We are blessed to live in Hawai‘i, where there is great riding weather almost every day of the year–even in the “winter”. No snow, ice, or bitter cold like the rest of the other states deal with. But, that doesn’t mean island riders don’t have to deal with gusty, rainy, or downright stormy outdoor conditions. Sometimes there is no dry alternative and we need to get on our bike and hope for the best.
So, let’s talk about how you can be safe when riding in inclement weather.
What we’ll cover here:
- Dressing for wet weather
- Rain accessories for your bike
- Tactics & tips for tackling wet weather
Being prepared for the weather makes life a whole lot easier, especially when you have places to be. Check the weather forecast ahead of time and plan accordingly. If you know in advance there’s a high chance of thunderstorms or flash flood warning for your area you may have time to find another way to get to your destination that doesn’t involve being outside in the elements.
If you’re keen to not let some sky water stop you from cycling, read on! HBL staff have compiled tips for items you can buy (or make) & riding habits you can adopt that will help you endure–and possibly even come to enjoy(!)–riding in the rain.
ON YOUR BODY:
1. Waterproof outer layer
Invest in a water-resistant, or better yet, waterproof jacket to keep your upper body dry. Look for something breathable & lightweight since you do want to regulate airflow away from your body as it generates heat from pedaling. If you normally commute with a backpack or bag that is not weatherproof, pick a jacket that fits over your bag. There are even rain ponchos/capes that are specific to bicycling as you can fasten the front of the poncho over your handlebars for plenty of airflow.
Note: Waterproof vs. water-resistant. An item that employs water-resistant fabric will resist water, but won’t keep you dry forever. Waterproof is the highest level of protection from water or other liquids, making it best for enduring long rain sessions or other gnarly & wet conditions.
Biking on a Budget Hack: Get a (new) trash bag, preferably heavy-duty or thick, and make sure it’s large enough to cover your torso. Use your hands or something sharp like scissors to cut holes for your arms & head. Don your DIY rain poncho (perhaps not the most chic, but should keep you mostly dry in a pinch).
2. Shoe covers
If you’ve ever had to walk around in sopping wet socks in your rain-soaked shoes, you’ll know how downright loathsome it feels. Finding something that can protect your shoes, socks, and feet from getting soaked is crucial to your comfort on the bike, while helping save you from the bummer that is trying to dry out wet shoes. There are waterproof cycling shoes in every style, but for a more affordable footwear you can look to a pair of plain ol’ rubber rain boots. Another option is rain shoe covers. These “overshoes” are designed to be worn over the top of your cycling shoe and has a hole in the bottom so you can still utilize your clipless pedals. These shoe covers, typically made from a lightweight, windproof fabric or neoprene, can also be used to help protect non-cycling shoes (business/casual).
Note: Even when the rain stops the streets may be wet, which will cause the spray-up from your legs to run down into your socks. Yuck!
Biking on a Budget Hack: With your shoes on, slip plastic bags over each one. The bag should be tall enough that it covers the entire shoe. Secure to your ankle with a rubber band so they stay on and make it harder for rain to seep in through the top.
3. Quick-dry clothing
If you don’t mind getting wet and want to forgo an outerlayer, choose attire that utilizes quick-drying fabric like nylon, polyester, or merino wool. Quick-dry athletic attire can be found in most retail stores, but be sure to follow the washing instructions for the garment since the fabric may contain special properties that can break down if not cared for properly.
4. Eye protection
Being able to see your surroundings is critical, but how do you do so when it’s pouring out? While clear or yellow-tinted glasses keep water drops and road grit kicked up from other vehicles out of your eyes, the rain droplets can bead up on the glasses making it harder to see. There’s also foggy lenses to deal with. To combat this, some have tried using anti-fog spray solutions (such as Rain-X). What we’ve heard works well from shielding your eyes and face is a simple baseball or cycling cap (anything with an extended visor) tucked under your helmet.
+ Cycling gloves – Helps with better bike control & handling your brakes when your handlebars (and everything else) is wet & slippery from the rain. Also helps to prevent your hands from getting numb from being wet and cold for an extended period of time.
ON YOUR BIKE:
While you may be protected from falling rain coming from the sky, fenders can be your best defense from all the wet nasty conditions that come up from the sodden road below. Installing front & back fenders on your bike is a pretty quick task and a relatively inexpensive form of protection not only for you but other riders that may be biking behind you. Fenders, or mudguards, also can help prolong the life of your bike’s components too! Make sure that the fenders fit over your tires and reach close to the ground. It also helps to have a mud flap at the bottom that keeps much of the gunk off bike.
Biking on a Budget Hack: Using some empty water bottles, zip ties, and a handful of wire hangers, you can make a pretty darn efficient set of makeshift fenders for your bike. Check out the DIY instructions here. Just make sure they are securely fastened to your bike, and not rubbing on anything. Maybe not the most glam thing, but hey–we totally dig recycling & being resourceful!
A good set of lights is one of your best bits of safety equipment. Riding in inclement weather often accompanied by dark clouds and low-light, often means restricted visibility for motorists. In low-light or rainy conditions, we highly recommend equipping yourself with a strong (white) front light that is set to flash and a good rear blinking red light to accompany it.
In addition to lights, reflective gear is something you’ll want. Many of the items made for rain protection will have reflectors incorporated into them, but adding more reflectors to your body and bike is always a good thing. Your objective should be to highlight your body to look like the shape of a human. With both lights and reflectors, you’ll want to keep them clean from debris and grit so that they can do their job.
Note: Lights do you no good when they don’t have juice! Make sure you have spare batteries or if using rechargeable lights, that the batteries are well-charged before you need them. Also, if your bike lights are removable, make sure you’re the one removing them when stepping away from your ride.
Note: Reflectors are great but will only “reflect” light that is shone directly into them. That means if they are angled the wrong way they won’t help you.
Biking on a Budget Hack: Don’t have time to find a bike-specific front light? A household flashlight with some rubber bands to attach it (securely!) to your bike should do the trick if you’re in a pinch.
3. Waterproof bag/backpack or panniers
Now that your body and bike are mostly covered, what to do about keeping your other items like electronics, homework, or important business documents out of the rain? There are many waterproof and water-resistant rucksack options on the market today that utilize roll-top closures, reinforced zipper seams, reflective detailing, and other great features to keep your valuables dry & safe.
Another accessory in your biking arsenal that actually combats bad weather in multiple ways are waterproof panniers. No, that’s not a fancy type of artesian bread, but actually are backpack-sized bags that attach to your bicycle via the bike’s front or rear rack. For those that don’t want to carry their load on their back, panniers are the way to go (rain or shine). They are generally sold in sets of two, keeping your bike balanced with one on each side AND also lowering your center of gravity, which makes you more stable in stormy conditions. Look for a set of waterproof panniers that can be mounted to your bike (added reflective detailing is always nice!). Once you’re using them, ensure the roll-top/clinch/clip closure at the top is properly closed, and pedal away without any worry of soggy sandwiches or a wet laptop when you get to your final destination!
Biking on a Budget Hack: There are inexpensive backpack bag covers you can get to throw over your backpack, or to go the super $ saver route, use the trash bag poncho idea to cover you and your backpack. If you’re okay with your bag being rained on but want to protect it’s contents from getting wet, you can take a plastic bag or dry-bag & line the inside of your rucksack of choice; just make sure you secure the top of the bag to keep moisture out.
+ Puncture-resistant tires – You’re more likely to get a puncture in the rain because debris gets washed out of the gutter into the road and murky streams of water can hide things that might stick your tire. On top of that, water acts as an astonishingly good lubricant for sharp flint and glasses to slice through a less durable bike tire. Outfitting your bike with heavy-duty tires that have puncture-resistant qualities can be a bit harder to install because they’re generally thicker, but the good thing is the likelihood of you needing to fix a flat will go down dramatically.
ON THE ROAD:
Visibility is crucial to your biking safety, and your ultimate enjoyment of cycling. This is applicable not only to biking in inclement weather, but an essential factor in everyday riding.
But it’s not just about what you wear but where you ride. Read on to find out more. (Or watch this short one-minute video from HBL!)
Rainy Weather Riding Tips, Tactics & Technique
Bike Check before you go
Performing an ABC Quick Check on your bike before you head out is even more crucial when facing bad weather. This will catch any small issues that you can address quickly before hitting the road. Pay special attention to your brakes: checking that you have plenty of rubber left on the brake pads and when squeezing the brake levers firmly there should be a thumb’s width gap between the lever & the handlebar.
Rain dislodges hazards & can make them mobile, hides tire-eating road cracks & other sharp threats, causes potholes & ruts to appear, and washes debris into the road & bike lanes. All of these reasons mean that your chances of getting a flat when riding in poor conditions is increased. Now is not the time to forget your flat tire repair kit at home; you may want to consider bolstering it up with an additional spare tube.
Ensure that you have the appropriate amount of PSI (air) in your tires by checking & inflating with a floor pump. Having your tires inflated properly is the best way to prevent getting a flat. If your tires indicate the recommended PSI as a range (example: “40 – 65 PSI”), some veteran cyclists will intentionally target the lower number in the PSI range for slightly better traction.
As the rain falls, you may be spurred to ride faster to attempt to make a clean escape, but we implore you to resist that urge and in fact, do the opposite. Slow down. When riding in wet conditions, it’s safest to slow your roll & ride more cautiously for these important reasons: 1. Your braking power is jeopardized the wet conditions, and 2. Wet roads become slick, and speed + slippery streets = higher chance of you going down.
Wet brake pads (particularly rim brakes) are much less effective when water is involved and will take longer to bring you to a stop. Plan accordingly by gradually slowing, and give yourself way more time & space to stop (at least twice as long!). Riding at a reduced pace has another benefit – decreasing your speed will diminish the spray splatter from your wheels & the road onto you. The help shed moisture off the surface of your wheel’s rim you can drag both brakes lightly on the rim to clear excess water, making them grip better.
Caution: Slippery when wet. Watch where you ride!
Be wary of biking over anything metal such as manhole covers, metal construction plates, or railroad tracks, which will get far more slick in the rain. Avoid them if you can, and if you cannot do not make any sharp turns and try to limit your brake usage when riding over them.
Thick paint on the road that makes up the lane lines and other traffic markings will become slippery when wet as well, so use caution when changing lanes or riding across them.
Steer clear of piles of wet leaves gathered in the road; they could be covering a surface defect that you won’t know about until it’s too late. Same with puddles! Quash your childhood instincts of jumping through puddles if you cannot see clearly what’s lurking below the murky surface, especially on roads you’re not familiar with.
Parking your bike?
Find a place to lock your bike that provides shelter from the elements. Reminder: take anything off & with you that could be easily stripped from your unattended bicycle. That means lights, fenders, panniers, etc.
If you know you must leave your bike outside in the rain, bring a rubber band & plastic grocery bag or shower cap to shroud your saddle so when you need to jump on the bike again you’re not putting your toosh onto a sopping wet seat.
Change of clothes can change your mood.
Stash a clean set of clothes (don’t forget the undergarments too!) in a dry bag before you head out, or keep a spare outfit at work to change into. Having a towel to dry your body can be nice if it’s a super soaker kind of day, but the best way to get comfortable is changing out of your wet ride clothing and sliding on a dry pair of socks & shoes.
Stuffing old newspaper into your drenched shoes will absorb the moisture from them quicker, as well as help to cut the funk of wet footwear. Stick them in front of a fan to assist with airflow, and replace the newspaper every once in a while for a faster dry!
Show your bicycle some love.
Moisture does a great job of attracting grime and other junk to your bike & components, so when you are done with your ride, simply hose off your bicycle with gentle water pressure to remove majority of the grit (got a water bottle handy?). If you’ve got more time to spare, use warm soapy water and a sponge to clean off the more stubborn gunk, paying attention to the nooks and crannies in your bike’s components.
Now it’s lube time. To extend the life of your bike & it’s parts (and save you $!) you need to apply lube every once in a while, but absolutely after every wet ride. Lubing your chain removes grit & prevents rust from building up on the chain, which in turn keeps your shifting smooth & bike functioning efficiently.
If you’re pau riding for the day, wipe your bicycle dry so that it’s ready for it’s next adventure with you!