This morning was supposed to be fun. A 40-mile bike ride from West Rock (which denotes one side of New Haven) round about to East Rock (which denotes the other).
It was supposed to be fun.
The weather did not cooperate.
Rain was coming down moderately heavily when I headed out the door at 8:15. By “moderately” I mean that drivers would have their windshield wipers full on, not running intermittently. I was wearing bike shorts with tights over them, a bike jersey with a water-resistant high-vis jacket, good bike shoes and my helmet, and fingerless mesh gloves. The temperature was 42(F).
The gloves were a mistake.
In my bag, I had food, misc repair equipment, glucose, insulin, and a lightweight but warm wool sweater that has become my ride companion spring and fall for over a decade now.
When I got to the start, five miles on, I put on the sweater since the jacket was getting soaked through.
At 9:00, we kicked off. There were fewer riders than expected on account of the rain–something like 30 instead of 120–but we were all game for the challenge, and I knew that we were going to see some beautiful scenery. There were some nice bikes, include a Masi and a drop-dead gorgeous light-blue Rivendell that was in full Riv mode, down to the lugged stem, Riv bottles, and smooth Honsho fenders. Full Campy Record, of course. The owner told me it was a “Curt-built” bike that he had bought used, and that he had about 50 bikes.
The rain was supposed to stop and the temperature to climb, so we were all excited about the morning’s ride.
So we started out, cruising along around 14-16 MPH. Puddles were dangers, not because of the water, but because a puddle in the rain can conceal a pothole, so everyone was careful and their was much signalling. We were followed by a broom wagon, an SUV with a bike rack in case someone needed to abort.
The rain continued, waxing and waning, but the temperature stayed low. For the most part, I felt OK. My hands were the most exposed part of my body, and felt a bit wet as the gloves soaked through, but the fenders kept the dirtiest part of the water off me, which was nice.
This is the point at which I note that the Honsho-clad Rivendell did not have mudflaps. And at which I repeat the old adage–fenders are for you. Mud flaps are for your friends. The Riv sprayed any rider behind it was a nice rooster tail of wet junk from the road.
Side note: I have long been a fan of mudflaps, particularly Planet Bike “Cascadia” flaps. These are available in a number of sizes, and I have fit them to various fenders over the years. Last night I finally decided to try putting aluminum fenders on my VO Rando (it currently rocks some SKS P35s–with added Cascadias–but I found a deal too good to refuse) and ordered a matching set of Cascadia mudflaps from Planet Bike. They’re only $5 and shipping is free, and they’re not hard to install. Trust me: your ride buddies will thank you.
The trick is that most rear fenders end at the point at the rear-most part of the back tire. This is great for the rider, who is fully protected from Wet Butt Disease and Gritty Saddle Disorder by such fenders. But it does nothing for riders in back. 6-8″ of further projection down will stop the rooster tail, and that’s what a mudflap is for. I see them as a sign of courtesy. A mud flap in front will help protect your drive train, too (though most front fenders are longer than most rears, in my experience).
This ends our public service message, and we return you to the blog.
Shortly after we passed along the western shores of Lake Watrous, about 8 miles into the ride, something went wrong.
It was already hard to see–I wear bifocals with a strong correction, and the rain pouring down, combined with the temperature (which had risen to perhaps 43 degrees) meant that not only was the outside of the lens coated with water, but the inside was fogging up. My helmet mirror was also almost impossible to use. But as we passed Watrous, something got into my right eye, and hurt like blazes. It may have been an eyelash, it may have been a bit of road grit, but the cold, wet riding aggravated it badly. I had to stop every few hundred feet and wait for it to stop hurting, not to mention that I had to ride with that eye nearly closed. That means no binocular vision, and so no depth perception, and these are things you don’t really want to be without on a ride.
I slipped to the back of the group of 30 riders, and then off that as I tried as hard as I could to see. Finally, I just stopped and let the broom wagon sweep me up. They took me to a safe stop, and I rode–very slowly–from there to my house, another four miles or so. I had to walk the last few blocks to home, my eye hurt that badly. The temperature was 44(F) when I got home. It was still raining heavily. By the way, it’s now several hours later, and the temperature is still 44(F).
Once I had rolled the Rando in the basement, I headed as fast as I could for the shower. I suddenly realized just how cold I really was. I started with cool (not cold) water, and it was 20 minutes before I could turn up the heat without my hands being in agony.
I suspect given that, that I would have abandoned the ride even had I not experienced trouble seeing. It was hands and eyes. As for the hands, I should have had waterproof (or at least resistant) full-finger gloves. A waterproof jacket would have been nice, but the wool sweater made it work alright, so long as I was generating core heat (wool is a great thing to have if you get wet). My feet were soaked, but the wool socks I was wearing kept them warm; lycra tights kept my legs warm, so that was good. It was really only the hands that were hurting. And the eyes.
So there you have it. A sucky morning, and I am a wuss.
I will say this. I have ridden in heavy rain before. And when I lived in Wisconsin, I used to ride down to -15(F). But cold and rain together? That’s a recipe for disaster. If you have to ride under similar conditions, don’t do what I did. Wear something waterproof, and protect your hands.