Weather or not, we ride

A pilot’s life depends on their knowledge of the weather, so if you want to know what the weather will be, ask a pilot. Or, like me, drive for eight hours with a pilot toward an event in which you’ll both be outdoors for two full days.

It fascinates me that he follows the same guidelines I learned when I was bike commuting. Check the weather

  • 10 days out for big trends because specific forecasts have low probability
  • 5 days out for a somewhat accurate forecast
  • 3 days out to know what to pack
  • the day before to find out how bad it will be

We were driving up on the day before, so we already had gone through those four steps and knew it was going to rain during the ride. We started off talking about many topics–Middle East, Ebola…we try to keep it light–always circling back to a check of the weather. As we slowly spiraled around the topic, we were drawn into the eye of the forecast, which focused on one word: rain.

Thirty percent chance is where I start paying attention to rain forecasts. Lower than that, the probability of the forecast being accurate deviates from meaningful to a topic for polite conversation. (BTW, Nate Silver confirmed this in The Signal and the Noise. Part of the deviation is caused by weather broadcasters whose forecasts tend to be wet–a term of art that means something different than more milk in your cappuccino.) That meant that as we were driving, I had plenty to pay attention to.

Our route covers 200 miles–it is called the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, after all–and about six hours each day, so it doesn’t do much good just to check the forecast in the starting town. By lunch we would be 60 miles and 3 hours from that forecast. My job was made easier by the fact that almost every town on the Saturday route had a chance of rain over 30 percent.

Sunday looked like it would be dry, and continue the low temperatures of Saturday, making our second day a pretty nice one for riding. If we survived the first day. Going back to those low temps on day one and bike commuting–I used to know that what layers to wear at each temperature and weather condition, but I’m out of practice now and can’t remember what I used to do.

I think I recall that at 60 degrees and higher, I just ride in my bike clothes–jersey and shorts. Below 50, I like to cover my joints–elbows and knees–but only lightly, or I overheat. Often a vest or jacket isn’t necessary. Below 40 and a vest or jacket is needed. Below 30 I switch to heavier tights and maybe add arm warmers below the jacket…..probably a neck gaiter too. I might add toe covers too. Below 20, I might switch to a long sleeve jersey to avoid gaposis between arm warmers and the jersey…oh, and watch for ice.

But that all changes if there will be rain, sleet, snow, or other weather that leaves you alone on the road with the postal carriers. Because the temps were forecast to be from 50 to 60 in and out of the rain, I wasn’t sure what to wear, so I brought many options, as did The Pilot.

Although I said we eventually talked about only one thing on the drive north–the weather–there really were two topics: the weather and what to wear.

Tomorrow I’ll explain how I picked the wrong thing to wear. Twice in one day.