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Wet weather riding: RCUK's top six tips

09:40 27th April 2012 by Road Cycling UK
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Although not done as often as non-cyclists tend to assume, riding in the rain is an integral part of the British cycling experience. Sooner or later it will rain and, when it does, it’s time to choose: stay off the bike or get wet.

Or maybe you don’t get to choose. Getting caught in a downpour when there may be little choice but to keep going is not the same as setting off in the rain, which requires considerable strength of character if one is to overcome a natural reluctance to plunge into the maelstrom.

Either way, there are ways to make wet weather cycling safer and more enjoyable:

1: Accept the fact that you are going to get wet

Investigate the world of cycling waterproofs and it will quickly become clear that staying dry is considered – or at least proffered – as a realistic possibility. It is not. Not unless you wear an old-school cape, sou’wester hat and oilskin spats reaching to just below the knee. And even then a lorry driver will time his run to splash the contents of a good-sized puddle up under the cape and over the top of the spats. Although your head may stay dry.

Eschew such a get-up – and who wouldn’t – and you’ll start getting wet from the moment you leave the shelter of your front door or office lobby. Not only will a cold trickle make its way down the back of your neck, but the supposedly breathable and waterproof triple-layer hydrophobic molecule-coated fabric from which your outer layer is made will soak up rainwater like blotting paper while sealing you inside to boil in your own perspiration.

And there are your feet to consider. Overshoes? Waterproof? Since when? Nope, the best you can hope for is to stay warm – and to keep a small patch of skin dry, somewhere about your person.

2: Make yourself visible

Most people can see well enough to get by even in heavy rain. Not the motorist. Those who can be bothered to operate the various systems available – demisters and the like – to keep the inside of their cars free of condensation are a rare breed. Many seem to believe that the recirculating air logo on the ventilation console indicates that rain is thereby kept out of the vehicle interior.

Er, no. All that happens is that the air inside the car, which invariably contains several gently sweating overdressed environment-avoiders, becomes increasingly laden with moisture. This soon exceeds maximum humidity and condenses on the inside of the tightly-closed windows. We can’t see in – and they can’t see out. Wear something bright, if only to give them a chance however slight.

3: Fit mudguards

Decent cycle shorts and shoes are expensive. Grit thrown up by the wheels gets into threads and wears away at them. Even if you are indifferent to personal discomfort and the state of your cycle, think of your wallet.

4: Choose a smooth line

Or fall off. In fact, very wet tarmac offers a surprising amount of grip; the question is, how much of it are you prepared to exploit? Unless you are on a race track – or criterium circuit, since this is about cycling – it is difficult to ascertain precisely how much grip the stretch of tarmac ahead has to offer. The bit under your wheels may be pure Shellgrip but that’s no guarantee that the stretch preceding the sharp bend ahead is anything other than highly polished bitumen. The SRVs* of the two surfaces are very different and when the road is wet it can be hard to make out what lies under the water. So err on the side of caution, slow down to a prudent speed in good time and choose a nice, smooth, safe line through that bend. There’s always the next one if you are feeling confident…

*Skid Resistance Value

5: Don’t blast through deep puddles

Just as a thin coating of rainwater can obscure the true nature of the road surface, so can standing water hide a hazard under its surface. There might be a big pothole hidden inside that enticing puddle. In fact, these days there almost certainly is. So jump it instead.

6: Keep a pair of dry socks at work

Cycling shoes take at least 10 hours to dry out. So, unless you work odd hours, keep a dry pair of socks handy. Wearing them makes pulling on wet shoes at the end of the working day less disagreeable. The chamois in your shorts retains water with equal enthusiasm so you may wish to have a spare pair of shorts within reach for the same reason. Although it’s a bit soft; man up and wear those soggy shorts – or fit mudguards

Discuss on the forum

 

  1. Mich O

    Very well put. I don’t care how much one can spend on Gore-tex, you’ll still get wet somewhere.

    I took a real soaking on my way home from work this afternoon. I have mudguards fitted on my commuter. I was soaked from the waist down but my top half stayed dry.

    Other tips; keep a spare pair of underpants at work. Nothing is quite as unpleasant as sitting around in wet trolleys. If you work in an office, those A4 plastic pockets are very useful for putting over your socks if your shoes are wet.

  2. Josh Harfoot

    As much as I do like to stay dry whilst cycling, sooner or later I have to accept the fact that getting wet out on the bike is inevitable. I’m not sure if anyone has the same problem but my road bike has pretty much slick tyres which makes controlling my bike increasingly hard as the wheels have a tendency to “slip and slide”.
    I find it easier just to cut the distance of my cycle route a considerable amount when its raining as the wet and cold can make the whole journey a miserable experience.
    However 8 times out of 10 I will skip the bike ride if it is raining but it can be hard to do that when you have spent the whole week looking forward to it.

    Its always a good idea just to pack some waterproof clothing with you in a back pack before you go as the rain is pretty unpredictable in the UK.

  3. oddworld

    I tend to get wet even when it’s dry. I ride home in the dark in winter and my high vis jacket keeps all the sweat inside and after my 10 mile commute my t-shirt is soaked. I have tried all sorts over the past year to stay dry but have now accepted I am going to get damp on every ride.

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