Sales Pitch

February 24, 2015

I had a train to catch this morning, which meant getting up at some ungodly hour – although sadly I actually woke up at a marginally more godly hour which meant scrambling out of the house in more of a hurry than I like to be, thinking ‘ah is that rain? Probably not heavy enough for the full rain gear, might just get away with it…’

Three minutes down the road, the Weather Gods woke up and started turning the taps on. I didn’t fancy two hours in the train in wet trousers so I stopped and pulled out my rain skirt and attempted to put it on in a hurry. This proves easier to do when you’re not battling a stiff breeze and frozen fingers and watched by a curious crowd of sheep* and hurrying to get the whole palaver out of the way before one of your neighbours drives past and finds you apparently dressing on the side of the road. I was just bending down to finish off the final step (attaching the elastic cord that keeps the whole thing from turning into a spinnaker) when a little dog appeared behind my legs, closely followed by concerned dogwalking neighbour who had spotted my bike sans me, and then me apparently doubled over in agony, and was checking to see if I was okay.

Having reassured her I was fine, and merely eccentric, not injured, told her I was rushing for the train and then explained why I wasn’t on my usual train-catching bike (the Brompton; I had no idea people were paying such close attention), I zoomed off again (tailwind assistance fortunately enhanced by the rain skirt) into the now clearing weather. The rain skirt works best as a rain repelling device, I’m finding, and the more complicated it is to put it on, the better.

Still it was absolutely pissing down by the time I pulled into the station forecourt with  five minutes to spare, so that’s something. And a fellow passenger was very taken with the rain skirt – I had by this time abandoned all pretence at decorum and just whipped it off in the booking office – so there’s that too. Why cycle clothing companies aren’t inundating me with free samples of their wet-weather gear I will never know. Round here, even the non-cyclists can see the benefits.

* None of them was called Keith; I checked.

Wet January

January 26, 2015

Well, I’d been hoping the Weather Gods would follow the lead of the bulk of my increasingly grumpy Twitter timeline and go in for a ‘dry January’ (we, on the other hand, are having a cake-free January, which is worse) but no such luck – in fact they seem to have been competing to see just how much of a soaking they can give me whenever I venture onto a bike. On Friday, even my wellies failed to keep my feet dry after the water just rolled down my trousers and into my socks, a fact I had forgotten until I put them on again the next day and went squelch. The Rayburn has been working overtime drying out my damp cycling gear; the kitchen is always permanently draped with yesterday’s trousers, socks and gloves, waiting for me to return from my latest drenching so I can swap them for today’s.

Today, though, it was neither raining nor icy. The sun was out and all the birds were singing as though spring was just around the corner. I stood around admiringly making helpful comments as the other half switched my ice tyres off the bike, and it was off for the paper with a song of my own in my heart, a song which lasted approximately half a mile until I could no longer ignore the fact that the icy-cold spits of water landing on my face were in fact raindrops and that it was in fact raining, again, stopping only briefly to sleet.

Oh, well that’s not quite true. It did stop for a moment and the sun came out and lit up the silvery underwings of a flock of fieldfares as they flashed away from me and over the hedgerow into the next field, before the soaking resumed. A nice reminder that there are birds that fly south for the winter and end up here as a balmy alternative to wherever it is they are from. Wet and miserable as I was, it’s good to know that somewhere further north there is therefore undoubtedly a cyclist who is enduring conditions which are even worse.

Although they’re probably not having to endure it without cake.


January 5, 2015

As bright sides go, ‘Oh good, it’s raining and I’ll get a chance to test my new overshoes’ is pretty weak, to be honest, but it was the best I could come up with today as I contemplated heading out on the bike for the paper. The other half had kindly offered to fetch it for me, but sadly in recent weeks I have been suffering from an inbalance of calories in and calories out and, despite not eating any cake for a whole week, it doesn’t appear to be getting any better* so a cycling I must go, or take drastic measures like eat less or go trouser shopping, both of which are – marginally – worse than an hour long cycle in the rain. And besides, I’d get to test out my new Sealskinz overshoes.**


Which are not Waterproof in Scotland.

under my overshoes

I suppose the first thing to say about my new overshoes is that they’re technically not supposed to be waterproof – they’re neoprene, which simply means that eventually you get wet but you’re warm and wet, rather than cold and wet. The second thing is that they’re probably not designed to be worn with a pair of moleskin trousers tucked into them – although I can report that once you’ve done that, they make extremely good trouser clips. They’re ninja black from the front but have all sorts of reflective doodads at the back, which was handy as it turned out to be not just wet but rather foggy on the way back. They’re a lot easier to put on than the Leggits(!) which is a point in their favour (although a bonus with the Leggits(!) was that by the time you’d got them AND the rain skirt on, it had normally stopped raining). And they do keep your feet warm: my toes felt positively toasty, which they don’t normally do although I’d need to try them on a colder day to see how effective they really are. Will they replace wellies as my go to wet weather cycling footwear? Probably only if I’m going into town rather than down to the papershop, although I may wear them for things like group rides to try and impress any real cyclists who turn up, as they tend to look at me a bit funny if I show up in wellies.

So in summary, overshoes: easy to use, nice and warm, don’t really keep you as dry as cycling in wellies but don’t make you look any madder than you already do just by cycling in the rain when people have invented this perfectly good alternative called the car.

I think I may be beginning to realise why I’m not getting sent any kit to review.

*typically, Twitter’s reaction to this sad news was that clearly I should eat more cake. This is why I love Twitter.

** Christmas loot, rather than a sign that my extensive blogging career is resulting in any free stuff. Come on cycling gear manufacturers – don’t you want to get the invaluable “tested by Townmouse and certified not just waterproof but Waterproof in Scotland” imprimatur on your kit?

We’ll Weather the Weather

December 24, 2014

Let’s go for a walk, I said.

It’s a glorious day, I said.

It would be criminal to waste an afternoon like this, I said.

We need to get out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts, I said.

I had forgotten to adjust for this being Duns, home of freak weather.

raincloud over Duns

In fairness to me, it did brighten up a bit later, and we were almost dry by the time we got back in.

afternoon sunshine

101 Uses for a Brompton: Wimping Out

December 7, 2014

The only thing worse than a weather warning when you’re suppose to be holding a fun Christmas bike ride and outdoor crafting event aimed at children, is three weather warnings. Over the past three days the Met Office has excelled itself: the forecast for today gradually deteriorating from overcast to light rain to heavy rain, to this morning’s three horsemen of the apocalypse: yellow warnings for ice, snow and gales. It might have been bright sunshine at 10 o’clock when I was busy packing the Brompton basket with all the things we needed for the event, but by 10:30 as I was getting ready to set off, the skies had darkened and it was already raining hard. ‘Are you sure you don’t want a lift in?’ the other half asked as I dug out my rain skirt and packed a spare pair of gloves so I wouldn’t have to cycle back home in the sleet in wet ones. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure. At least I could arrive dry, if nothing else.

With a little bit of time to spare due to not having to cycle eight miles into town through the rain, I finished my coffee and watch the weather change from miserable to comically grim. First the hills disappeared behind a veil of rain, then it started hailing, then snowing. Then the phone rang – common sense had prevailed, and Christmas fun in the park had been cancelled.

I can’t say I was disappointed, although we are now stuck with rather a lot of home baking.*

Oh, and no sooner had the decision been taken and communicated to all concerned? The sun came out. It’s the first time I’ve ever spent an afternoon looking out of the window, willing it to start sleeting again…

cows in sunshine

* This was intended to be a fund raiser, although having examined the economics of it, next year I will spend the minimum three hours involved working and donate my professional fee instead…

Rain, Rain

November 3, 2014

So I was going to thrill you all with the report of my ride down for the paper today – a whole massive 11 miles, on rather more undulating terrain than the ride back from Bigtown. There were all sorts of adventures including not one but two courier vans who decided I was two dimensional, being on a bike, and could therefore be passed as if I wasn’t there (sadly, just a day too late to be immortalised in the name of science by the Near Miss project), the cheery wave and a thumbs up I got from an elderly couple from the village who were driving back from the shop themselves – even a guest appearance from ASBO buzzard (or at least a buzzard that inhabits the stretch of road where ASBO buzzard’s reign of terror holds sway) which was flying off to watch me from the safety of a nearby tree, rather than dropping down out of the sky onto my head, fortunately enough. But the truth is, I got a bit distracted from all these delights because it was spitting with rain, causing me to resurrect an argument I’ve long been having in my head (and more recently fruitlessly on Twitter) with the idea of building solar powered covered bike paths to keep off the rain.

This superficially attractive idea is the brainchild of Steven Fleming, professional controversialist, architectural theorist and the bike blogger behind Cycle-Space who has been intermittently entertaining me for years, despite the fact that half of his ideas betray the sort of megalomaniac wrong-headedness that only architects and dictators seem able to keep up consistently (and I say this even as a keen supporter of the idea of building cities around bikes). I suspect most of them are floated largely to annoy the Dutch, who he regards as being insufficiently ambitious in their bike infrastructure, and to ensure a steady flow of invitations to various international cycling conferences. So replying to one of his tweets was undoubtedly foolish, especially as I then got snowballed in to one of those twitter debates in which, once you have included the twitter handles of everyone you’re disagreeing with, only leave you enough space to compare someone to a Nazi or, worse, John Forester, the bugbear of the cycle campaigning world.

Now I should say that I don’t object to covered cycle paths because I’ve got some romantic notion that it’s fun to cycle in the rain – I do live in South West Scotland, I know about rain – nor because I think that rain isn’t an obstacle to cycling among the portion of the population that we can loosely describe as ‘almost everyone who isn’t a bit obsessed with bikes’ or ‘everyone’ for short. I just don’t think that covered cycle ways are the answer – in fact it seems so obvious to me that I would have thought anyone but an architect would realise why. So what follows is probably of interest to absolutely nobody except myself, but it will at least hopefully save me from having to try and squeeze it into 150 separate tweets:

1. Unless they go from your door to the door of your destination, you’re still going to get rained on and – unlike with the traffic that segregated cycle tracks, which also don’t go door to door, protect you from – it’s not as if the rain gets less wet or less heavy when you’re on a residential street or a rural area (if anything, it gets worse, especially in the latter).

2. Unless the rain is politely falling down vertically from the sky, you’re still going to get wet because in Scotland at least, rain mostly goes sideways unless there’s a car passing you at speed in which case it goes upwards as well. And yes, you could also build walls, but basically then you’ve built a tunnel which is hardly very inviting for anyone to cycle in, especially women, or people who don’t like being mugged.

3. Even if the roofs did keep the rain off, you’d have to build them over the footpath as well because the instant it started raining, all the pedestrians would head for cover and it would be impossible to cycle anywhere for people. And even if you did cover the footpaths over, you’d still get stuck because every entranceway would be blocked by other cyclists peering out hoping it will stop raining soon.

4. In the unlikely even that it stops raining and the sun comes out, nobody would want to cycle under a roof because, in these northern latitudes anyway, we’re all a bit sun starved.

So yeah, it’s a pretty rubbish idea, and we’re saying so is not because we somehow lack ambition and want people to ‘man up and take the rain’ but because it WOULDN’T WORK. But then again, what do we know, we’re only people, not architects. And besides, shortly after thinking all this – and all but home by now – I realised that, astoundingly enough, there is a form of solar-powered bike lane roof that would keep a fair bit of rain off, not transform your cycle path into a piss-scented graffiti-strewn underpass AND allow the precious sunshine through, at least during the winter months. They’re called trees. But nobody gets invited to an international cycling conference for proposing that.

So I’m sorry to have bored you with all that, but I did have to get it off my chest, and besides, it was so distracting, it quite took my mind off noticing what the ride to the papershop was like so I don’t really have that much else to report. And I wasn’t about to go out again because no sooner did I get home than it started to really rain and I wasn’t going out cycling in THAT.

There Have Been Days…

October 28, 2014

rainy front drive
… when I’ve been totally frustrated at not being able to get on my bike. Today, it is safe to say, was not one of them. Something about being woken by the sound of the pouring rain, the view all but obscured by it, made being stuck in the kitchen by the Rayburn all day a rather welcome prospect.

flooded road

Well, not quite all day, because there was obviously hydrological engineering to be done. Exciting coonsil drainage works or no coonsil drainage works, nothing quite blocks a drain like fallen leaves so there were plenty of opportunities to go out and do important poking things with a stick (and the rather less enjoyable reaching into freezing cold water to hoick out handfuls of leaves).

drain emptying

I suppose you could argue that it would be better if the coonsil came along and cleared out its drains regularly after all that is what we pay them for, harumph harumph, but to be honest, where’s the fun in that?* Because there’s nothing quite so satisfying as the satisfaction of hoicking out a final handful of leaves and hearing the gurgling sound that signals that the flooded road is about to empty itself like a giant bath.

field culvert

Water pouring out of the road and into the downstream field. Slightly tough luck on the sheep who were in it at the time but they were on the side of a hill so weren’t likely to flood

That said, there’s nothing like an inconsiderate quarry lorry passing too fast and sluicing you with the last of the water to rather take the shine off it.

Intensive negotiations with the other half have resulted in me being allowed to try a bit of gentle cycling tomorrow and resume the trip down to Papershop Village on Friday. Weather Gods permitting, that is.

Oh and the ford?

ford level

I thought you’d never ask.

*unless they bring their big yellow digger


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