7 quick tips for riding in the rain

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you have to bag your ride or pull out the trainer.  With a little preparation and some common sense you can still have a good outside ride.  Besides if you never ride in the rain, how will you be prepared on race day if it’s raining?

Here are a few of my top tips to keep you safe when you venture out in the rain:

1. Light it up

The rain makes for low light situations.  Having a blinky light is the easiest way to make you more visible.  There are several brands now that attach without tools to be quick and easy.  Use at least one light front (white/ yellow) and rear (red)

If you are opposed to blinky lights or want even more visibility try adding reflective tape to your bike.

2. The Bon Jovi rule

It’s slippery when wet.  On a dry road, most obstacles can be ridden over or avoided. But on a wet road many hazards are hidden.  Watch out for wet leaves, plant debris, painted lines, railroad tracks, metal grates and sewer lids. All of these surfaces are very slippery when wet, so it is best to avoid riding over them (or at least do so with extreme caution.)

Also, the road itself can become quite slippery. When it starts to rain, motor oil and other substances coating the road are brought to the surface, decreasing friction even more than plain water does. Look for the rainbow edged patches and avoid if possible.

3. Potholes are bad

Potholes are always dangerous and are deeper than they appear.  Of course when roads are covered in water, potholes can become hidden. Or at the very least, big potholes will look smaller than they actually are.

  • Rule #1: if you can see it, avoid it.
  • Rule #2: avoid anything that looks like standing water or a pothole.

4. Where the rubber meets the road

Tires are a crucial contact point on both dry and wet roads, but on wet roads having the wrong tire will provide absolutely no traction.  It’s probably not a good idea to wear out your good race tires in nasty conditions, but at the same time you don’t want a cheap tire either.  There are several high quality rain specific tires like the Schwalbe Ultremo Aqua if you ride frequently in the rain, if you ride very infrequently in the rain, just check to make sure your current tires are in good condition. 

For those of you who desire a test to make sure your tires will be safe you can try this:  Find a fairly steep climb where the road is nice and wet. As you climb, stand and sprint in a low gear, and see if the rear tire spins out.

If it spins or slips there, it probably won’t provide traction when you really need it, get new tires.

5. Run lower tire pressure

Even when running good tires, traction on wet roads is hard to come by.  The easies way to increase traction on wet roads is to lower your tire pressure. A drop of just 5-10 psi will improve traction dramatically.

For a 150lb cyclist riding in the rain, 80-85 psi up front and 90-95 psi in the rear should be sufficient. (Experiment for best results.)  Tire pressure is a topic for a later discussion.  If you are riding 125+ psi in your tires, stop, and lower the pressure to 105 max, unless your over 250lbs, then 110 is fine. 

6. It’s a jungle out there

You need to watch out because there will be extra debris on the roads. Rain is going to wash gravel, sand, and nearby trash onto the road. This could give you a rough ride, or worse, knock you down!

Try to avoid the curb and shoulder as much as possible.  Junk, Glass, debris all gets washed to the side, and in many places the water will be moving and deep.  Ride as far to the left as is safe with auto traffic in mind.  If you must ride through something slow down and go carefully. 

7. It’s time for a brake

Wet rims and brake pads have virtually no stopping power. When you apply the brakes, the first couple revolutions of the rim will be used to squeegee water off the rim, and then the braking may take place. With that lovely thought in mind, you need to pay more attention when riding in the rain.  Start your braking much earlier than normal and pulse the brakes first, before applying hard pressure.  If you just grab a handful of brake you will have a layer of water between your brake pad and rim and you won’t stop. 

Shifting your weight slightly forward will also help as it increase the weight on the front wheel and increase the front brakes stopping power. 

These simple tips will help you too have a safer rainy day experience.  Remember brake early, pay attention and dress appropriately.

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