Some tips for wet weather riding

Down here in Australia, we’re heading into autumn, and rainy days have started to emerge. This being the case, some discussion has been sparked on my workplace’s internal cycling list on the topic of wet weather riding. Lots of good advice is being bandied about, and it’s all valuable.

I slammed a big reply down to a thread  yesterday, and since I spent so long typing it, I figured it might be a good idea to paste it in here and expand a little on the key points. More below the fold.

Wet weather riding tips. Oh boy. Here goes. Clothes first, general stuff later.

Sounds slightly counterintuitive, but I try not to add layers for wet weather, but to ignore the rain and dress to the temperature. If I pop a waterproof shell on over the top of the usual clothes, all I succeed in doing is trapping sweat inside – even ‘breathable’ fabrics don’t transmit enough moisture to stop the effect. I’d rather have my gear rain-soaked than sweat-soaked, generally. On long wet rides I take a weatherproof shell to put on when I’m stopped, not to ride in. One exception: high winds mean windproof/waterproof becomes a life saver, not a sauna.

So usually, I’ll wear what I normally wear. Short-sleeve bike jersey or high-performance fabric sports top. Good bike shorts. Thin, short, non-cotton socks. Gloves. Optional skins base layer in cold weather, and I have leg warmers and waterproof overshoes (though I bought those specifically for a particular mountain bike race with several cold river crossings and barely use them otherwise). As always, choose fabrics that wick moisture.If you’re in a colder climate that I’m in here in Sydney, you’re going to need long sleeves and layering, but as ever, dressing to the temperature is often more important than dressing for the rain.

Don’t wear cotton. Ever. Cotton holds water and ends up heavy, shapeless and plastered to your skin, rubbing the top layer of skin away and generally driving you mad. Your first pair of chafed nipples will get you out of the cotton t-shirt habit fast, if it doesn’t just put you off cycling in the rain altogether.

I *have* made the mistake of wearing my two-layer mountain bike shorts in wet weather, when I’d have been better off with stereotypical lycra roadie shorts. Loose fabrics hold water and flap around, resulting in a “non-optimal” amount of chafeage. If someone mocks your lycra, invite them to do a long bike ride with you in the wet, and see who has skin left at the end of the day. I can’t emphasise this enough – if you’re uncomfortable on the bike, you’re never going to enjoy your riding.

Gloves. Definitely gloves. Bare skin on handlebars in wet weather: not a great idea. For one thing it’s slippery, but mainly a long ride in wet weather will crinkle your palm skin and you’ll end up with blisters, especially if you’re overgripping to compensate for the slippery texture. I go for lightweight open-finger gloves, but it’s your choice.

The major change I make though, is I don’t ride my skinny-tyred road bike in the wet. I take the mountain bike. It handles better, has a more neutral balance and the disk brakes are far superior to wet rim brakes. If you only have one bike, make it versatile. Don’t run slick tyres or carbon rims unless you have a spare set of wheels for wet weather. If, hypothetically, I was only allowed one bike for my current commute, I’d probably be buying a disc-equipped cyclocross bike like the Specialized Crux Carbon Disc. That’d give a balance between the speed of a road bike in the dry and the all-weather capability of a CX bike – though others may prefer a flat bar. YMMV

Avoid painted lines on the road when riding, unless you have a death wish. And ride well out from the gutter, to avoid deep water and hidden potholes. “Riding Out” is good dry weather advice, but it’s even more important in the wet. Your route choice may also change in the rain, though that comes with experience.

And put your lights on, even in the day, if it’s raining more than a few spots. You may be surprised how much a little rain cuts visibility, and how incompetent at driving in the rain most Sydney* drivers are. On wet days, your lights aren’t there so you can see other people, they’re there so other people can see you.

Lastly – I’m short sighted and wear glasses or contact lenses. For short rides in dry weather, I’ll often forgo my contacts and just ride with my glasses on but as soon as it’s wet, my contact lenses go in and stay in. There is nothing more dangerous in cycling than impaired vision. If you’re a spectacle wearer and are looking into all-weather riding, go and ask your local optometrist about contact lenses, or if you’re rich, consider laser correction. It’s amazing how much better (and safer) life is when you can see clearly.

TL;DR: use common sense and have fun. I actually *like* doing training rides in the rain, because #1 the rain keeps me cool and #2 the pressure to go fast and far is reduced, so I can just enjoy the riding a bit more. Also, Rule 9 states that if you’re riding in bad weather you’re automatically badass


* I’ve also lived in the UK, where wet weather driving skills are a little better – but they’re still not great. Make yourself seen.

One Thought on “Some tips for wet weather riding

  1. I like that you talked about how it is a smart idea to not wear loose or shorts with a lot of folds when mountain biking in the rain. I didn’t think about how that could make it difficult to rid or it could get caught in something. Do you have any tips for things that would make biking in the rain easier?

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