Riding a bike in the rain

Can you ride a bike in the rain? Definitely. It can be uncomfortable.. or fun.

Riding a bike in the rain

Riding a bike in the rain sounds like it could be bad, but you can work around that.

With an atmospheric river and bomb cyclone event recently hitting the state of California, we've gotten a lot of recent experience with riding in the rain.  I wrote a post with tips for gear and prep for riding in the rain, and wanted to add some updates in this one.

Why shouldn't you ride your bike in the rain?

You might be put off by it for a few reasons:

  • Safety: Roads can be slippery and visibility can be reduced.
  • Comfort: Riding while wet can be uncomfortable, especially if you're not dressed appropriately. You may feel wet and cold..
  • Maintenance: All that rain can be hard on your bike as well. Water can corrode metal parts.

Here's how you can overcome these issues.

Safety: Handling your bike in the rain

Surfaces are more slippery in the rain, especially if it hasn't rained in a while and there are wet leaves or oil or even ice patches on the road. I recently stopped a little too suddenly and briefly lost traction on my front wheel, probably because I was braking while riding over some wet leaves.

Here are some tips for handing your bicycle safely in wet conditions.

  1. Ride your bike slower. It will take you longer to stop and longer to get up to speed. Your brakes will be a bit less effective. And your tires will have less friction between them and the road surface, so even if your brakes are working well, your tires will be more prone to skidding. If you have less speed to reduce, you won't have to brake as hard.  You may also need to give yourself more reaction time to respond to other hazards in the road since your vision may be impaired by rain as well!
  2. Be cautious when using your bike's brakes. Wet brakes are generally less effective. Allow extra distance for braking and apply the brakes gently. When teaching, we remind people that brake levers act as a dimmer switch, not just an on/off switch.
  3. Use lower gears. With lower gears, you won't have to apply as much force when pedaling. Your pedals and shoes can become more slippery, and if your foot slips off of a pedal, it can cause a crash (or at least a painful shin or crotch if you slip).  Sit down and pedal gently on a lower gear.
  4. Watch for hazards. Keep an eye out for puddles, leaves and debris.
  5. Be visible. Other road users may have their visibility impaired and you should make sure you're extra visible. Wear bright clothing or use head lights, tail lights, (or a flag light)

When riding with kids, I think the most important things to emphasize are to stay visible with some lights, brake early and gently, and at least in my child's case, sit down and pedal gently.

Comfort: Staying comfortable while riding a bike in the rain

For me, the biggest part of staying comfortable is keeping most of your body dry and/or warm.

Here are ways you can stay comfortable while riding your bike in the rain.

  1. Wear waterproof clothing: Gore-Tex or other waterproof materials are great. I wrote about rain gear in a different post, so to summarize, there are waterproof bits for nearly every part of your body that you can wear. Waterproof shoes/socks for your feet, waterproof pants that can go over what you'd already be wearing, a waterproof jacket or rain cap, and a hood or cap.
  2. Outfit your bike with fenders. Fenders can keep water off of your bike and yourself (so you can avoid the "stripe"!) and can keep you dry and comfortable while riding your bike in the rain.
  3. More about waterproof shoes and footwear: Wet toes are uncomfortable and can lead to all kinds of annoying/smelly situations or other problems. There are shoe covers, waterproof shoes, or my personal favorite, neoprene socks.
  4. Use hand coverings or gloves. You can use pogies or bar mitts. Or wear waterproof gloves. Your hands can get cold really quickly if they get wet.

There are usually less gear options for kids, but I try to have the same types of waterproof clothing for my kid when riding to school together in the rain.  I've found that good fenders are harder to find for kids bikes, but we've made do with some cheap plastic ones purchased online.

Maintenance: Tips for keeping your bicycle rain-ready

Water can do a lot of damage to your bike. I've allowed parts of my bike to be submerged in water before, which resulted in a lot of rust and seized parts (long story, feel free to ask me if you have the time).  Here are some ways to avoid mechanical issues due to rain:

  1. Clean and dry your bike after your rides. After riding in the rain, clean and dry your bike to prevent rust and other damage. You can use a clean, dry cloth to wipe down the frame. There are bike-specific cleaners to clean the chain, gears, and other moving parts. If your chain has some lube on it, that'll do a bit to protect it from rust. You'll want to re-lube your chain more frequently if it gets wet though.
  2. Check your brakes. Wet brakes can be less effective, and grit from the road that comes up can cause more wear on your pads and wheels. Check the pads for wear. If you don't have a ton of time, you can do the "B" part of the ABC quick check by squeezing the levers. Make sure the levers don't hit your handlebar (1 finger worth of space is ok) and make sure they snap back when you release them.
  3. Check your tires. Make sure your tires are in good condition and properly inflated. A more aggressive tread pattern would provide better traction in wet conditions.
  4. Store your bike indoors. If you're able, store your bike indoors. If you must keep it outside, consider using a bike cover to keep it dry. While recently walking around New York, I saw a bunch of bikes that had been obviously stored outside.  Most of them had a lot of rust damage.

If you've got an ebike, it should be fine for riding in the rain. Most manufacturers have waterproofing provisions in there. But you'll want to check for worn cables or seals that would allow for water ingress where it's not supposed to be.

I hope these tips are helpful!

Hopefully these tips can help you stay more comfortable and safe when riding through rainy weather. Personally, I think it's much more annoying to ride a bike in the rain.  But if you've got good gear, there's something cool about being out in the elements and feeling a little invincible, knowing your gear has you covered.

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