Bike to Work in the Rain

People always seem amazed when they see me at work even though it is raining. My pointing out that if you ride fast enough you only get wet in the front doesn’t seem to lessen their wonder — half wet is wet. But really, the expectation that you can always choose to be dry is a fairly recent idea brought about by garage door openers, doormen with big umbrellas, and guys who deliver pizza when you don’t want to leave the house.

Picture of how water can be dangerous
Getting a little wet isn’t all that bad … unless it melts you.

Today I’ll talk about three ways rain changes your ride and what to do about it.

Rain Changes Your Clothes (from dry to wet)

While I sometimes carry an extra set of clothes if I expect to get really wet, I don’t have any special rain clothes. Experience has told me that I can get far wetter from sweat than anything Mother Nature can throw at me. If you don’t have my broken thermostat, there are a few pieces of clothing that could make your life more pleasant.

  • A Rain Cape is a kind of poncho that is specifically designed for bicycle riders. It’s open on the bottom, allowing air to flow freely and cool you down while protecting everything above the knees.
  • A Rain Suit consists of separate trousers and jacket that are waterproof. The best ones are made of a breathable fabric and have zippered vents in strategic locations. Good rain pants and jackets are expensive, but they will help you ride in adverse weather. If you live in a place that gets a lot of rain, and/or if there is nowhere at work to dry out your clothing, a rain suit may be a wise investment.
  • A helmet cover stretches over the top of your helmet to make a kind of mini-umbrella. Be aware that the water still has to go somewhere.
  • Booties are something I think I will actually buy for the coming winter. Socks take forever to dry out and my feet don’t have a problem getting too hot.

Rain Changes Your Technique

Water is a lubricant. Rain makes concrete and asphalt a little slippery, and makes manhole covers (and any other metal surfaces), fallen leaves, and road paint much more slippery. You can’t corner as solidly, accelerate as fast, or stop as quickly when roads are wet. When it is raining, you will need ride a little more slowly and plan on your commute taking a few more minutes than usual.

Picture of a man crashing in a puddle
Seriously, stay away from puddles.

Remember when you were a kid on your Schwinn Spyder and you loved riding through puddles? Do not attempt this on your commute. Many a commuter has found a surprisingly deep pothole under what looks like a shallow puddle.

Speaking of not seeing, don’t forget that drivers also have challenges with the rain. There is less light, water from other traffic is being sprayed on their windshield, wiperblades may not be in good condition, and windows may be fogged up. Make yourself as visible as possible with lights, florescent colors, and clean reflectors. Make eye contact with drivers as much as you can so that you know that they see you.

Rain Changes Your Bike Care

Until you have ridden in the rain, you don’t realize how filthy roads are. Every paved road in town is covered with a fine layer of asphalt dust, tiny bits of tire, and good old fashioned dirt; and all of it gets picked up by the water on the road and flung onto your bike (and you) if you don’t have fenders. Full front and back fenders are the best thing you can do to keep yourself clean and dry and prevent maintenance problems.

Assuming you have fenders, your most important maintenance consideration after a rainstorm is your chain and gears. You should clean these with detergent and lubricate them after a storm to remove bits of sand that will wear out parts and to prevent rust. You should also clean your wheel rims if you have rim brakes. Dirt not only makes your brakes less effective, it also wears out your wheels: all that sand and grime caught on your brake pads is like sandpaper. A simple hosing off with clean water after a dirty ride will do wonders for your bike.

Rain on your commute brings some challenges, but it may be one of bicycling’s most underated pleasures. A cool rain on a summer day is refreshing and can wash away the stress of a hard day at the office. In an urban environment, few things connect us back to the world and remind us of our place in nature like a good rainshower.

Question: What concerns you most about riding in the rain? Enter your question in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Bike to Work in the Rain

  1. It’s not for everyone, and it isn’t always a pleasure. You should commute the way that makes sense for you.

    That said, have you tried it? I totally get not riding TO work in the rain (drying out clothes can be a pain), but consider taking your bike (and appropriate clothes if you want) on the bus in the morning of a wet day sometime and then riding home (I recommend summer). You may be surprised.

  2. I recently biked home during a thunderstorm where not only were the buckets of water falling from the sky unpleasant, but the lighting above my head was disconcerting as well. That’s when you find some cover and wait it out for a bit… or call for some backup.

    Fortunately, where I live this type of these types of thunderstorms during my commute are rare.

    I don’t mind a little rain on a bike ride …it actually feels good when I’m a little warm.

  3. I would really love to start riding a bike, but I am really scared of it too. First of all, it is a bit far and I have’t ride a bike for a long time.
    But also, I live in Brussels, with Autumn starting, it rains a lot here. Fortunately it usually doesn’t rain too heavy, but i am still worrying about getting to work wet from inside and outside…. I would like to have full cover, and a shower at a workplace 🙂

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