Oh, the halcyon days of last summer. I had just started working with the team at Above Category and knew from day one that I wanted to ride my bike to work. Every single day. The warmest days of the year allowed for rides with lightweight bibs and a short sleeve jersey. I'd been riding my new Pegoretti Responsorium since the middle of July and was always looking for creative ways to get to work from my little town in central/west Marin County.
I firmly parked the car on the street, officially declaring it unnecessary - so much so that it ended up with a dead battery and an entire season of plums (from my neighbour's tree) stuck to the roof. The plums took about twenty-five bucks and some acrobatics to remove. It was a wild scene at the local U-Wash.
My favorite bike route takes me out of the wooded canyons around my house up onto the ridges of Mt. Tam. Only to then drop back down to sea level and along the edge of Richardson Bay in Mill Valley, passing the houseboats and seaplanes and finally into the picturesque Sausalito neighborhood that is home to AC. Then came Halloween last and the yearly turning back of the clocks. And the onset of the dark and the rain. And the cold. And the high tides. What had been a relaxing hour or two ride turned into a bare-knuckle fight.
Early November: I quickly assembled what Q36.5 (AC's fav Italian apparel Co.) gear I had that might work for winter commuting. A few things I bought months back, but hadn't used, became mainstays, like the long-sleeved Base Layer 2 and the Hybrid Que jersey. As great as these pieces were, I needed more warmth and rain protection. So, with the weather changing abruptly, I quickly ordered the Amphibio gloves and shoe covers, a couple of pairs of the Woolf bibs, Woolf knee warmers, a Base Layer 3, a rain cap, a beanie, and of course, a rain jacket. And that's pretty much what got me through the last four months of winter riding, rain and temps in the 30s and 40s.
How the Gear Performed
The Woolf bibs and knee warmers worked well in the rain, not just cold. The rain cap would get swapped out for the under-helmet cap (Sottocasco) when it was just cold and not wet. The rain jacket became invaluable and doubled as a top layer on cold, dry days. The Base Layer 3, I reserved for the coldest days.
I'm glad I jumped on the rain gear. It's been some of the wettest weather in years, including atmospheric rivers and a "Bomb Cyclone" that unleashed flooding and mayhem across much of the west coast. At one point, I counted 15 consecutive rides in the rain. And the new gear helped keep me going. The Woolf knee warmers became such a go-to item that when I thought the dog had stolen, eaten, or destroyed them, I was pretty bummed and almost did some panic shopping. (They were later found in my wife's hamper). There is probably some less cycling-specific rain gear that could keep you drier, but not all that much fun to ride in.
I must admit that during the peak of the storms, I dreamed of rain gear more suited to salmon fishing off Kodiak Island than tight-fitting, high-performance cycling gear. My specific kit combo should be called "California Winter", as it was not meant for the coldest temps. That being said, it handled mornings in the upper 20s (F) and still felt fast in the drops and breathable on the climbs.
In January, a big rain day coincided with the highest tides of the year. The roads near the bay were all underwater. My chances were better navigating the flooded streets by bike than in a car. The bike wasn't going to stall out in the middle of a flooded intersection. However, the bike path near Mill Valley cuts through a tidal estuary, and during King Tides, the way is more IN the bay than beside it. With water past the axles, I shifted into the small ring to fight the current. The asphalt path I usually rolled on turned to sand, gravel, and shells under my tires. No rain gear would work for riding in nearly two feet of water.
So why bother with all of this? If you're reading this, you probably love cycling, so why not find more ways to get and stay out there? Even when it's not convenient. I think of the John Cage (avant-garde composer) quote, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually, one discovers that it is not boring at all." Not that riding your bike in bad weather is dull. For sure, it can be life-affirming. It also needn't be miserable, so finding the right gear can take the edge off just enough to keep after it - tomorrow and the day after that. The point is: The more you do it, the more there is to it. You can make it something. We can be defined by our habits, good and bad.
And how's the bike holding up? Well, besides being a total dream ride, the Pegoretti's stainless steel frame is handling the weather at least as well as I am. Maybe I shouldn't treat my Peg like that, but I love riding it, and we'll have history together. Luckily the good people in our service department demand that I wash my bike after these rides "into" the bay and remind me to drip Tri-Flow onto the spoke nipples. Saltwater is for real. I will break the bike down at the end of winter and thoroughly clean and lube it. It's been a season to remember.