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On Biking: trapped inside by rain? Not a problem.

Posted by Your Town  August 26, 2010 09:27 AM

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I didn’t know my ride last Sunday morning would be the last recreational ride I’d have for four days. Four days without a ride: if you’re a biker then that may seem like cruel and unusual punishment.

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Sunday’s ride started out fine. I decided to go mountain biking in the woods near where I live. I pedaled over rocks and logs and through every mud puddle I could find. When I got home I was dirty, wet and happy. And the drizzle at the end of my ride? No big deal: out in the woods I didn’t have to worry about skidding near traffic or flatting on some wet road debris or glass.

On Monday it rained. A lot. I suppose I could have done another mountain bike ride after work, but if you bike in the woods when it’s really muddy your tires will tear up the trail. Not to mention the fact that those rocks and logs were now slippery and dangerous.

So what about a road ride? The problem is that navigating traffic in the rain is really tough. Motorists are less likely to see me and I am less likely to be able to stop when I need to. Also, it’s really not that fun to bike when you’re wet before you even begin.

Tuesday looked promising. If you’re a farmer. If you’re a biker, it looked terrible: rain, rain, and more rain. But that’s why I have rollers.

Rollers are a contraption that look like something I once saw in a torture museum in Amsterdam. Imagine a small metal bed frame with three tubes on top connected to each other by an orange rubber band. Your back wheel is cradled by two of the tubes while your front wheel rests on top of the other tubes. Once you build up enough speed, centrifugal force keeps you upright as long as you keep pedaling.

Rollers are a winter training staple for cyclists who want to stay in shape when the roads turn nasty but not get bored using a stationary bike. Once you get the hang of them (it takes several hours before you don’t slide off or over) they’re almost fun to use: you sway, you move side to side, it’s almost like you’re out on the road. I use mine in my basement doorway with a mattress propped up against the doorjamb: that way if I crash there’s some padding to cushion the blow. Even when I was long past roller novice-hood I still broke two ribs when I fell a few years ago.

I would have been happy to have used my rollers on Tuesday evening. The problem was my bike with the big tires, the tires that work perfectly on the rollers, was down on the Cape. I tried to use my road bike with its skinny tires but it felt too unstable. I couldn’t get up to speed and stopped before I broke two more ribs.

Wednesday was the worst of these three days. Only a mad dog or an Englishman would ride to work in that kind of storm. I was born in Cambridge, England. I was also getting cabin fever with all of this not biking business. I decided to ride to work.

I started my five-mile commute in denial: perhaps it won’t be that wet out after all. A block later I got angry: it was that wet out. Even clad in Gortex I was soaked. This was definitely not fair, I told myself: didn’t whoever was in charge of the weather know that I (and all of my biking buddies) needed it to be sunny so we could ride?

A few blocks later I tried bargaining, telling myself that if I could just get to the Esplanade, away from all the traffic, everything would be fine. It wasn’t. In fact it was miserable. I felt like Frogger trying to dodge the fallen branches, geese and potholes. Except that this was not a video game, this was my commute to work. And it was not fun, it was depressing. The water laden skies looked like they would never turn blue again.

And then something happened that I still can’t explain; I think it was the magic of the bike. Ride long enough and those endorphins kick in, even if you think they won’t. In one quick block I went from pig misery to pig heaven. I was biking, and even though it was raining, I was one with my saddle. How could I have ever doubted the power of the pedal?

When I got to work I stopped by my colleague’s office to chat before changing out of my wet clothes. “You rode in this weather?” Gordon asked me. “Yes, and believe it or not, it was fun,” I replied. Gordon furrowed his brow; he did not look like he believed me. “Not at first,” I continued, “but if you hang in long enough, even on a day like today, well it stops being an ordeal and starts being a treat.”

When I woke up today it was warm and dry. Like Wednesday it, too, was a perfect day for a bike ride.

Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.

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