​How to ride in the rain

January 09, 2023 • Transportation

How to Bike in the Rain - a guide for navigating inclement weather

As we know, rain can cause freeway back-ups; buses get delayed...these transportation modes can become more problematic. One way to avoid transportation woes during the rainy season is to hop on a bike for your trip. 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 well-suited for the rain

Different bikes are for different kinds of biking, and riding in the rain is much more enjoyable (not to mention safer) on a bike meant to handle the wet stuff.

  • 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, it’s important to note that rim brakes will still function in the rain -- just not as optimally. Disc brakes will simply 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 fair again.

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 as bad weather; just bad gear.” This theory holds water (pun intended!), especially when it comes to riding in the rain. When you wake up 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 your office invigorated and hopefully with a dry, 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, exclusively manufactures rain gear for biking.
  • Footwear: Regular 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, as they’ll keep your feet 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 fast, 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, regular fleece gloves with dish gloves over them actually works!
  • 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" - but then don’t. If you’re looking outside right now and dreading your biking 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 or supplies, you really only need a back fender to prevent the "skunk stripe up the back" - 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 especially 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.


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