Study of a Madman: Riding in the Rain

Riding high up on a deep depression.

I awoke Sunday morning to the sound of the driving rain on the windows, buffeted by gusts of wind. I got up, made myself a double espresso, and called to the dogs for their walk. Smackimus, the mutt who embodies Rule #5 in everything he does, came bounding down the stairs. Beene, the lummoxy Great Dane, followed quite a distance behind, yawning and smacking her lips. I opened the front door and the three of us headed outside.  I made my way down the stairs and zipped up my jacket as both dogs followed. Smackimus slowed noticeably as we left the shelter of the front porch and stepped into the rain, and Beene stopped altogether.

After using all my skills of persuasion, I managed to get both the dogs to do their business, but it was a minimum-commitment operation; both dogs did what they needed to do and bolted back up the steps to the shelter of the front porch.

A great day for a ride, obviously.

We are a sick lot, those of us who find more pleasure in riding in bad weather than in good.  I have decided, however, to remove my fenders from the Rain Bike, as they do tend to detract from the considerable pleasure of feeling the spray from the road coat your body in Rule #9; the fenders definitely diminish the indulgence in the rain, and, generally, the volume of Suck that the weather is dispensing on your person. Fenders or not, the ride still merited camera-phone self-portraits, Dan O-style.

Oh, and – Merckx help us all – I think Rule #9 might actually be a Garbage Song.

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88 Replies to “Study of a Madman: Riding in the Rain”

  1. Think I have my answer – half as long as your headtube! No wonder il falco did a number on himself when he hit you!

  2. Is that Lighthouse? That’s got to be a bugger in the rain. And if you take the fenders off you should remove the mounting brackets too. Nice post. Smackamus and Beane rule.

  3. Nice. I was content with throwing myself, superman style, over the bars of a friends MTB friday night and thus only gimping out for a short, achey, pootle on sunday.

    Is it too early to enquire as to the possibility of Velominati long sleeve jersies?

  4. Hey Frank, were we separated at birth? We both love Bridgestones and Bianchis, we are both insane, and we both know deep in our hearts of hearts that fenders are for girls. I will say, however, that (bitd) after spending eight hours of bike messengering in Portland in freezing rain the prospect of cycle-commuting the hour it took me to get home to Vancouver (WA) sans fenders made me question my commitment to Rule #9.

    Speaking of yesterday…
    It was a good day – I finally got a VSP pick right and I opened up a can of “V” and beat my nemesis up our local 10k climb by six inches. First time I’ve ever beat him up a climb. I’m pretty stoked.

  5. @Marko

    Is that Lighthouse? That’s got to be a bugger in the rain. And if you take the fenders off you should remove the mounting brackets too. Nice post. Smackamus and Beane rule.

    Nope, it’s Interlaken Drive in Seattle. It’s a Rouleur’s climb; not very steep but long and twisty. Why are twisty climbs so much more fun than straight ones? A few of the hairpins are diminishing-radius turns which have the fun distinction of being crashable while climbing. For a guy like me who rarely climbs fast enough to be able to crash in a corner going uphill, it’s a nice change of pace.

    When the fenders go, the clips come off, too – there are no brackets on the frame that are attached. It’ll shed a good deal of weight, too. First ride on her in a while (we’ve had great weather) and it was a rude awakening how heavy she was.

  6. @Joe
    I’ve supermaned off my MTB a few times as well. A bad habit we get into on the road is to hold our thumbs above the bars when riding on the tops. Move that to the mountain bike and as soon as you hit a bump, your hands slip off the bars and you’ve dropped your mild-mannered alter-ego and become Clark Bent.

  7. @Cyclops
    Yeah messengering/commuting may merit the odd fender. It’s a different beast entirely from training. And – no doubt – the rain does start to get a bit old when it’s falling every day like it does between November and March.

  8. @Cyclops
    Oh, and congrats on the VSP win and climb. Although I have to say that you were handicapped somewhat earlier by choosing “EDDY EDDY EDDY EDDY EDDY!” and “JENS! JENS! JENS! JENS! JENS!”.

  9. Frank, I suppose living in seattle means you must ride in rain or not at all. I for one hate rain. I tolerate it in riding in summers, and just clean the equipement and relube everything after wet rides but hate cold rain, which not only requires the same love and attention but requires not only the double shot before but at least a quad shot afterward to thaw me out.

    I love the EV2 there. I remember the ‘big-one’ stem in flame’ yellow was also the hot item, mentioning stems. & I came so close to buying one too, but for my love of Pantani and at the highest recommendation of my dear friend and LBS owner, I went w/the entire celeste version of the Boron steel w/full carbon fork. She is a beauty, and fall/winter worker.

  10. Frank – cool shots. Thanks for the link and props. Shooting yourself while riding is kind of a goof, but can produce some cool pictures.

    Fenders can look a little lame, but after using ’em here in the good ol’ Pacific Northwet – hard to ride without ’em – especially for commuting. I still however have no problem getting the fender-less road bike filthy at times in the rain.

    Interesting point with the “thumbs above the bars” comment. Even though I mountain bike quite a bit, catch myself doing the same thing – carry over from road riding and sure way to bite the dust – when mountain biking.

    As usual – fun post – great blog.

  11. Wondering if those fenders will stay off after 5 more months of rain when it’s not 64° and raining but 47° and raining.

  12. Nice shots! I need to buy a cheapie digital camera for using while riding. No way am I going to hold out my iphone only to drop it.

    I must confess, I am a little but of a rain weenie. When I *have* to ride in it, like when it rains in the middle of a ride, or when my car was in the shop and I commuted by bike for two weeks, it’s fine. But I have a hard time motivating myself to start a ride when it is raining.

    I do have raceblades I can slap on, but I lack any waterproof clothing, sans a jacket, which it is still too warm for here in Portland.

    I guess part of trying to “harden the fuck up” is riding without all that crap!

  13. It’s good that you went out yesterday and not this morning. It was absolutely wretched.

    To be specific: sunny, clear, mostly dry roads. I went all the way around Mercer Island and only saw two or three cars. I had to pour a bucket of water on my head to get that feeling of riding in the rain. There was quite a lot of wind, though.

    You would have hated it.

  14. I hate to say it, Le Frank, but your town merits fenders, 5 and 9 or no 5 and 9. While your town has its brand of fenders, however, my town has its own.

    Also, for the love of Merckx, tell me there is some Sierra Nevada Tumbler in that bidon!

  15. Fenders – no problem with them. I used to, but they’re pretty essential if you want to avoid an hour of cleaning/lubing every night after commuting 2hrs in the rain.

    The Rainbike: Trek 1400. Sks Raceblade guards, with a home made section poking out from the front brake. Open pro 32h ceramic rims.

    Does anyone else find that fenders greatly reduce the braking power? I’ve got a theory about them dropping more crap onto the rims (instead of spraying out).

  16. @BOB
    It’s not the fenders, it’s the rain.

    If you don’t have a pro-style fender install, i.e. one that splits the fenders to avoid going under the short reach breaks, then you shouldn’t have braking issues.

    Also, brakes and rain just don’t get along, sometimes they grab when you first squeeze them, locking up the front wheel and dumping unceremoniously on your shoulder, other times they take 3 revolutions of the wheel to clean the crap off before they grab. It’s a complete toss up which one they will do each time you grab your brakes even if only seconds apart. The only true solution to this is riding a fixed gear without brakes. That’s right, all those hipsters on their fixies are actually ahead of the curve here and they don’t even know it. Riding a fixed gear without brakes in the dry is always a little bit sketchy and out of control in some ways and riding a fixed gear without brakes in the wet is just a hair sketchier and a hair more out of control, but overall a MUCH better experience in the rain than a bike with normal brakes. I rode a ‘fixie’ before it was called that in 1988-90 as a messenger in DC. I know nothing about disc brakes.

  17. I love riding in the rain, and I love riding windy, twisty climbs with goldilocks type gradient and good distance, so I was almost sporting a full carboner reading this.

    In some ways, Rule #9 is my favourite. We have no choice about Rules #1, #5 and #10, we just have to accept them if we are to continue on our path to true enlightenment – but Rule #9: there, we have a choice… there’s always something to give you a valid excuse not to go out in the rain. But… the smell of the rain, that fantastic ‘matt light’, the electricity in the air just before a thunderstorm, the sound of your tyres on the wet road, the spray, the streams of water that run right through and off you as you ride (and the knowledge that there is simply no way you could get any wetter, so keep your head down, guns firing, and go, go, go), the fact that only other badasses (like you) are out riding, so there is more respect in the salutes and greetings (as we shower contempt on those fat losers warm and toasty inside), and finally, there is real satisfaction in the post-ride bike clean… mmmmmm, as Homer would say, rain

    Coming back from our summer vacation in Cornwall (SW tip of UK), about a month ago, I persuaded the wife to drop me off 70 miles from home so I could ride home (I hadn’t ridden all vacation)… she looked dubious as the thunderclouds were gathering… but it was THE most amazing ride.. cycling through Marlborough County (not to be confused with Marlboro Country – no cowboys)… rolling countryside, haystacks in fields, ancient pagan white horses etched into chalk hill sides, some short savage climbs… and rain like you’ve never seen… it was bouncing 2 feet off the tarmac, the road was awash with water, but yet there was bright sunshine and a fucken big rainbow… the sheer exhilaration and freedom of being back on the bike, out in the rain was awesome. For that ride, at that time, I was a badass. Period.

  18. @George… every Rule #9 is deliberate. There was no guilt: there was just no permission. I hadn’t earned enough hard currency (in our house, hard currency is measured in brownie points, not cash) and weather wasn’t good enough to distract the kids… ergo, steed stayed stabled. I was ITCHING to get back in the saddle, and would have ridden through a snowstorm and prolonged headwind just to get some miles in!

  19. @Brett
    I love the flaired chainstay on that thing. My Merckx, that’s a sweet looking ride.

    You’ve put me to shame; that is exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about plying our craft in bad weather. SPOT. FUCKING. ON.

  20. @michael
    You are a bad-weather savant. I’m impressed.

    Wondering if those fenders will stay off after 5 more months of rain when it’s not 64° and raining but 47° and raining.

    Indeed that’s true, and precisely why I mounted them in the first place. But, I think, race blades are the better way to go. Lighter, and you can take them off and still enjoy the rain when it’s not quite that cold.

  21. Just saw Frank blast by this coffee shop in full V-kit. It was like seeing the Loch Ness monster and Batman all at once.

    The man is huge! He was on at least a size 64 Cervélo. And watching those mammoth 177mm cranks in motion was like seeing some Dutch windmill roll down the road under its own power.

  22. @Geoffrey Grosenbach

    Look at the length of his stem in the photos above… the guy is just huge. Clearly no problems with his diet as a kid. Great post.

  23. As a wet weather wuss – I blame my antipodean blood – I’ve invested in a Castelli Sottile rain jacket. It’s almost got me looking forward to the next rain ride. How long can I fool myself for?

    Great site Frank, I run one in another sport and have design envy over this one.

    @roadslave – I can confirm that you are indeed a nutter on carbon. Are the rumours accurate that you have slipped from your Tourmalet bitchslapping climbing weight?

  24. Roger that, Matt 2.0, still on carbon, although investigating Ti for the pave next April… Do you still have the climbing package installed? Good to hear from you, big fella… your boys threw a great worlds.

  25. Two months from peeking eh Roadslave? Like to think our bacon sandwiches mid ride are the food of champions, and pleased to report that, having seen Matt 2.0 on Sunday he is back Matt 1.5

  26. @Geoffrey Grosenbach
    OH. NO. What coffee shop? I really hope it was far, far away from Fremont Hill where I was climbing like a stone. I’m just glad I didn’t get boo’d and that no one threw anything at me.

  27. @frank

    I was at Herkimer Coffee on Greenwood.

    I’m making an assumption that it was you, unless there are other residents of Greenwood who wear the V-kit, ride Cervélos, and could take down Indurain in a fist fight.

  28. I’m fixin’ to build up a rain bike here in the next few weeks and would like full input from this community.

  29. Now, I’m as big a fan of the V as the next man who’s peaking in two months but … here goes …. there’s nothing wussy about fenders*. Do us Rule Holists not believe that the rules are there not only there to ensure we respect the traditions and etiquette of cycling, but also (to misquote Frank) to look fucking good doing so?

    The odd wet ride on a summers day: fine, and, if we’re racing Paris-Roubaix, yes. But, like a cold shower, good every now and then for a bracing hangover recovery cure after one too many 50cl** glasses of fine Belgian beer. But, not what you want to do every morning.

    Especially as round these parts, from October to March the roads resemble farm tracks, the surface water transformed into a cocktail of mud, gravel and cow shit.

    Where’s the ‘looking good’ in a muddy stripe up the back of your best Assos shirt and bibs, which you remortgaged your house and divorced your wife in order to buy? What’s ‘hard’ about turning that minty-green FI.13_S5 insert into a cold wet gritty sponge and sitting on it for 5 hours in 5 degrees**? Where’s the ‘etiquette’ in spraying your fellow Velominati with a faceful of slurry on a winter training ride?

    Which is why you’ll find me in full length fenders* for the next six months.

    Oh, and whilst I’m on a roll here:

    * Fender: (fen-der), n., (mid-20c) 1. A guitar or other stringed instrument manufactured by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation of Arizona 2. a metal fire-grate. 3. The US name for what are properly known as ‘mudguards’, for reasons specified above.

    ** In accordance with the principle of Rule #24, temperature should always be measured and referred to in Celsius. Beer (and certainly Belgian beer) should be measured and referred to in ‘cl’. Perhaps a rule update is necessary here, though I would have thought that this would have been obvious to most Velominati.

    Just sayin’

  30. @ken

    Fender: (fen-der), n., (mid-20c) 1. A guitar or other stringed instrument manufactured by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation of Arizona 2. a metal fire-grate. 3. The US name for what are properly known as ‘mudguards’, for reasons specified above.

    Touche. Nicely done all around on this post. You get the highest marks possible. Did anyone say there’s a Rule against mud guards? While there should be, obviously, a new Rule about calling mud guards “fenders”, I think various people (including me) just commented that it’s less aesthetically pleasing that it detracts from indulgence into Rule #9.

    Very cold weather and riding on roads covered in shit are fantastic examples of times where mud guards would be must helpful.

    As for the beer, I might agree with the caveat that Ales are to be measured only in Pints or Litres.

  31. @frank, you left out the “idiot” part of “idiot savant”.

    I’ll gladly have a completely dedicated rain bike with permanent fenders. I’ll skip the fenders on the good bike and risk getting it wet a few times a year, but have no reservations on taking the rain bike out whenever I feel, rain or shine.

  32. Sorry for the double post, but in the US, we call them fenders, across the pond they call them mudguards. I’ve finally put that much together.

  33. @Marko
    Awesome project. I also have a stalled rain bike project on the balcony (it hasn’t been wet enough here yet – and I can’t find where the Ullrich my cable cutters are).

    Give us all some clues. What are you starting with?

    My choices would be below:

    Continental rubber. GP 4Season 25mm on the back 23mm on the front.

    Brakes – Koolstop. I swear by these. I suspect that if I tried SwissStop I would prefer them, but they seem absurdly expensive to me.

    Gruppo – old Veloce.

    Mudguards – no thanks. Many reasons – don’t start me.

    Controversially, I would fit a saddlebag (Is that the word I mean?? I’m glad to say I haven’t used one for long enough to forget.) Defence for Rule Contravention: my saddle is split and it prevents me getting a jet of gritty water up the ass. Also I tend to take two spare tubes and some cash – that i’d like to keep clean and dry.

    I’ll be interested to follow your progress.

  34. @ken
    Ken, wise words!***
    However, I am not wise and while I wouldn’t want to cause offence, I suspect that some others on this site are also not wise. So I’ll give you the dubious benefit of my stupidity:

    I don’t do mudguards.
    1. Aesthetics. I don’t like the look of them. This detracts from looking fuucking good when cycling. On Rule #9 days, I hate the water from the front wheel bouncing off the downtube and straight into my shoes, but that’s all part of the Rule. I certainly wouldn’t want to soil the Assos if i had any; but for shitty weather, old kit. Cycling at a good pace in a thunderstorm with wheels spraying everywhere looks fucking good anyway. So much the better if you end up like this:

    2. Cleaning. I’d rather the cow shit went in someone else’s face than picking it out of the mudguards at home. Some things are fine outdoors and wrong at home. You shouldn’t have to deal with clotted cow shit at home.

    3. Most of my Rule #9 riding is done solo and if not, I don’t want someone cycling right behind me when their brakes are unlikely to perform in an emergency. A plume of dirty water, grit and slurry is a suitable and gentle hint that they might like to drop back a touch and do their own fucking work in the wind.****

    *** Your footnotes are absolutely spot on!
    **** In the unlikely event that you get sprayed with shit by me on some ride over the winter you are most welcome to punch me in the face as you pass – firstly for spraying you, secondly for not dropping you!

  35. So what is the final Velominati ruling on mud guards? Do they ruin hardman status or are they acceptable in winter with four straight months of wet roads?

    In the summer I can put up with it raining every so often, but months of wet feet and chamois just aren’t worth it to me. I’d rather wear my nice kit year round and suffer the style points penalty for a few months with mud guards on instead of wearing ugly ol’ threadbare kit.

    And, if it hasn’t been mentioned already, the Crud road mud guards do a nice job, are pretty minimal, and don’t look too bad.

    And beyond this, shouldn’t any true Velominati hardman have a bad weather/winter bike that already likely suffers from some aesthetic issues, prior to getting mud guards put on? If it didn’t it would be harder to be the heck out of it all winter.

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