The Carolinas are getting pummeled with Hurricane Florence, and clearly no sane person is biking in that. There’s not much to do from here about it except to watch the news and just hope that people, pets and stuff make it through. Perhaps donate if you’re a person of means. Meanwhile, although it’s nothing like Hurricane Harvey that hit Houston and the Gulf of Mexico coast last year, we’ve been having a wet September here in Central Texas. I am grateful because of the lower temperatures and the relief to drought-stricken lakes, rivers, plants, pets and people. Biking is delicious when it’s not 100 degrees!
But rain does make riding a bike tricky, if not actually more dangerous than it already is. Some people won’t do it at all. A Dude Abikes however loves to ride in the rain on his Fairdale Weekender Archer named Sophie, because she’s got wider wheels and a heavy steel frame that make her more stable. I thought it might interest all tens of my readers to hear what I do to keep the rubber side down. Hop on! (Actually, don’t. I have enough weight to carry already.)
First off, while skinny racing tires can be used to ride in the rain, it is risky. Pros do it, but that’s because they are pros. Amateurs do it too. So if you have only those tires, that might be a time to put your bike on a trainer or go to the gym to ride the stationery bike. If you want to or must ride, naturally you have to slow down, especially on corners. And, lowering the pressure on the tires makes them grippier and less likely to not slip out from under you. Here’s a pro tip: You know those painted lane lines on the road? They can be VERY slippery when wet. So don’t ride on them.
There is plenty of very expensive rain gear at REI and other stores, and if you can afford it, by all means treat yourself to a breathable, water-resistant jacket. But if you are on a budget like me, I will sum up my main weapon in the fight against rain with one word: Poncho. It covers my backpack, head, torso, etc. I have a thicker vinyl one from Eddie Bauer. This is the poor person’s way to stay dry. I also use a bungee cord to keep it wrapped tightly around me. You could get a cheaper material or try the one in the photo.
Now, I do have some rain pants from REI. They lost some of their waterproofness, though. So, here’s my pro tip on this: Reinforce or replace waterproofing with something like Nikwax, a wash-in water repellent. For things you can’t wash in a machine, like shoes, you could get an old standby like Scotch Guard and spray it on. Another item you might consider are sunglasses with a replaceable clear lens. I tend to not use them because they can make it hard to see or even fog up, but they can also prevent splashes and rain obstructing your vision. So that’s a matter of personal preference.
You want to be sure to be seen and be able to see. Good, high-lumens lights, colorful helmet, bright rain jacket or poncho, and so on are key. If your lights and colors are hidden by ponchos and what not, remember you can always attach more lights to your bike, your rear gear bag, and even your shoes. Pro tip: I have a small velcro strap that goes around my right pant leg called an Ankle Biter. It keeps my rain pants from getting chain ring grease on it or worse, being sucked into and torn by the gears, but it’s also reflective. Any gear you can get that’s reflective adds safety.
These are a must. Mine are Sugoi brand and fit right over my bike shoes, including space for the clips that go into the pedals. They were a gift and are full shoe and ankle covers. so work pretty well, but some moisture can still get in there. Another pro tip: Use thicker plastic bread bags over your socks to keep your feet dry. You will find they get sweaty, though, so you will want to try this out and see if it works for you. Mine are black with red highlights, but the high viz yellow ones in the photo would be awesome.
How You Ride
Obviously you’re going to need to go slower, depending on your confidence level and bike-handling skills. Maintaining a straight line as much as possible and avoiding sudden moves has (thus far) kept the rubber side down on my rides. As mentioned, cornering can be tricky even with wider tires. And you want to look out for debris, gravel, fallen branches and mud that may be hard to see in the rain, especially in the dark. Again, lights will help you avoid most obstacles.
As for traffic, you’re going to have to be hyper alert. Allow extra time for braking. Fortunately for me, Sophie has disc brakes, which stop alot quicker than caliper or other types. However, they can still get wet and have a little delay in their responsiveness. Pro tip: You don’t want your brakes to lock up, so allow extra time and bike extra defensively. Don’t get too close to cars in front of you either.
A Parting Thought
The most important thing you will need to bring with you on a rain ride (aside from maybe your ID, money for a bus or cab if you get really caught, insurance card and emergency contact information)? A thick skin. You’re going to get wet and muddy, and you may find yourself uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but I’m about 70% made of water. But there are plenty of risky moments that can happen on a regular ride, so throw water into the mix and things can become very dangerous. Don’t do it if you don’t feel comfortable. But with some preparation, the right gear, route and attitude, a rainy day ride can be relatively safe and very pleasant.
What are your thoughts and experiences with rain rides?
What would you add to this blog post?
Tell me in the comments!
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