Signs of Madness

January 20, 2014

It’s usually not a good idea to listen to the voices in your head but – like new rattles on your bike – it’s definitely worth paying attention to the little voice that pipes up just after you’ve locked the front door to go out on the bike, especially if it’s saying something like ‘wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring a pump’ rather than ‘the government is reading all your emails’.* Or, as was the case before I set off for a soggy group ride on Saturday, ‘what is the point of packing all of your puncture repair stuff if you don’t bring a pump and how about a spare pair of gloves in case those ones get wet?’

So yes, I suppose it was inevitable that I should end up not just with gloves whose waterproofing had failed so comprehensively that I could wring them out before we’d gone the first mile – but that I should encounter a blackthorn that managed to beat the puncture protection of my Schwalbe Marathon Plus back tyre (it was so wedged in that I couldn’t actually remove it – I ended up just having to poke out as much of it as I could and break off any sharp bits on the inside of the tyre). Fortunately somebody could lend me a pump and the puncture was slow enough that I didn’t have to demonstrate how long it takes me to repair a flat in public, but I did end up having to ride without my gloves on as I just couldn’t face putting my soggy ones back on again. It turns out after the first mile, your fingers don’t get any colder…

Still I did *almost* manage to repair the puncture myself yesterday (I failed at putting the tyre back on, and yes I have seen the video with the zip ties) and today I also managed to swap my front ice tyre out and put the normal one on – apologies to everyone who was enjoying the resulting mild weather, but we’ve had so much rain recently the little steel spikes were actually going rusty …

* oh hang on, wait…

Glug Glug

January 17, 2014

OK, I think I have finally worked out how to use the rainwrap properly now. If you add in the Leggits! it takes fully ten minutes to get all your rain gear on before venturing out. In that time, it will almost certainly stop raining and stay stopped raining until you get to your destination whereupon everyone will look at you even more oddly than they would have done had you turned up drenched. HOWEVER this magical rain repelling property only works if you put everything on before leaving the house. Leaving the house with the rainwrap in the pannier having foolishly believed the weather forecast will result in it starting raining heavily as soon as you are half a mile down the road, or in the middle of Bigtown High Street, whichever is the more embarrassing for attempting to clumsily don a rain skirt in.

In the time it’s taken me to work this out, I may have inadvertently flooded Bigtownshire, for which I’m sorry. On the other hand, it should at least mean we get a nice dry day for our planned winter bike ride tomorrow. Assuming nobody else is foolish enough to leave their over-the-top rain protection in their bag.

In other news, putting your ice tyres on is guaranteed to bring about a prolonged mild spell.

The Great Outdoors

January 6, 2014

I have to confess, it was a struggle to get myself out on the bike today. It didn’t help that we could hear it raining when we woke up and it went on raining as the day got going (I’d say dawned, but it was 11 before it even looked like actual daylight outside) to the point where the yard was beginning to flood. Apart from nipping out with a stick to clear some leaves out of the burn that runs down the side of the house in an attempt to stop the shed from flooding again, I spent most of the morning looking at the miserable weather and dreading the moment when I had to head out into it…

But, although there is something very nice about being warm and dry indoors while it’s blowing a hooly outside, the problem is you can’t stay in forever – and even if you could, in the end cabin fever would get you before January was out (or in my case, the day – as the other half discovered to his cost when I dragged him out for a lovely winter walk into the freezing slanting rain yesterday afternoon because we hadn’t been out all day) – and nor would the paper fetch itself. So with the sky finally lightening after lunch and the wind microscopically dropping, I checked the forecast, picked a moment when it wasn’t actually raining, removed a couple of layers and put them on the Rayburn (the key to endurable winter cycling is to have warm clothes waiting for you on your return) and forced myself out onto the bike (and I realise that at this point that anyone who actually had to commute to work at an actual fixed time when it was actually pissing down has zero sympathy for me at this moment – but then again, you probably get to work in a nice warm office …).

Now the thing about being indoors looking out at terrible weather is that it always looks much worse than it is. And the longer you wait indoors, the worse it seems. The truth is that in the end, even when battering into a violent headwind on a bike that has decided to subject all gear changes to a five-minute cooling off period before consenting to change (I really must clean it more), it’s never *quite* as bad as you feared. Although, I have to admit, for the first 10 minutes it was about 90% as bad as I feared, particularly the part where I came to a standstill going uphill and had to pedal to make any headway going down.

On the other hand, sailing homewards on a stupendous tailwind with the clouds finally lifting and something almost resembling sunshine lighting the hills around me felt like virtue rewarded. Especially as, once I had got home, hosed down and oiled the bike, and reunited myself with both jumpers, I didn’t have to go out again all day except to fetch the wood for the fire. And so I didn’t…

Back in the Saddle

January 2, 2014

After three weeks away and a borrowed bike, it was nice to take advantage of a gap in the rain this morning for a potter on my very own bike (I’d love to say that bike and I ran smoothly together like a well-oiled machine but if I’m honest there was a fair bit of squeaking going on particularly in top gear – a problem I solved by changing down and going more slowly instead).

river flooded

I was heading for Bigtown for some cash and the paper – nothing too urgent – so there was time to stop and admire the flooded river on the way. There were also some sweet little shetland ponies and I promised myself I’d stop and take their picture on the way back, but by then normal service had resumed on the rain front and I was just concentrating on getting home before I dissolved.

sunlight catching raindrops

My very generous mother has given me a rain skirt for Christmas which (once I have figured out how to put it on) would be perfect for just such an occasion – or at least it would have been if it wasn’t still sitting on the kitchen table where I had left it, instead of in my pannier. Still, I’ve a feeling it’s going to get a thorough testing over the next few weeks…


It all makes for dramatic waterfalls, if nothing else

Testing Times

December 10, 2013

I am grateful – I suppose – to the Weather Gods for their assistance in thoroughly stress-testing my new hat with a variety of weather-related challenges. After Thursday’s workout, it got snowed on (briefly) on Friday (I was on the way to the Muckle Toon and got off the bus with an old lady who looked up and saw the snowflakes and exclaimed ‘it’s snowing!’, just as delightedly as she might have done when she was five). Then on Sunday, I was making my way back from this when it started to rain, proving that no good deed shall go unpunished. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it was persistent, and when I finally got home after 45 minutes of it – not helped by my bottle dynamo deciding it didn’t like the wet much either – the only part of me that was really dry was my head. My leather boots were soaked through, my waterproof trousers had repeated the embarrassing crotch trick, my gloves were drenched, and although the apocalypse-proof jacket’s apocalypse-proofing had held, I had worn one layer too many and was damp from the inside, as it were.

The tweed cap is not billed as waterproof, although quite a lot of the rain was just beading on the surface of the wool, and it had soaked up some of the water. But as I was riding with my head down, it had all just gathered in the peak and then dripped off, leaving the lining completely dry. I don’t imagine it would hold off the rain entirely for three hours, but to be honest if I end up having to cycle for three hours in the solid rain, I think I’d have bigger problems to worry about than a damp head – like my sanity, for instance. Although that said, I think the traditional way to get your tweed hat to fit is to soak it thoroughly and then wear it on your head all day until it is dry or you have died of pneumonia, whichever is the soonest. So at least I would have a snugly fitting hat.

Anyway, today was another blustery one and I can report that, although it felt a little uneasy at times in a cross wind, the hat was 100% better at staying on my head than my glasses, which got blown off my face in a sudden gust before I could catch them. I leave it to you to imagine what it’s like looking for a pair of small brown-rimmed pair of specs on a mud-coated road with eyesight that moles laugh at. Fortunately no car came along while I was searching (and no, I haven’t got around to ordering a new pair yet, why do you ask? It’s only been four months of having them fall off my face at every possible inconvenient moment, which is but a blink of an eye in me-shopping time).

So score one to the good people of Harris and their sheep, and their magical tweed. And now I think we can say it has been very thoroughly tested and doesn’t need any more weather thrown at it for a while. Please?

Soggy Bottom Blues

October 22, 2013

So, I think I might have mentioned it’s been a bit damp recently… well, that weather has continued (we were greeted on Monday by the cheery announcement ‘they say it’s set in for the rest of the week’). So miserable has it been that when we went to the local wetland centre yesterday we found that – if the look of the teal was anything to go by – it isn’t even particularly nice weather for ducks. And today I had two meetings in Bigtown which meant that not only was I going to have to cycle eight miles in the rain, but I was going to have to look fairly presentable when I got there.

This meant pulling out all the stops: apocalypse-proof jacket (whose hood I have managed to make work even on a bike through the deployment of a cunningly placed cord which probably makes me look like basically the biggest dork ever* but does at least mean the hood stays over my head except in the worst headwinds), waterproof trousers, and Leggits (sorry ‘Leggits!’), which did a creditable job of keeping my feet dry. But there is a problem with my waterproof overtrousers – I mean quite apart from the whole thing of them being waterproof overtrousers – which is that they are now not quite waterproof … and they have chosen to fail particularly in the crotch area.

I have been putting off looking for a decent pair of waterproof trousers. Quite apart from the whole trouser shopping thing generally, to go out and spend more than about £5 on them is to cross some sort of a line. On one side of that line lie classic white shirts, slim-cut trousers, trench coats, lambswool v-neck pullovers, flat leather lace-up shoes – the sort of clothes that I imagined myself wearing when I grew up. On the other side of that line are fleeces, vests (oh all right ‘merino base layers’), lobster gloves, wellies and now waterproof overtrousers – the sort of clothes I have somehow, gradually, ended up wearing. I might not wear lycra, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought that my wardrobe was doing the image of cycling any favours.

But what the hell. If I’m going to keep cycling and it’s going to keep raining (and if the forecast is anything to go by it will), it looks like waterproof trousers are the last link in the chain. And they might as well not be rattly navy nylon ones that make me look as if I’ve wet myself. I gather that waterproof trouser technology has moved on in recent years, so if you’ve any suggestions for trousers that won’t let the rain in, won’t rattle, and will allow me to look as much like a normal person as possible when I get off the bike, let me know. I’ll be the one curled up in the corner, whimpering, as I relinquish the last vestige of my sartorial self-image.

* I come from the generation of kids that never ever ever ever put their hood up – the only time your hood was allowed on your head was if you were running around without your arms through the sleeves of your coat, pretending to be batman.

Drowned Rat

September 19, 2013

I had planned myself rather a pleasant day today – a ride into Bigtown for coffee and bike plotting, followed by a happy afternoon putting the Fankle together, as well as a spot of hat shopping to replace the anti-buzzard hat. But the Weather Gods – having returned from wherever they’ve been over the summer and been alerted to my hatless and rayburnless status – had other plans. It was raining when I got up, and still raining when I looked hopefully out of the window thinking it might have brightened a little, and still raining when the time came for me to set off. I put on my waterproof trousers, thinking to myself as I always do that when it comes to listing all the reasons for riding a bike, ‘the chance to wear waterproof overtrousers’ comes very far down the list. The only tiny chink in the general gloom was that it wasn’t too windy which meant I could at least wear my Akubra which stays on my head surprisingly well on a bike as long as I don’t do anything rash like look up. Given that my glasses were very shortly rendered useless by the rain, this didn’t matter that much as I was having to cycle along with my head down looking over my glasses in order to see the blurry road ahead, hoping that nothing smaller and less visible than a double-decker bus was coming the other way.

Fortunately, because it was raining, all the drivers – nice and dry and warm in their cars – were extra polite and courteous around any poor wet cy… sorry, not sure what happened there, a bit of a rush of blood to the head. What I meant to say was the drivers reacted to the rain as if they personally were getting wet in it, and were even more likely to push past me as if I wasn’t there, including two close overtakes on the approach to a roundabout. So I was glad to arrive at my friends’ house alive, and only having had to retrieve my hat once, and be supplied with dry socks, gloves and a top and be fed coffee and flapjacks until I felt relatively human again, followed by more excellent weapons-strength coffee (and explosive gossip) at the Roncadora Press HQ. Sadly, my hat shopping was unsuccessful – my head is too small* – and the wind had picked up by the afternoon, meaning no hat at all on the way home. And another drenching. Thanks Weather Gods, we’ve really missed you guys. Not.

I should probably, as an award-winning cycle campaigner and everything, wax lyrical here about the joys of cycling, even in the rain. But you know what? I don’t think I’d be fooling anyone.

* insert your own joke here


September 13, 2013

Well, apologies for the radio silence, which is mainly due to my unfortunate habit of joining multiple cycle campaigns at once which has resulted in some extreme gadding about these past few days which not only meant I didn’t have time to blog (for the first time since blogging began) but also that I got kicked out of ukelele school before I’d even had a chance to attend my first lesson (which was part of the problem, to be fair). So to fill you in briefly, I have won an award, hence the trip down to London, and barely had I recovered from that excitement than I had to return to help run Bigtown’s first ever Bike Breakfast which was a roaring success but meant getting up at 5am yesterday and I’ve only really just caught up with myself now. I have also lost my anti-buzzard hat somewhere in London which – as it’s also my anti-rain hat – is a bit of a blow. Especially as our hoped-for Indian summer is turning out to be more of the monsoon variety, if monsoons delivered endless smirring rain.

More later, when I have wrung myself out.

Out of the Mouths of Babes and Sucklings

August 17, 2013

There are times on the bike when I wonder just what the hell I’m doing. Like when I’m battling through the sheeting rain into Bigtown in order to get to one of our summer rides, knowing that I’ll basically be standing there for 15 minutes at the appointed meeting place with the other ride leader waiting for nobody to turn up so that we can go and dry off in a cafe somewhere before heading back into the rain and home again. Because who on earth would come out for a fun, family-oriented ride on a day when the rain is coming in sideways?

Kids, that’s who. We’ve had a few regular families come and join us on these rides over the summer and two of them showed up this week: not because the parents are sadists who had dragged their kids out into the rain for a bike ride, but because the kids themselves had been adamant that was what they wanted to do. When you’re a child, it turns out, rain means nothing. If anything, it’s a bonus because rain means puddles, and riding through puddles are what bikes are for. I had forgotten this, but I remembered it this afternoon watching the eight-year-old swerving from side to side to make sure he got his wheels through every one.*

Fortunately for the adults the rain cleared up and held off and we had a good ride along the cycle path and through the woods, and stood around eating biscuits and admiring each others’ bikes, which is as much the point of these occasions as the ride itself. And then we parted ways and I hurried home before the threatening clouds could burst again. Because, while I admire the way kids can shrug off the rain and just get on with having fun, at the end of the day I am no longer eight and I still cannot learn to love riding in the wet.

One day, perhaps when I am eighty, I will re-learn…

* sadly, he learned the hard way about the dangers of lurking potholes at the bottom of puddles, but was back on the bike and ready to go after a few tears – and still swerving into every puddle like a good’un.


July 2, 2013

I suppose it had to happen eventually. There’s been a bit of a lifestyle change at the Townmouse household recently, with the other half – despite his best efforts – becoming gainfully employed in a proper job, the kind you have to go to five days a week, eight hours a day, which seems a bit harsh, frankly, after having spent the last few years pottering. This means that I’ve gone from being someone who voluntarily gets on her bike in order to pick up a paper or go into town, to being someone who has to get on her bike if she wants a paper or to get into town because she doesn’t have access to any other means of transport. Whatever the weather. Now, most of the time I do that anyway, but I have to admit that if it’s a busy day and it’s sheeting down and the other half offers to drive down then generally I take him up on that offer.

Up until today, I’ve been reasonably lucky. A miraculously dry June has meant that in the last month I’ve not suffered more than a bit of drizzle. This morning, that luck ran out. It was a drizzly start and I considered postponing to see if it would improve but the weather forecast was fairly insistent that the rain would only get heavier, and the cat barometer concurred with the cat reading ‘curled up asleep all day on the sofa, wake me if it floods’. So I thought I’d nip out while it was still drizzling only for the ‘rain getting heavier’ part to start happening before I was half a mile down the road. I’d go on and describe it in more detail but I find I’ve said all I want to say about cycling in the rain already so you can just go and read it there.

They say it’s going to warm up soon – I certainly hope so. We’ve got the woodburner going this evening, my red onions have bolted, and I was stymied by a recipe this afternoon that suggested I place the dough ‘in a warm corner of the kitchen’ to prove. I ended up sticking it on top of the computer as that would appear to be the only source of warmth there was in the house…


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