Riding in the rain, part 3: Technique and strategy

So, now that you’re dressed for the part and your bike is equipped accordingly, how do you go about the business of actually riding in the rain as safely as you can? Today we’ll talk about just that.

AVOID RIDING OVER LEAVES, PAINT AND METAL

When dry, fallen leaves, painted lane markings and manhole covers are rather harmless and can be ridden over with no penalty. This takes a treacherous turn when the road becomes wet, as nowhere else will you find less grip.

While you still have the luxury of clear skies, practice riding in such a way that you actively avoid or reduce your tires’ interactions with these road features.

Unfortunately, there will be instances where you just cannot avoid these. Local infrastructure repair crews, in particular, love covering up road repairs and potholes with large rectangular steel plates. In these situations, slow down your approach, and try to ride over them as upright and as straight as possible. Do not attempt to steer or brake while riding over large steel plates, as the tendency is for your tires to slip.

Finally, if you encounter an incline or ramp made of metal in the rain, get off the bike and push it uphill. Attempting to climb wet metal ramps is a pretty bad idea, trust me.

APPROACH DRAIN GRATES AND RAILS AS PERPENDICULAR AS POSSIBLE

In places where you have to cross large fissures in the road, such as railway tracks and drain grates, the last thing you want to happen is for your front wheel to fall into them. Once your front wheel falls in, the road fissure ends up becoming a long rut that your wheels will follow, and it can be hard to fish them out of it.

To avoid this, approach them with as big an angle as you can make. A perpendicular approach is best.

AVOID RIDING IN GUTTERS

I mentioned earlier that rainwater serves as lubricant for all sorts of debris particles to worm their way into your tire and cause punctures. Guess where most of the debris comes from?

The flow of car traffic through streets naturally pushes debris off the road and into the gutters on the sides. When you ride in them, your tires pick up all that puncture-causing junk. Trust me, you don’t want to suffer the misery of trying to patch an inner tube in the rain.

BRAKE EARLIER

This applies especially for rim brake users. Since the brake track of your wheels is much closer to the wet road surface, it’s inevitably going to get wet itself. The brake pads have to get rid of the water on the rim before they can do any actual deceleration.

Compensate for this by braking earlier. It’s also a good habit to frequently test the amount of braking power you have on hand. Even if the brake lever feels crappy, you’re still cleaning out the water from the brake tracks by doing so, aiding future stops.

Disc brakes are far more effective, braking power limited more by tire traction rather than the brake hardware itself. That said, always assume less grip is available in the rain, so brake earlier too.

WATCH OUT FOR STANDING WATER

Large puddles and flooding are facts of life in our country’s rainy season. Try to avoid these bodies of standing water as much as you can. The danger is not in the water itself, but the ruts and potholes that lurk hidden in them. Hitting these at speed effectively blind is not going to end well. With rim brakes, fording standing water obviously means your brakes get wet and become less effective until you dry them off.

Don’t worry too much about hydroplaning – the phenomenon of water totally separating a tire’s contact patch with its ridden surface. The round profile of a bicycle tire tends to cut through water, instead of letting it pool in the contact patch as it does with car and truck tires. Hydroplaning is pretty much an impossibility with bicycle tires, even with slicks.

DON’T STOP SPINNING THOSE PEDALS

The longer you keep your legs moving, the better able you are to fend off the chills, which are the biggest cause of sickness. Keep your blood going and your core temperature up by turning the cranks at a comfortable cadence.

AT THE END OF ALL YOUR WET RIDING…

While you’re outdoors, do a quick rinse of the bike. This will dislodge the dirt it’s picked up along the way. It’s best to do this soon after stopping because it will become harder to remove once it’s left to dry on its own. A gentle stream from a garden hose is enough; don’t use water under pressure as this can blow out grease from your bearings and seals.

Wipe down with a rag afterwards, paying special attention to the chain. Slathering on a quick coat of wet chain lube will help fight off rust.

This whole procedure shouldn’t really take more than five minutes – after which, head indoors, strip off your wet cycling kit, and give yourself a nice shower!

Now get out there and ride safe.

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