It’s the last week of September and after a balmy summer, autumn is being played in by a tempest of heavy rain, just in time for the Road World Championships. The wet weather has wreaked havoc in Yorkshire, most notably, and most dramatically, in the men’s U23 individual time trial.
Wet roads and continuous rain have turned an already technical Harrogate course into a treacherous game of chance that has seen many come a cropper. The conditions have certainly added a little more intrigue to what some (many) consider a dull discipline, but was a line crossed? Maybe. Maybe not. Luckily, the only real outcome of the various incidents was some fresh crash porn and a renewed respect for the fortitude of all the riders involved.
I also found myself wondering how the various strategies might change under those conditions, beyond picking the best, fastest, safest line through the corners (and puddles…). And on a time trial bike at that.
I personally have a funny relationship with rain. What it boils down to is just having the right kit and, of course, the right attitude, on and off the bike. During the summer months, the rain will in all likelihood stop me from getting on the bike, unless I’m being dragged out by a friend. But if it starts raining mid-way through a ride, that’s no problem. There’s something rather pleasant about a sudden summer shower. It can simultaneously cool you down and provide the impetus to up the intensity.
In winter, when we expect the weather to be pants, I mind it even less. Well, that’s not strictly true – relentless rain, wind and ice, day after day after day will get a bit tiresome, and the bike, in particular, will begin to complain. However, getting wrapped up in all my clothes and heading out for an attritional ride through headwinds, puddles, muddy roads and heavy downpours can feel like the best of Flandrian adventures. It’s on those days when you come back with dirt splattered on your face and wind-burnt tan-lines that you feel like a proper cyclist.
Interspersed with the good days – crisp icy-blue skies, silver-tipped fields and dragon breath – the rainy days are a character-building interlude, a good vantage point from which to look forward to the short-sleeved warmth of summer.
The long winter months can be the best of the year if treated right. The pros refer to it as the off-season – it is their time away from the pressure of performance. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be the same for us. Winter is for long and slow rides, preferably with large groups of mates, with plenty of cockle-warming café stops. And the weather needn’t make a blind bit of difference. Wear the appropriate clothing and ride as long or as little as you like.
Having said all that, I have to confess that I’ve turned into something of a fair-weather cyclist recently. You’re not going to see me riding boldly into a storm as I might once have done, relishing the stories I could tell and the painful satisfaction after the fact. Once upon a time, I’d have given little thought to the cleaning job awaiting me after a salt- and grit-splashed winter ride, but now it’s one of the first things I think of on waking to darkness beyond my window: “Damn, it’s going to be a big job today…”
But you know what? It’s fine. It’s always worth it when I do get out on the bike, wind, rain or shine. I’ve had some good riding this summer. Bring on the rain. Bring on the adventure!
Words by Emma Nicholson