Ever since getting hit by a car over the winter, I have been a little skittish being back on the road on a bike. But the bonds of love are too strong to keep me out of the saddle for long. I gave away my work-issued May Transpass last week in the hopes that I would start riding my bike to work again in order to: 1) save money; 2) get exercise; 3) feel good; 4) promote bicycle commuting; 5) keep off the 23 bus; 6) cop free endorphins. I started today, in the rain, and it was great.
The first thing about riding in the rain is that fenders are your best friend. Since installing a pair on my 3-speed, they have made commuting so much more clean and enjoyable. I ride through puddles and don't splashed. I don't have a wet strip crawling up my back. Riding with fenders makes you feel like a gentleman, and a gentleman on a bicycle is a lovely thing.
The second is that the adage, "there is no bad weather, just bad clothing" holds true. I have two pairs of wet-weather pants I made: one from highly-breathable water-resistant fabric, and one pair from less breathable waterproof/breathable fabric. I chose to wear the more breathable pair this morning since it was only a light rain, but my pants ended up getting soaked through in the front and I got to work with wet thighs and crotch. I keep an extra pair of pants at work, but decided to just wear them as is when I got in the office and let them dry as I'm sitting down. Next time I will wear my waterproof pants, but it was a good experiment, and getting wet is not the end of the world.
I wore a pair of cotton mittens and they were great, because they were breathable and the wind and heat my hands dried them as I rode. Whenever I wear waterproof gloves my hands always sweat and it is uncomfortable. This was much more comfortable. I keep a pair of latex gloves in my bag just in case the rain turns heavy and my hands get cold, but I was pleasantly surprised that the cotton mittens did just fine. To keep my head dry I wore a polypropylene cap that doubles as a balaclava when the weather gets colder. I also wear a helmet now since the accident, and I don't like it, but it makes me feel a little safer. I keep all my stuff dry in a waterproof messenger bag (Cordura lined with PVC-coated vinyl) I made. It works like a charm.
I remember having a revelation on a training ride when I was in college racing for Penn State. We got caught in a thunderstorm and as the storm was approaching I remember we would ride faster and faster, in some attempt to minimize our time in the rain. But once you're wet, you're wet. It won't kill you. I slowed down, and remembered Ray Smith in The Dharma Bums and his realization, "you can't fall off a mountain!" Remembering that wet clothes dry with time makes being caught in the rain, or commuting in the rain, less of a miserable experience.
I locked up my bike in the basement of 260 S. Broad and took the service elevator to the 8th floor, and polished the grit and rain off my black dress shoes (they are waterproof) with a wet paper towel. I felt good, like I accomplished something, like I earned my bread, and I'm sure the endorphins were circulating in my brain. I clocked in and was surprised to see that I arrived fifteen minutes early and it only took me 50 minutes to get from my living room to my office, and that was riding at a leisurely pace. It takes as long on the bus.
Thinking about riding 8 miles in the rain to work makes me a little apprehensive when I think about it, but once you're out there it feels great. I get my exercise in, I'm not on the crowded bus, and I have time to myself riding on the bike path along the river. Now I look forward to it...rain or otherwise...as the highlight of my day.