Encounters with rain are just a fact of life when you cycle a lot but there are some things you can do to reduce the trouble and discomfort of riding in the rain.
Rain, rain, go away
Anyone who makes cycling a part of their routine, whether going to work or for pleasure, is going to get rained on. The skies can change when we least expect it and make our ride more interesting in a way that we wouldn’t choose if given the choice. It’s simply an unavoidable reality for those of us who like to get around on two wheels.
We all know that feeling of regret once we’re too far to turn back and the raindrops start falling.
Look for shelter now? Speed up and try to make it before it really starts coming down? It’s a tough call to make but, whatever happens, there are a few things you can do to minimise the effects of the rain on you and make the time you have to spend exposed to the elements less damaging and uncomfortable.
Follow these tips to make the best of a rainy and wet situation.
To start with, it just makes sense to wear something that stops or slows water from getting through, right?
But first, we have to clear up a terminology issue. “Waterproof” materials used in fabrics, like Gore-Tex or eVent, use something called stretched polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) to create a barrier that blocks liquid water but allows water vapours and air to pass through. This combination of protection from wet with breathability makes it ideal for use in any number of consumer goods, including clothing made specifically for biking.
And at the bottom of the scale, providing some but not much protection, are “water resistant” materials. The line between “resistant” and “repellent” isn’t very well defined, but usually involves the amount, quality and coverage of the coating given to the material to keep water out.
Then there are “water-repellent” materials, which are not easily penetrated by water but will, after prolonged exposure, allow it to pass through. In the case of fabrics, the barrier is typically provided by a thin surface coating that can wear away over time.
Bear in mind that no matter what degree of protection offered, it’s not meant to last forever. Protection wears away as fabrics age and go through washing cycles. At a certain point, even waterproof materials will break down to the point where they no longer allow air and vapour to pass through. This is why that expensive rainproof jacket you’ve had for ages now feels wet on the inside when you wear it in the rain—it’s not water getting in, it’s your sweat not getting out.
Still, there are some things you can do to extend the working life of these fabrics. Use a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating, usually in a spray form, to rebuild the water-resistant (or -repellent!) properties that have diminished over time. Make sure the garment is clean and dry before giving it a good coating or two before leaving it to dry for twenty-four hours.
Careful with the chemicals
The same chemical properties that allow detergents to remove dirt and stains on fabrics also make them remove protective coatings that keep the rain out. Try washing with a delicate detergent or none at all. Fabric softeners and stain removers are also out if you want to preserve your garment’s waterproof-repellent-resistant capabilities.
And on the subject of home washing machines, remember that yours almost certainly has detergent residue inside. Think about running another detergent-free cycle before washing rain jacket or anything else you want to protect.
Dry it the old-fashioned way
If possible, let your waterproof items air dry instead of putting them in a dryer. Extreme heat can break down waterproof materials and damage DWR coatings applied to fabrics.
Light it up
Even when rain comes in the middle of a bright day, it impacts the visibility of drivers around you. Be sure that your front and rear safety lights are activated no matter how much sunshine there is. Safety first! Or at least in the middle, as far as this list goes…
Okay, this is something that you need to plan ahead for and have them affixed ahead of time, but nothing can ruin your day—and everything you’re wearing—like two steady sprays of mud and dirty water coming from below as you ride along. If it’s never happened to you, consider yourself lucky and keep it that way by always using mudguards.
Get a grip with gloves
Imagine your grips are completely soaked and the rain keeps falling. Think about how slippery they can become. Now think about how much weight and force you place on them as you lean forward on the bike. Now imagine losing your grip because you hit a bump in the road while moving forward at a decent speed—what’s going to happen? Suddenly carrying a pair of gloves in your bag or backpack doesn’t seem like a bad idea, does it?
Avoid standing water
No matter how obvious this might be, it’s amazing (and depressing) how often people get hurt because they ignore this simple rule. You can never tell how deep a hole in the road might be. It might be just a small dip or it could be a monstrous pothole. Are you willing to find out by riding through it on a bike? No, neither are we. Ride around it and keep going. Always stay on a surface that you can see and don’t let what looks like an innocent puddle cause what can be a serious accident.
Use plastic bags
Love them or hate them, the fact is that they make for great temporary storage when you’re in the rain. Carrying something that can’t get wet? Keep a plastic bag handy. If you wrap and carry it properly, whatever is inside will get better protection from the rain than you get from your nice waterproof jacket (although whatever is in the bag doesn’t have to breathe, does it?).
Release the pressure
You can use a key to let just a little air out of your tyres when the streets are wet. Why? Because lower tyre pressure means more tyre surface on the road and that means a better grip. The same applies in winter when the streets might be covered in frost. In extreme conditions, you want control over speed and that means slightly softer, less inflated tyres are better. When the sun’s back out and things are all nice & dry, you can easily put the air back with a simple pump.
Yes, bike ponchos are a thing. And why not? Ponchos are there to cover you, so it just makes sense to get one that covers parts of your bike, too. Plus, when folded they don’t take much space at all, so why not keep one on standby for the next rain-mergency? Plus, you will definitely get some attention from those around you…
We can’t guarantee that your next ride will be totally dry, but we can promise that following these tips will make things easier when the clouds to decide to add a little excitement to your time on your bike. Don’t forget to follow our blog for more tips and information on how to get the most out of your cycling.