By RWW – volunteer mechanic at Recyke y Bike
No sane cyclist wants to ride in the wet, but sometimes it’s the only option. With the right clothes and a well-maintained bike, it can even be fun! But before setting off make sure you are aware of these six hazards:
Skidding – If it’s wet lower your tyre pressure by 10psi or so which increases tyre road contact and grip. Try and give yourself a longer stopping distance than you would need when dry. Some tyres are good in wet conditions, others aren’t – your bike shop can advise. If there is ice, the best option is to abandon your ride unless you have specialist tyres and experience.
Punctures – Wet tyres pick up small sharp objects easily (e.g. glass, flint and thorns from hedge cutting). These are often invisible when wet and can quickly penetrate a tyre. Puncture resistant tyres are good but not fool proof, so best pack a spare inner tube and/or suitable puncture repair kit. Oh, and don’t forget your tyre levers! Again, your bike shop can advise
Poor braking – In the good old days bike wheels had steel rims and hard rubber brake blocks. These didn’t work well in the wet. Nowadays, aluminium rims with specialised brake compounds make riding in the wet safer and more reliable. In addition, technology has given us disk brakes. However, the compounds used for disc pads are not similarly effective. For example, sintered pads can be very durable but less efficient than organic compounds in the wet. Your bike shop can advise on the trade-off between durability and braking effectiveness
Standing water – These pools may conceal rim bending or bone breaking potholes; ride with extreme caution (or preferably avoid) any stretch where you can’t see the bottom
Impaired visibility – Make sure you are not invisible to drivers who will be struggling just to see where they are going. Use a flashing rear light and a front light both for daytime and night-time riding. In addition, chose clothing with reflective stripes and patches. When applied to leggings your peddling motion will quickly catch a driver’s attention.
Road spray – Everyone ends up filthy if you don’t use mudguards when roads are wet. More worryingly, where the road surface is contaminated by bacteria (e.g. through farmland) a bad tasting mouthful can cause gastro-enteritis. Many bikes are sold without mudguards but can have them fitted. If you are unsure what type would be best, ask your bike shop.
With good preparation and sensible bike handling skills you can manage these hazards. Importantly, choose the right clothes and make sure your bike is up to the task.
The right clothes
“There is no such thing as bad weather only unsuitable clothing”, and this is as true for cyclists as it is for hill walkers! If you are new to cycling an old anorak will do as a temporary measure but your priority should be a quality, breathable/vented cycling jacket. Avoid having it long at the front or it will catch the saddle when you dismount. To shed water effectively the general principle is for your clothes to overlap like roof tiles (e.g. sleeves over gloves, leggings over socks, etc).
Many cyclists use similar clothes for riding in cold or wet weather. The trick is to use the right number of layers (generally between one and four) under your cycling jacket. Too many and you will overheat and get soaked in perspiration. The Met Office’s “feels like temperature” is a good guide for how many short or long-sleeved layers you need for a ride. It’s better to start off a little cool rather than toasty warm. If in doubt, wear a small wool scarf or a buff. These are easily removed if you overheat.
Layers may be made from synthetic materials or from merino wool. Merino wool is a great alternative because after a day’s ride it doesn’t smell sweaty like most synthetics. Merino wool layers are woven from fine, strong yarns and are available in various weights to suit all weathers.
Over trousers are popular with some riders, particularly those with e-bikes. They keep the rain off but restrict pedalling. They can also get uncomfortably hot. Lycra tights are a better alternative for more powerful pedalling. Buy a thinner pair for cool summer days and warmer ones for the winter. Some Lycra tights are surface treated to help repel water but dry out quickly with underlying body heat. Shorts are good for warm days when it doesn’t matter if your legs get wet! Whatever you do don’t wear jeans for cycling in the rain – unless you like being cold, wet and miserable.
If your feet are cold and wet, it’s a sure-fire recipe for a dismal ride. To prevent this there are three things you can do:
- Pre-treat your cycling shoes a waterproofing spray (e.g. Scotchguard)
- Wear merino wool socks. If sufficiently thick they stay comfortably warm both in winter and summer – even if wet, but your cycling shoes must be roomy enough to accommodate them
- Resort to waterproof socks (e.g. Sealskinz), overshoes or simply plastic bags!
Thick gloves are not a good idea because you need to operate the gears, brakes and maybe a bike computer. Waterproof gloves are preferred by some mountain bikers, although others find their hands get hot and sweaty. Gloves made from breathable, waterproof materials (e.g. Goretex) offer excellent comfort with minimal bulk. Take care to get the right size. Remember tight gloves constrict not only hand movement but also blood flow. Ideally, the glove fingertips should have conductive pads to allow mobile touch screens to be operated.
Bike helmets usually have holes for ventilation. These also let rain in. A cycling cap or buff worn under your helmet will help keep the rain off your head and a peak will keep rain off your glasses. In colder weather a skull cap or balaclava are more effective, although less fashionable!
With cycling clothes it’s best to try and buy from a shop. If you buy online make sure the company allows for easy returns.
Do right by y’bike
We have already mentioned the importance of mudguards to reduce road spray. As well as being messy and antisocial when riding with others, the spray can corrode your bike, particularly in winter after roads have been salted.
Your chain is vulnerable to corrosion and mudguards, and most chainguards offer limited protection. So, thorough cleaning and lubrication are key to keeping it in tip top condition.
Chain degreasers are now big business and certainly make the outside of your chain look clean. You can even buy chain “washing machines” which use significant volumes of degreaser. However, one leading chain manufacturer cautions against this practice because it can strip out the chain’s lubricating grease and ruin it. They recommend using only a small amount of degreaser and rubbing the chain vigorously with a cloth. The chain must be dry before applying chain lubricant individually to each roller so that none are missed. Dry lube is great if you are a dry weather cyclist. For wet weather use a wet lube. Look here for more chain care tips.
Sadly, many riders don’t bother to clean their bike after a wet ride, and next time are faced by dried on dirt and corroding components. This muck gets more and more difficult to clean and some cyclists then resort to a power washer. Not only can this force water into a bike’s bearings and ruin them, it may also damage paintwork.
Wouldn’t it be great if your bike repelled water and dirt? Well, now it’s possible using Bike Protect from Muc Off. Of course, you should still hose the bike down with a fine spray after a ride, but the dirt comes away quickly and easily. A word of caution: don’t get Bike Protect on any of your braking surfaces (discs, rims, brake shoes or blocks). This is best done by removing the wheels and covering the brake calipers with cling film before spraying. Fortunately, Bike Protect lasts many rides before having to be reapplied to a well cleaned bike.
So, next time it rains make sure you are fully prepared and have a great ride!