We’ve all had the experience of seeing a cyclist riding in the rain and shaking our heads in either pity or awe. We wonder why they choose to endure such misery.
There’s many reasons folks ride bikes, even in the rain: they live in Seattle or Portland, affordability/lack of a vehicle; fitness/mental wellness; climate goals; and convenience (avoiding stressful traffic and parking nightmares).
Maybe you’re curious about riding in the rain but are afraid to take the leap. I’ll walk you through some tips and tricks that make biking in the rain more approachable.
DON’T DO IT IF IT ISN’T SAFE FOR YOU!
If there’s a severe weather advisory, wait it out. Just like driving, avoid dangerous road and weather conditions like the plague. If you don’t have a car but need to get somewhere, explore our affordable public transit options or, on the pricier side, a ride share service like Uber or Lyft. Public busses have bike racks or dedicated spots on light rail cars so you can bring your bike with you if you suddenly need to bail on a ride. Riding in severe weather isn’t worth dying for.
Now that I’ve sufficiently scared you, let’s awkwardly pivot to the hacks that make riding in the rain do-able!
RAIN IS WET.
Whatever happens, know that you’ll arrive at your destination some kind of WET. How you dress for the rain determines just how wet you’ll be when you get there.
If you’re bougie you’ll want all the fancy gear to stay as dry as you can: a hooded waterproof rain cape/poncho, rain over-pants, rain-resistant gloves, clear goggles, rain spats over your shoes, and waterproof “dry bags” for those cute little bicycle baskets/panniers I know you have on the back of your bike.
While that’s great gear to own, some of us have to subscribe to the Economy Package. That means slapping on whatever coat you have that repels the rain best, wrapping things in plastic bags before sticking them in your backpack, and wearing your cheapie moisture-wicking athletic pants because they dry fastest. Don’t forget to pack a change of socks and shoes (or anything else you want to wear dry), wrapped in a plastic bag of course, for when you arrive at your destination. If you’re not going to be changing clothes, you’ll want to be wearing items that air out ok and that don’t reveal too much wetness as you go about your day. Wool is the perfect material for this. Wear glasses if you have them; it’s much harder to see while squinting through the rain drops hitting you in the eyeballs.
Handy tip: temporarily tie a plastic bag over your seat if you have to leave it parked out in the rain, so it keeps dry until your next trip.
If you’re friends with an avid cyclist, they’ll insist that adding fenders or mud guards to your bike will keep your shoes/legs/bike drier and cleaner from grit or mud in the rain as well as anyone riding closely behind you. They range in price from affordable to too pricey. The rest of us embrace that things will be a hot mess so we dress and clean-off accordingly.
Slick surfaces + bikes = tricky. You’ll want to avoid or go cautiously over slick surfaces that can drop your bike to the ground: anything metal (think manhole covers, train tracks); painted striping (like the bike lane edges); and oily patches on the road surface.
Puddles are NOT your friend! Resist the urge to blast through puddles; pot holes could be lurking inside them and send you flying over your handle bars and straight into the backseat of an ambulance. Your best bet is to take it slow. Go around puddles if/when it’s safe to pass.
Scary fact: brakes don’t work as well when wet. Ease into your stops and start to brake sooner than you would in dry conditions. Stay aware of your surroundings and don’t forget to signal with your hands so others can predict that you’re about to roll to a stop. Remember to leave earlier than usual for all your rainy rides so you can take your time being safe.
Pretend it’s Christmas and you and your bike are the tree! It’s not just grey and dim in rainy weather, but the slightest amount of rain triggers momentary insanity in California drivers. At minimum, you should have flashing red lights on the back and white handlebar lights on the front so drivers pay attention to you, but go the extra mile for visibility if you can. Wheel lights are a plus because they allow you to be seen from a side-view, and flashy add-ons like inexpensive reflective or light-up bands for arms/ankles, bright clothing, LED light strips, etc. will make you more visible on the road.
WET BIKE MAINTENANCE.
Your bike has lots of metal parts; moisture isn’t good for it, but don’t let that stop you from riding in the rain.
Clean and dry your bike off as soon as you can. If you’re commuting to work or someplace where your bike will be brought inside right away, take a rag along with you and handle business as soon as possible. Bike parking in public places like retail centers or schools usually lack shelter from the rain, but you can still take care of things when you get home. Wipe down your bike, paying special attention to metal parts like your chain and cables, with a dry rag. Degrease your chain (there’s specialty solutions or use diluted Dawn dish soap then rinse off), dry thoroughly, and apply bike lube. With a few drops of lubricant on your chain, turn the chain for about 30 seconds then wipe it down to take off any excess, and you’re done.
Despite the benefits of biking, it can be mentally taxing feeling so vulnerable on the road, especially while experiencing physical discomfort due to the rain. But you ate that, and you deserve a little something special! Once home, change into dry, cozy clothes and as you treat yourself to a warm meal or drink, sit in awe of the fact that you braved a wet n’ wild ride in the rain today and totally crushed it.