I really hope you got outside yesterday because it was so amazingly beautiful that I could not decide what I wanted to do first. I knew of course that I wanted to go biking, but maybe I could leave work early and get in a double header. Or maybe I wanted to go hiking first and then go for a ride. I couldn’t decide. I ended up biking. Twice.
The weather is such an important part of deciding when and where to bike, and as much as we are all paying attention to the weather, we don’t always do it in the most effective way. Since I started biking about 7 years ago, I had to learn to pay closer attention to the weather. Luckily, I am married to “The Weather Guy”, my husband Joe. Joe is obsessed with the weather, and because he was in the military he is also obsessed with always being prepared. Put those two things together and frightening things happen.
Joe owns about 15 flashlights, in various sizes, ranging from 3 inches to 18 inches tall and he’s got all the batteries needed to work them. He has a generator and several orange and yellow extension cords (apparently there is a difference). He has a complex system of tarps and foam to protect his truck from hail. Note that there is no system of tarps and foam to protect my car from hail. We have several gallons of gasoline stored in our shed, with stabilizer added to each one. We have five gallon water jugs and extra propane tanks. And in Joe’s wallet is his “emergency $20”, which is cash that he never spends unless all the ATMs are shut down because there is no power. When disaster strikes, Joe implements his plan quickly and precisely. The weather is such a big deal in my house that when the Weather Channel screen turns red, it’s almost like foreplay.
Joe taught me pretty much everything I know about the weather and if you are going to do any kind of activity outdoors, you need to understand it, especially if you are a cyclist. Cyclists need to pay attention to the weather for several reasons: Rides can take you far away from home; You are biking on skinny, bald tires; You are fighting the wind more than if you were just walking or running; You are limited to the amount of extra clothing you can take with you since everything adds extra weight to your bike; biking with wet shoes and socks is not comfortable and your feet make an annoying squishy sound every time you pedal.
Here are a few suggestions that I have learned from my husband:
What NOT to rely on:
Looking Out Your Window: Looking out your window is not going to give you the kind detailed weather information that you need when you are going biking. Unless you live somewhere that gives you the ability to see long distances, looking at the sky is giving you only a glimpse of the weather around you. This might seem obvious, but there are a lot of people out there who predict the weather this way.
TV Weatherman: Rarely is there enough information in this forecast to help you decide if you can get outside for a ride. Unless the weather is very stable (clear and sunny all day) or extreme (2 feet of snow, or rain “all day”), you can’t base decisions on just this forecast. A forecast that says “scattered showers” doesn’t help you figure out if the showers are going to be scattered over your head or someone else’s.
What you CAN rely on:
Go Online: Joe is all about weather websites. Yes, it’s true, my 51 year old husband, who learned how to use a computer about 5 years ago, now knows how to split his TV screen with The Weather Channel on one side and accuweather.com on the other. It’s a little freaky actually. But accuweather.com or similar weather websites are replete with detailed information that you can’t get from watching the forecast on television, including the following:
Radar and Satellite: These two tools are by far the most important weather aids. Radar tells you where the rain is and satellite tells you where the clouds are. When you look at the radar you can see not only the current position of the rain but also whether it is coming towards you or not. You can also tell if the rain is dissipating or getting worse. There is one exception: during the summer months, when it is very humid, it can be difficult to track the rain, even with radar. That is because rain storms can pop up and dissipate over small areas quickly, and while you can see that when you watch the radar, it is harder to predict where those storms will pop up next. During uncertain weather conditions, you want to make sure the front and rear lights on your bike are working properly and you are dressed appropriately.
Wind Speed and Direction: Wind slamming into your face while you are biking is pretty horrible. And the thing is, wind that just doesn’t seem all that windy when you are walking, feels a little bit like a tropical storm when you are biking. Why is this? I have absolutely no idea, but knowing where the wind is coming from and the wind speed is important when heading out on your bike. If you can plan your route so that the wind is to your back on your way home, you will have an easier time than if you are riding into the wind after a long ride. Generally the wind is calmer in the morning and in the late afternoon, so checking out the hourly forecast can help you pick the best time to ride.
Hourly Forecast: Want to find out when those showers are going to be scattered over your head? Check out the hourly forecast; it is actually pretty accurate. I prefer the hourly forecast on accuweather.com. Not only does it show you the temperature and rain, but it also shows the wind speed and direction prediction for each hour.
Fronts: Fronts cause all the fun in the weather. When warm air and cold air touch, magic happens – if you think that a massive thunderstorm is magic. A front is the boundary between cold and warm air masses. There are cold fronts and warm fronts, but when a cold front is pushing through there are usually storms along the edge. Once the front pushes through the weather is usually clearer, colder, and sometimes windier. When you look on the radar, you can see the actual line of storms as the front comes through and you know that behind it, there are clearer skies.
Sunset: Biking in the dark can be dangerous and is not something you want to do unless you are prepared. A red light in the back of your bike and a white light in the front are crucial to your very survival. If you go online you can find out exactly when the sun rises and sets each day. My advice is that you plan to be done with your ride before civil twilight ends. What is civil twilight? It is not twilight that is friendly and polite, if that’s what you were thinking. Civil twilight is that time when the sun has set, but you can still see; it is what most of us would call “dusk”. How do you know when it will be civil twilight? There is a website for that, of course: http://www.sunrisesunset.com/USA/Pennsylvania.asp
I bet you didn’t know the weather could be this exciting. Actually, it really isn’t. But it is important to pay attention to it so you don’t get stuck on your bike in the pouring rain without a jacket, where your feet get completely soaked and rain water is bouncing off your helmet and covering your glasses, and you are freaking out that your iPhone is getting wet, as you try not to fall, only to come home to your husband and have him say: Uh, didn’t you check the weather?
Not that that has ever happened to me.