In my ever-searching journey to keep you stoked, I want to show the fun of riding all through the winter. More options to ride, equals more days on the bike and more adventures. This is Part 1: Rain Training. Even when its pouring down it is super fun to get out there, get muddy and get sideways!
Bicycle Vs Clay
I pedalled as hard as I could, my legs spinning and acid seeping into my thighs. My wheel drifted lazily sideways making more movement horizontally than forward. A clump of thick orange clay slapped noisily onto the back of my calf. I pedalled harder still trying to maintain momentum but already starting to teeter. My wheel was spinning fast but completely slick with mud, traction was lost and I had come to a dead stop.
I put my foot down with a loud squelch and I felt the mud seep into my sock over the lip of my shoe. It felt cold against my sweating skin. Even with the foot down I wasn’t stable, sliding comically downhill in slow motion, leaving a long flat brushstroke in the mud. The thick caramel goop of the forest road was a soggy wasteland. It jagged up the hillside, bisected every 50m with terracotta waterfalls of landslides. The water-logged clay/soil had taken a beating at the start of the year and the fresh rain was wreaking havoc. Old landslide scars became deeper cuts, with murky water rushing down them eroding them even further into the hillside.
I dismounted and tried to push my bike up the saturated trail. I had to use a butchered cross-country-ski technique to gain traction, wide out turned feet and short choppy strides. My bike was considerably heavier than usual with all of the extra clay. The back wheel was completely covered and I couldn’t make out the brake or derailleur. My gears had stopped shifting about 30 minutes earlier but I couldn’t see myself leaving the lowest gear any time soon.
The smell of fresh turned soil wafted through the air, a rich earthy smell mixing with the humidity in the atmosphere. The constant pattering of rain on my hood created a white noise that drowned out the wind rushing through the trees. I watched them buck and sway with silent gusts. I was warm under the hood though, sweating in fact. My breath left clouds lingering in the air yet sweat mixed with rain running down my face. The exertion was fuelling my body into a furnace against the tough elements.
My shorts were completely wet through and I could feel the squelch of liquid running down my leg as I walked. My socks too were sodden and now filling slowly with a sludge and pine needles cocktail. I waddled my way towards a patch of grass up ahead. It beckoned like an oasis. A strip of green cut into three neat slices by old 4×4 tracks. Once on the grass I could get back on the bike and continue, until I had to cross the next quagmire, about 30m away. Ride, slide, push, repeat.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
Finally cresting the top of the hill gravity started to pull me down the other side. Clear of trees the wind whipped at my jacket and the rain gusted in rough frantic sheets. I was starting to gather reluctant speed, my wheels shaking of their muddy coats as my momentum increased. I dropped my seat and stood up. Now was the fun part. All downhill from here.
My hard-earned elevation was now behind me. From this point gravity was doing the hard work, I just had to stay upright. I weaved through tufts of thick gorse, rogue branches whipping my bare shins with thorny malice. Some would draw blood but in the cold I didn’t even notice. My focus was on skirting the thickest part of bush and finding the smoothest line. Chasing traction on a fast-moving obstacle course.
My wheels were spraying mud like Catherine Wheels as I came to the first corner. Off camber tree roots glistened in the dull light. Stretching their tendrils slippery across the whole track. Wet tree roots are a ruthless teaching tool. Pick your line and stick with it, no braking. If you do not follow these rules the tree roots will send you spilling off the track without remorse.
I came in wide, front wheel true to course, back wheel flapping like a flag in the wind. I cleared the roots and came splashing into the end of the corner. Both front and rear wheel smearing out from under me in a gut wrenching but extremely satisfying drift. Terrifying yet equally exhilarating.
Each line choice was taken as a mere suggestion and sent me swerving and sweeping in a rough adaptation of what I intended. Patches of vibrant green grass worked as lily pads of safety catching my slide over the orange clay. Gravel and outcrops of slick rock added to the mix, taking it in turns to bounce me out of control or catch me. Playing good cop bad cop with split personality they had me ricochet down the hillside.
Wetter the Better
I reached the bottom of the track and splashed through an engorged stream bed. The thick opaque waters funnelling towards the sea as fast as possible. Small pieces of debris, caught up in the rush wafted quickly downstream. The ford was bulging wide but thankfully only knee deep. I barely slowed down and hit the water fast, shooting more moisture into the already saturated air.
My feet were aching with cold and my index finger was numb against the brake lever. I could taste grit in my mouth. The silty spray was in a fan shaped line on my chest and mirrored on my back. Through the mud my smile creeped through, goofy as ever and now with pieces of mud in my teeth as well. A beautiful sight no doubt. Luckily for me there wasn’t many onlookers out in this rain storm, I turned for home and squelched as I sat back down onto my seat.
Don’t Get Caught Out
Riding in the rain is ridiculously good fun but can turn into a wet mess or a nightmare quite easily.
- Have a good rain jacket, its worth spending a bit of money here to stay comfortable. Bottom line you just need something windproof and at least a bit waterproof. Your going to get wet regardless but you don’t want to be cold and miserable on the descents. My Jacket is an Outdoor Research Foray Goretex and though not the most lightweight is really waterproof and windproof. Even after a few hours out in the rain my upper body is warm and dry.
- Tell people where you’re going and when your expected back, I ride on my own a lot and it may seem obvious but its easy to get complacent. But things can go south quickly in the wet and your gonna have a harder time dealing with it on your own in bad weather.
- Choose tracks/ routes that are more technical than fast and flowy, you will be riding slower and wet tech is super fun (something I thought I would never hear myself say!)
- If you are driving there, pack a spare pair of trousers. Firstly, if you happen to go for a feed and a beer after. Secondly, so you don’t get mud all over your car (I have failed in both of these and regretted it.)
- Wash your bike off when you can, mud and grime will wreck your gears and make them wear faster. Give them a quick wash and a lube and you will save yourself money in the long run, money you can spend on a nice rain jacket!
Well folks, for those in the southern hemisphere now you have no excuse and for those on the northern hemisphere you have a while yet before this is relevant but get out there and get slidey!