Duncan Laidlaw loves biking to work… even on days like today!  Read on for his hard-won wet weather tips. 

The outlook for Wednesday: pic via Metservice.com
The outlook for Wednesday: pic via Metservice.com

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.

BikeWithBags

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.

WinterSunrise
Nothing like a winter sunrise…

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.

Orca
Good morning, Orca-land!

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

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Bike People Cycling safety
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7 responses to “Singing and biking in the rain…

  1. Yes It was a nice day to cycle to work today. Fully waterproof in Dry as a bone with matching WWF hat and proper waterproof pants over my gumboots. Shoes and bag in my paniers and the electric support motor flattening the hills I was feeling very jolly. Lights on the bike are essential on a day like this, but fortunately that’s just pushing a button on th Gazelle innergy. By the time we went to the hat shop opening in Parnell this evening it was dry so all the wetweather gear could stay in the paniers and I could even wear my new hat home.

    1. I love days/trips like that. I always have a smug sense of satisfaction knowing that I did it myself, had fun getting there and didn’t get frustrated by traffic and finding car parks. Having fitted them, if it is really dark in the evenings due to the weather I run my monkey lights as they are visible side on as well.

    2. Every day is a good day to cycle to work. Just some days you experience wilder weather than other days 🙂

    1. I know, it was the same with public transport before it – mention you are heading off by bike or bus people suddenly look at you as if you are heading to the moon.

  2. I think that accepting getting wet is the biggest hurdle, but as you mention we’re all waterproof after all.
    I too cycle commute from the shore and use the ferry, but work is right downtown for me Love the KHS too. Rare but excellent bikes.
    You just have 11 more years to catch up to me so keep pedaling and stay dry

  3. I’m contemplating the rain outside as I write and actually quite looking forward to the ride back…
    My panniers are basically worn out (must replace before the end of winter!) but I’ve extended their lives by getting hold of a couple of plastic bags that hospitals give you to store your belongings. They’re tough, can be sealed at the top if it’s really pelting down, and are big enough to hold at least all of the essential stuff inside a pannier or backpack.
    I’m wondering if I actually need larger or extended fenders on my bike… despite the front fender going easily over the top part of the wheel, I’m still catching splashback in exactly the way Duncan describes. Is this an issue with my fender size, or is it because I don’t have the fender fitted closely enough to my wheel? Any ideas appreciated!

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