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While summer is about to start in Australia, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are digging out our warmest winter riding apparel. Daylight is short and the days are grey, gloomy and wet. Trainer rides are common but most of our base miles are gained during four or five hours in the saddle, swimming through downpours.
After six years of riding year-round in Seattle, here are some tips from a wet-weather riding expert to get you riding outside throughout the season, no matter the weather:
1. Accept and embrace that you’re going to get wet
It may sound silly, but you’ve got to mentally prepare yourself. Accept that you are going to get soaked, that your feet might get soggy, that everything is going to get covered in road grime, that you’re going to go slower and that you’ll be going to do laundry and bike maintenance later. Know that the first 30 minutes are going to be the worst. Once you’re soaked down to the core, you just can’t get any wetter and so you can only embrace it. Feeling miserable? Think about that hot cup of coffee and warm shower waiting for you post-ride. Plus, who wants to spend five hours on a trainer indoors? Just invite some riding buddies or plug in your favourite tunes and go!
2. Staying Dry. “There is no bad weather, only bad gear.”
Being wet is uncomfortable but it can also cool you down –especially in wet and windy conditions. When you’re body is fighting to keep you warm, you increase your chance of getting sick, so consider adding the following items to your wardrobe and bike to stay dry:
– Fenders: It’s may not be “pro” but full, quality fender will keep your butt and legs somewhat dry while protecting your bike from dirt and road grime.
– Mud flaps: While these little fender add-on won’t necessarily increase your comfort, other riders will thank you for it. Mud flaps helps prevent the rider behind you from getting sprayed in the face and covered in road grit.
– Booties: Cover your shoes with waterproof or neoprene booties to keep your feet dry, clean and warm. Alternatively, putting plastic bags around your feet before your slip on your shoes will keep them dry and warm. There are waterproof socks on the market, too, but in my experience, they didn’t breathe much if at all.
– Rain jacket: In steady rain, a waterproof jacket is essential. There is a vast assortment of rain jackets on the market. I suggest getting one that covers your backside, is waterproof (not just water-resistant), breathes (so you’re not dripping in sweat) and packable so you can have it with you at all times. A rain jersey like the Castelli Gabba is definitely a must-have for us Pacific Northwesterners as well.
– Rain pants/tights: For maximum dryness, consider getting some rain pants if you’re commuting or to warm up before a cyclocross race. Some companies make winter tights with a protective water resistant layer for those days where it’s raining and close to freezing.
– Cycling cap: the brim of a cycling cap will help you see by keeping the rain out of your face.
– Waterproof gloves. On really cold and wet days, I use full neoprene Glacier Gloves.
-Pro tip: put your bank cards, cash, phone ad other valuables in a reusable waterproof baggie before slipping them in your jersey pocket!
3. If not dry, then warm
– Core: It’s crucial to keep your core warm and layering will help. Wool or polypropylene won’t keep you dry but it will keep you warm, even when wet. Wear a wicking smartwool underliner and be sure you have a wind jacket or thin shell for descending.
– Hands and feet: If you don’t have waterproof gloves, wear smartwool liners underneath some wind- resistant gloves for warmth and comfort. Wool socks will insulate your feet even when they are soaked.
– Legs: Even if it doesn’t seem that cold, rain will cool you down and you’ll want to cover your legs with knee warmers or embrocation.
4. See and be seen
– Skip the shades and wear clear lenses: In low light, normal sunglasses cut out too much light and can make road obstacles harder to see. Instead, wear clear, orange, or yellow lenses.
– Light up: In rainy conditions, all road users have a hard time seeing, so make sure they can see you. Have blinky lights on the front and rear of your bike.
5. Be aware of slippery roads:
– Rainbow patches: The road surface will be the slickest and most dangerous just after the rain has begun as oil buildup rises to surface. Keep an eye out for rainbow shimmer on the street. This is an indication of an oil patch.
– Road paint, sewer covers, metal surfaces, and wet leaves will all be slippery when wet.
– Puddles are fun to ride through but also indicate a potential pothole or uneven surface.
– Corners: Slow down. Take the corners slower than you normally would. Try not to brake while cornering and shift as much your weight on the outside pedal when cornering. Also, lowering your tyre pressure will increase traction.
– Sit down: especially while climbing, your rear tyre will slip. Sitting down adds more weight on the back and gives you more traction.
6. Have bus money and your phone handy.
It’s always good to have a backup plan.
7. A clean bike is a safe bike:
Your bike will need extra attention after being exposed to water and road grit all fall and winter long. A mixture of road grit and water is the quickest way to erode rubber brake pads and rust your components.
– Check your brake pads frequently and be prepared to brake earlier than you would in dry conditions.
– After a particularly wet ride, give your bike a quick post-ride rinse with fresh water and then towel dry. This will rinse off all the dirt and debris, and drying it will prevent rust.
– Lube your chain with waterproof lube. Make sure you have a good lube on your chain before heading out in the rain to prevent your chain from rusting.
– Give your bike a deep clean if serious grime has built up.