Spring is finally here, which should mean rain instead of the epic snowstorms of this past winter. Even the parched West Coast is finally enjoying some much-needed showers. So, this seems like a good time to talk about how to comfortably and safely ride a bike in the rain.
Since most cyclists have just one bike that serves many purposes, here are a few safety tips and gear suggestions to help you prepare for a wet commute.
The easiest and first thing you can do before heading out into the rain is to simply let some air out of your tires. Don’t drain them by any significant factor — just let out enough air so that your body weight causes the part of the tire touching the road to swell out a bit. This increases surface area contact, which is crucial to improving traction on slippery surfaces.
If you have a mountain bike, which uses much lower air pressure to begin with, you’re probably fine not letting any air out at all. And if you notice your tires are threadbare or significantly worn down, replace them before you hit the road.
If you really want to avoid getting soaked, fenders should be your next step. There are plenty of affordable, clip-on varieties available. To get the right fender for your bike, you’ll need to know your tire size first (you can find it on the sidewall of the tire). Once you know that, you won’t have any problems finding reliable fenders online or at your local bike shop.
PRO TIP: There are a number of flat-pack one-size-fits-most rear fenders available. These are nice because you can keep them in your bag at all times. The Full Windsor Quick Fix fender is a great one.
If you ride a fixed-gear bike (with no brake), you might consider giving yourself a little extra security by temporarily installing a brake, particularly if you live in a hilly city like San Francisco or Pittsburgh. Skid-stopping on wet streets is almost completely noneffective, and even gingerly managing your speed with reverse resistance becomes less reliable on slippery asphalt.
If you’re unsure about installing a brake and lever, it’s best to ask your local shop, especially since handlebar diameters vary so much. If you know how to do it yourself but your fork’s not drilled for a brake, there are bolt-on solutions available from Dia-Compe and Kimori.
Now that your bike’s all set, let’s talk about you! Keeping yourself dry on a bike in the rain is a challenge, but not an unattainable one. A raincoat is paramount, of course, but if you don’t want to change pants when you arrive at your destination, you might also consider buying an entire rain suit.
Don’t feel intimidated by the myriad choices at bike shops or sporting supply stores — it’s not a fashion statement, it’s a utilitarian solution. Plus, you can find PVC rain gear for under $20 online. Just remember that rain gear is far less breathable than street clothes, so you might sweat more in it.
When it comes to your head, hands, and feet, there are plenty of hats, gloves, and booties that will help. But in my experience, this is where you may find it easier to fix the problem rather than trying to prevent it. My advice? Just pack an extra pair of shoes and socks, a small towel, and a comb (or other hair products) in your bag.
Speaking of bags, if yours isn’t waterproof, you could put all the contents into a garbage bag first and then put the garbage bag in your bag. This provides instant, inexpensive waterproofing.
When you’re ready to commit to a cycling-specific bag, know that while they can be expensive, almost all of them are waterproof. Chrome, Mission Workshop, and Timbuk2 all make incredibly strong bags that will keep your belongings bone-dry thanks to truck tarpaulin linings and roll-tops, They also offer a variety of other inserts and compartments for your tablet, laptop, and other technology.
Once you’re on the road, go slower, anticipate decreased visibility and increased stopping times and distances, stay visible (lights, lights, lights), and above all else, take corners with extra care.
Painted stripes on the road (such as crosswalk indicators) and metal surfaces (like manhole covers or streetcar tracks) are as slick as ice when they’re wet. Talk to any longtime cyclist or motorcyclist and they’ll probably have a story of trying to corner on street paint or metal and going down. Don’t let yourself make the same mistake.
Now, when someone reacts with disbelief that you rode your bike despite a downpour, you can just smile and say, “Meh, no biggie.”