the right parents! Some let their kid(s) ride behind them or on their left, where they’re prone to wander all over the road or make sudden changes in speed and/or direction, which is very dangerous when faster riders and cars are trying to pass. And of course you can’t say anything to these parents without getting yelled at (I’ve tried).
So it was such a joy to see two counter-examples in the last couple of weeks. In the first case, a father was riding behind his son, keeping up a constant commentary along the lines of “go wide! That driver’s stopped in front of a parking space, so she might start backing up and swinging out!”, “I don’t think that driver’s seen us, so let’s slow right down even though he has a stop sign and we don’t”, “wave and nod to say thank you!”, “remember to keep in a straight line”, “look behind you if you want to slow down”, etc. It was awesome, and I told him so (“great job on the training!”) as I passed. The other case, on a different route and a different day, involved a mother riding behind her daughter, giving similar advice and reminding her to always try and figure out where other road users want to go and what they might do next.
Awesome job, guys! I salute you, and I wish there were more out there like you!
- That is all. Sorry this got so long. Bullets FAIL.
*apparently my self-treatment prescription of hot-tub, beer, and spicy Thai food was “kinda dumb”, but hey, what doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger, right? 🙂