Summer has left the building. It didn't even bother to cancel the milk; instead it threw one last raucous party and skipped out the next morning, leaving the place looking a bit like one of those hoarders flats on Grimebusters.
So we are faced with the prospect of autumn rides, and all that entails. And all that entails is weather, and lots of it. The cyclist and I reside in the north of England, the wrong side of the Pennines. Therefore, as it is September, there is now greater than an 85% chance of getting piss wet through on any ride undertaken. There is also a 56% chance of hail, 48% chance of sleet and 15% chance of a plague of frogs. There are approximately 3 'good ride' days left this year - you know the ones, gorgeous crisp and clear autumn days - on two of them the cyclist will be stuck in the office. He will get out on his bike on the last one, and it will remind him why he does this. The lungs full of clean clean air, cold and still; the clear sky that allows the thin sunshine to bathe everything in the particular yellow glow you only get as winter draws close, will keep him hooked for another year.
But from here on in that's not going to be the norm. The norm will be rain. And as every cyclist at this time of year knows, rain is not just rain, oh no, there are types of rain. There is blobby rain, extra large drops that go right down the back of your neck and make you squeal. The horizontal driving rain that accompanies a fierce headwind and makes you wish you had never been born. Freezing rain that slowly creeps into the bones until you're sure you will never regain sensation in your hands and feet. That fine rain which is basically sopping wet air which manages to get in everywhere, no matter how waterproof you think you are. Sheet rain - how can there be that much water in the sky? The targeted microclimate black cloud rain that follows you about. And the surprise rain, which should in fact never be a surprise and yet always is. You will experience more than one type of rain in a ride.
You will put on your glasses to protect your face a bit, your glasses will steam up. You take them off, your face steams up. You layer up to try and keep warm, all that results in is you lugging extra kilos of cold wet and above all heavy kit around with you. The best weapons in your armoury will be anything that keeps your hands and feet dry, the holy grail of winter riding. And even when your ride is done, the misery continues, as there are few things less pleasant than the removal of cold and sodden lycra. The one I can think of is standing, dripping sadly, in cold and sodden lycra waiting for the feeling to come back into your fingers so you can remove said cold and sodden lycra. The cyclist has a mild circulation disorder, meaning that quite often following a winter training ride when he is finally able to take off his shoes and gloves he will reveal the purple and yellow extremities of a 3-day-old corpse.
Of course, rain is not limited to the colder months (in fact the cold is not just limited to the colder months). When the weather is grim and the race schedule is heavy in the 'summer' it can be hard to get kit washed and dried properly in time for the next race. With my 'glass half full' outlook on life, I like to think of this as your kit 'pre-moistened for your convenience'; the cyclist has a slightly different take on the issue, quote from evening crit at Preston, Thursday 7/6/12:
"Damp socks. Brilliant. Oh, and damp tights too. Well done. It's a good job I had a dump, I'm carrying an extra kilo in waterlogged kit."
More fun even than rain, is hail. Hail hurts. Hail comes at you hard and fast, and tries to sandblast your ears and nose off. Hail lurks, waiting until you are on the most exposed and remote part of your ride, and then strikes, knowing full well you have nowhere to hide and were close to tears anyway.
Finally, let's talk about wind. Wind, mortal enemy of the cyclist. Cycling has dedicated years of research, millions of the currency denomination of your choice, endless experiments and modifications, all to the pursuit of better slicing through the air. The least the bloody stuff could do is stay still and stop moving about. From Autumn to Spring there is one undeniable fact about cycling and the wind - there is no such thing as a tailwind in this period. The winter cyclist knows well the phenomenon of the circular headwind. Or the sweeping sidewind, that mocks your aero frame and tries to topple you into a field.
There is only one known cure for a cold wet and windy ride; a hot bath, a large mug of tea and some toast. Chin chin!