Safe cycling in the rain

I have to admit to being something of a fair weather cyclist. I just don’t enjoy riding in the rain. Give me freezing cold, boiling hot, cloudy, murky, or anything else and I’ll ride it. The rain just isn’t fun which makes riding in the UK a real mixed bag.

So that made December 2015 an interesting month for me as a cyclist. It rained every day and was in fact, the wettest December on record according to the Met Office. I had a choice. Bore myself silly on the turbo trainer or man up and ride in the rain. I did both. So, if like me, you’re fed up with looking out the window, here’s how to cycle safely in the rain.

The right kit

Comfort is hugely influential in how enjoyable a ride is regardless of weather. If everything fits and you feel comfortable the ride is often a good one. If something isn’t quite working right, it can ruin your entire day. When the weather is against you, wearing the right clothing and having some kind of mudguard can really save the day.

Clothing

It should be obvious that you need to wear your waterproofs if you have them when cycling in the rain. They not only keep the water out but keep the heat in. Unless it’s summer rain, you’re going to need more help than usual maintaining body heat.

A good waterproof jacket should be the minimum you own if you want to ride in the rain. It needs to be waterproof not just water resistant. While water will always find a way in, you need to minimise ingress as much as possible. A good waterproof jacket will have sealable pockets too in order to keep your gear as dry as possible.

I use an Altura Night Vision Evo jacket and find it exceptionally comfortable and fully waterproof. It is also very visible which is another thing you want to be when riding in the rain. Visibility is reduced for all road users so you have to take extra care with your preparations. Too many cycling brands embrace the black and it’s really not a good idea in poor conditions.

I also use water resistant overshoes to help keep my feet warm and (mostly) dry and a cycling cap that helps keep my head slightly warmer and more water out of my eyes. I always wear glasses and gloves of course.

Bike

Your bike should be set up for wet riding as much as possible before setting off. That means checking brakes, using dry lube, fitting mudguards and using lights. If you don’t have eyelets for mudguards, there are plenty of clip-on variants that works well. Even if you just use a rear one your derriere really will thank you for it. If you’re planning on riding in a group, a rear mudguard is compulsory unless you want to be relegated to the back!

I also tend to use just a rear light, a small unit with USB charging and a flashing mode. I use the flasher as it seems to attract the eye better than a static red.

Depending on how serious the rain is, I tend to lower my tyre pressure a bit too. I run 25s at 95 psi, but lower that to 85 or so in the wet. It’s a small difference that may do nothing at all for grip but it makes me feel better!

Riding in the rain

Riding a road bike in the rain involves taking the same kinds of precautions you would if you were driving. Ride at a speed conducive to the conditions, the traffic and your ability. Use lights to be seen, anticipate hazards and brake earlier than you would usually.

We tend to naturally ride slower in the rain anyway but you have to judge for yourself whether your usual tempo is suitable for the conditions.

In addition, avoid cycling over road furniture such as manhole covers and anything metal as they have zero grip in the wet. Also avoid painted lines at all costs as they also provide no grip at all.

Avoid puddles wherever you can as you don’t know how deep they might go. If they are rainbow coloured, definitely avoid them as they contain oil or petrol.

Braking

When it’s safe, check your brakes regularly by lightly engaging them to get rid of water. Rim brakes work better when dry and warm. Disc brakes actually work better in the wet which is why discs are going to be huge in the cycling industry. Allow a much longer braking distance as you would in a car.

When it’s dry, it is better to apply more force at the front brake and less at the back. In the wet, it’s the other way round. Grip at the front is uncertain, so applying more force at the rear may take longer to stop you but it doesn’t unbalance you or risk your losing grip at the front. This will take a little practice but you’ll quickly adjust.

After the ride

Once you’re safely home from your ride, your work isn’t over yet! Get out of your wet gear, get showered, dry and warm. Put your kit in the wash, the kettle on and get back to your bike. Dry it down as thoroughly as you can as water is the enemy. Even a carbon fibre frame has plenty of metal bits so they need drying off.

Pay particular attention to moving parts. Dry and lube as necessary. Clean the braking track on each rim, check brake blocks for damage and make sure the chain is properly looked after. Only once this is all done can you consider your ride complete. Look after your bike and your bike will look after you!

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