The rain is coming!
They don't call them buddy flaps for nothing. Ever bike behind someone who doesn't have them and get a face-full of road grit?
After a near-record dry spell, rain is once again in the forecast for Seattle. But don’t let a little liquid sunshine and road grit keep you from riding! With the right gear and a little preparedness, riding in the rain can actually be quite nice. So here are a few tips to keep you riding even when it rains:
1. Stay Dry
Being wet is not only uncomfortable, it also cools you down. Being wet and cold increases your chance of getting sick and it’s just flat-out miserable. You’re less likely to continue riding a bike after a miserable experience so consider adding the following items to your wardrobe and bicycle to stay dry:
- Fenders: Installing fenders on both wheels makes a huge difference when riding on wet roads. While they won’t keep you completely dry when it’s actually raining, fenders will quadruple your comfort level as they keep your legs, back, and butt relatively dry and clean. Fenders also help protect your bike by keep dirt and road grit away from your frame and out of your moving parts. If your bike doesn’t have eyelets for full fenders, several bike companies sell clip-on fenders that mount to the seatpost and bike frame.
- Buddy flaps/mud flaps: While these little fender add-on won’t necessarily increase your comfort, other riders will thank you for it. Mud flaps helps prevent the rider behind you from getting sprayed in the face and covered in road grit. Fancy reflective mud flaps are available at your local bike shop but mud flaps are also very easily made from duct-tape, half a water bottle or even beer cans.
- Booties: Cover your shoes with waterproof or neoprene booties to keep your feet dry, clean and warm. Alternatively, putting plastic bags around your feet before your slip on your shoes will keep them dry and warm.
- Rain jacket: In steady rain, a waterproof jacket is essential, and from fashionable water-proof pea coats to clear-plastic rain capes, there is a vast assortment of rain jackets on the market. I suggest getting one that covers your backside, is waterproof (not just water-resistant), breathes (you don’t want to arrive all wet from sweat) and packable so you can have it with you at all times.
- Rain pants: For maximum dryness, consider getting some rain pants. Again, you want to make sure the material breathes, and get a reflective band to put around your ankles to keep the pant legs from getting caught by your chain.
- Cycling cap: the brim of a cycling cap will help you see by keeping the rain out of your face, especially useful if you wear glasses.
2. If not dry, then at least stay warm
It’s crucial to keep your core warm. Wool or polypropylene won’t keep you dry but it will keep you warm, even when wet. Wear a wicking wool underliner as well as wool socks to insulate them when they are soaked. If you don’t have waterproof gloves, wear smartwool liners underneath a wind- and water-resistant pair of gloves for warmth, comfort and safety.
3. See and be seen
- Skip the shades and wear clear lenses: In low light, clear, orange, or yellow lenses for eye protection can make a big difference. When riding in the rain, normal sunglasses cut out too much light and can make road obstacles harder to see.
- Light up: In rainy conditions, all users of the road have a hard time seeing, so make sure they can see you. It’s smart to have one good, rechargeable light set as well as some blinky lights on both, the front and the rear of the bike.
Creative Commons photo via Flickr. Photo by arbyreed.
4. Be aware of slippery roads:
- Rainbow patches: The road surface will be the slickest and most dangerous just after the rain has begun as oil buildup rises to surface. Keep an eye out for rainbow shimmer on the street. This is an indication of an oil patch.
- Road paint, sewer covers, metal surfaces, and wet leaves will all be slippery when wet.
- Puddles are fun to ride through but also indicate a divot, a potential pothole, or uneven surface.
- Corners: Cornering in the rain can seems scary in the rain. Try not to brake while cornering and shift as much your weight on the outside pedal when cornering. Also, lowering your tire pressure will increase traction.
5. A clean bike is a safe bike:
Your bike will need extra attention after being exposed to water and road grit all fall and winter long. A mixture of road grit and water is the quickest way to erode rubber brake pads and rust your components.
- Check your brake pads frequently and be prepared to brake earlier than you would in dry conditions.
- After a particularly wet ride, give your bike a quick post-ride rinse with fresh water and then towel dry. This will rinse off all the dirt and debris, and drying it will prevent rust.
- Lube your chain with waterproof lube. Make sure you have a good lube on your chain before heading out in the rain to prevent your chain from rusting.
- Give your bike a deep clean if serious grime has built up.
6. Pack a bus pass or bus money. It's always good to have a backup plan.
Of course there are plenty of days where the rain is light and all of these items are not necessary. But if you want to ride continuously through the wet season, you may find that the above tips will keep you more comfortable on the roads and trails in the Pacific Northwest.
7. Wait out lightening storms. It's better to watch the show than be the show.
Thunder and lightening are uncommon events in the Pacific Northwest, so you can ride through most rainy weather. But if there is an electrical storm, it's prudent to wait it out. They generally pass quickly, and you'll get to take in a rare show in the sky. AccuWeather says that even though being struck by lightening is unlikely, being on a bicycle will offer no protection.
What tips or DIY gear suggestions would you add?