Although more than three-fourths of Americans drive to work every day, alternative forms of transportation are gaining popularity—sales of e-bikes, for example, have soared since the pandemic. And after two decades of slow growth in the number of people biking to work instead of driving, our recent foray into apocalyptic gas prices has inspired more people around the country to bike to work. And that’s good news, because biking is healthier, better for the environment, and a lot more fun than sitting in traffic and staring at someone else’s brake lights. But there’s one huge downside to committing to that biking life: The weather.
Biking to work (or anywhere) on a warm, sunny day is always going to be more pleasant than a grueling commute in a car. But biking in the rain is without a doubt more dangerous than riding in dry weather—the surfaces are slicker, visibility is lower, and bikes are a lot more vulnerable to flood conditions. That doesn’t mean biking in the rain has to be a non-starter, though—all it takes to pull it off is a little preparation.
How to dress to bike in the rain
Obviously, the number one downside to biking in wet weather is the wet part. If you’ve ever been caught in a thunderstorm while biking, you know that you’re soaked within minutes. Throw in some cold temperatures, and it’s a miserable experience. The key to biking in the rain is to dress appropriately:
- Rain jackets and pants. Start with a waterproof jacket and rain pants. The key things to look for (aside from the waterproof part) are a breathable fabric (so you don’t sweat to death inside your waterproof cocoon) and reflective striping that enhances your visibility in gloomy weather.
- Overshoes and gloves. Soggy shoes are the absolute worst, so you should invest in a good pair of overshoes to protect your feet.
- A waterproof bag. If you’re commuting somewhere, chances are you’re carrying work materials with you—or maybe despite all your waterproof gear, you want to bring a dry change of clothes with you. Whatever you’re carrying, investing in a waterproof backpack or pannier is a must. This way you can ensure that even if you show up soaked to the skin, your work isn’t.
How to prep and maintain your bike for rain
Bicycles operate just fine in wet weather, but they do require a bit of extra maintenance to avoid rust and other damage. And you should definitely invest in some safety enhancements if you’re going to be heading out into the deluge on your bike:
- Add a bike light. Rainy conditions tend to be dark, and visibility is low. Adding some bike lights will make it easier for drivers (and other cyclists) to see you, and adding a rechargeable headlight to your bike’s handlebars will illuminate the path in front of you while also enhancing your visibility.
- Fenders and mudguards. One ride in the rain teaches you a very valuable lesson: Half of the water soaking you is kicked up by your own tires. Adding some fenders or mudguards to your ride will reduce the amount of water deposited directly onto your legs by a significant amount.
- Tires. You should also consider switching to tires with puncture guards—rainy conditions tend to wash lots of debris into your path, making a puncture more likely. And fixing a flat tire in the rain is one of the most miserable experiences in life no matter what vehicle we’re talking about.
In addition to these additions to your bike, you should also perform a quick post-ride maintenance routine every time you’ve been out in the rain:
- Clean the bike. Biking in the rain doesn’t just make your bike wet—it makes it filthy with mud and other debris kicked up from the road. Drying it off and cleaning it immediately after the ride is important for staving off rust and other damage and keeping it in good condition. Hosing the bike off is a good idea, but if that’s not practical, use a chamois or shop towel to get the damp and gunk off.
- Lube the chain. Your chain is the most vulnerable part of your bike, and it can get gunked up when riding in the rain, increasing the chances of a break or a slip. After cleaning it off, a quick spray with some chain lube will protect it and keep it moving smoothly through the gears.
- Check the lights and tire pressure. After each ride, a quick inspection of your lights to ensure they’re working correctly is essential—in some weather conditions, your bike lights might be the only way motorists or other bikers can see you. You should also check your tire pressure—keeping your tires a little soft (5-10 psi below the usual recommended pressure) can give you extra grip on rain-slick surfaces.
Practice defensive biking
Once you’re geared up and your bike is tricked out for the rain, all that’s left is to adjust how you ride. Rain changes all the biking conditions you’re used to, so you’ll need to adjust how you approach your ride:
- Be defensive. It’s not fair, but cars and other motorized vehicles dominate the roads—and drivers are often not thinking about cyclists at all, or are bizarrely aggressive towards them. To be fair, many drivers might think no sane person would bike in a maelstrom, so they simply don’t think they need to watch out for you. Always assume a motorist can’t see you, and be extremely cautious while biking.
- Slow down. Your brakes won’t work as well in the wet weather, and your tires—no matter how good they are or how perfectly you’ve managed their pressure—will slip more in the rain. Give yourself extra time to slow down and come to a stop by biking at a more moderate pace.
- Avoid puddles. Rain has a way of revealing just how deferred the road and path maintenance is in your area. Riding through a puddle might seem like fun, especially when you’re snug inside your waterproof gear, or maybe you’re reluctant to change your route just because of an enormous puddle. But puddles can hide deep ruts and dips that can cause you to lose control and/or damage your bike.
Riding your bike in the rain can be just as healthy, environmentally friendly, and fun as riding it any other time—as long as you take a few precautions.