The discomfort zone

January 19, 2017 § 27 Comments

One thing about cycling is that you eventually get into the discomfort zone. It’s different for every rider. For some it means >1% incline. For some it means any road anywhere near a car. For some it means descending Mt. Suicide at 60 mph with your hands off the bars.

And then in SoCal, for almost everyone it means rain. A lot of riders define the rain discomfort zone to simply mean a threatening weather report two weeks out.

I get it.

Facebrag pics aside, no one’s impressed that you rode around for three hours in a typhoon, just like no one would be impressed if you woke up and sat under a cold shower for an hour. Rather, they’d think you were an idiot. And they’d be what is known as “right.”

“Back in the day,” a time period that existed only in the minds of people who weren’t actually there, the “hard men of cycling” performed amazing feats in the mud, rain, sleet, and snow … and that was just their coffee ride, before cyclists even drank coffee, or at least before they drank it with soy, or at least in the days when they had coffee for a ride instead of having a ride for coffee.

I’m far from the oldest guy out there but no one I ever knew liked riding in shit weather. Some few people did it but for the most part when the weather turned foul they worked on a different aspect of training and fitness, i.e. beer combined with chips/salsa and TV intervals.

Still, everybody feels guilty when four raindrops fall and they all go out and spend $5k on an indoor Computrainer, like they’re too weak or not good enough or too soft. And that feeling gets worse after the first indoor workout, also known as the last indoor workout, because you can’t return the thing covered in sweat and body grease, and since you live in a tiny apartment it’s your new furniture. Leather couch, nice wooden dining table, indoor trainer. Sweet.

People sometimes ask me if I have a trainer. “Yes, and we’ve been married thirty years,” I say.

But here’s the thing. I actually like riding in horrible weather. I even have a little saying. It goes like this: “THE WEATHER TELLS YOU WHAT TO WEAR. NOT WHEN TO RIDE.”

Pretty spiffy, huh?

You may be wondering what I like about terrible weather. Well, here’s what I don’t like:

  1. Being cold.
  2. Being wet.
  3. Numb hands.
  4. Numb feet.
  5. Frozen face.
  6. Wet testicles.

I rode winters in Japan for about ten years and it was always very cold. One time my pupils froze during a ride. Another time one of my friends, woefully under-dressed, froze the end of his junk. We were good friends, but not good enough for me to help bring it back to life. “You’re on your own with that, dude,” I told him.

I rode a winter in Germany where it alternated between freezing rain and rainy freeze. I rode all four seasons in Texas, including a couple of years in Houston where it rains every other day, hard. Non-Texans have no idea what that means.

Every time I pushed my bike out the door and it was raining or snowing or the trees were blowing sideways, I thought the same thing: “I’m an idiot. I hate this. Why am I doing this?”

The answer was always the same. “I have no idea.”

Then I would do the ride and get home completely miserable. One time I had to thaw out in a hot bathtub. I will never forget how it felt as the blood returned to my hands and my feet and my. You want pain? That’s pain.

None of those rides ever made me stronger, tougher, smarter, or better in any meaningful way. All they ever made me was colder, wetter, number, and dumber.

Still, this morning when the rain started at 3:00 AM and kept beating down until the minute I left, it never occurred to me to bail. Why is that?

Because when you finish and thaw out and eat a hot meal it is fun.



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§ 27 Responses to The discomfort zone

  • jwhcowan says:


    Sent from my iPhone


  • DougJ says:

    Long before I took up smoking as a replacement for my teenage athletic adventures, I rode to and from school in normal English weather. Raleigh something or other with some gears. Around six miles each way. The only memories I have revolved around the class room radiators and my hands thawing out. Summers? Didn’t even register!

  • jwhcowan says:


  • Gary Cziko says:

    The Greek Stoics had this figured out a long time ago. A little suffering makes one better appreciate the joy of not suffering.

    “What Stoics discover, though, is that willpower is like muscle power: The more they exercise their muscles, the stronger they get, and the more they exercise their will, the stronger it gets. Indeed, by practicing Stoic self-denial techniques over a long period, Stoics can transform themselves into individuals remarkable for their courage and self-control.”

    A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

  • dankroboth says:


  • Brian in VA says:

    This is true in other disciplines, too. I’ve always enjoyed playing golf in the rain because I usually play better. When it’s over, and we’re in the 19th hole drying out, everyone is slightly giddy. It’s a special feeling of group stupidity….

  • John Wike says:


  • Don W. says:

    If you manage to start pedaling before it starts raining, it’s not as miserable as starting out while it’s actually raining.

  • Michelle landes says:

    So true!!

  • Stathis Sakellariadis says:

    Hahaha #6

  • bejoneses says:

    Living in the midwest, and riding year round at 5:00am, 5 days a week (more groupidiots), I think I got my fill of riding in not-so-kind weather (and a full box of expensive, winter gear as a parting gift). Now that I live in San Diego, where it usually rains about 3 days a year, I gave up riding in the rain for Lent, in 2010.

  • Sibex Czar says:

    I know that you know that when your nutsack is broken, it doesn’t actually hurt until you try to move. Sitting there in bed, or in a chair, or even simply standing still is a no pain moment. When you do move, that is painful, however, having your junk come back from the dead after a cold ride? That is one incredibly painful long stretch of time in which you are sure you aren’t going to make it, until you do. That must be what passing a kidney stone feels like, but that is an 11 on the 1-10 pain scale.

  • channel_zero says:

    A long time ago, but I had the good fortune of getting a thorough beat-down by a handful of Dutch riders I made acquaintances with that came to SoCal for winter training.

    One day, in the dead of winter, riding in the sunshine with *arm AND leg warmers* (we’re talking real cold), we got to planning the next few days of meet-ups for rides.

    Me: But, it’s going to rain on Thursday
    Dutch Guy: So? We ride rain or shine back home. That means days of wet weather for hours. You have to get the kilometers in.
    Me: empty silence.

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