Here in Central Texas, mid-summer is a crazy time to write about riding in the rain, since we typically have so little. Still, I was caught in a downpour several weeks ago, so it can happen.
I noticed while riding in that downpour that I am a lot more skittish now when riding in wet conditions than I used to be. That’s because I’ve had some bad experiences in the rain. A couple of falls caused me some injuries, and at my age, it takes longer than it used to to recover from injuries.
So I asked Bike Noob readers to send me their tips for riding in the rain. I got some good ones. Here are the best:
Slow down. This is a no-brainer, I think. But there are good reasons to make this the number one rain riding strategem.
- Visibility is down. Your glasses get spattered with water.
- Motorists can’t see you as well.
- Rain will spread oil residue around before washing it off.
Corner slowly. Take corners slower than usual. This is where I screwed up. In one crash, I turned from an older asphalt surface that absorbed the rainwater, onto a newly resurfaced street where the water stayed on the surface. My front tire slid out from under me. If I had been prepared for this possibility, I would have taken the curve much slower than I did. In the second crash, my rear wheel slid out because I turned too quickly on a wet street (It wasn’t even raining anymore!).
Some experienced riders suggest leaning the bike a lot less than usual when cornering on wet roads. Other riders say this is bunk. But because of my personal experiences, I try to lean my body a bit in a corner, while keeping the bike as upright as possible.
Pump the brakes. Since the brakes work by gripping your rims, you have less stopping power when the rims are wet. So it’s a good idea to allow more time to stop. Pumping the brakes from time to time will squeegee water off the rims. Of course, you should start pumping them early as you approach a stop.
Reduce tire pressure. Letting about 10 pounds out of the tires will increase contact with the road surface. That should give you better control.
One thing that struck me about this advice is that I’m already practicing most of this. I’ve been tripped up in the past by not stopping to let some air out of the tires if I get caught in the rain. That, along with more cautious cornering, are probably the two most important things I can do to give me greater sense of control while riding in wet conditions.
Oh, and thanks to everyone who sent tips about dressing warmly, equipping the bike with fenders and wider tires, etc. In Texas, few riders I know have “rain bikes.” And since we don’t get a lot of rain, I don’t know anyone who has a set of fenders handy to mount in the event of a shower. I was mostly interested in riding techniques for this post.
But a couple of acquaintances told me they enjoy the rain. “Riding in a torrential downpour is something you won’t forget,” said one. Another recounted a 100-mile ride done mostly in rain. “It was probably not the wisest decision we could have made,” he said, “but in the end, the ride turned out to be epic.”
And whaddya know, overnight we had a pretty good thunderstorm. When I got up early for the Sunday club ride, rain moved in again. I finished breakfast and watched the lightning brighten up the block, and sheets of rain nourish our already-browning lawns. It was a great opportunity to put some of these rain riding tips into practice.
Instead, I invoked my first rule of riding in the rain (which some of you also shared with me) — I don’t. I waited for the rain to end and the roads to dry. Then I went out.