Riding in the rain builds character, I always say. Still, my “character” is wearing just a little thin from all the downpours we’ve been getting lately. So here’s some advice on ways you can stay safe and dry while rolling to your destination.
There are two universal laws of physics when it comes to rainwear. The first is that if too few of us are carrying rain jackets or pants, the cycling gods become angry and make it rain. The second is that as soon as you fish your jacket and rain pants out of your panniers and put them on, the rain will stop.
Waterproof, breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex will keep all but the most torrential rainstorms from soaking you. The “breathable” claim is accurate only up to a point — if you’re pedaling hard and tend to perspire a lot, you may still get a buildup of sweat. It’s still better than the cheaper alternative, which is rubberized nylon. That stuff keeps the rain out, but moisture builds up quickly underneath.
Also, full-length fenders on both the front and the back are the best way to protect your feet from the spray generated by your tires. They also prevent dirty road water from coating your bike (and you).
Plastic bags from the supermarket are bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Except they’re really good for keeping things in your panniers or backpack dry. Keep a few handy in your pack, If it’s raining, insert your stuff into the bags, and tie shut. Reuse often.
Fortunately, most rainwear is bright yellow, red or orange. This makes it easier for cars to see you, and helps rescuers spot you if a flash flood washes you away.
Watch out for puddles — potholes are known to hide in them. Remember, too, that you should be careful if you’re using a hood to keep your head dry because your range of vision will be reduced. Turning on your flashing lights also helps cars see you.
Braking in the rain may be more difficult, particularly if you have steel wheels. (Steel has a shiny, reflective appearance compared with alloy, which has a buffed look.) A brake tune-up may be needed to make sure you have enough stopping power.
Water also washes the lube off your chain. The solution: lube regularly.
Will your rubber bicycle tires protect you from a lightning strike? According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States, they do not! FEMA says that car tires don’t provide any protection either, but that the metal body of a hardtop car provides more protection that if lightning struck your body.
FEMA says that you should avoid objects like bicycles, golf clubs, and lawn mowers during thunderstorms. Taking shelter under telephone booths and large trees is also bad.
What FEMA doesn’t say is that riding a bike during a thunderstorm can be very exciting! But now that you know the dangers, you can make up your own mind.
“Lightning’s unpredictability increases the risk to individuals and property.” — FEMA