​How to ride in the rain

October 25, 2017 • Transportation

How to ride in the rain - A guide to biking in winter weather

Rain is notorious for bedeviling the Bay Area commute. Freeways back up; buses get delayed, and TNCs resort to surge pricing. One way to avoid transportation woes during the rainy season is to hop on a bike. Fair-weather riders often find that biking in the rain is actually quite doable, especially with a little determination and a positive attitude (although the right bike, gear help tremendously).

Get a bike that can ride in the rain

There’s some practicality to the “n+1 bikes” that velonerds amass: Different bikes are for different kind of riding, and riding in the rain will be much more enjoyable (not to mention safer) on a bike that was meant to handle the wet.

  • Tires: Riding in the rain means going slow over slick pavement and preparing to stop earlier than usual. Skinny road tires are prone to skidding, so you’ll want tires of a thicker diameter that are grippy. The more surface area of contact your tires have with the road, the better your bike will handle and stop. Check with your local bike shop for grippy tires that will fit your bike.

  • Disc brakes: If you’re planning on riding in the rain, consider getting disc brakes. A disc brake is a flat circular piece of metal (also called a rotor or "disc") that sits in the middle of your bike wheel. When you brake, calipers squeeze pairs of pads against the disc to help you stop. Although, there are many recent converts to the school of disc brakes, but it’s important to note that rim brakes will still function in the rain, just not as optimally. Disc brakes will just stop faster and aren’t impacted by wet slick roads.

  • Fenders: The best (the only?) way to prevent that wet skunk stripe up your back and water flying at your face are fenders. They do add a little weight to your ride, but most can be easily removed when the weather gets better.

Get the right gear

Anyone who has set foot in an REI at least once in their life knows the old adage: “There’s no such thing is bad weather; just bad gear.” This theory holds water (har!) especially well when it comes to riding in the rain. When you wake up in the morning to a soft pitter patter outside your window, just suit up and prepare for a splashy commute. With the right gear, you’ll arrive at the office invigorated and hopefully with a dry and warm core.

  • Clothes: Think waterproof everything for an outer layer and synthetic or wool fabrics for base and middle layers. Our all time favorite maker of waterproof rain gear is a cycling apparel company based in Portland, Oregon called Showers Pass. They make breathable, lightweight waterproof rain jackets and pants that are almost impenetrable by water.

  • Footwear: Regular old rain boots will do the trick for short rides. If you’re used to bike shoes with cleats, invest in a good pair of overshoes—they’ll keep your footsies dry and still allow you to clip in. Wool or synthetic mid-length socks are a must.

  • Gloves: Numb fingers will kill the enjoyment of your ride fairly quickly, and since wet hands quickly turn to cold hands, you’ll need a pair of waterproof gloves. SealSkinz seem to be the gold standard here, but Showers Pass, and Pearl Izumi also make decent gloves for rain riding. If you’re in need of a quick and cheap hack, wear regular old fleece gloves with dish gloves over them.

  • Bags: Again, waterproof is the name of the game. For saddle bags, Ortleib works great in the rain. If you like carrying your items on your back, Velotransit makes some excellent waterproof backpacks. Any dry bag-style backpack will also work fine.

  • Lights: Staying visible becomes even more critical when riding in the rain. Check out our bike light guide to pick the best and the brightest.

Ride slowly and look for hazards

  • Slow down: Your brakes will be less effective in wet weather, so brake earlier and lighter than you may normally in sunny weather..

  • Avoid hazards:  Metal surfaces (like train tracks, metal grates or sewer covers) and painted surfaces (like lane markings) can become slippery in wet weather. Ride slowly and cautiously when crossing over these hazards. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recommends you “keep your feet in a “neutral” position (both feet even on the pedals at the 3 and 9 o’clock position), take some of your weight off the seat by lifting your butt up, and stop pedaling to maintain balance.”

Want more?

Check out this video for more tips on how to stay happy, safe, and dry while riding in the rain.

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