Riding in the Rain
By Thomas Malia
Unless you are part of the I-only-ride-to-Lake-Geneva-for-quiche crowd (and then only if it is sunny), it is highly likely you are going to encounter a rain storm on one or more of your rides (I could make a cheap crack here about these odds increasing dramatically if you ride with a certain senior and prolific Top Cat’s Road Captain, but I will resist this temptation). Therefore all Top Cats should ensure that they have the right equipment and skill set to safely survive riding in the rain.
Equipment wise, the guidance is pretty straightforward:
Ensure you have good rubber on your bike. Water escapes from under a tire by squishing out sideways along lateral grooves in the tread. As tires wear, these grooves are reduced in volume so the tire is able to shed less water, increasing the risk of hydroplaning. Proper inflation is also critical. An over-inflated tire has less traction because the tire is less able to conform to the pavement. An under-inflated tire tends to trap water ahead of the contact patch, again risking hydroplaning. Also keep in mind that cold tires provide less traction than warmed-up ones.
If riding in a rain storm causes you to become distracted due to getting cold or wet or if you are less noticeable to auto drivers around you, then what you are wearing becomes very much a safety issue. Therefore, have a good rain suit-one that does not leak (yes they exist)…one that adds to your visibility rather than detracts…never understood the logic of wearing a black rain suit. Rain suits deteriorate over time, so it is prudent to replace them periodically even though they appear to be in good shape. I suggest a two-piece suit in that putting on rain pants is at least 5 times more difficult than slipping on a rain jacket. Often when riding in light rain, I do not really care if my pants get somewhat wet and so I wear only the jacket part of my rain gear. If you do decide to don rain pants, remember to put your billfold (or your credit cards) someplace accessible in your jacket beforehand. On far too many occasions, I have pulled into a gas station to quickly buy gas only to have to go through the major undertaking of retrieving my credit cards from under my rain pants.
Have a sweatshirt type garment readily available and consider putting it on before your rain suit. Riding in the rain-if warm-is very tolerable; riding while cold and damp quickly approaches the no-longer-fun category.
Finally have a good pair of rain proof gloves. These serve to not only keep you warm, but also to improve your grip on the wet and potentially slippery throttle and clutch and brake levers. Cabellas (or similar such stores) sell lined, rubberized hunting gloves that I find ideal for riding in the rain.
Skill wise, the key is to recognize particularly risky situations and to develop the skill set to properly deal with these situations.
First get some local experience. You do not want to encounter rain for the first time while riding some narrow, curvy mountain road. The initial benefit to derive from such experience is to cultivate the mindset that riding in the rain does not need to be a dangerous or scary experience. While it does call for even more attention to road conditions and to traffic around you, with such experience you should ultimately be able to relax and to become comfortable in such a riding situation.