Monday, October 15, 2007

Cycling in the rain

I'm amazed the number of bike commuters I continue to see well into autumn in my area this year. Mild weather and a delayed return to standard time certainly contribute, though I imagine continued high gasoline prices are also a factor.

Bike traffic dropped substantially last Friday when a little rain arrived. The Eugene Register-Guard published some advice on riding a bicycle in the rain. Among the tips:
  • "Good breathable rain jackets, pants and shoe covers." I would emphasize "good" if you want to avoid getting soaked, which also means "expensive." I really like my Novara Express Bike Jacket from REI, for example, which has the features I look for in a rain jacket: taped seams, good venting, adjustable closures and storm flaps.

    In warmer weather even "breathable" raingear becomes a sauna; I often opt to just get wet.

  • "Full coverage fenders on both tires will help keep you and others near you from getting splattered by water on the roads." Amen. In my experience, short clip-on fenders are worthless; they're a waste of money and you might as well ride without fenders. Full fenders help keep grit from getting sprayed into the moving parts of your bike, into your shoes, up your legs and your backside. While riding without fenders is more than doable, fenders will prolong the life of your bike components and make your rain cycling much more pleasant.

  • A headlight and a tail light are essential.” A couple of people have commented on how noticeable my Reelight bike lights are even in daylight, which I did not expect. In the rain, I also run with the more standard LED headlight and tail lights blinking away.

  • Wider tires: If you're a road cyclist who also likes to commute you probably don't have the clearance for anything larger than 700x28, so take it easy on the turns and give yourself some braking distance. Cyclocross bikes are favored among roadies as the rain bike.

  • Disk brakes: Many of the commuter bikes available now at the bike shop come equipped with disk brakes. They're much less susceptible to fade from moisture than traditional rim brakes are.

  • Avoid puddles: Bike lanes are next to the gutter and sometimes the gutter water overflows into the bike lane. Don't ride your bike into pools of water or leaf piles -- you can't see any obstructions. It's very easy for you to take a fast tumble if you hit a hidden pothole or other hazard. (Yes, I've been there, done that).

To this list I also add "Keep it clean": I'm not a clean freak, but it's important to wipe the grime from your chain, gearing, brake surfaces and cables after a ride in the rain. Wet roads helps road grit get into everything on a bicycle. A quick hose down (if you can) and wipe down with a shop rag will prolong the life of moving parts on your bike.

Photo credit: "Paris-Wet-Paris" by Jim Bradbury.


atom said...

I'm hesitant to bike+caltrain in the rain because I don't like the idea of sitting on the train in wet dripping clothes for an hour. That sounds pretty miserable.

If I was able to bike directly to work, then I'd have no problem riding in the rain. In fact, riding in the rain is pretty fun! We have nice hot showers at work, so it's no big deal to change out of the wet bike clothes and take a hot shower before heading to the cubicle.

I lived in Mt View and commuted to Sunnyvale last year, and biked virtually every day, but I'm not sure about my new SF/Sunnyvale commute.

James said...

Cleaning a commuter bike is just not my thing, so I just ride my singlespeed/fixie when rain is in the forecast. The only maintenance that bike ever gets is the occasional quick wipe of gunk off the chain followed by a spray with fresh lube.

I like the feel of the fixed gear on wet pavement too, even with 23 mm tires.

Wolfy said...

Unless it's really raining it takes a while to get too wet. At least around here, it hardly REALLY rains...


hrdtduck said...

I commute all year, all weather. What I want is rain tights, not baggy rain pants. I use full fenders, but they hardly keep all the water & road grime off you and the bike. Biggest problem is the local city's lack of concern for keeping the bike lanes clear of dangerous debris. However I Love to ride though so I'll put up with the adversity.

Yokota Fritz said...

@hrdtduck I have some REI rainpants that with a reasonable fit that aren't baggy and don't flap in the wind at all. Most of the time I don't bother, though, since my regular cycling pants have a water resistance coating that sheds water reasonably well for the light rain we usually get in California. Do you have suggestions on cycling tights that work well in rain?