Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cycling in the Rain's photostream

Cycling in the rain is a whole different game, requiring extra caution and care. But, you may sometimes race in the rain, so getting some experience with it is important.

In July 2010, I had quite the experience, indeed.

My husband and I traveled to Perryville, Maryland for an international distance triathlon and it rained the whole way there. We set up transition in the pouring rain, trying in vain to cover our gear with trash bags.

Before the start of the race, there was thunder and visibility over the water was poor. A decision was made to forgo the swim and, instead, change the race to a duathlon; a run, bike, run. I was prepared to run five miles that day, not eight. A few weeks prior I had injured my foot during a race and, though I didn't know it yet, I actually had a fractured metatarsal.

Many people went home. Thinking that was lame, we decided to tough it out. At the horn, I hobbled along as best I could, trying to stay in the soggy grass to minimize the sharp pain in my foot. I'm pretty sure I finished the "run" dead last in my division, possibly last overall.

Upon returning to the mud pit that was the transition area, I dumped puddles of water out of my shoes and picked my way carefully through the muck to start the bike leg (several people lost their shoes in the swampy mess.)

Ahh. My bike feels like home to me and I easily began to make up for lost time, streaking past people who were exercising caution on the wet roads. The rain didn't bother me; I'd had many training rides in the rain and zoomed along the course with ease.

That is, until I entered one of the known treacherous zones and everything changed. I had raced this course before and knew the road. Even in good conditions, there was one particular hairpin turn that was at the bottom of a steep descent. I'd seen cyclist crash on this turn and end up crumpled in the ditch. The lucky ones suffered only scratches and bruises, but some left via ambulance. And this was on a dry day.

As I approached this hazardous hill I reigned in my speed. But it wasn't enough. Too little, too late. I had sorely underestimated this road in the rain. With my brakes engaged I began to hydroplane out of control. If I eased up on the brakes I was going too fast to make the sharp turn on the slippery surface. I tried a combination of squeezing and releasing the brakes but every time I braked I slipped sideways. Suddenly I was skidding by the the ditch, where several other cyclists were already lying in a wet heap, and I was absolutely, completely, 100 percent, out of control. Hydroplaning this way and that, I crossed the double yellow line toward oncoming traffic and then back again toward the ditch. I don't think I was breathing. I might not even have been looking. It is very possible my eyes were squeezed shut by then and I was simply waiting for the impact, and the pain. But it didn't come.

Somehow, to this day I don't know how, I stayed upright on my bike as it careened recklessly through inches of standing water. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. And I've never fully recovered. I'm certainly not the cycling daredevil I once was. I'm still trying to re-grow my backbone.

After surviving that terrifying slip-n-slide ride and making it back to the transition mud pit, it was off for more running (walking). That sopping wet day amounted to eight miles of walking/running on a broken foot, a near-catastrophic bike ride, and everything covered in an inch of mud. I can tell you we were the ones looking pretty lame standing in that aftermath. The smart athletes were probably the ones who went home that day.

But the experience changed me and I learned from it. I have an all-new respect for what it's like to be out of control on a bike speeding downhill at nearly 40 mph. It took me a long time to let loose on hills again, even on dry roads, and I still tense up a bit heading into steep turns and descents.

The recent, exorbitant amount of rainfall we've received has brought that hydroplaning experience back to the forefront of my mind, and I have exercised care and caution as I've cycled in the rain this week.

On Tuesday, I made it safely through 20 miles of hill repeats and steep descents on wet roads only to have my front tire sink into a hidden crack on the way home that sent me arse over teakettle off my bike and headfirst onto the sidewalk just two houses away from my driveway. It happened so quickly I didn't have time to react, which is probably a good thing--cyclists tend to fracture arms and wrists and separate shoulders when they reach out to break their falls.

Today, I climbed back into the saddle to give it another go and, unlike Tuesday's cold and windy deluge, I was lucky to catch a small window of time when the heavens were relatively still, with only a warm, misty rain falling during most of the ride. But the streets were saturated and debris-covered, demanding my full attention and respect.

So, train safe and be smart out there, especially in subpar conditions. When it's raining, remember these key things:

1) Standing water is a hydroplaning hazard for cyclists as well as motorists.
2) Wet leaves are very slippery.
3) What appears to be a harmless puddle could actually be a deep pothole in disguise.
4) Reign in your speed and leave extra time for braking and turning.

And then get on out there and ride because, no matter what, it's still better to cycle in the rain than sit on a trainer!

Cue showtune music:

I'm cyclin' in the rain

Just cyclin' in the rain

What a glorious feelin'

I'm happy again.

I'm laughing at clouds

So dark up above

The sun's in my heart

And I'm ready to do what I love.

Let the stromy clouds chase

Everyone from the place

Come on with the rain

I've a smile on my face

I speed down the lane

With a happy refrain

Just cyclin'

Cyclin' in the rain

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