Why Riding a Bike in the Rain is Good for You. Really.
Now that summer is over, we have shorter days. There’s also a better chance of getting caught in a rainstorm as the weather gets dicey.
For this reason, a lot of people forego biking until the Spring.
And that’s a bad idea.
You want to keep active during the winter – especially the holiday season (how else are you supposed to work off all of that turkey and fruitcake?).
Not everyone likes to ride in the rain. Frankly, I don’t think I know anyone who chooses to ride during a shower. Most of us are all fair-weather cyclists. And ideally, on every Ciclismo Classico trip, you’ll have the wind at your back and the sun in your face.
But you know that isn’t always the case.
Riding in the rain helps hone your bike skills. And like any other endeavor, it makes you more aware of how you – and your bike – handle different weather conditions.
So, when you are caught in a rainstorm, say, during our Bike Across Belgium trip, you’ll know what to do.
For the record, we are not suggesting you go out and ride during a Nor-Easter. But we are suggesting, if the weather looks uncertain, take a chance.
Go on a ride that you know well, keep it short, and keep these points in mind when riding your bike during less-than-ideal circumstances:
Stay Off the Paint
One of the most dangerous aspects of riding in the rain is the paint that we find on the pedestrian crossings on the road. This reflective paint has tiny glass beads embedded in it giving it its reflective nature. Once that gets wet, it becomes very slick.
So when you are cornering or stopping, be sure to avoid the road paint as much as you can.
Keep Your Butt Down
As fun as it is to get up out of the pedals and sprint, keep your derriere down. It helps keep the back of the bike on the pavement.
If you attempt a sprint out of the saddle with a wet road, and you’ll see why staying seated is good advice. Besides, if you are in the paint, your rear wheel will spin hopelessly from the torque of your first pedal stroke.
Don’t try it.
Stay On Right Angles
Expert descenders love banking on a sharp corner to optimize their speed downhill.
By “banking” we mean the forces of inertia counter-act the lean of the bicycle. So the bike is at an angle to the road, typically traveling at high speeds.
When it rains, don’t bank the bike. Stay perpendicular to the road.
Again, water reduces the coefficient of friction everywhere including the interface between the tire and the road.
Stay at 90 degrees to the pavement. Take your time on the downhill and feel how the bike responds. Once you become better at descending on wet surfaces, you’ll get better going down dry roads as well.
You can bank on it.
Allow Extra Time to Brake (cantilever brakes)
Brake technology has come a long way over the past 100 years.
Cantilever brakes these days are more responsive and effective then they were years ago.
Although new developments in road componentry have introduced disc brakes to the industry, the standard Shimano and Campagnolo cable brakes are clean and efficient.
However, make sure to give yourself ample time to stop when biking in the rain.
The rims of most wheels are aluminum (in other cases they can be carbon, which is a whole other discussion) and when these rims get wet they reduce the friction between the brake pads and the rims.
So you need more wheel rotation to wick-off the excess water and get to a drier braking surface.
Again, you don’t need more force, you need more time.
So take it slow – especially on the descent – and get to know how your bakes respond to the rain.
Gear: Jackets, Shoe Covers, and Gloves
Getting trapped in the rain without the proper apparel sucks. There is no other way to describe it.
I have found myself in a freak spring shower on our Divine Provence or Assaggio Toscana, completely unprepared. It makes the ride difficult. It’s a chore just getting to the hotel, regardless of your handling skills or fitness level.
A good breathable rain jacket (gore-tex or similar), shoe covers and waterproof gloves are essential.
Keeping the core warm and dry is a must. Wear layers and keep a rain shell on to keep the water out.
Protect the extremities. Good, long-fingered, waterproof gloves will keep your hands and fingers from misfiring when you squeeze the brakes; keeping the toes warm is crucial when turning over the pedals.
You can add leg-warmers and warm-warmers depending on your body heat output. Typically, all I need is a rain-shell and the rest of my body is warm (depending on how cold the rain is).
Cycling Cap (or Shower Cap)
One important piece of clothing is a cap underneath your helmet. Try to keep your head dry and warm to prevent fever.
My good friend Alessandro Allegro has cornered the market in the use of the shower cap. He often advises his group to take the shower cap from the hotel room and put in on top of the helmet. He won’t win any fashion awards, but it does keep your noggin warm and dry.
Light it Up
Every Ciclismo Classico bicycle comes standard with front and rear lights.
Rain means clouds. And clouds mean diminished visibility for drivers.
Especially for drivers who don’t expect there to be cyclists on the road during a downpour.
If you are caught in the rain, these lights are an exceptional means to be seen and alert others on the road of your presence.
They may even light up the road for you. But there is only one way to see through the rain…
The jury is out on this one.
I have friends and colleagues who swear wearing sunglasses is a fundamental piece of the rain puzzle. If you wear low-contrast lenses (yellow or orange), they prevent the water and muck from getting in your eyes.
But you NEED LOW-CONTRAST lenses. And a dark, high-contrast lens will make a horrible situation out of an already bad one.
I, personally, cannot ride with sunglasses in the rain. The rainwater and mud clump on the lenses, making it difficult to see.
It’s up to you. Go outside and ride, then you decide.
Avoid the puddles
Some of the best advice I can give you for riding in the rain is avoiding puddles. But probably not for the reason you may believe.
Sure, you may hydroplane if the puddle is deep. You could even lose control of the front wheel (wobbling) and fall flat on your face.
However, avoid puddles because you have no idea what is lurking underneath.
Most of the time, there is a significant pothole in the rut you can’t see. And there is no reason you need to go discovering it.
Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. Aim for the pavement you see above the wetness and avoid the road water at all costs.
Want to learn more about our cycling tips? Make sure to check out more of our ideas in our blog. And let us know how you bike in the rain!