Is It Dangerous to Bicycle in the Rain?
The San Francisco Bay Area gets its fair share of rainy weather.
During winter months, parts of the region can see as much as 11 inches of precipitation per month, and adding up each rainy day per year equates to about a total of two months. This can make some rainy days a challenge to commute by bicycle, but it can be safe to do so with the right precautions.
Whether you’re a seasoned rider or new to cycling, keep in mind a few best practices to stay safe on the road when the conditions are less than perfect. Rain or shine, San Francisco and the surrounding region is a great place to bike all year long.
Get the right gear
Waterproof gear will make any wet weather ride more manageable and safer, too. While having a good jacket to throw on in the case of a surprise rainstorm is important, you’ll also want to think about keeping your belongings and feet dry. It’s easy to become damp and uncomfortable even if the weather seems just a bit misty.
“When you know a steady rain is imminent, and you’re determined to ride anyway, water-resistant just won’t do,” Bicycling.com writers advise. “To keep from getting soaked to your skin, opt for something fully waterproof…For commuting, when you’re less worried about breathability than you are about staying dry, shells are less breathable but keep the elements at bay—pair them with water-repellent pants and waterproof overshoes.”
For jackets, look for full coverage hoods, taped seams, and waterproof zippers. These features will ensure water won’t seep in. Bonus points if it’s in a bright color or has reflective features, which can help drivers and other road users see you on a cloudy day.
Waterproof rain pants aren’t always a necessity, but they can be nice to have on hand if you’re commuting, especially to work or an event. Look for something light that can easily fold into your pack so you can break it out in a moment’s notice.
Having a pair of goggles or sunglasses can keep rain out of your eyes, and gloves can help you keep a better grip on your handlebars. Sometimes minor details like these can be easy to overlook, but they make a big difference when you’re on the road.
Inspect bike lights for safety
Having the proper bicycle equipment, like lights and reflectors, is crucial to a safe ride. State law in California dictates that the following must be on all bicycles at night, but they also can make a cyclist more visible during inclement weather when it’s darker during the daytime:
- A lamp emitting a white light that, while the bicycle is in motion, illuminates the highway, sidewalk, or bikeway in front of the bicyclist and is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle.
- A red reflector or a solid or flashing red light with a built-in reflector on the rear that shall be visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle.
- A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance of 200 feet.
- A white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center of the bicycle, and a white or red reflector on each side to the rear of the center of the bicycle, except that bicycles that are equipped with reflectorized tires on the front and the rear need not be equipped with these side reflectors.
Before you head out on a rainy day, make sure all of your lights are in good working condition. Taking a few extra seconds to do so could make a big difference. If you do have a missing light or reflector, be sure to replace it before hitting the road. A local bike shop will be able to outfit your bicycle with the right lights.
Plan your commute ahead of time
Finding a safe route can improve safety and confidence during rainy conditions. While checking the weather forecast before you head out is a given, it’s also important to think about the roads and infrastructure ahead of time.
Oil and residue on roads can make the surface more slippery when it’s wet, and rain can accumulate on roads that aren’t equipped with good drainage systems. Taking these factors into consideration can make a ride easier and safer, say UK researchers who in 2020 studied the importance of cycling infrastructure in rainy cities, like Glasgow where the study took place.
“Safe cycling infrastructure could encourage more people to cycle,” they write. “This would be especially good for less-skilled or casual cyclists.”
It can be helpful to shorten your commute, take routes with designated bike lanes or wider roads with less traffic, and stick close to places where you can seek shelter for a short time if needed.
With so many rainy days in the Bay Area during the winter, it can feel impossible to avoid the weather, but it doesn’t have to ruin a ride – just remain cautious, stay prepared, and exercise good judgment.