​How to ride in the rain

January 26, 2018 • Transportation

How to Ride in the Rain - a guide to biking in inclement weather

Rain is notorious for bedeviling the Bay Area commute. Freeways back up; buses get delayed, and ridehail vehicles 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 and 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. Showers Pass, a company in Portland, OR, makes exclusively rain gear for biking.
  • 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. 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. A 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 for more details.

DIY gear and cheap hacks

Sometimes you get caught unprepared. It usually happens when you almost pack your rain pants before speeding out of the garage in the morning, but then don’t. If you’re looking outside right now and dreading your commute, here are a few hacks that may help.

Hack a fender: It’s not hard to make your own fender out of cardboard and zip ties. And if you’re short on time of supplies, you really only need a back fender to prevent the skunk stripe discussed earlier. Although front fenders are nice.

Garbage bag rain “pants”: In a serious pinch, you can use garbage bags (one bag per leg) and string to keep your legs dry. You lose a little foot traction with this method, so use extra caution when riding.

Keep your backpack dry: If you carry your things on your back when you ride, and especially if you carry expensive electronics like a laptop, you’ll want to try this technique: Take a garbage bag that your backpack fits inside, cut holes for the straps, and voila!

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 tips?

SRP Bike Champion and Lockheed Martin scientist, Phillip McCart II shares his thoughts about bicycle commuting in wet weather! Check out the deck here.

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

Get your bike ready for spring riding!

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