Climatology Counseling: Weather Planning for Cycling

MasterLinkJune2015_page20_image38By David Pawlyk

While we all want perfect conditions to ride in, we also know we are not always going to be so lucky (especially, if we ride a lot). If you want more opportunities to ride, you will have to risk riding in less-than-perfect conditions. And, if you ride a lot, you almost certainly will ride in less-than-perfect conditions. This talks about a few tactics to increase your chances of figuring out the conditions for an upcoming ride. These tactics may also help having an idea of the possible changes in weather during a ride (especially, if it’s a long one). Note that the tactics I’m describing are about dealing with marginally poor conditions (rather than winter riding or long-term rain).

Weather reported for the day isn’t going to be very useful. Also, it seems that predictions for rain tend to be overly pessimistic. This might be due to people tending to be more annoyed it rains when no rain is predicted than when the opposite happens. And a 100% chance of rain for the day is equally satisfied when there area few drops for a few minutes or when it’s a deluge for hours.

What you want to look at is the hourly weather report (I use the “Weather Underground” app). Often, the % precipitation indicated for the day is higher than the % for any hour in the day. You also want to get a sense of how much rain is expected.

By looking at th hourly report, you might find that the rain is predicted to occur before or after the ride. If you are concerned about a ride that is a few days away, checking the hourly weather for the ride date once-a-day before the ride might give you an idea of whether the system is moving faster or slower.

If a system appears to be moving faster (to a time that is earlier each time you check), then rain after your ride might occur sooner when you are riding. Or, if it’s predicted to rain at the beginning of your ride, it might end up raining before. If a system appears to be moving slower (to a time that is later each time you check), then rain that is predicted to occur before your ride might end-up happening during your ride and rain that is predicted at the end of your ride might end-up missing you entirely.

Look at the hourly temperature changes too. If the temperature is predicted to rise quickly during the day, you might not want that parka you are considering wearing at the start (it might be better to be a bit colder than you prefer at the start to avoid having to shed clothing sooner). Keep in mind that, when standing around at the start, you are likely to be colder than you will be after a few minutes/miles of vigorous spinning.

Trying to be perfectly comfortable for the entire ride might not be a reasonable goal anyway. That is, you might find that increasing your tolerance for being a bit less comfortable is useful. Generally, to handle a wider range of conditions during a ride, you want clothing that makes you more (if not perfectly) comfortable but is also easy to take off and store (in a pocket). This works, too, for when the temperature drops during a ride. A thin shell/vest and thin gloves might be things to consider carrying (or wearing at the start) if conditions are marginal.

Not too surprising, noting the degree of cloudiness is important too. Sunny conditions make it effectively warmer than the indicated temperatures (maybe, as much as 5-10 degrees). Obviously, increased wind makes it effectively colder. Wind speeds tend to increase in the afternoon. So does the chance of thunderstorms. Reasons, maybe, to start your ride early.

The idea here is to note whether there are trends in sunny/clouds, wind, temperature, and rain that might cause conditions to change during the ride, especially if the ride is long.

While almost everybody would prefer to avoid riding in the rain, if you ride enough, you’ll end up having to deal with it. The big issues with riding in the rain are reduced braking, reduced traction, reduced visibility (having a rear light might be helpful), and potential hypothermia (another reason to have an idea of the temperature). The issue of keeping dry when it’s raining is a complicated topic. Maybe, the goal isn’t to keep dry but to keep warm enough (avoiding hypothermia).

MasterLinkJune2015_page20_image39During the hot-and-humid summer, you can get pop-up thunder storms that are hard to predict (they also are more likely in the afternoon). These are often fairly short lived. Seeking cover and waiting it out might be a good tactic. And using a smartphone to look at the radar might help too. Knowing the general weather patterns is also helpful.

Where we live, weather systems tend to track from the west/southwest to the east/northeast. This is often apparent when looking at radar (another useful tool). Looking at radar might give you a better sense of where rain is actually occurring. Keep in mind that radar displays shows dense/heavy rain (the radar might be clear for light rain). Rain tends to start quickly (and hard) and end slowly. Waiting might entail letting the worst/heaviest part of the storm pass rather than waiting for it to end. Roads, of course, can be quite wet for hours after a rain. Where we live, roads with more car traffic tend to dry faster, which means if you are trying figure out how wet the roads are, you want to look at roads that are like the ones you will be riding on (rather than, maybe, the little side street you live on).

None of this will work perfectly but it might increase opportunities for riding without increasing the risk of being rained-on too much. In addition to knowing the conditions for the ride, the idea is to have a sense of how the conditions will change during the ride. You’ll get better at it if you look at the weather using the ideas described here.