Duncan Laidlaw loves biking to work… even on days like today! Read on for his hard-won wet weather tips.
I have heard a few comments suggesting that cycling in the Auckland winter is for the committed – or those that should be.
When I decided to commute by bike a year ago I hadn’t heard this, but I knew the wet days would be a challenge on many fronts. Everyone out there will have their own strategy for surviving in inclement weather. My approach (much like Simon’s) is based on enjoying every experience and involves accepting getting wet.
Before starting commuting on my bike, I decided that panniers would be a requirement. I had a laptop to get to and from work as well as work clothes, and I didn’t like the idea off carrying the weight in a satchel or backpack. When I bought my panniers I knew they weren’t waterproof and was glad to have fluoro covers for visibility and some water resistance.
The first really wet day, I discovered this still didn’t keep all the water out – in fact water can get under the rain cover and pool at the bottom. This was easily solved with cheap yet light and effective “dry bags” for my gear inside the panniers.
Gear safe and sound, the next issue in bad weather was keeping myself warm and dry. Living on the shore and commuting to the eastern suburbs I am reliant on ferries (until Skypath happens). I tended to get wet on the way to my ferry and cool down on the crossing, which was pretty hard on my legs when I headed off again on the bike from downtown to work.
Not one for lycra, I have found a wide range of general exercise gear which works as advertised: doesn’t retain water; allows me to dry out on days with light drizzle, and stays warmer. I’ve tried a number of combinations, and my present favourite is a merino undershirt, quick-dry T, a light jacket and mountain biking shorts.
Now warm and dry and with the laptop safe and sound, the next challenge came as more of a surprise. I found that in anything but a tailwind a small stream of water would feed off the front tire and curve neatly up over the handlebars and onto my face. Not particularly clever and certainly not nice.
Full fenders would have solved the issue easily, but wasn’t the look I wanted. A little research yielded a small removable guard which, once the stainless mount was bolted on, easily clipped on and off and fits in a pannier without taking up useful space. With that kit in place I survived last winter. I still found it road debris and wind pretty hard on the eyes. Sourcing a pair of sunglasses with photochromic lenses provides the protection necessary and I can wear them in a wider range of light levels which is vital for rides at this time of year.
Of course, winter also brings dark starts and dark commutes home. Lighting, fluoro clothing, and reflective strips are all vital to standing out in a crowd of cars… but they don’t provide a barrier to other road users making mistakes.
On this I have no solution, but there are a few things I have learned. If you rely on your bike to get to work, as I do, make sure your insurance gives you the cover you assume it does – for me, it was surprising to find out how little was covered, but there are options out there and it pays to shop around.
And carrying a small first aid kit is useful. Add saline solution for cleaning gravel out is a good idea.
All this may make it seem like winter is a lot of hassle with little reward, but once you’re prepared it is easy to head out each morning and the rewards are out there for those that do. One rainy morning, heading along Tamaki Drive I was treated to the sight of Orca frolicking. Those on foot or on bike paused to take in the sight, those in cars probably didn’t notice.
Other days there are spectacular sunsets and sunrises… and nothing beats the adrenaline rush of escaping the rain while thunder and lightning crashes all around you. The wind might try to push you back, but the sense of achievement when you arrive at your destination makes it all worthwhile. After all, at a basic level, we are all waterproof.
— Duncan Laidlaw