5 Tips for Bike Commuting in Bad Weather

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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5 Tips for Bike Commuting in Bad Weather

Bike commuting daily can be a great way to get in shape, save money and keep you out of those freeway traffic jams. Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t always cooperate and slippery, wet roads can keep even the most dedicated cyclists off the bike.

To make commuting by bike a daily routine and keep yourself pedaling through less-than-ideal conditions, use these tips for adjusting to foul-weather cycling.

1

CHOOSE THE SHORTEST ROUTE

When the sun is shining and the temperatures are mild, having a variety of longer routes for your morning and evening commutes can be a good way to keep your days from getting stale and improve your fitness. However, when it’s raining or cold, it’s best to stick to one of your shorter routes.

It’s also a good idea to make sure you choose a route with dedicated bike lanes and as little traffic as possible. Since foul weather is often accompanied by decreased visibility and slick roads, having more space and fewer cars improves your safety should you need more space to maneuver around a hazard.

If you don’t have a good short route to take when the weather is bad, try using the MapMyRide route finder. Chances are someone in your area already has a good commuter route planned-out.

2

HAVE A DEDICATED FOUL-WEATHER BIKE

I’m of the mindset that if you have a nice bike, you should use it as much as possible. However, the one exception to this rule is riding in the rain, snow or other harsh weather conditions. Water, grit and salt can be incredibly hard on a bike, leading to corrosion and a worn-down drivetrain. Water can also wear down your brake pads quickly, and slippery roads make your chances of taking a tumble on your shiny ride more likely.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to set up an older bike to be your foul-weather commuter. Consider investing in these components to ready your commuter for the conditions:

  • Wet-weather brake pads: These won’t disintegrate against your metal braking surface like normal brake pads will.
  • Mud guards or fenders: Keep them on your foul-weather bike so you don’t have to worry about removing and installing every time it rains. Fenders improve the quality of your commute by keeping your backside dry and the splash from the road off your backpack — or any brave souls behind you.
  • Wider tires: While they might not be the fastest, larger tires with more tread improve your traction and make balancing easier.
  • Flat pedals: This one isn’t a must, but it can improve your safety. Flat pedals make it much easier to get your foot down, and you won’t have to worry about clipping back in at traffic stops. BMX-style pedals with a grippy surface work well.
  • Bike lights: Get a good setup of front and rear lights that always stay on the bike. Visibility in foul weather should always be a priority.
3

INVEST IN GOOD CLOTHING

Nothing improves your comfort on a foul-weather commute more than the right gear. If you live in a place that has a long winter and spring season with lots of cold weather and rain, investing in good gear makes commuting through these months possible.

Here are some of the basic items you’ll want to consider:

  • Sunglasses with a clear lens: You’ll still need eye protection from the wind and debris even when the sun isn’t out.
  • Two pairs of gloves: An insulating layer and a waterproof shell for your outer glove is ideal.
  • Waterproof clothing: This includes a jacket, cap or helmet cover, tights and booties for your feet.
  • Reflective gear: In addition to lights, consider purchasing brightly colored clothes with reflective piping that makes you more visible to other motorists.
  • A balaclava or scarf: A layer of protection over your nose and mouth when it’s really chilly can make a big difference.
4

ADJUST YOUR STYLE OF RIDING

To improve your safety, you’ll need to adjust your style of riding. Safety and comfort should be your primary goal, and the less dangerous your commute is, the better you’ll feel about doing it day after day.

Whether it’s rain, snow or wind, here are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Slow down: Faster speeds equal less reaction time for you and motorists. Give yourself more time to stop and maintain a safe traveling speed at all times.
  • Make wider turns: Taking a corner too sharply when the roads are wet can cause your wheels to slip. Because of this, take as wide of a turn as you can at a slower speed than you might normally.
  • Feather your brakes: Doing this before you need to come to a complete stop clears water from the rim surface and makes it easier to brake.
  • Avoid painted lines: When it’s wet, the painted lines on the road are even slicker and more dangerous than usual.

READ MORE > A CYCLIST’S LOVE LETTER TO BIKE COMMUTING


5

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

It only takes one or two bad experiences to ruin your mood for commuting in foul weather. Braving the conditions day after day can be difficult, and while you don’t want to let the weather keep you off the bike for months at a time, you will need to be smart about when you ride.

Icy roads, extreme rain and snowfall are all good reasons to keep your bike at home. By avoiding a potentially dangerous situation, you’ll stay safe and be able to return to commuting when the conditions are less severe. This also helps you keep a positive attitude about the experience instead of becoming fearful about all the things that could potentially go wrong.

If you plan to commute to and from work, and the weather of your evening commute changes suddenly, always have a backup plan. This can include a ride home from a spouse, a friend or public transportation options that allow you to bring your bike onboard. Just remember, the key to commuting year-round is safety, and you won’t be able to do so if you injure yourself by riding in conditions that are too dangerous.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.  

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