Monday, September 29, 2008

Inclement Weather: Get Your Head in the Game!

What to do when a tropical storm has moved into town unexpectedly but work still starts at 9am. Unlike driving a car or taking the subway, one will not be protected in some micro-environment. How is it possible to get to work while still staying dry? Many times, it is possible to make it all the way dry as a whistle, other times, more drastic measures are needed. There are a few ways to help out-think the weather.

Keep an Eye on the Weather
First off, don't be surprised by the weather. Many times we go through life just experiencing weather through a window. Bad weather is something that just happens between the front door and the car. On a bike, one cannot avoid bad weather. In that light, know what is coming. Having a weather site as a homepage on one's web browser is a start. or are some of the most popular. One of the most useful aspects of these sites, besides the forecast, is the up-to-date radar. If it is raining, checking out one's local animated radar is a great way to spot lulls in rain showers. Rain often comes in bands, by looking at an animated radar, it is possible to start one's ride between heavy bands.

Have a Flexible Schedule
This is not always possible, depending on one's job, but the flexibility to head to work an hour later might by enough time for the weather to subside. Letting one's boss know about this new crazy bike-commuting plan and how it might affect one's schedule is a good idea. If there is bad weather forecast for the next day, think of bringing work that can be done from home for an hour or so. Even better, telecommute! This can be difficult if one works in the service industry or has an uncaring boss. Just remind him or her that some days, you might stay an hour later to avoid rain, so it goes both ways. This can be a difficulty for more control-minded folks who are dogged about their schedules. When biking, one must realize that the world (especially the weather) cannot be controlled, so be prepared.

Plan a Route
Not all routes are equal. The shortest possible route might not be the best bad-weather path. Think about low-lying areas, storm drains, and pot-holes. It might be better to spend the time taking a smoother, higher road, even if it is a bit longer. For example, here in New Orleans, there are some streets that can flood higher than a bottom bracket in normal rain. Also, it is best to avoid busy roads as visibility is reduced significantly (see below) and not only that, more cars can cause more splashing. Playing with routes has never been easier than with the internet. Mapping programs such as Google allow users to draw lines, areas, points, etc on their own maps. It would be possible to shade low-lying areas and plan different routes to avoid them.

Extra Careful Biking
Biking in bad weather can be potentially dangerous due to environmental and human factors. Clearly "slippery when wet" applies in this situation. Things that are not usually a hazard become dangerous, such as pine needles, which act like roller bearings (read: very slippery) when wet. Another variable is the reduced visibility caused by rain or fog. Drivers are not looking for bikers in good weather, so how much worse in rain! Use blinking front and back lights, even during the day. A brightly colored rain coat can also help. Be proactive, pay more attention to crossing intersections (stopping length increases in the rain!), maybe even avoid busy streets with little to no shoulder.

Stay tuned for other inclement weather-related posts dealing with equipment, snow, and others.

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