The Heck of the West

France may have Paris-Roubaix, aka “The Hell of the North,” a race over cobbled wrecks of roads to an ancient town named after a couple of plastic Taiwanese-made bicycles, but here in LaLa Land we have “The Heck of the West,” a daunting slog over glass-smooth paving that winds the length of the county’s seacoast, with the ever-present menace of radioactive tsunamis and bikini-clad volleyballers lurking to beset the unwary cyclist.

Last week, for example, when I snapped the photo of those threatening winter clouds, I found myself actually forced to wear a light sweater! At least for the first fifteen miles or so; then it became too hot.

That was nothing compared to the week before, though, when…it actually rained!

Yes, water fell from the sky, trucks and cars smashed into each other on the freeways, headlines read , “Drizzle Batters LA,” and I had to wipe my glasses. Blond newsbots intoned warnings that would have frightened a Kansan into their storm cellar, and I even put on my sturdy British rain cape for fully eight of the thirty-five miles I rode that day.

It ain’t easy pedaling through a SoCal winter….

Yeah, right. While our brethren and sisthren in Minneapolis are mounted studded tires on salt-rotted sacrifice bikes, Angelenos cower in buses and cars and curse the skies for the life-giving rain that falls all too rarely on our desert city; or they tremble in a morning “cold” that is well over the day’s high temp in Portland at this time of year. (Note that both the cities mentioned have a far higher share of daily bike riders than LA….)

Yet it’s not only easy but delightful to ride through LA’s sometimes-rainy winters. And it’s not even expensive. (Not compared to the price of studded tires.) You don’t need to layer up till you look like the Michelin man, since the temps rarely dip into the thirties even overnight. We see frost, what, twice a year, for fifteen minutes at a time?

All you need are fenders to keep road slime off you and your bike, decent tires and lamps, and the lightest possible waterproof clothing. If you’re wearing wool, you don’t even need that if the rain’s gentle enough; the wind of your own motion dries the droplets from wool clothes as you go. If it’s raining harder, any light rain jacket will do; pants as well. I prefer a rain cape because I run hot, and it’s open on the bottom for air circulation yet covers most of your legs as well. I let my shoes get wet (wool socks keep my feet warm), but there exist shoe covers too. The total investment is cheap.

And rainy days are beautiful to ride in. The sky is rich, and the light subtle, and it’s the only time LA’s streets actually smell good.

If you think you’re too hip for fenders (you’re not) get removable ones. They really make a difference. Check out the Pigeon’s selection.

Why miss a chance for a great ride because of a few drops of water, after all?

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