A beginner’s guide to riding in the rain – arrive at your destination safe, dry, and happy.
Before we get started with the how-to and the gear guide, let’s address the why – why should you bike in the rain? Especially when there are so many other options like buses, trains, private cars, taxis, subways, walking with an umbrella, walking in a raincoat, walking in a wetsuit, or my personal favorite: not leaving your house at all.
Unfortunately, we do occasionally have to leave our houses when we don’t want to, and if those occasions happen with relative frequency (say, Monday to Friday mornings), those limousine fares are going to add up. So why not bike?
Rainy-day bike commuting does not exactly scream “Fun!” to most people, and that’s understandable. It’s wet, dark, a little more dangerous than riding in the sun, and did we mention that’s it wet? In my early days of bike commuting I too was a fair-weather rider. I would hang my bike up whenever it so much as sprinkled and take the bus – getting soaked just seemed too inconvenient.
But then I began to realize that not having your bike with you is even less convenient than a little water on your face, and that there is magical clothing that will keep you dry in even the most inclement of weather. Things began to change.
First a rain jacket and a ride to work in a light drizzle, then rain pants and a day of errands in a considerable rainfall. I ceased to loathe the wet weather, and began to truly love it. The streets are quieter, the bike lanes are nearly empty, there’s a certain satisfaction in the heaviness of your breath against the freshness of the rain on your face. The next thing I knew it was waterproof gloves, a full-on rain suit complete with booties, waterproof panniers and a leisure ride in a torrential downpour praying for a hurricane. Okay maybe not that hurricane part, but you get the idea.
All of this is only to say that riding in the rain is fun. Honestly, it is. It’s time we changed our collective attitude about biking in the rain to one that embraces the rough weather, because if we’re truly going to shift to a culture of everyday biking, we’re going to need to accept that on some of the days it’s going to rain, and we might still have to leave the house.
So now that you’re excited about the next downpour, let’s address the how. If you already know what you’re doing but you’re just on the hunt for some new gear, feel free to skip ahead for the lowdown on the best rain gear for biking.
How to Bike in the Rain
Riding in wet weather is not all that different than riding in dry weather, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you have the safest ride possible. Here are a few tips and tricks for cycling in the rain:
Be wary of slick spots on the roads
Railroad tracks, manhole covers, or any form of metal are all going to be much much more slippery in the rain. Similarly, piles of leaves and painted lines will be a bit slick, as will anywhere you see gasoline on the concrete as the new rain brings up oil and gas left from cars.
Don’t ride through puddles on roads you’re unfamiliar with
Although riding through puddles seems like a great idea at first, it won’t be quite as much fun when it sends you flying over your handlebars. The reflection on the water can easily disguise potholes or dips in the road, so your puddle jumping (wheeling?) is best left for streets where you’re certain of the contours.
Be highly visible
Lights, lights, and more lights. Reflective clothing if you have it. I tend to dress in muted colors, so in the rain season I keep a small, foldable hi-vis vest in my panniers that I throw over my jacket on particularly dark, rainy days.
Be extra wary of motorists’ blind spots
Even with all your beams of LED, it’s best to run on the assumption that motorists cannot see you. Rain really obscures vision, so ride defensively. Make eye contact with drivers wherever possible, and stay out of blind spots.
Adjust your braking
Disc and drum brakes work well in wet weather, but rim brakes do not. Give yourself twice as long to come to a stop as you normally would.
Ride more slowly
Know your limits
Okay, I know I said I like to go for leisure cruises as hurricanes make landfall, but I might have been exaggerating a bit. If you can’t see 10 feet in front of you, it might be best to leave the bike at home. Similarly, if the wind is blowing so hard the trees look they’re about to uproot and fall, it’s safe to assume you won’t have an easy time staying upright on your bike. Taking the bus or those mustache cars every once in a while doesn’t make you any less of an everyday cyclist. And if it’s really thundering down, you should probably just Netflix and chill. Your boss will understand.
So what are you waiting for?
Other than the rain, of course! There are a bunch of great products on the market to make your rainy-day bike commuting as comfortable as it possibly can be, but the most important thing (besides the bike), is just deciding to do it. Biking in the rain is great, it gives us the chance to connect with our environment and allows us to continue to do what we love despite the weather. And at the end of the day, it’s just a little water right?
Hilary Angus is the Online Editor at Momentum Mag. She gets everywhere by bike in the seemingly endless rains of Vancouver, BC. @HilaryAngus