The Marine Layer

The clouds of a marine layer.

Summer has been really slow to come to Seattle this year.  I suppose that’s what comes with living in a coastal region, especially one with a convergence zone like Puget Sound has.

As summer approaches, so does the Marine layer.  Marine layers are actually a good thing for the world and serve an important purpose. Particularly if you happen to be a slug or worm or a hunk of moss.  The benefits are less pronounced for humans, especially those who hold themselves to strict weather conditions under which certain bikes are permitted to hit the streets.

Which brings me to my point.   Rule #12 states the following:

The minimum number of bikes one should own is three.  The correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned.  This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

The part of the Rule around owning as many bikes as possible without suffering separation from your dearly beloved partner requires very little explanation – if any at all – and I’ll spare you the discussion on that topic.  What may be less obvious is why the minimum number of bikes is set precisely at three.  It comes down to having three steeds for the three most common weather conditions we find ourselves in during training: dry weather, mixed wet and dry, and wet.  Lets review in more detail, starting with Bike #3:

Bike #3: Rain Bike

Intended Purpose: Riding in the Rain

Justification: Riding any bike in the rain is tough on the bike for a number of reasons; risk of crashing is higher, brake pads wear more quickly, chains get gunked up, dirt gets in between the components and their bearings, nuts, washers, and hub flanges, which all increase wear and tear in addition to causing trouble with the Principle of Silence. In the long run, a bike that’s never seen rain will generally work better than one that has.  Also, riding in the rain may require the use of flasher lights and fenders, and we definitely don’t want to be adding fenders or flashers to our best bikes. Ideally, the Rain Bike would also be built up with affordable components such that when parts wear out, they can be replaced easily.

Bike #2: Mixed Weather Bike

Intended Purpose: Riding in Mixed Dry and Wet Weather

Justification: It’s not always wet (or dry) throughout a ride, which makes riding a bike that has fenders and lights affixed to them a nuisance.  But, if the weather is variable, you may also not want to ride your best bike.  Bike #2 is reserved for these conditions; it is generally built up with better kit than Bike #3, but not the top-notch stuff that graces our best bike.  Should it begin to rain, the additional wear is acceptable, but the bike is also good enough that the ride is thoroughly enjoyable should the roads stay dry and you don’t have to rue the choice to leave Bike #1 in the stable.

Bike #1: Good Weather Bike

Intended Purpose: Riding in Good, Dry Conditions

Justification: Number One Bike should be looked after more carefully than your first child and any pets you may have.  This is the one you spent 17 hours searching eBay for the out-of-production stem you wanted; the one you went into debt for to get the carbon-railed saddle instead of the lowly titanium model.  This is the one that gets rubbed down with a diaper after every ride.    Not only does this bike never see the rain, hopefully it does not come in contact with overly humid air.  It is not ridden on dirt roads, it is not ridden on gravel.   Try not to look at it sideways or speak near it with a raised voice.

Choosing the bike for the day can be a bit tricky. Personally, I rarely trust a weather forecast, especially here in the Pacific Northwest where even the meteorologist will admit something to the effect of, “Well, I don’t know what the weather will be, folks.  One of three things will happen: it will be sunny, or cloudy, or it might rain”.  That being less than helpful, I generally study the skies and make a best guess at what might happen over the course of the day in order to ascertain which bike I will choose for my ride.

Some cases are easier than others. For instance, say it’s pouring rain outside and the skies are rough and dark. Obviously, this is a case for Rain Bike.  Gray skies, no sun, air feels wet and out comes Bike #2.  Sun is out, birds are chirping and the kids down the street are making me crazy with their cheerful squeaks and screams,  and it’s a day for Bike #1.  But this Marine Layer we’ve been experiencing here is a tough nut to crack.  In the morning, I can’t tell if it’s overcast or if it’s all just going to burn off in a few hours to reveal a gorgeous blue sky.  I’ve been caught out twice already, and I’m not eager to make it a third.

Damn this Marine Layer.

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31 Replies to “The Marine Layer”

  1. Yeah – we gripe a bit about the weather here in the Seattle area at times. Even so, I’ll take this over extreme heat and humidity anytime (like the East Coast where I grew up) – even if means arm and knee warmers in June. And yeah, the weather report here is a crap shoot at best.

    You’re right on with the bike selection per weather conditions. I own a few bikes, but get by with two main road bikes. Full fenders on ’97 Ibis Hakkalugi ‘cross bike for rain, then my ’07 Ibis Silk Carbon for nicer weather.

    When I say nicer weather, I mean if the road isn’t fully soaked when I leave the house – carbon bike it is. No “in-between” bike for me. I don’t mind getting it filthy at times. Seeing a nice road bike get used in crappy conditions is a cool thing to me.

    Of course, cleaning it often – nasty chain included – does get old at times.

  2. Summer was late coming here as well, we had a proper winter for the first time ever, given that we’re on the Gulf Stream. Anyway, summer came and it has rained only a few times in months. The sort of weather that means you can strip and clean the “rain” bike without worrying that you’ll need it. It’s the sort of weather that means all the trails are dusty-dry. It’s the sort of weather that cyclists love and I can’t ride a bike.

    Anyway, over here there isn’t really the need for a mixed weather bike and a wet-weather bike, as most of the time it is mixed weather. Of course the dry-weather bike is also the race bike.

  3. summer is early here this year. Forecast is 93* and morning humidity levels are ~80-90%. It simply drains the energy out of you, but at least melts the pounds off you like laying butter out in the sun!

    knocked out 35k in to work this morning, will knock another 35k out after work commuting home and in this heat, its impressive. I wish we had a marine layer.

  4. I have 3 bikes and one of them is a TT bike so I just have my nice(ish) weather bike and my winter bike. So yes, my Boardman will get wet…

  5. Hmm. Maybe everyone here abides by Rule #12, but with different bikes.

    #1. Best (road) racing and training bike. Fair and foul weather. I replace the bottom bracket more than most might. Training wheels with serviceable, old school bearings all Winter.
    #2. Back up racing and training bike. Just can’t get it dialed in like #1. It’s only been used twice in the last two years, when #1 went to the shop.
    #3. A beater bike, amalgamated from different road bikes from the 80’s and 90’s. So old it’s hard to find parts for and so beat up I have no qualms locking up it up any where in the city. Of course I’ve never shackled #1.

    I do have rain shoes. Aside from maybe bottom brackets and wheel bearings, I’ve found shoes take the hardest beating in the rain.

  6. @Dan O

    When I say nicer weather, I mean if the road isn’t fully soaked when I leave the house – carbon bike it is. No “in-between” bike for me.

    Perfect example of why you need the in-between bike!

    You’re right though, seeing a good bike in bad weather is cool, nothing cooler! And on any important ride, you’d always take Bike #1, but I even like to just have the excuse for riding the other bikes. None of them are the same, and it’s just downright fun to ride them all.

    I figure you might as well have a set of guidelines to remind yourself not to always take out the Number One.

  7. @Jarvis
    The conditions you’re describing sound a lot like the ones we’ll have here in Seattle in a few weeks. Like Dan O said, I’d happily take the gray skies over the heat and humidity. Besides, come July, we have clear skies, dry roads, and never too much heat. It’s perfect.

    Not to mention year-round riding with weekend skiing as little as 45 minutes away.

  8. @Souleur
    Sounds like the summers in Minneapolis, where I grew up. 90% humidity. Awful. Nothing like breaking out in a sweat when you lift a fork.

    Sounds like a great commute. I pull something similar off every now and again; a bit lengthy for a daily ride into work, but a 70km per day round trip would get you into awesome shape!

  9. @Nathan Edwards
    Man. A good TT bike is my dream. Cervelo P3, straight aero bars, Ullrich-style. Being a big fattie, I even have a fighting chance of being good at that discipline, but I’ve never managed to justify one in the budget – and I can’t fathom doing a stock bike TT. It’s just not right, unless you’re on a track riding for 60 minutes.

  10. @david

    I do have rain shoes. Aside from maybe bottom brackets and wheel bearings, I’ve found shoes take the hardest beating in the rain.

    That’s a good call. I just washed the White Ladies and all kinds of gunk came out of them. I was going to sell my old DMT Ulitmax’s, but maybe I’ll keep them now and use them for bad weather.

    Thanks for the tip. That’s a good one. I now have another facet of kit to obsess over, because I’m already realizing that there might be some subtle differences in my stroke with different brand shoes, so I’ll need to pick up a second pair of the same shoe in order to ensure I stay on my program to peak in two months. Which will be in November.

  11. @frank
    It’s awfully wet in your part of the world in November. But staying off the bike from December through April here hurts a lot. There’s no finer part of the world than the PNW””and few better for cycling year round.

  12. It’s definitely been all about the arm and leg warmers up here in Vancouver this June.

    Biggest issue with the weather is that the cool temps are resulting in a slow melt up in the mountains. At this rate, there is still gonna be snow covering 542 up to Mt Baker until late July….last weekend you could get up to Heather Meadows, but the last (and best) 3kms of the climb is still buried under 8ft of snow. At least the local Van climbs (Cypress, Seymour) are snow free.

    It’s the alpine rides like Baker, North Cascades, etc. that make me love PNW riding regardless of the fact that some years summer never truly arrives….

  13. @frank
    we don’t normally have weather like this. The last three summers have been in April with the nominal summers being wash-outs. But to have sit out such great weather and to miss dusty-dry trails that we haven’t had since 2003 is torture.

  14. I’m visiting friends in Portland, Or right now and have gone on two really nice rides in the last two days since being here. Yesterday was a mixed weather day and today was bluebird. I only brought the number one steed but no sweat. Back home in Minnesota summer started in April and I’ve been riding since March which is unheard of. Tomorrows forecast for tour de blast (mt st helens) looks iffy at best. No worries, those are the times when epic stories are created and the beer tastes better at the end of fh ride. I’m certainly imagining some proper bike maintenance on Sunday though, another occasion for good beer.

  15. @Marko

    If you get a chance, stop by HUB for a beer. Great beer, and owned by big bike supporters. Plenty of frames hanging from the bar ceiling. I’m riding the long way home in about 10 min. Hope the weather holds!

  16. @frank
    I can beat that Cervelo P3 (or any bike made these days actually), my UCI illegal Giant MCR. I got given it by a friend who didn’t use it enough/at all.

    The great thing is, that over in the UK we have a separate governing body for timetrials (for some reason we love ’em… something to do with police and road racing :( ), the CTT. Anyway, they don’t do UCI rules, so my bike is legal, woop, that still doesn’t stop be getting destroyed, I wasn’t made to timetrial, bunch sprint anyday.

  17. Dan O :

    Yeah – we gripe a bit about the weather here in the Seattle area at times. Even so, I’ll take this over extreme heat and humidity anytime (like the East Coast where I grew up) – even if means arm and knee warmers in June.

    Exactly the reason I moved from Australia to NZ. Summers there were near impossible to ride in, I’d freeze my bidons overnight, and the water would be warm about an hour in. Returning from a ride with severe sunburn, dehydration and heatstroke-like headaches was common. That is if you could even get outside, such is the intensity of the heat. Here, I ride in pretty cold winters, but a lot more than I did in Aussie summers.

  18. @Brett

    You get used to being in the heat – and also being out of it. When I lived in New Jersey, hitting the road for a ride when it was 90+ degrees out was common for me. I remember getting a flat once and sweat was pouring off like a waterfall, as I wrestled with the new tube. I don’t miss that at all.

    After living in Seattle for 20+ years now, 75 degrees feels hot. I’ll take the Pacific Northwest weather – no problem. I did a mountain bike race today in arm and knee warmers – in June! Crazy, but I dig it.

  19. @frank That’s hardcore, frank. I never thought of that. You are absolutely right. When I wear my rain shoes, I never feel as good on the bike. I usually don’t ride as long or as well. I’m just happy to be out in the rain. But, if my rain shoes were the same type as my good weather shoes (racing shoes), I’d likely ride better, longer in the rain.

    You remind of a prof. I had who would not accept an alarm clock malfunction as a legitimate reason for being late to class. “You don’t have two alarm clocks??” I’m like, “Wtf? Why didn’t I think of that? That’s fucking hard.”

  20. Nathan Edwards :@david
    Two pairs of shoes?? Overshoes surely? I survived the winter in my only pair of shoes, taped over the air vent and had thin overshoes on.

    Well, then, it must not make sense for me to do it if you could manage a winter in one pair. I’ll give up the practice immediately.

    Look, if you haven’t faced issues about drying a pair of soaking wet shoes nearly everyday from training and commuting, you don’t understand the matter.

  21. Only one bike required for Scotlans and thats no.3 bike, cos its always f’ing raining.

    Still doesn’t stop me owning 4 bikes, thinking I can still get some more out the Mrs before she cracks up

  22. @rbinnie
    Ah, but then you still need at least three bikes, just shift the spectrum over a bit. You’ll need one bike with good, heavy fenders and flaps (and maybe flasher lights) for the bad rain days. Then you’ll need one for the days that it’s not really that rainy and wet and you can get away with a lighter bike with full fenders but no flaps or flashers. Finally, you need a bike for the days that it probably will rain but really only be a misty-hazy rain and you can go with the lighter bike with clip-on carbon fibre fenders.

    And you need a fourth for the days when it’s nice out.

  23. Three is nowhere near to satisfying the minimum.

    Each discpline should be treated as a different sport. Three road bikes, three cyclocross bikes, three mountain bikes.

    And what about single speed? A single speed road bike doesn’t make sense (is that just a track bike?). Of couse one needs a single speed cyclocross machine, but should that be one of the three or in addition to?

    Mountain is the only one that might be doable with a single bike. It’s going to get muddy and wet, so there’s no need for a “perfect weather” MTB. But there are more variations. At least a hard tail and a full squish?

    These are hard questions that deserve serious thinking.

  24. @G’rilla

    mtb is tough- thought carbon ht 29er was going to be the be all-end all for mtb. Find myself lusitng for duallie 26er or the eventual 650b…

    I’m curious about the 3 cx rig thing. I got 2 plus an ss (which sets lonely and pedal-less, can’t double up races because of the near 6 hour gap between master c and ss race- would mean a lot less race days…). As commuting has finally begun, have thought about a third w/ disc, as a commuter w/ disc in the pnw just, well, makes sense. And if I’m going disc, well, the new application… but racing disc is kinda crazy- Its a commitment basically to another bike in the pit or second wheelset in the pit. such problems…

  25. @frank


    Too true. A buddy of mine in addition to 2 full road race machines, a wet wether bike, a ‘cross rig (he should have 2 ’cause you need a pit bike), a cruiser (for going out with the VMH) a MTB; has a 35lb training bike with Power Cranks and is building a slightly lighter ~23lb training bike with yet another set of PC’s. Training bikes all fendered up of course. Oh, and gotta have a ITT specific rig too (was discussing that with Frank just yesterday). And let’s not get started on how many different wheelsets you need for all these.

  26. This morning, Merckx appeared to me and solved this equation for me.

    The minimum number of bikes to own is V.


  27. The utility of n+1 became apparent to me this weekend.

    • CX bike #1 is only 8 months old but the bottom bracket is rusted solid and I’m waiting on warranty service. I rode a whole CX race that way last weekend.
    • I re-assembled CX bike #2 yesterday but there’s no lube left in the cable housing and it shifts horribly.
    • Ditto for the rain bike.
    • Full suspension MTB #1 is in good repair but I’m an hour from singletrack and I want to ride from home on urban routes.

    Praise to Merckx, road bike #1 is fully functional and ready to go. A beautiful 50km on an unexpectedly sunny Seattle Winter weekend. Hammering the whole way even if the ride wasn’t long enough to meet the man with the hammer.

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