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…

waterfall

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


AWOL

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.


Summertime…

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…


Well that was Lovely …

June 11, 2013

cow_parsley… while it lasted. It last rained on Bank Holiday Monday, which meant we’ve had an unprecedented fortnight of fine, dry – even warm – weather, and in summer no less. Until today when to the relief of tadpoles everywhere the rain resumed normal service and is apparently set to continue all week. It’s a bit of a shock to the system as I’ve got used to spending most of the day outside – coffee on the bench in the sunshine, editing on the laptop in the shade, a cool drink and a bowl of cherries in the last of the evening sun. We were actually contemplating lighting the fire this evening…

I still live in hope that this was no more than a harbinger of things to come, but even if the summer resumes along more normal lines, we can still say we’ve had about a week more summer than we got last year. After the spring we’ve had – and the winter we’ve had – and the autumn we had – and the last summer we had – we were due a bit of sunshine, and we got it and we even got out and enjoyed it. Can we ask for anything more?


To the Weather Gods: A Vote of Thanks

January 29, 2013

No really, I think we can all agree that this past week or so you guys have excelled yourselves. Not only have you provided me with the full gamut of wintry weather with which to test my tyres, but you then thoughtfully laid on a thaw and enough rain to wash away all the snow AND reveal the hole in our roof at a time when the landlord was around to get it fixed promptly. There’s not many minor deities that display that sort of thoroughness and attention to detail, and I’d like to say now just how much I appreciate it – and I think I can safely say that we have all appreciated your hard work over the years, putting in the hours to make our weather the very … special … experience we’ve come to know and love.

It’s just – well, when it comes to the rain, I think you’ve delighted us enough. There is, truly, no snow left to melt. Honestly. I was out this morning and I looked. To be honest, you were blowing the rain into my face so thoroughly that I couldn’t really raise my eyes from the level of the road to look at anything else. There is a lot of mud, plenty puddles, some with truly impressive pot holes lurking in the bottom of them, and a few misplaced streams that have sprung directly out of the roadbed due to the sheer saturation of water in our soil. I think that we have your abundant generosity to thank for those, as well as some record readings on the level of ford. When it comes to water coming out of the sky, guys, I think we can safely say you’re second to none. Hydrologically speaking, you’re our go to gods. If I want to go out and get absolutely sodden, again, (and who knows, one of these days I might very well do) I’ll know who to call.

But don’t you think – as deities – it’s time for you to try and extend yourself a little, to think outside the box? Staying in your comfort zone all the time, you risk getting stuck in a rut, the kind with a huge muddy puddle along its length. We wonder whether, with adequate training and support, you couldn’t tackle something a little finer? Spring, for instance, even if summer might prove to be completely out of your range. Or have you considered drought work, even the odd heat wave? Is it time, in short, for you to indulge in a little blue sky thinking?

Think of it as a challenge.


Legging It

January 7, 2013

So, among my Christmas haul this year I got some Georgia in Dublin Leggits, which are combined waterproof gaiters and overshoes for the stylish female cyclist in your life or, failing that, me. I’ve never been particularly stylish but I do like to cycle as much as possible in my ordinary clothes partly because I’ve drunk the cycle chic cool aid, but mainly because I’m a) too tight to buy specific cycling clothing (it has a way of adding many pounds onto the price) and b) I’m usually cycling to somewhere and want to be able to get off the bike and walk around looking at least vaguely normal, adjusted for your own specific value of normal. Leggits (or as I believe they are supposed to be called, ‘Leggits!’) are a bit of a halfway house – they’re cycling specific (especially in as much as they cost how much!?) but they enable you to wear otherwise non-bikey clothes – or shoes in this case. The idea is that you step out in your stylish high-heeled shoes and skinny jeans, strap on your Leggits (sorry, Leggits!) and pedal off, laughing in the face of rain, road spray, puddles, weather gods and – who knows – marauding buzzards. Once at your destination you whip them off and stride off, still looking stylish. Or at least not damp from the knees down.

LeggitsAnyway, today it was one of those days when the rain appeared to be just hanging in the air, preparatory to chucking it down later, so I took the chance to try them out. Putting them on, it became clear that, however good they might look with skinny jeans, when teamed with a pair of outdoorsy walking trousers with side pockets they do make it look distressingly as if you’re wearing plus fours. Fortunately, in my case, all I wanted to be able to do is visit the papershop or Bigtown without people pointing or laughing, and that sets quite a low bar, fashionwise –  especially as round here, people do actually wear plus fours, often teamed with Queen of the South socks – so they passed the first test. They also fitted reasonably well around my chunky calves, although given they are a size large I would have been distressed if they had not. They were pretty easy to cycle in and not noticeably sweaty and importantly for waterproof things they don’t make a horrible rustling noise.

But do they work? Well, once I’d got on the road the Weather Gods stepped in to make sure that they got a really thorough test. By the time I got to Papershop village I was completely drenched (this renders moot the whole ‘stylish’ question, by the way. When you’ve cycled 5.5 miles to get a paper in the rain when you could have just as easily driven, people think you’re insane no matter what you’re wearing) and by the time I got home I was more drenched, particularly my thighs (which was fair enough as the Leggits aren’t designed to cover them). On peeling the Leggits off, I found the they had only partially worked. My feet were dry enough, which is a bonus in itself as anyone who’s cycled in wet socks can tell you, but my legs from the knees down were pretty soggy, which might have been through wicking from my trousers or it might have been from the rain getting through (in comparison the Apocalypse-proof jacket had kept my upper half almost completely dry apart from a tiny patch at the front). Obviously, if I’m to actually stay dry on the bike in the rain, I’d need to combine these with a Rain Wrap (which I do quite fancy actually) or waterproof trousers (which I don’t). Or combine them with not going out until it stops, which is looking like an increasingly less practical option these days.

So in short – for cycling down to the shop, if I’m honest, my wellies probably do as well and are considerably less faff but for trips to Bigtown I’ll probably go with the Leggits if I can’t avoid the rain altogether, combined with either a spare pair of trousers to change into or the dreaded rain trousers. Their main benefit is thus likely to be eliminating having to sit around in wet shoes and socks. And as they’re light and fold up nice and small, they’ll definitely be going in my pannier bags for use in emergencies, at least once they’ve dried off from today…

Anyway, as I was pedalling back through the drenching rain it did strike me that there was an opportunity here. We discovered a while back (when my parents’ solar garden light stopped working) that there’s a difference between ‘waterproof’ – i.e. can withstand a bit of light rain once in a while – and ‘really waterproof’ (or, as we call it, ‘waterproof in Scotland’) – i.e. can withstand having buckets of water repeatedly emptied over it 24 hours a day (it turns out most garden lights are only the former). If anyone’s developing some rain gear and wants to know if it’s actually ‘waterproof in Scotland’ then they should send it up here and between me and the weather gods and the ride down for the paper, we’ll find out for once and for all.

If you’d like a proper review of the Leggits, there’s one here


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