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ON YER BIKE: Don't let the rain dampen your appetite for bikes
How could this column be about anything but the rain? I sit in my office at the top of the house, watching across the treetops as weather fronts blow in and out.
During the fiercest squalls I count my lucky stars that, as a homeworker, I no longer commute.
I really do send a thought and a prayer out to all the poor cyclists who are getting caught in the downpours.
I worry (just a bit) about whether the weather will actually put people off Cycling. And if I’m honest I am a bit bloody smug that I never have to go out on my bike if the weather even hints at a drizzle.
Having said that, for the next month, my family and I are staying in Garsington while our house is renovated. It’s a five-mile ride each way to my temporary office in the city.
My timing could not possibly have been worse.
We have enjoyed the warmest, sunniest spring in living memory. Yet the moment I bag myself a sweet countryside commute, the heavens hunker down for a month of unending deluges.
Short negotiations with my wife ensues about who gets to use the car. I never ‘win’, but then I’m never that serious about it.
Even on the days that my wife prefers to get the 101 down to Cowley Road, I still cycle in the rain.
Why? The thought is a lot worse than the reality. No one wishes for rides through leaden sheets of rain, but with the right lightweight jacket and overtrousers, and waxed boots, preparing to ride in the rain is only slightly less inconvenient than getting togged up for a scuba dive.
Sure, the rainiest days make it feel as if you’re riding along the bottom of a swimming pool, but this depressing sensation is shared by drivers as well. The main reason cycling makes sense is that when it’s raining everyone gets their car out. So stay one step ahead, don’t waste half an hour stuck in queues – ride.
Journeys into and around the city are twice as quick by bike once the road system grinds to a halt. The same as a motorcyclist, you can filter along the median white lines to get to the front of queues.
The only downside with the rain is it’s less safe. Drivers are grumpy and drive more erratically, so you have to keep your wits about you.
How to stay safe? Be ready to brake. Cycle with fingers cupping the brake levers so you can stop instantly. Unless you have disk brakes, nip both brakes on every few minutes to clear the water off your rims. If you don’t and you try to brake suddenly, wet brakes will take a few seconds to bite.
Never even for a nanosecond use your front brake while riding over a metal drain cover: that’s an instant wipe-out.
Be seen. I wear a hi-vis vest over my cycling jacket day and night for the Garsington commute: this is no north Oxford lah-de-dah pootle. In the rain, I always use a red flashing LED at the back and a super-bright eye-gouging light fixed to the top of my helmet. This means I catch drivers’ eyes as I weave in and out of stationary traffic.
Cycling in the rain feels nice and fresh but you must, like a good scout, be prepared.
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