It is a cliché, which is nevertheless true, that the English love to talk about the weather. Actually I don’t know if it is still true – maybe in this day of social media they just tweet, “Looks like rain again #greyclouds” – but somehow, I don’t think so.
So apologies, but here I go.
I certainly grew up when talking about the weather was a major social lubricant – and not only did we talk about it – we walked in it and cycled in it. We stood at bus stops in the rain, we walked to school in the snow (no, not just a Monty Python sketch), and we rode our bikes in head winds that turned against us on our journey home.
Here in Auckland, though, I am often confronted with people who show amazement that I have cycled to work “again… in the rain?” This occurs when only the barest amount of precipitation can be detected. Just a faint drizzle drifting down from the Waitakeres is enough to have my colleagues wondering after my health and sanity.
I love riding in the rain, though. I tell them it’s because the wet surface lets me glide like I’m skating. Or that my skin is waterproof. But really, it is just cycling with added nature, and what’s not to like about that?
When you ride in the rain, it always feels like the world is fresh again… laden branches create a rain forest shower that shampoo advertisers can only dream of, and the roads are given a spring clean that somehow hides their concrete brutality.
The rain reclaims the environment. On a fine day, when I ride beside the NW motorway traffic, the noise and traffic movements can dominate my senses. Sometimes it feels like I am riding alongside a giant conveyor belt in a canning factory (as a quality controller, I naturally reject most of these tinned “goods”). But when it pours, I ride enveloped by nature once again.
As my decision to ride is made before I look out of the window in the morning, sometimes I have to face going out in a downpour. Fortunately I have learnt the secret of dealing with it – you just have to accept it. If you cower against the rain it will find a way to drip down your neck and have you wincing. But if you smile at it, you will be given rainbows.
The reality, though, is that most days in Auckland aren’t that bad. Normally my rain jacket lies crumpled at the bottom of my bag, and I think like Game of Thrones fans it really should get out more. As my old military mantra went, “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training.”
Actually, I am not that staunch… but I do love to ride in the rain. And when I find myself waiting, waiting, waiting to get a green light to cross the road, and I’m dripping wet, I like to smile and whistle and hopefully show those drivers cocooned in their cars that the weather is no real barrier to riding in Auckland. It is all down to your attitude – and, for me, a willingness to reconnect with your younger self.
Cycling connects you with your youth. Being outside in the rain is something children love, although now I have outgrown that schoolboy desire to ride through the puddles and splash everyone – yet when there’s no one around…. YAHOO, puddles here I come!
The other half of that military line went, “if it ain’t snowing, we ain’t going”. Not that I’m likely to encounter snow here in Auckland, but it can get chilly in the mornings. Now, when I was at school, it was really cold. With my brothers, riding home from school in winter, we appeared a bedraggled group with our improvised balaclavas (old rugby socks!), like a polar exploration gone wrong. Unlike Scott’s team, we would have happily jettisoned our homework on the trek home.
In Auckland, I’ll put on my thermals and gloves and enjoy the crisp air and clear views. As I look across to the city, the sailboats sit on a vinyl floor and the towers of the CBD catch the early morning rays, casting a silver lining on the world of big business.
Sometimes a mist settles and the absence of views is just as spectacular. I am reminded of the critic who told Monet that “mist is not a suitable subject for a painting” – and how wrong he was. A glimpse of the Sky Tower peeking above the cloud is a drama worthy of an apocalyptic blockbuster. The mist adds layers to the cityscape, and the range of tones visible makes the whole scene look like a huge colour chart so extensive that it would have the indecisive DIYers pulling out their hair.
In winter the drama of the darkening skies are to me a real treat. I am rarely able to avoid repeating Monty’s lines from Withnail and I – “Come on lads, let’s get home, the sky’s beginning to bruise, night must fall and we shall be forced to camp” – as I pedal into the gloom, my lights casting a glow on the glistening path ahead.
Riding a bike offers so many joys. Sometimes one of those joys is knowing that the warmth of home is just ahead, but recognising that allows me to embrace the weather and pedal on, come rain or shine, wind or calm, road or path.
— Simon Vincent
Pedalnote: Obviously I am aware of the different conditions the weather brings, and ride accordingly. Auckland Transport has some useful information on winter riding.