It’s that time of the year again. Temperatures are dropping as we enter Autumn. Gushing rain and strong winds always tempt me to just grab my car an be done with it. I made a commitment to myself to commute to work on a bike for a year even if that means going out in the rain.
My first mistake was not being prepared for riding an hour in rainy conditions. I always wear clothes that I can change, but this time I was so bad that even my backpack got soaking wet. Rain doesn’t bother me at all when I ride my bike but not wearing dry clothing at work is pretty uncomfortable, not to mention I had a meeting scheduled with my employer. He’s a great guy, so no worries there.
At least people got a good laugh out of it and even some respect for facing terrible weather conditions when I could have just used my car. Here’s what I learned over time. It’s not about staying dry, it’s also about safety and comfort.
1. Get a Rain Suit
A little rain isn’t bad. If you layer up our clothes and have a way to dry them at your destination, a rain suit isn’t needed. Just a water-resistant jacket will do. If you ride for longer and the rain isn’t going to stop consider a rain suit.
Make sure you get one that properly ventilates. Cheap rain suits will make you sweat and get really warm. Invest in a quality rain suit that ventilates will make your ride much more comfortable.
Don’t buy these things that only cover the front of your legs. While they may seem like they do the job, it really doesn’t work that well. Rain will find a way around it and the wind will do the rest. You’ll still end up with wet legs but maybe slightly less on the front.
Make sure it’s not a tight fit, you’ll need some room for ventilation and perhaps you need to layer up underneath. Look for jackets and or pants that have reflective features to increase visibility. A hoodie with an extended cap double zippers to keep the wind out.
2. Layer Up
If you decide to go for a rain suit make sure you wear proper clothes underneath. You don’t want to wear a thick sweater and jeans. Get your sporty outfit and layer up. I usually wear dry-fit clothing, it’s lightweight, seamless and won’t annoy you while riding. You can change your clothes at your destination.
Jeans are very uncomfortable on longer rides and can cause skin irritation.
3. Store Clothes at Work
In case you commute to work on a bike or are planning to, try to carry just the bare minimum. In order to bring less stuff and keeping the weight of your load comfortable, store clothes at work. I usually store extra clothing in a locker along with a pair of shoes. Having to stuff everything in a backpack makes the load heavy and your ride less pleasant.
4. Get Proper Shoes
This is important, if you don’t have a spare pair it’ll haunt you all day. I once used my sneakers and thought it would be fine until I got off my bike. I left a whole trail at my office and people could follow my footsteps literally, not to mention the sounds of my soaking wet shoes every step I made. I grabbed a lot of toilet paper, stuffed it in my shoes and it actually worked. My shoes dried up a bit but I had to repeat the process a few times.
I immediately ordered new shoes that can take on rain and got me some proper shoes that still allow your feet to breath. If everything is sealed tight your feet will sweat, a lot!
I got myself a pair of those sweat Shimano GR7 shoes and they do a fine job of keeping the water out and provide enough ventilation. The embedded ‘socks’ fit tightly around your ankles and the lower part of your lower leg. This prevents water from entering the shoes when you hit a puddle.
Perfect shoes for the job and they even look good! Check out my review to see what these versatile shoes can do. My feet are still dry after cycling for 45 minutes in moderate rain, I don’t regret buying them.
So make sure you wear shoes that won’t get soaked, suede sneakers won’t do the job. As an alternative, you could wrap a plastic bag around your shoes but they damage quickly and make you slip off your pedals.
5. Wear Gloves
Rain often comes with lower temperatures, at least over here. Now don’t get me wrong. I love to ride in the rain in the middle of the summer but in the winter… not so much. Getting wet is one thing but getting cold on a bike is very unpleasant.
Make sure to get gloves that have some grip so you won’t lose control over your handlebar. Make sure the top is windproof and they should come off easily. I sometimes need to grab something from my back or check my phone and I hate it when gloves don’t come off easily.
6. Wear a Backpack or use Saddle Bag
Cycling with a backpack isn’t ideal but sometimes it’s all you got. When you don’t have a reck in front or back it’s often the first thing that comes to mind. Backpacks make your back sweat a lot and if it’s a bit heavy, it can even start to be annoying. I personally don’t mind a backpack for a ride shorter than one hour, but after that, it’s the worst.
If you decide to wear one, make sure the parts where the rain can get inside is covered with something water-resistant. A cheap solution is wrapping it in a plastic bag but if you’re shopping for one make sure it can withstand rain. I often store some extra clothing in there and I don’t want it to get wet. An alternative would be either a frame bag or a saddle post bag.
Alternatively, you can consider panniers. This will add weight to the back of your bike but takes it away from your back. If you don’t have a rear rack, you could install one.
7. Protect your Phone
I usually just slide my phone in my pockets but at some point, you need to store it somewhere dry. You can get a special case or just use a cheap plastic zipper bag to protect it from getting wet. Not only is your phone expensive, but you also want to be able to make a call when things go pear-shaped. Make sure it’s charged before you ride!
If you have the latest iPhone you probably have less to worry about it, but I would still keep it away from rain when possible.
8. Break Test
We’re almost ready to get out now and defy the rain but before that check your brakes. Depending on the type of brakes and the amount of rain, they might behave a bit different than when it’s dry. Make sure you won’t be surprised in case of an emergency brake. Sometimes they make a squeaky noise, don’t worry that will go away.
9. Tires, grip, and Condition
One thing you want to avoid is slipping away when you take a turn. Make sure you inspect the condition of your tires. Any flat spots will become a problem as you will lose grip. If your encounter tight corners make sure to take it easy or else your tires will slip ending in crashing down on the asphalt or pavement.
Mountain bikes tend to have more grip because of the knobby tire profile but even then it’s ways to slow down. Road bikes and regular bikes have a more slick profile so be mindful of that. make sure to slightly deflate your tires, you’ll have more grip though it requires a bit of extra effort when pedaling.
10. Lube Your Chain
If you haven’t done already lube your chain, it will provide an extra layer of protection against oxidation. It’s always a good idea to properly maintain your bike, even more so in bad weather conditions.
I must admit I don’t always do this, but at least do it before your hear squeaky sounds. Cassettes are expensive after all and proper maintenance will save you a lot of money.
11. Wearing Glasses
I’m talking about glasses just for cycling, I would leave them at home if I were you. Glasses get foggy and will limit your sight, not to mention the rain and even mud. If you have issues with your vision and need to wear glasses, consider a rain cap. It will keep some of the rain away.
If you can wear contacts instead or make sure you can clean your glasses. Store a handkerchief in a dry place you can easily reach. Use something like a small snack pack that can be installed on the top tube of your bike. They are easy to reach without having to take your eyes off the road.
Alternatively, use a helmet with a long visor as it will prevent some of the water from running down your forehead into your eyes. This catches the rain at lower speeds but above 15 miles an hour, you’ll need a longer visor so it’s still not ideal. Water shedding coating doesn’t really work. At least wear something with a brim or a rain cap. A sweatband could also do the trick.
I still don’t have them and curse myself when the water and mud hit my face. I sometimes can feel the sand grinding between my seat. I mainly ride my hardtail mountain bike and mudguards will damage as soon as I hit a trail. There are some cheap guards that you can easily trap on and off, I should get them out of storage probably.
Another downside of not having them is that your rear tire will start slinging water at your back. Depending on the type of tires it can reach your head. Your back will get dirty and so will your backpack if you wear one.
13. Wear a (rain) Cap
I usually wear my runner cap which does the job perfectly. It keeps the rain from your eyes and allows you to see much clearer. This is essential when you cycle in a busy street, you need to keep an eye on the traffic. It also keeps your head warm, rain and a cold breeze can feel lie it’s freezing.
Beanies might keep your head warm but they won’t improve your vision. Any cap will do, you don’t need anything fancy or expensive but if it dries fast and has some water resistance, all the better.
14. Lights and Visibility
Being visible is essential. I wear bright yellow or bright orange clothes and make sure they have reflectors embedded. Car drivers will have a harder time spotting you when you wear all black and don’t have any light on you. I have this bright yellow raincoat and fluorescent Nike wind jacket and people notice me way sooner than when I wear my black Craft jacket. There are still people that don’t pay attention, no matter if you wear lights with an intensity of a thousand suns.
Always assume people don’t see you and try to make eye contact with drivers. Looking at them will make them spot you sooner, somehow our brain responds faster to people that look at you, even subconscious. Funny how that works.
Sometimes they won’t spot you even when you think they did. I recently got hit by a car on a roundabout where I had the right of way. It was dark, I was very visible and approached slowly. The car was slowing down so I assumed he saw me. He slowed down alright, just after he hit the back of my wheel.
He explained that he didn’t see me coming at all. I told him I was really surprised he didn’t because I was VERY visible. I stayed polite despite the adrenaline running through my veins but explained to him he should really pay more attention. The poor guy was pretty shocked and I guess I got lucky this time.
15. Wear a Helmet
In most places, it’s common to wear a helmet and even more so when it rains. You might have everything under control but can’t control what other road users do. Helmets can save your life, after all, you need your brain and so does your family and or friends. This is probably the most important piece to wear.
16. Bring a Repair Kit
Always, always bring a repair kit. You know what’s worse than fixing a flat tire in the rain? Not being able to fix it! it happened to me when I was younger. I got a flat, couldn’t fix it and then it started raining. It wasn’t just rain, a thunderstorm broke out and I was in a desolate part without any place to hide. It took me a 3-hour bike hike as the outer tube kept getting stuck and wouldn’t spin anymore.
Gawd, the memories. Since that time I always have an emergency repair kit. They are cheap and easy to attach to the back of your saddle, don’t forget to bring a small pump to inflate tires. An alternative is CO2 canisters but they only do half the job. In general, a hand pump is much better.
Also make sure to bring a spare innertube, patching a leak is much more difficult when it’s raining. Just replace the old inner tube, check for sharp objects and swap it for a new inner tube. It shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes!
17. Bring a towel
This might seem stupid but it really is handy. It’s great to wipe your face clean once you arrive at your destination and you can use it to clean your bike if needed. Just a small towel will do.
18. Beware of puddles
While you’re on the road you’ll encounter puddles. I remember hitting a brick once that was hiding in a puddle, leaving my rims damaged. I’m glad I was paying attention so I could anticipate and didn’t fall off my bike but the damage was done.
Even though I knew the road, erosion changes the environment and there are always objects that weren’t there the day before. You probably know this when you ride trails on a MTB, the same thing goes for roads.
If you can avoid these puddles, slow down and be careful. Sure, it might ruin your flow but hitting an object with your bike at high velocities is risky. Sometimes a puddle can be a lot deeper than you expect and riding into a hole is the last thing you want.
19. Wipe off Water
If you can’t store your bike in a dry place it’s always a good idea to cover your seat. Especially when it has a few cracks where water can enter. If not, wiping it with a towel or your sleeve will do. Sitting down on a wet saddle might be a minor inconvenience but at least check your saddle first. It still happens to me every now and then, once you warm up you won’t notice anymore.
20. Do not use an Umbrella
Riding a bike with an umbrella can lead to accidents. It just doesn’t work unless it’s a really short ride. Wind will start taking over and before you know it you’ll be focussing on how to keep the umbrella in once piece which means distraction.
Sure it works when there isn’t a lot of wind and you cycle at a slow pace but you really want to keep both of your hands on your handlebar. It’s dangerous and inconvenient. There are umbrellas designed for heavy winds but do you really want to hold an umbrella for 30 minutes or more?
21. Cover Your Seat
If you can’t store your bike in a dry place you could cover your saddle. Once you’re ready to go back you can take it off and won’t have the inconvenience of a wet spot on your behind. It’s uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing.
22. Clear the Mud
To keep your bike in mint condition it’s always a good idea to clean it after a rainy ride. Mud can get stuck in your bike chain and it’s killing your cassette. Wash your bike by using a bit of soap and water and dry it with an old towel. Make sure your chain is clean, it will make your drivetrain last for a few more years, replacing parts can be very expensive.
23. Bring Water
I almost forgot. Even though the rain is pouring you still get thirsty. Make sure to bring a bottle of water that you can easily reach. Don’t store them in a backpack but mount them on your bike frame.
24. Assume Nobody Sees You
Never assume a car driver has noticed you. Make eye contact, even if they slow down they might do so for another reason. If you pass parked cars check if someone is sitting in the seat. They might just swing a door open when you pass by, you wouldn’t be the first to end op in the ER.
And to drivers, please check your mirror when you step out of your car!
Many of these tips or for people who commute and have to cycle in the rain. Being properly prepared will keep you safe and dry. Now if you just want to ride a local trail on your mountain bike or hit the street with a road bike I wouldn’t wear much gear.
Just make sure you can change clothes when you get back to your car or clean yourself up as soon as you get home. Take good care of your bike for your own safety and your wallet.