Cycling in the rain: the good, the bad, the slippery

"If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period."

So reads Rule #9 of the hilarious (but not entirely satirical) creed for sports cyclists, "The Rules" by the Velominati.

It goes on to lionise "a special club of riders who … upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face".

To me, there are two types of rainy day cycling. The first is when you set out in dry conditions – even when the clouds threaten – and get caught in a downpour. It can be a blast, it can be a drag, but it's a fait accompli and at least you've warmed up.

Then there is heading off into falling rain, which is a whole different level.

I'm a sporadic member of this club – and on several occasions have earned (I believe) bonus points by having to pack a sodden tent before saddling up. 

But I couldn't begin to count the times I've sat on the lounge of a Sunday morning, watching ABC Insiders and then Offsiders (and maybe even Landline), overdosing on coffee while trying to coax myself out the door and into the drizzle.

I don't always enjoy wet rides, but I love having ridden in the rain. As winter settles in across Australia, here are a few things to consider when duelling the drops.

What to wear: I have two approaches, depending on cycling style. For transport or touring, I wear a general purpose rain jacket and pants and work on staying as dry as possible (the jacket has zipper vents under the arms to offset that "boil in the bag" effect). For sports cycling, I accept I'm going to get wet, and try to minimise cold if necessary – a cycling rain jacket, extra layers, shoe covers, arm warmers and maybe long-fingered gloves. Of course, there are many options - on a short journey in light drizzle, a long jacket or rain poncho can be quite sufficient. And if you do get a bit damp, as the Dutch say, "you're not made of sugar".


Vision quest: I tend to wear contact lenses and lightly tinted, wraparound sunnies for sports cycling – I pocket the latter if they get overly rain-spattered, and just blink more. Many riders use caps with visors to keep the stinging drops out of the eyes and off the eyewear, especially when wearing prescription glasses.

Light the way: A cyclist should  generally work on the theory that some motorists might not see them, and double up on this assumption when windows are foggy or rain-spattered and clouds bring gloom. If I'm mixing with cars, I'll consider using lights (and just to clarify, lights are compulsory in "hazardous weather conditions causing reduced visibility", or at night).

Fenders/mudguards: They're old school, but the silver, strutted items that wrap close to a bike's wheels are the best way to stop water soaking your shoes or leaving a suggestive stripe up the back of your shirt and shorts. Modern bikes, especially racers, often can't fit these - there are various sculpted items that clamp to down tubes and seat posts, if you're interested.

Slippery when wet: It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know that tyre grip is compromised by moisture. But the challenge for the balancing cyclist is greater; it pays to be especially vigilant about painted road markings, drain covers and tram tracks (the cyclist's bane).

Stopping power: As a child, I was convinced that applying my brakes in the wet actually made the bike go faster, so negligible was the braking effect of rubber blocks on steel rims. Aluminium rims are better but are still compromised by rain, while disc brakes trump all – just don't brake too hard on that wet road, of course.

Obstacle courses: Storms bring down branches that can often litter road shoulders for days after a deluge, while potholes often develop after a rainy interlude. 

So, why ride in the rain?

For the transport cyclist, it may be the preferred or only choice, and there is often an upside. Wet weather gridlock can have a negligible effect on a two-wheeler, especially if you have a good route. While cars back up for miles, and public transport overcrowds, many cyclists I've spoken to find their commuting times much the same, rain or shine.

For the recreational enthusiast, it can be just another necessary day in the saddle – especially if you're the type who gets twitchy after too many days off the bike.

A warm home is never more toasty when you have a pile of soggy clothes, cycling shoes stuffed with newspaper (take that, internet!) and a bike that looks like it's been hand-rubbed with grease and sand.

And, ultimately, there is something glorious about being out in the elements, with the rain on your skin and the wind tugging at you from all directions – it can be a wilderness experience just a windowpane-width away from the dry, cloying, climate-controlled world of modern society.

Do you ride in the rain, or dodge the drops at all costs? What are your gear and clothing choices?

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