Stars and Spokes
Nov 2020 Overview. The Emperor's New Clothes (are not waterproof...)
With the rainy season now in full swing, often the main focus during any ride is to avoid getting so wet that you end up throwing your bike into a lake and quitting cycling forever! To help avoid this unfortunate potential outcome, there exists a range of cycling clothing options that claim to be ‘waterproof’ and guarantee to keep you ‘dry’.
As military types, we have spent many, many hours in the outdoors, both on exercise and during operations. This has taught us the vital life skill of how to be cold, wet and hungry; something the military excels at teaching its personnel how to be. One particular highlight for us was undertaking Escape and Evasion training a few years back, which naturally took place on Exmoor during February – of course it did, despite our requests for it to instead take place mid-summer on a relaxing beach…. Exmoor and winter is combination guaranteed to reinforce those lessons about how to be in the aforementioned state of cold, wet, and hungry. As an extra treat, throughout this week long exercise, we were:
Dressed only in our flight suits (to simulate being shot down behind enemy lines), these are not waterproof
Given no food throughout the 7 days
Given no shelter throughout the 7 days
Unable to light fires throughout the 7 days (see the theme here…?!)
Told to navigate been waypoints overnight every night, spaced between 10-15 km from one another
Rained on every day and every night, because that’s what happens on Exmoor in February….
Such exercises serve to remind us just how much we dislike being ‘piss wet through’, which is the technical term the British Military uses for being sodden. With that in mind, we make every effort to avoid general wetness when on the bike in winter, a basically fruitless task. We give all the related gear a go, anything from overshoes to overtrousers to overonesies (might be a thing?), none of which actually keeps the cyclist dry on a longer ride in the wet. Some of the gear on offer from manufacturers can be quite weird and innovative, at times verging on the surreal and often pretty ineffective.
We have spent recent weeks regularly walking into cafés on mid ride stops officially ‘piss wet through’. Entering with two streams of mucus flowing from the nose, numb feet that make coherent walking a challenge, and padded cycling shorts that are so filled with water they make us look like toddlers who have soiled their nappies during the first half of the ride. Strong look. The cherry on top of this look is the array of ‘waterproof’ kit that we cyclists are adorned in as we act out this scene, none of which seems to have performed its most basic duty!
It all has the feel of the Emperor’s New Clothes folktale - there is no nakedness in our version, thankfully for the general public! In our version, the cyclist takes on the role of the Emperor, and the cycle clothing manufacturer that of the two swindlers (PS: if at this point you have no idea about what is being discussed, one line plot summary as follows, ‘two swindlers manufacture ‘magical’ clothes for an Emperor, the clothes fail to perform their basic function, townsfolk too embarrassed to inform the Emperor – all gets a bit awkward’). Continuing with our version, the general public in the cafe plays the role of townsfolk, uncomfortably going along with the pretense of the cyclist having been kept dry by his magical waterproof clothing. Eventually, a child in the cafe vocally identifies that the clothing has clearly not kept the cyclist dry in the least. At this point, all present realise the farce of the situation, but the Emperor (cyclist) chooses to continue his precession (cycle ride) undeterred, more proudly than ever. Feels apt.
Clumsy analogy complete, the bottom line is this. Being wet just comes with the territory during winter, there is no way to avoid it when you’re out in the rain for 2+ hours, which happens on most rides undertaken during the British winter. Well, you could avoid it by cycling indoors on a turbo trainer, but that is really not our thing at all – please see our previous blogs on the matter! There is a serious point here, at last. Cycling in discomfort is all part of the preparation process, it should be embraced rather than fought. Long, wet rides in waterproof kit that doesn’t keep you dry definitely tick the necessary boxes on that front – bring it on!
I appreciate that this post got a little trippy at times, but hopefully you see our point! No tenuous folktale metaphors in the next one, promise….