By Sal Ruibal
I love to ride in the rain, snow …
I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to ride the Punk Enduro this past weekend, but don’t think I’m afraid to ride in a little Pittsburgh precipitation.
I love to ride in the rain so much that I wrote a song about that passion. When the skies open up and the cold, stinging water splashes my face, I sing my song loud and proud in defiance of the weather.
One of the best things about living in Virginia is the great variety of weather conditions, from summer’s 100-degree ovenbakes to two feet of heavy East Coast snow in the winter.
Last winter we got almost 70 inches of snow, while some years we barely see a foot all winter. I don’t have to travel beyond my local trails to ride in unique conditions. The trail that’s a fast track to hell on Monday can be transformed into La Ruta-deep mud that sticks like peanut butter on Tuesday. By Saturday, the ruts have dried out and turned tacky, perfect for carving tight turns.
I love scenery as much as anyone, but the horizon I’m most interested in is the one where my tires meet the ground. Like one of those CSI television series, I imagine my vision zooming in on the dirt/tire interface, squirming tire knobs battling decaying leaves, quartz crystals, beetle bodies and clinging clay.
Tire pressure becomes an artistic choice, balancing the right amount of grip with my need for speed. Is 28 psi enough? Is 34 too much? How much wet pavement will I have to deal with coming and going?
In the hot summer months, a t-shirt, helmet, shorts, short-finger gloves and sneakers will suffice, but winter calls for high-ankle, water-proof winter bike boots with claws for traction.
Cold rain is different from wet snow.
A bike poncho I bought from a Portland store fits like a pup-tent over my bike, with me as the tent pole.
When the big flakes fly, I go with Boure’ knickers under REI mountain pants and a super-techy Castelli jacket with a reflective liner that makes me feel like a baked potato, albeit a fast potato.
Gloves are important, with your digits the first body parts to engage the elements. For cold rain, I prefer Specialized neoprene gloves. For snow, any fat fingered winter bike glove will do, and I always stash an extra pair in the CamelBak in case of a mechanical or crash in the muck.
Those little chemical handwarmers are also good to keep in the pack too, lifesavers if you start to get hypothermic.
Once you get your personal and internal environment right, you’re free to enjoy the splatter of raindrops on your helmet, the foggy freakout when your glasses cloud up and the childlike ability to just dump your bike into a big snowbank just for the thrill.
Riding in adverse conditions doesn’t mean you have immunity from the need to treat the trails with care. Ride through puddles slowly and down the middle. Carving around the edges can cause the puddle to erode and widen.
Maybe the best part about riding in the rain and snow is the emotional sanctuary it brings. We all tend to keep things bottled up inside, stuff that really bothers us or scares us or inspires us.
In the rain, no one can see your tears.
Below: Sal took part in a little Punk Bike action of his own in Virginia. Photos by S. Raboin.
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