This winter has been a particularly rainy season in California, which means many cyclists are opting to take their car or public transportation for getting around the city. But just because the roads are wet doesn’t mean you can’t still ride your bike!
The next time you’re sitting for hours in traffic or packed like a sardine into a humid bus, remember that riding your bike is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for your health (especially during winter months when many of us tend to be eating more and working out less) and happiness, since riding your bike allows you to enjoy freedom to completely control your commute.
Riding your bike in the rain might seem challenging, especially if you haven’t done it before — but by following the basic tips in this post, you’ll be able to stay in the saddle all winter long. It’s easier and more fun than you might think!
Get some good waterproof rain gear
One of the worst things about riding in the rain is fairly obvious: you’re going to get rained on! However, just because you’re out in the rain doesn’t mean your head and clothes have to get soaking wet. Investing in some good rain gear will help make your rainy bike rides much more pleasant.
A rain cape can be extremely effective for cyclists, as it drapes over your whole body — including your legs and feet, plus a hood for your head — sheltering almost everything from the wet conditions. This is a great option for cyclists, since it is just one garment as opposed to laying on a coat, pants, boots, hat, etc.
If you go without a cape, make sure you have a waterproof coat with a hood that still allows you to see left and right. Waterproof pants will keep your legs dry. And don’t forget about your feet and hands! Waterproof gloves and shoes or boots will keep your sensitive extremities warm and dry.
Remember that on your bike you are extremely exposed, so even if it’s just a short ride, you’re likely to get wetter than you think you will. Investing in good gear will help make sure you can actually enjoy your rides!
Take it a little slower
Riding your bike in the rain makes cycling a little bit harder: the roads are wet, visibility is worse, drivers are more distracted, and your bike might handle differently in new conditions. Because of all of these factors, it is better to take your rainy rides a little bit slower than you normally would.
You want to give yourself more reaction time, since rainy conditions often mean unexpected behavior from the drivers and cyclists around you. Your brakes might also be less effective, since slick conditions make it harder for them to grip as tightly.
Plus, if you encounter any obstacles, going a little slower will give you more time to react and less momentum to crash if you hit a tricky patch of road.
It might be annoying not to fly down the road like you’re used to, but you’ll still most likely be going faster than the cars stuck in traffic!
Take slick surfaces head-on
Riding your bike through the city usually means encountering some obstacles, like manhole covers, train tracks, and sewer grates. These hazards can be challenging enough in dry conditions, but once they get wet, they can become downright dangerous.
To avoid a nasty crash on a slick surface, try (if you can) to avoid these hazards whenever possible. If you can’t avoid one without veering into traffic, or if one catches you by surprise, here is how to handle it safely.
Keep riding, head-on towards the surface, making sure you hit it as close to perpendicular as possible. Don’t brake or angle your tires or try to skirt the edge of it; if you’re going to hit it, hit it. Braking or turning suddenly will almost certainly cause you to slide, as your wheels won’t be moving steadily over the slick surface.
If you’re approaching a hazard with grooves you could get caught in — like train tracks or grates — it is especially important to keep up your momentum and cross it at a 90 degree angle. In wet conditions, you are more likely to run your tires into one of the grooves and fall if you don’t hit it straight on.
Pack your work clothes in a backpack or saddlebags
If you live in a part of California where it’s still relatively warm, even when it’s raining, be prepared that your ride might get a little sweaty. Instead of getting fully dressed for work (or whatever activity you’re cycling to), dress light underneath your rain gear to avoid overheating and sweating through the clothes you want to wear. Pack your outfit in a backpack and change once you arrive at your destination, giving yourself a break to cool off after you take off your rain gear post-ride.
Make sure you are visible!
The most important thing about riding your bike in the rain is staying safe. When weather conditions are ugly, drivers are less likely to see you and to have less reaction time in the event of a crash or near-miss. While it’s not your fault if a driver comes too close while you’re legally riding your bike, there are things you can do to help avoid a bad situation.
Using your headlight and taillight are not only the law if you’re riding after dark, but they will help make you more visible to drivers in grey conditions, even if it’s daytime when you’re riding. Even better, adding a blinking light will help draw the eye and alert even distracted drivers to your presence.
Most rain gear tends to be dark in color, so adding a bright element — like a reflective vest or a neon patch — will help you be even more visible. When drivers can see you, they know you are there and are far less likely to make a dangerous maneuver in your space that puts you at risk.
Ride your bike in the rain this winter!
Don’t let a rainy winter ruin the fun and freedom of riding your bike through the city! By doing a little bit of preparation, you can continue enjoying the health benefits of exercising during your commute and skipping out on crowded buses and busy highways.
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