There is such a thing as bad weather for cycling. Let’s see if you can guess which photos best depict this simple truth:
Friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. When you have snow stuck to your eyebrows, that’s a pretty good indication you’ve just ridden in weather bad for cycling. Let’s say you know someone who’s extra-dim, though. Have them ask anyone who lives in Ireland (or most of the UK for that matter) and they’ll be more than happy to tell you all you need to know. Sadly, in such places, if you want to ride, you’re going to have to come to grips with a popup rain shower. I’d bet my lunch the saying originated either during a Minnesota winter or anywhere in the UK. There once was an All Seasons Cyclist who loved that saying (and did more than his fair share to prove its plausibility). There’s just one problem: real bad weather sucks. All good gear can do is make bad cycling weather suck less.
Let’s just say we’ve got, for comparison’s sake, on one hand, a sunny 80° day with a gentle breeze. On the other, a windy, 34° (1 C) day with a smattering of rain/snow mix. The first example, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is a good day for cycling. The second would be bad. You can’t put enough lipstick on that second pig to make it pretty.
See what I did there? I took a perfect day and compared it with a perfectly lousy day – I took the two extremes as examples to bolster an obvious statement so as to create controversy in the middle by playing the poles. That, my friends, is politics. Let’s look at a simpler scenario. Let’s take out the wind and rain and just go with a chilly night for a ride. I had one just the other night as a matter of fact, that provides an excellent example of how not to dress for the cold.
When I walked my bike out the door at 4:50 pm, it was 54° (12 C). Not exactly balmy, but pretty normal around here for mid-November, average. I rolled out over to Chuck’s house and found myself riding a little faster than I’d planned, to stay warm. I had on arm-warmers, a short sleeved jersey, and a nice long sleeve that I love for 50° rides – it doesn’t block the wind at all, though (thus, the jersey and arm warmers). For below the belt, I went with wool socks, mtb shoes, leg warmers and bibs. Again, normal for 50. I should have been fine and was quite flummoxed as to why I was cold.
In hindsight, once the sun started going down, the temp went with it, and the Weather Channel completely missed this happening. It had us in the upper 40’s till 9pm) but that’s not what we got. It turned cold. By the time I had four miles in it was down to 45° (7 C). Just two miles later, 37° (or 3 C). I was on the bad side of cold most of the ride (though it wasn’t too horrible as long as I didn’t coast much). I didn’t know why I was so cold while I was riding, but now that I can see the temp reading from my Garmin on Strava, it makes all the sense in the world. I should have had a thermal vest on as well, and a second layer down low, with either foot covers or at least toe covers. And that’s exactly where the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear” makes sense.
There’s no question I was underdressed for that ride. In a case like that, the gear selection made for a chilly ride, even if it wasn’t technically my fault. The prognosticator at the Weather Channel wasn’t riding my bike, so “blaming it” on him does about as much good as $#!++!ng in my hand to prove a point. It wasn’t a “bad” ride by any stretch, either, but the right clothing would have made it vastly more enjoyable. And that was my first poorly judged weather scenario of the fall season.
In cases like that, good gear choices can absolutely make or break a ride. Getting closer to the bad pole, though, sucky cycling weather is sucky cycling weather, was ever thus.
Suffice it to say, some frickin’ days are meant for Zwift. Or a good movie. And jammies.