Many of us are fair-weather cyclists, and for good reason. When it’s wet, riding gets messy. When bad weather strikes, you can still get on the bike with just a few modifications.
Use these eight tips to stay upright and safe when cycling in wet, cold or otherwise foul weather.
1. Lower Your Tire Pressure
In wet or icy conditions, skinny tires with higher tire pressure make it difficult to maintain tire traction on the road. Even expert bike handlers will have trouble controlling their bike when riding with 21 mm tires inflated to 120 psi on wet roads. Instead, use as a tire that’s 25 mm or wider, and reduce your tire pressure into the 80–90 psi range. This will increase the surface area of your tires and improve your grip on the road.
2. Don’t Lean into Corners
On dry roads, leaning into corners can help you maintain your speed. However, in wet conditions, leaning into corners decreases the contact patch of your tire — making it more likely for your bike to slide out from under you.
When approaching corners, decrease your speed and take a smart line through the corner that allows you to keep your weight over your back wheel without leaning. This will help you maintain your contact patch with the road. Also, keep your head up and look further down the road to improve your balance.
3. Decrease Your Speed
Poor road conditions and visibility mean you won’t have as much time to react to hazards. Adjust your speed accordingly to account for it taking twice as long to come to a complete stop in the rain as it does in dry conditions. Always ride at a safe speed and save the intervals and other high-intensity efforts for the indoor trainer or when the weather is more favorable.
4. Stay Away from Painted Lines
Painted lines on the road are dangerously slick — much slicker than the rest of the road. When the road is wet, avoid painted markings as much as possible, particularly in corners or turns. Intersections, metal grates and train tracks are other dangerously slippery areas that require extra care.
5. Stay Seated
Standing to sprint or climb up a hill puts more weight on the front wheel, which can cause you to lose traction on the rear wheel. To prevent your rear wheel from sliding in the rain, stay seated as much as possible. Keeping your weight on the back wheel will help you maintain traction when you’re required to push harder on the pedals.
6. Watch for Rainbow Patches
If you stare down at the road when you’re riding in the rain, you’ll likely notice rainbow-colored patches. In light rains or at the beginning of the rainy season — before oil from cars is washed off the asphalt — these patches will be slick and can cause your tires to slide. Avoid these spots like the plague.
7. Steer Clear of Puddles
While you might not be able to avoid them all, puddles can be dangerous because you can’t see any hazards beneath them. Potholes, debris or other dangers that could potentially cause an accident are a possibility. To stay safe, avoid parts of the road where water accumulates. Since it will be difficult to avoid such spots when riding on the shoulder or in a bike lane in heavy rain, use commuter paths when possible. This will give you more room to maneuver around deep sections of water.
8. Adjust Your Braking Habits
In foul weather, adjust your braking habits to stay safe. Keep these braking tips in mind when riding on wet or icy roads:
- Slow down gradually. Don’t wait until the last minute when approaching a red light or stop sign. Begin to slow at twice the distance as you would in dry conditions.
- Drag your brakes lightly. Water buildup on the surface of the rim can decrease your stopping power. By pulling both brake levers lightly so that the brake pads are just barely touching the rim, you’ll clear excess water from the braking surface, which will let you squeeze just a bit harder before you come to a complete stop.
- Switch your wheels and brake pads. Carbon braking surfaces won’t provide the braking power of an aluminum surface. Also keep in mind that brake pads will disintegrate quickly in wet weather. Because of this, keep your race wheels at home and make sure you have plenty of brake pads before you leave the house. Consider a brake pad designed for rainy weather — or, even better, disc brakes.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE: