Cycling in the rain isn’t the most pleasant experience but sometimes you have no choice. Maybe you’re a commuter and your bicycle is your only mode of transportation. Maybe you got caught in an unexpected storm while out for a ride. Whatever the case, if you prepare properly, cycling in the rain doesn’t have to be miserable. If fact, a rainy day can create an incredible atmosphere. It’s also less crowded and the air is fresh. This guide outlines 25 tips for cycling in the rain to help you stay dryer and safer.
Use Fenders to Keep You and Your Bike Clean
When the road is wet, your tires fling dirty water all over you and your bike. The spray drenches your lower legs and entire back. Your drivetriain gets coated in dirt, oil, and whatever chemicals may be on the road. Dirt and debris enter your chain and coat your gears, causing unnecessary wear and tear.
The solution is to mount fenders to your bike. These catch the spray and direct it toward the ground. You’ll stay much dryer and cleaner when you ride in the rain. Your drivetrain will stay much cleaner as well and will last longer as a result. You won’t have to clean or grease your chain quite as often either.
Of course, fenders aren’t perfect. They tend to rattle. Some people think they look kind of goofy. They also add a bit of weight to your bike. Even then, if you tour or ride in the rain, they are a necessity.
I like these Planet Bike Hardcore Hybrid Fenders. They have a clean, classic black look. They include both front and rear mudflaps for added protection.
Wear a Rain Jacket
Your most important piece of clothing for cycling in the rain is your rain jacket. It keeps you warm by keeping your torso and arms dry. When cycling in the rain, you get wet in two ways. First is the rain, which is obvious. The second way you get wet is from your sweat building up in your clothing.
In order to stay dry, you need a waterproof jacket that prevents rain from penetrating through to your insulation layers. Your rain jacket also needs to be breathable so your sweat can vent out. If your sweat can’t vent, you’ll get just as wet as if you didn’t wear a rain jacket at all.
The solution is to choose a rain jacket that is made from waterproof breathable materials. These high tech fabrics keep liquid water out but allow water vapor to vent. They achieve this with tiny pores that are smaller than liquid water droplets but larger than water vapor molecules. Rain stays out but your sweat vents away. Gore-Tex is a popular waterproof breathable material.
Ideally, your rain jacket should also have vents that you can unzip to allow fresh air to pass through. These help you regulate your temperature and increase ventilation. Underarm vents are particularly helpful.
Some cyclists prefer using a poncho instead of a rain jacket. The main reason is that ponchos are more breathable because they offer better ventilation than rain jackets. Ponchos can also partially protect your lower body while you ride. To help you decide, check out my rain jacket vs poncho pros and cons list.
Learn How to Ride in the Rain
If you cycle often enough, you’ll eventually get caught in the rain. When the roads and trails are wet, your bike doesn’t handle the same as it does when everything is dry. The reason is obvious: surfaces are slippery when wet. To stay safe, it’s important to learn how to properly ride in wet conditions so you can stay safe when you get caught in a storm.
For example, your braking distance increases when the road is wet because your tires don’t have as much traction to grip the road. Water reduces friction between your tires and the road. You need to start braking earlier and more gently. This is particularly important when descending down a wet hill. Rim brakes, in particular, don’t perform well when they get wet. The wheels need to make a full revolution for the brake pads to squeegee the water off the rims before your brakes begin to slow you down.
Cornering also becomes a bit more difficult in the rain. You can’t lean as far without risking your wheels slipping out from under you. When taking a corner, try to stay as upright as possible. Move your body weight to the outside pedal if you can. This will allow you to maintain a decent amount of speed without your tires sliding. Avoid sudden turns.
If you’re not used to riding in wet weather, test your traction in a safe spot before you ride on a busy road. For example, you can test your brakes on an empty section of a bike path to see how fast you can stop. This way, you’ll be more prepared in an emergency situation.
A major benefit of learning to ride in wet conditions is increased confidence from learning how to properly handles low traction conditions. When you hit a wet patch, ice, loose gravel, some kind of spill, etc. in the future, you’ll be better prepared to ride through it safely and confidently.
Use Cycling Lights
When rain clouds cover the sky, they block out the sun and make it darker than normal. Particularly during the early morning and evening. This hinders visibility for both you and the drivers you’re sharing the road with. In addition, humid rainy weather can cause car windows to fog up, further reducing drivers’ visibility. The solution is to use lights to make yourself more visible. Even if you’re riding during the day.
Mount your cycling lights to the front and back of your bike. Set them to the flashing mode increase visibility. You can attach your front light to your handlebars. Your rear light can attach to your seat tube, rear rack, or backpack. A helmet light is also an option.
I like the Vont ‘Scope’ Bike Light. It’s completely waterproof which makes it perfect for use in the rain.
Install Wider Tires or Reduce Tire Pressure to Improve Traction on Wet Roads
Your 23 mm road slicks aren’t ideal for riding in the rain. Narrow tires just don’t get enough traction on slippery wet roads. If you live in a region where it rains frequently, you might want to install a slightly wider tire than you might use in a dry climate.
Consider bumping up to a 25-28 mm tire at minimum for a bit more traction. If your bike has enough clearance, 35-40 mm tires are even better. The wider tires greatly increase traction which reduces your stopping distance and helps to prevent the bike from sliding out from under you if you while cornering.
If you don’t ride in the rain frequently and you don’t need wider tires, you can also improve traction by reducing the pressure a bit. Running your tires at 5-10 psi lower than normal increases the surface area of the tire that contacts the road. This creates more friction which improves traction considerably and costs you nothing except for a bit of efficiency. If you reduce your tire pressure, remember to bring your pump so you can re-inflate your tires if the road dries out.
Avoid Riding Through Puddles
Splashing through puddles might feel childish and fun but it can be kind of dangerous. The reason is that you never know how deep a puddle is until you ride through it. What looks like a couple of inches of water could actually be hiding a wheel destroying pothole. If you ride through enough puddles sooner or later one will surprise you with its depth. Worst case, you could end up coming off your bike and landing in the road.
When you see a puddle, try your best to ride around it instead of through it. If this means getting off your bike and walking up on the sidewalk or waiting for traffic to clear, so be it. Of course, if you can clearly see the bottom of the puddle, splash on through.
Weatherproof your Bike
Wet weather is hard on bikes. Mostly because your tires fling dirty water filled with debris and chemicals up onto your bike as you ride. The moisture can cause components to corrode and eventually seize up. Debris can make its way into your drivetrain and cause wear. If you plan to ride in the rain frequently, there are a few things you can do preemptively to protect your bike from excessive wear and tear.
Before you ride in the rain, apply a dry lube to your chain. Dry lube goes on wet then quickly dries into a wax-like film that doesn’t wash away easily in wet conditions. The lube helps to keep moisture out and prevent rust. You want to apply the lube when your chain is dry. Otherwise, the lube may not completely penetrate the links. I like Finish Line DRY Teflon Bicycle Chain Lube.
If your bike has a steel frame, you should treat any scratches with an anti-rust spray. Alternatively, you could use a bit of paint to cover the scratches. You should also treat the inside of your steel frame with a rust inhibitor like Progold Steel Frame Protector. To prevent water from entering your frame, you should plug any empty braze-ons or attachment points with a bolt. You want to protect your frame from corrosion the best you can.
You should also install housing on all of your cables. This protect them from rust and prevents debris from entering so they keep running smoothly.
Fenders also help greatly to prevent dirty water from splashing up on your drivetrain and into your frame.
Keep your Vision Clear While Cycling in the Rain
While cycling in the rain, your vision is particularly important. You need to keep a close eye on traffic because drivers can’t see you as well as they can on a clear day. You also need to watch out for puddles and any obstacles that could have washed into the road as well as slippery spots.
The problem is that rain flying in your face can block your vision. To keep your field of view clear, you have two options:
- Wear glasses or goggles- These allow you to keep your eyes open at all times, even in the heaviest rainfall. When choosing glasses or goggles to use in the rain, look for a pair that are clear or tinted yellow. These make it easier to see on dark rainy days. The problem with glasses is that they get spotted with raindrops and fogged up quickly, which can block your view. One solution is to apply an anti-fog treatment like Optix 55 Anti-Fog Spray. This way, rain rolls off and your glasses stay clear.
- Wear a brimmed cap under your helmet- You could also install an extended visor to your helmet. This should block most of the rain from hitting your eyes. Particularly if your bike has a forward-leaning riding position.
For heavy storms, you’ll probably want to use both goggles and a visor. The rain may still block your view a bit but you’ll be much better off.
Clean your Bike After you Ride in the Rain
Rain washes all kinds of dirt, oil, salt, various chemicals, and automotive fluids from car engines off the road. Some of this filth gets splashed up on your bike’s drivetrain, even if you’re using fenders. This stuff can get on your chain and gears and cause premature wear and tear. It can even work its way into your bearings and cause damage. It may also cause corrosion on your frame and other components.
After you ride in the rain, it’s a good idea to spray your bike down with clean water to wash away any dirt and grime that built up during your ride. A sport top water bottle works well for this. Just squeeze the bottle to spray clean water where you need it.
Be sure to clean off the chain, rear cogs, chainrings, derailleurs, brake calipers, and rims or brake rotors. These parts are sensitive to dirt and contaminants.
If your bike has rim brakes, it is particularly important to clean the rims and pads thoroughly. The reason is that dirt can get impacted into the pads and scratch the rims.
If your drivetrain is particularly filthy, you might want to clean it with a degreaser then re-lube your chain.
This simple maintenance will greatly improve the lifespan of your chain and cassette.
Dress In Layers
While cycling in the rain, you need dress in a way that keeps you warm and dry. Your clothing also needs to allow ventilation so your sweat can evaporate away. If your clothes don’t breathe, your sweat will make you just as wet as the rain.
The best solution is to dress in layers. This way, you can add and remove clothing as needed to regulate your body temperature. For cycling in wet weather, you want to choose clothing that is made of materials that are breathable and quick drying.
Synthetic fabrics like polyester work well. Merino wool is another popular fabric. You want to avoid cotton because it takes forever to dry. It also doesn’t provide any insulation when it gets wet. Down should be avoided as well for the same reasons.
A good rainy weather cycling layering system includes:
- Base layer– You wear this layer directly against your skin. Merino wool works perfectly because it provides insulation even when it gets wet. Even if you get soaked to the bone, you can still stay somewhat warm. As an added benefit it’s odor resistant. Synthetic thermal long underwear also works well as a base layer.
- Mid layer- This layer provides additional insulation. You’ll remove this layer when you get too hot. A fleece or wool jacket work well.
- Rain shell- This is your waterproof jacket. Some rain jackets are insulated and some are just a waterproof shell. Make sure you choose one with good ventilation. Zippers under the armpits are a great feature to help sweat vent. Rain jackets that don’t breathe properly trap sweat which can wet out your clothes.
If you’re cycling in a hot climate where it rains often, like the tropics, you may be better off just wearing thin quick-drying clothing instead of trying to stay dry. It can be cooler and more comfortable to just get wet rather than wearing hot and clammy rain gear. Synthetic materials dry incredibly quickly after it stops raining.
Cover your Seat when You’re Off the Bike
If you have to leave your bike out in the rain while you go into a store or restaurant, cover the seat with some kind of waterproof material to keep it dry. That way, your butt won’t get wet when you get back on your bike. A plastic grocery bag or shower cap works perfectly. You can also buy waterproof seat covers if you prefer to have a purpose made product. For example, this Waterproof Bike Seat Rain Cover would work well.
Covering your seat is particularly important if you use a leather saddle like the popular Brooks B17. Water damages the leather if it’s left wet for too long.
Look Out for Oil Patches, Debris, and Other Slippery Obstacles on the Road
Motor oil and other automotive fluids that accumulate on the roads over time mix with the rainwater to make a slippery mess. To avoid these, look out for patches of wet roads that have the rainbow pattern of oil. These are most common in the center of lanes where cars travel, intersections, and parking lots.
Metal surfaces like railroad tracks, road grates, access panels, and manhole covers also become slippery when they’re wet. Painted and brick surfaces also become very slick as well.
To avoid slipping, try your best to ride around these obstacles. If you must ride through an oil patch or slippery metal or painted surface, try not to brake or turn hard. You’ll want to be extra careful when cornering. Try not to lean too hard. You should also give yourself plenty of extra space for braking on these surfaces. The roads will be at their slipperiest after the first rain in a long time.
You should also keep an eye out for debris. Heavy rain can wash tree branches, garbage, gravel, and other unexpected items into the road. This is particularly common near the edge of the road where water flow. Keep an eye out in front of you and try to ride around any obstacles.
Ride Slower and Give Yourself Extra Time When the Roads are Wet
When you’re riding your bike in the rain, you probably won’t maintain the same pace that you’re able to on dry roads. After all, you need to slow down to safely navigate slippery sections outlined above. You can’t corner or brake as hard either. Because you’re riding slower, you won’t cover as much ground as quickly.
Keep this in mind when planning your ride. For example, maybe it normally takes you 20 minutes to ride to work. When it’s raining give yourself 30 minutes just to be safe. If you normally ride 50 miles in a day, maybe plan 30-40 when it’s raining.
Ride Defensively While It’s Raining
Wet road conditions make cycling in the rain a bit more dangerous than riding in dry weather. For example, road shoulders get flooded, potholes get covered in puddles, and debris washed into the road.
You can often avoid these dangerous obstacles areas by riding closer to the road. In some cases you might have to take a lane. That’s fine. You want to ride in a way that is safe for you and the drivers who are passing you.
Another consideration is that drivers can’t stop as quickly when the roads are wet. Their tires lose traction on wet and oily roads the same way yours do. Keep this in mind when crossing intersections and riding on the road. Always keep on the lookout for traffic.
Carry Your Gear in Waterproof Panniers, Bikepacking Bags, or a Backpack
If you’re carrying your laptop, a camera, food, or a change of clothing, you want to make sure everything stays dry. The best solution is to store your gear in some type of waterproof bag. Panniers, bikepacking bags, or a backpack are all great options.
When choosing a waterproof bag, make sure that it is seam sealed and completely waterproof. Bags made with a PVC coating and roll top design perform well in wet weather. In fact, most waterproof cycling bags are so well sealed that they can keep the contents dry, even if the bag is submerged underwater.
Tip: If you don’t have the budget to buy a waterproof cycling bag, you can line a non-waterproof backpack that you already own with some type of trash bag. Trash compactor bags work well because they are thin, strong, and airtight. Be sure to twist or roll up the top of the bag tightly so it doesn’t leak.
Wear Waterproof Gloves and Socks to Keep your Hands and Feet Dry
Your hands and feet are the first part of your body to get cold when your core temperature begins to drop. Cycling with cold wet hands and feet gets uncomfortable quickly. When your hands get cold, they also lose dexterity. This makes it harder to apply the brakes and shift. You can’t as accurately control the bike. To keep your hands and feet warm, wear water-resistant gloves and booties while cycling in the rain.
When it comes to buying gloves, you want a pair that is thick enough to provide some warmth yet thin enough to allow you to feel the bike’s brakes and shifters. I like these Unigear Winter Waterproof Gloves. They are made of water-resistant PU leather and polyester. The interior has a TPU coating for additional protection from the rain.
As far as your feet go, waterproof socks work well. Another little trick is to wear plastic bags over your socks for a bit more insulation and water protection. Yet another option is to wear neoprene booties over your shoes. These CXWXC Cycling Shoe Covers would work well. They provide insulation like a wetsuit.
Gaiters can also help to keep your shoes dry by preventing water from running into the tops.
If it’s raining hard and you’re planning a long ride, you may want to pack a second pair of waterproof gloves and socks to swap out with your first pair when they get wet. Be sure to store these in a waterproof bag so they don’t get wet.
Wear a Cycling Cap
The air vents in your helmet help you stay cool in hot weather but are detrimental in the rain. To keep your head dry, consider wearing a cycling cap under your helmet. A hat keeps your head warmer and prevents water from running down onto your face.
Skull caps work great. They are so thin and lightweight that you can hardly tell you’re wearing one. Brimmed caps can help keep the rain out of your eyes in addition to keeping your head warm.
If you expect cold weather, you might want to wear something warmer like a knit cap or ski mask. Wearing a neck gaiter or scarf in addition to a hat can help keep your neck warm and dry.
Wear a High Visibility Jacket or Vest or Use a Flag
Drivers also don’t expect to see cyclists out riding in rainy weather. This means they won’t be keeping an eye out as they do when the weather is pleasant. To make sure you’re seen, consider wearing a high-vis rain jacket. You can also wear a high vis vest over your rain jacket. Alternatively, you could mount a bright colored flag to your bike. You should do this in addition to using your lights. Flags and high-vis clothing look goofy, but they can save your life.
Carry a Change of Clothes
If you ride in the rain long enough or if it’s raining hard enough, you’ll eventually get wet. It doesn’t matter how good your rain jacket is. Water has a way of finding its way in. Sweat tends to build up as well.
If you commute to work by bike, the best solution is to carry a change of clothes in a waterproof pannier or backpack. When you arrive, you can towel yourself off then put your dry clothes on.
When you’re ready to get back on your bike, you can change back into your wet cycling clothes for the ride home. If you’re lucky, they’ll be dry by the time you’re ready to go.
Alternatively, you may be able to keep a change of clothes at your destination so you have something dry to wear if you get caught in the rain unexpectedly. You’ll at least want an extra shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
Get a Beater Bike to Ride in Bad Weather
Instead of taking your shiny new race bike out into the rain, consider using a second beater bike to ride exclusively in bad weather. If you don’t already have an old bike, you can easily buy one second-hand for less than $100. You might even be able to score a free one if you’re willing to put in some elbow grease to get it up and running again.
Because speed doesn’t matter as much when it’s raining, you can deck your bad weather beater bike out with knobby tires, massive fenders, bright lights, and wide platform pedals. Ride it in the rain and during the winter. If it gets a bit rusty, scratched, or caked in mud, who cares? You’ll be much more likely to go out and ride if you’re not concerned about getting your bike wet and dirty.
If there is Lightening, Find Shelter
You may assume that the rubber in your bike’s tires will insulate you from a lightning strike, but that’s not the case. There just isn’t enough rubber. If, while you’re out riding, you get caught in a lightning storm, your best option is to find shelter.
The best shelter is indoors. Look for a store or restaurant nearby that you can go inside to wait out the storm. If you’re near your home when the storm is approaching, calling it a day might be the wisest choice.
When there is no shelter nearby, your best option is to find a low point where you can shelter. If you’re on a mountain, descend. If you’re on flat ground, find a local low point. This works because lightning strikes where it has the easiest route to the ground. Chances are it will hit a tree, large rock, or telephone pole instead of you.
You want to avoid sheltering under trees. While they may protect you from the rain, they won’t protect you from the lightning. Most of the time when people get struck by lightning, they weren’t directly struck. A nearby object was struck instead.
If you’re in a large flat and open area and lightning seems to be striking nearby, lay your bike on the ground and move at least 100 meters away from it. The metal in your bike could potentially attract the lightning. Of course, this type of situation is pretty rare.
For more info, check out this article about riding a bike during a lightning storm.
When it’s raining, it’s easy to forget to drink water because you’re already wet. It’s also hard to tell how much you’re sweating, which makes it harder to realize how much water you’re losing. Also, on a cold rainy day, it just doesn’t feel very appealing to drink cold water. Be sure to make yourself drink plenty of water anyway.
Tip: On cold rainy days, consider bringing a thermos filled with hot chocolate, tea, coffee, hot apple cider in addition to your water bottle. A thermos can keep a drink hot all day. Sipping on a hot drink helps you stay warm and hydrated. Of course, there is a bit of a weight penalty.
Avoid Cycling in the First Rain After a Long Dry Spell
It’s a good idea to avoid riding during the first rainy day after it hasn’t rained in a while. The reason is that oil and other automotive fluids as well as various chemicals and grime accumulate on the road. When these mix with water, the roads get very slippery and dangerous. These harsh fluids also spray up onto your bike, which can cause wear and tear to the drivetrain and even damage the paint if you don’t clean the bike off properly.
After a couple of days of rain, the grime gets washed away and the road becomes clean. At this point, traction improves and riding becomes a bit safer. It’s better for your bike too.
Wait out the Storm
If you don’t have somewhere you absolutely need to be or you don’t want to get wet, you can always postpone your ride. Storms usually pass in just a few hours. A large storm might last a few days. There is no shame in staying home when it’s rainy or going to the gym instead of riding your bike.
Final Thoughts About Cycling in the Rain
Rainy days can be a peaceful and pleasant time to go for a bike ride. The trails and bike paths are empty. The air is fresh and clean. The rain also creates a uniquely beautiful atmosphere to cycle in. there is something peaceful about it. A place you’ve ridden dozens of times before can feel completely new when you’re there during a rainstorm.
Of course, rain does add another level of difficulty to cycling. You need to dress properly in order to stay comfortable. You must also take some additional safety precautions. The rain can also cause some wear and tear on your bike. Maintenance becomes more frequent when you ride in wet weather often. Hopefully, this guide helps you stay safe, dry, and comfortable while cycling in the rain.
Do you ride your bike in the rain? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!
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