Let’s talk rain

As I pull open the curtains and blinds this morning I am greeted by the Scottish phenomena of sideways rain. There is always a joke about Scotland being wet, and it is, but that’s why it is also so godsmackingly beautiful. You can’t see a rainbow without rain, and you can’t feel the lightening without the downpour. Grass ain’t green unless it’s regularly soggy.

This is the time of year however when it starts to rain properly. Instead of the odd refreshing shower we are now seeing grey skies and rain set in for the day. Does this mean an end of cycling? Hell no!

Cycling in the rain does have its considerations, aside from the obvious one of getting a bit wet. The roads will be more slippery, especially in areas of high traffic or already loose surfaces. There may be standing water and, if rural, mud on the roads. These things are both slippery and hazardous because they can hide additional road issues you can’t see, like potholes. What can you do about this? Well, the first thing may be to slow down a bit and anticipate more, the second thing is to let out a little air from your tyres to increase the contact surface and thus give you a bit more grip. It still won’t be anything as good as in the dry no matter what tyre manufactures claim. You need to allow extra time to stop, extra distances for braking, and even with hub brakes which loose no efficiency in wet weather, you still need to allow for road conditions. Try to move out from standing water or mud so as to avoid hidden dangers.

Some people like to move to a wet chain lube for winter, but this does suck up dirt. Wet lube is just that, it stays wet. This doesn’t mean you need wet lube for wet weather, a mistake I made for a good while. Personally, I prefer to continue to use my regular lube and just clean the chain and bike after every long ride, or twice a week for commuting. Basically, I do it twice as often as I would with routine summer cleaning. Your regime should follow your usage – the more you use, the more you clean. Simple really.

Now nobody is going to convince anyone that fitting mudguard to a road bike is sexy. This is possibly why a lot of carbon framed bikes don’t have fittings for mudguards – not only does it destroy the aesthetics it also affects the weight and performance.

With a road bike you just often have to accept a wet arse. But, if you can fit them, then swallow your pride and do so. Your laundry will thank you, as will anyone coming up behind you. A face full of dirty water does not endear you to your fellow cyclists. Many group rides insist on mudguards all year round so you might as well get on with it.

The other thing that you should obviously consider is what you are wearing. Nobody looks good cold and wet, so put on something that will either keep you dry or dries quickly. Take a change of clothes on your commute, if you don’t keep spares at your destination.

The problem with waterproofs is they are often a double edged sword; they make you warmer so you sweat more and get wet that way, but they do you keep your dryer than you would be without them in the heavy rain. This is another reason for slowing down a bit. Building up a sweat will make you wet and pongy. There is no two ways about it and so you have to think about if you’d prefer to get a bit wet on the cycle but have quick drying clothes, or stay dry but go slower to allow for the added body heat you might build up by cycling.

I tend to combine the two ideas with a waterproof jacket and quick dry trousers. Although I have a lovely waxed cotton jacket made for cycling I have yet to get a cold enough day to wear it without being wetter than I would be without it!

If you are going to be shopping, or making multiple stops of any nature, then make sure you have something to keep your warm when you stop. I find modern fabrics such as Gore Windstopper has a real advantage here because it’s the wind that makes you cold more than the rain itself. They’re water resistant to all but a continual downpour, and even if you do get wetted out then you’ll stay warm because of the wind resistance.

I have a red Castelli Gabba, famed for it’s popularity with professionals, for use on my road bike. I have a Gore Phantom with zip-off sleeves for use with my Brompton, commuting and in town. I always recommend a full length zip because it is much easier to vent if you become warm and zip off sleeves cope with a real change of temperature whilst keeping your core warm and dry. Ideal for Autumn.

The biggest bane of wet weather cycling for me is wet feet. Almost all cycling shoes are designed to be vented to stop you getting too hot. Venting is lovely, but lets in water too. I can’t abide Goretex linings, I find them too hot. There are many schools of thought on this but I go with socks that keep your feet comfortably warm whilst wet and just get wet. I do the same hiking.

Touring shoes have more ingress prevention built in to the design and can be an excellent choice. They usually require SPD rather than SPD-SL pedals and cleats though.

There is the option of over-shoes but I find them too warm unless the temperature is in single figures.

If you’re commuting and not clipping in then you have a lot of choices and decisions to make. If you can change at the other end then wear what makes you cycle most efficiently on your bike (allowing for having grip when you put your foot down at the lights), and simply change your socks and shoes. If you’re not getting changed, then your need to think of what will be fine at your destination, clean up with a wipe down, and keep your feet relatively dry on the way there. Leather shoes are often the best solution as they can be proofed or wax polished and if they keep your dry walking around town, they’ll keep you dry cycling. Just watch the soles in the wet for stopped at the lights.

Let’s get on to head gear, and probably start a massive argument. IF you choose to wear a helmet then you can put a cycling cap under it to help with keeping you warm and possibly dry. IF you choose not to wear a helmet then you have a host of weather beating choices. The last thing you should do is wear a hood – it will limit your ability to see around you, be hazardous when turning, and reduce your connection with the world. A hat is much better, peaked in some way to help keep the rain of your face and out of your eyes, especially if you wear glasses.

I have a woolly hat my Sealskinz which has reflective material woven into it. It will keep me warm and dry and help me be seen in the dark as it reflects back car headlights. I also have a Specialized helmet and a Castelli cycling cap for when I road ride and feel a helmet is appropriate. I have also been known to cycle in a baseball cap, and even once borrowed my dad’s flat cap!

If you do wear a helmet with a hat under it, for Christ’s sake make sure the helmet still sits correctly on your head! I see countless people who adopt a woolly hat in the winter and just perch the helmet on the top of it. At best you look like a deformed mushroom and at worst a male appendage. Your helmet will not do you any favours in this position if you need it. Regardless of the debate about helmet properties and if they work anyway, we are talking about functions should you choose to wear one.

Helmets are a personal choice – don’t preach to others, the decision is theirs.

So, I’ve outlined some of the options and choices for you. But the important thing is that you don’t stop riding and jump in the car at first sign of wet weather, you’re not made of salt. Riding in the rain is actually really good fun – remember splashing in puddles in your wellies as a kid?


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