Sunday, July 11, 2010

Randonee Rain on Me

Jim Kuhlman and I rode the Sailing to Solomons 200K ride yesterday. We set out at 4am. This plan was set before the weather forecast was clear and was intended to beat the heat of a typical July day: hot hazy and humid.

It wasn't a typical July day. By ride time the forecast called for a 50% chance of rain all day. The weather guessers were right. It was raining on us for about half of the day. Most of it was in light drizzles, and frankly the cloud cover kept the temps down and probably made for a more pleasant day. But we had a solid hour plus beginning around mile 70 of hard driving showers. We couldn't be any more wet if we'd gone swimming. A few minutes in to the down pour we passed a nursery. The storefront had a small porch and we could have stopped there to let it pass. But we were already quite wet and it was warm enough that neither of us felt chilled. The wind was calm and there was no lightning. Just warm rain coming down in buckets. So we opted to pedal on. We reminded each other to watch the road for pot holes that might be hidden in the sheen of standing water and we weren't going as fast as we might have in clear weather. But we carried on and it worked out fine.

After about an hour of this the rain was beginning to lighten up but I was starting to chill a bit. We stopped for a moment and I put on my wind vest. It drenched through almost instantly but it worked to keep me just a touch warmer and I was fine the rest of the day.

When we got to the North Beach control we stopped at Sweet Sue's bakery for hot chocolate and a snack. Hot chocolate in July, I wouldn't have predicted it but I sure did enjoy it at the time.

This was my first time riding for an extended period in steady rain. In over a year of regular riding, all of the big rides (50 miles plus) I'd participated in had lucked out with clear weather. (Okay I dodged a few when the forecast wasn't clear). There were cold days, and there were days with some showers and threatening clouds, but never a full day of steady rain. I knew it was coming this time and was a little apprehensive. But as a member of DC Rand and the SPP, I have had access to a LOT of lessons learned and suggestions. Fortunately I was paying attention and a few gear choices I made before the ride made for a successful day. Here are some highlights:

1) Chamois Butt'r - wet clothes can cause chaffing. Doesn't matter if the moisture is from perspiration or precipitation. But this little bit of magic lotion, reapplied at each control, worked out just fine.

2) Seat cover - I ride on a leather Brooks saddle and the literature recommends not letting it get saturated. Light intermittent rain will bead up and shed but extended soaking will soften and stretch the leather and leave the rider sitting on the rails. A $12 investment with Velo Orange for a saddle cover worked out great. I was concerned it might affect comfort while riding, but I honestly couldn't tell any difference. Then as recommended I took the cover off when I stowed the bike so the saddle can air out again.

3) Wind vest - I took this along with the wrong idea. I knew my full rain jacket wold be much too hot for the conditions, but I thought the wind vest might substitute for a rain jacket on a warm wet day and keep my core a little bit dryer than if I ride without it. So when we hit our first stretch of rain I broke it out and put it on. I felt like a crab being steamed up for a July picnic. It only lasted a couple of miles. But later after I was thoroughly drenched, I was much more comfortable when I put on the vest and slow down the rate of evaporation. I was actually getting chilled and it did the trick. So I will pack it any time there is a chance of showers again.

4) Rack and Trunk Bag - A 200K ride isn't really that long. When the weather forecast is for a clear day, I've learned to make do with a repair kit under my saddle and what ever I can carry in my jersey pockets for accessories. It took a while for this one to sink in. I got advice to lighten my load several times before I finally acted on it. But once I did, I learned that shedding a few pounds makes a big difference.

But anything in the jersey would be exposed to the elements in the rain. So I mounted the rack and trunk bag and stowed my food, wallet, phone, brevet card, and small kit of personal items I always carry in the bag instead of in my jersey. Then covered the trunk bag in it's own little rain cover. All stayed dry and sound. I was happy with the decision and will do it again. But note that Jim didn't do this. He wrapped similar gear in plastic bags and carried it in his jersey. He didn't seem to suffer for this choice, nothing essential dissolved in the water. But I was glad for the peace of mind.

5) Extra change of clothes - this was just silly. I was thinking that if the wet clothes caused chafing I might want to change in to a dry set. Well the obvious problem is that if the rain continues, the new dry clothes won't be dry for long. They were still dry in the zip lock bag at the end. Should have left them at home.

Besides the gear choices for preparation the day also reinforced some important safety lessons while riding in wet conditions:

1) Be visible - the harder it's raining, the worse a typical driver can see through his own windshield. The red "beacon" I ride with on the rear is so bright, some other riders have commented it's an irritant while riding behind me. I'm not insensitive to this and have on occasion doused it for a conventional blinky when riding in a peloton. Today I used it all day. Three miles in to the ride we came up on a section of road blocked by the police while a work crew cleared a down tree and wires. One of the officers had just arrived and had passed us on his way there. He commented how well he could see that light a half mile behind us. I was glad to have it during that downpour. They passed us through as the left shoulder was passable by bike without interfering with the work.

2) Brakes work poorly when wet. I was startled on one decent as we approached a turn that I couldn't brake effectively. There after I moderated the brakes early in each decent and kept the speed down. I'd hate to think about the need for quick stop at 30 mph with no brakes, or even a descent that ends in a sharp T intersection.

3) Watch the road surface carefully. Standing water or a thick sheen of running water on the road during a heavy rain can block your view of pot holes and broken pavement. Slow down and avoid the standing water where practical.

I've ridden with Jim in the SPP on many occasions since I joined the group, and we routinely cross paths in other parts of the community, kids' sports, school events, etc. So we've known each other for some time, but this was the first time we'd spent so much time together for a full day. I always enjoy getting to know other other riders while cycling and this was no exception. I'm glad Jim came along. I was prepared to ride alone to stay on track for my R-12. With a family vacation coming up later this month, there would be no other good opportunity to do it on another day. I've done a 200K ride alone in the past. I enjoyed perfect weather that day and it was a great experience. But I think the rain would have just been discouraging riding alone. With someone else to share the discomfort and make the odd joke about our plight, it made for a good day despite the weather.

I'm not sure "fun" is the right way to describe the day, but I'm really glad we did it. It validated what I already understood about riding in the rain but had never really experienced. I will ride in foul weather again and will feel a little bit more confident about it next time.

Finally a little perspective. Jim and I took 11 hours to cover a distance and terrain roughly equivalent to a single "flat" stage of the Tour de France. The tour riders cover the same distance in half that time, and get up to do it again every day for 3 weeks.

While we were riding I found a note on the blackberry that the 3C's successfully finished the 1000K Lap Around The Lake. Clint, Chip and Clif rode the circumference of Lake Ontario in 68 hours, covering 5 x the distance that we rode yesterday.

I feel great about finishing my 7th 200K ride in as many months and am confident I will finish my R-12, including at least 1 300K ride, by the end of the year. As great as that feels, there is still so much more to strive for.

Congratulations guys on finishing the big ride around the lake. I'm looking forward to reading and hearing about the experience.

Chris reports from New Hampshire that day one of his big charity ride went well, despite a jarring pot hole strike which could have been much worse than a flat tire.

Thanks Jim for a good day.


  1. Good ride, good tips. All noted! :-)

  2. Thanks for the info Mike. With you ahead of me on the learning curve, maybe I won't make a lot of mistakes.

  3. I gave the bike a thorough cleaning Sunday after I posted this. I found two other "lessons learned" while cleaning up.

    1) The chain was completely devoid of any lube when I broke out the bike Sunday for cleaning. I had carried extra lube but never heard the telltale squeak so I assumed (incorrectly) that I didn't need it and never used it. I think while wet the water provides some lube, but I should have been proactive and re-lubed near the mid point.

    2) The brake pads were covered in a very fine gray grime. I'm sure it contributed to my poor braking and could easily have been wiped away if I'd thought to check it during the ride.


  4. Nice ride! I've done part of that ride with DC RAND as part of a "checkout".

  5. That looks great! I lived and worked right across the TJ bridge down there and have driven up and down Route 2 more times than I'd like to count. (Went to college at St. Mary's which is further down the peninsula). I've been looking at doing that ride as well, but the lack of water options is a bit intimidating.

  6. Stout -

    There's a lot more water options than you would think. I carried three bottles on this ride and never drained the third before some other reason caused us to stop and gave me the chance to refill.