Just Biking in the Rain: Is Rain Interrupting Your Commute?

IMG_20140404_071430_017This week marks the first week of my commuting bicycle experience. Well that isn’t entirely true; I used to commute down State Street in Madison, WI, but that distance was walkable and closed off to traffic. My new 4.5 mile commute is a bit different and while I am slowly figuring out the little details of bicycle commuting, such as the necessity of my bringing clothes to change into (being sweaty at work is not fun), and finding out how to remedy the effects of helmet hair; there is one detail about bicycle commuting I forgot…the rain.

Me: Before and After Hypothermia

Me: Before and After Rain Induced Hypothermia

I don’t particularly enjoy the snow, but rain I am pretty terrified of. Perhaps this is because of an experience with rain induced hypothermia one summer canoe trip in the Boundary Waters where a sudden downpour of cold rain chilled me to the bone. Still, I don’t want a little rain to be the reason to give up, so I made a list of my biggest rainy weather fears and began to ask around for ways to beat them.

My Rainy Bicycle Fears:

  1. Getting soaked: See hypothermia caused by rain above, it can happen!
  2. Hydroplaning: This can happen with bikes right?
  3. Distracted Drivers: Texting, talking, driving, singing and then add weather to the mix, and drivers may be at multitask overload.
  4. Puddles: If potholes weren’t bad enough; rain can fill them in and make them look like innocent puddles.
  5. Crazy Hair: This one may be more geared to the ladies, but when rain and my hair meet crazy things happen. (picture Motley Crue).

The Solutions:

1. Dress to stay dry:

  • What to Wear:  There are many specialized clothes made for biking in the rain, but the most important thing is to make sure that your outer most layers, jacket, rain-pants, etc. are waterproof and your inside layers stay dry.
    •  Additional clothing items to aid in the fight to stay dry:
      • A base layer and sweater made of non-cotton material. Synthetic or wool works best at keeping sweat from sticking to you. After all you are trying to stay dry.
      • Waterproof shoes or boots to keep your feet dry. If you aren’t sure if your shoes are waterproof there are also shoe covers designed just for biking in the rain.
      • A lot of heat escapes from your hands so pick up some waterproof gloves to keep your hands warm and dry.
    • Waterproof bags: Use a waterproof bag, backpack, etc. in order to keep your items free of rain and insure dry clothes when you get to work.
    • Note! Waterproof versus Water-resistant: This is an often confusing difference and the one that led to my experience with hypothermia 2 years ago.
      • Waterproof means that the material can be completely submerged in water and everything will stay dry. You could take a waterproof bag with you snorkeling and hours later pull out a completely dry financial report for your 9 o’clock meeting.
      • Water-resistance on the other hand means that the fabric used is going to keep water out… to an extent. It works just fine if you are only encountering a light shower or will be out of the rain quite quickly, but if you get caught in anything a bit heavier, you’d be better off wearing a swimsuit.

2. Cautious Riding:

  • While hydroplaning on a bike is not likely to occur there are other cautions that you need to take when riding your bike in the rain.
    • Braking. Bike brakes are not as effective in the rain, so it important to take it slower than usual and allow yourself sufficient time to stop.
    • Slick surfaces. Cornering and traction are greatly reduced in the rain, especially on the road, because when the pavement gets wet the oil that cars drip mix with the water and make things super slick. So go slow!

3. Stay Visible:

  • Traffic is always something to be aware of while on your bike, but it is especially important to make sure you are highly visible when conditions are less than ideal.
    • Use rear and front lights. Just like cars use their headlights in the rain; it is a good practice to also utilize lights on your bike in conditions with reduced visibility.

4. Avoid the Puddles!:

  • There is not much you can do about sneaky potholes hiding in the middle of puddles. But they are dangerous and can cause flat tires or severe crashes. The best solution is simply to avoid them completely, if possible, and always wear a helmet.

The Stylish Sugoi Zap Helmet Cover

5. Helmet Covers (and maybe some product…):

  • A helmet cover is a great solution for not only saving your hair, but also for just keeping your head dry and warm.
  • For the ladies: it may be good practice to just bring a few products for defrizzing your mane once you arrive at work, this will help you avoid looking like Nikki Sixx all day.

There you have it. Now that the fears have been debunked, there really is no excuse for you to not..

Get Out and Ride!