I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes.... and also down my back and all over my face! The rain. It's more of a foe than a friend in the cycling world, some of us just crack on straight through it whereas the rest will despise it as much as getting a mechanical! Our recent rides have all been in the rain and it was in these moments we thought to ourselves that riding in wet weather is a completely different skill set and preparation so we thought we would share our own words of advice on managing riding when the sky lets loose...
Well that's the first major question you should answer. If it's commute to work or getting somewhere important, you need to be prepared (we will come to that). Unless it's snow/ice, we will ride into work and attempt to dry ourselves off when we get there. Getting home is not too much of a problem because you're going home to a warm shower and fresh clothes and ultimately, you're not working to deadlines, you're working towards dinner and Netflix!
If it's a training ride, is it worth the risk? Wet weather brings an increase in chance of sketchy roads, riding across grit and grime, big puddles to roll through. That's where the pull of a turbo comes in handy, it might not be everyone's cuppa but it's safer, you're dry (unless you sweat as much as we do!) and you're at home. So do weigh up the risks before hand.
Deciding the Route
Ok, so you've decided it's worth getting out there but some roads will evidently be better than others in terms of muck. On our recent ride to Pagham and back, we were hit by really heavy rain on both days. On a sunny day, the routes we had created would of been a joy, hardly any traffic and road surfaces weren't too bad. But the rain changed the whole complexity of our rides. Puddles covered potholes and patches in the road, small pieces of wood and stone covered the roads, the chances of punctures are increased drastically. Changing a flat on the side of a country lane in the middle of nowhere with your hands soaking wet and freezing is a situation you want to avoid.
You might think stick to busy roads then. In our experience, drivers become as risky in wet weather and you're constantly battling for road position to avoid puddles and if the driver behind doesn't understand this, then it'll likely to end up in a close pass scenario... We sent ourselves up Bury Hill which take you near Arundel Castle. We knew it was an A road but what we didn't realise was it was a fast paced steep dual carriageway hill climb with a rough surface with a roadkill (often a pheasant) every 50m. Hated it especially as the climb had a couple of bends and drivers are passing at 50mph+. In hindsight and for the future, I'll be finding another way of getting over the South Downs. On the other side of this coin though and a few miles before this rough segment, I found myself on some very leafy and wet back roads, some flooded. I hadn't seen anyone for miles so if something was to happen here, it would of been a very very long trudge back to civilisation...
You may argue and I'm with you that an attraction of cycling is being adventurous and riding into the unknown but there's a line where it turns from an adventure into a bit of a death trap. Don't want to put people off cycling in the rain but everything changes in terms of approaching descents and corners. We were constantly on our brakes but that was a lot down to the type of bike we were riding (again, we will come to equipment!). Knowing your roads helps but you can't foresee hazards and changes in road conditions so being cautious is a sensible approach to apply.
Even having a look through google maps, street view or just asking around social media for routes to take or roads to avoid, someone might point out a road you have included in your ride is prone to flooding or becomes really grimey in wet weather. A few back roads in the South Downs area really had our swear box being filled up with every pedal stroke!
On that note, it's also wise to have some bail out points or be aware of major towns so if you do get stuck with a mechanical or have had enough of it altogether, you have a back up plan with hopefully a bike shop, a warm cafe and a train station if it came to it. Even if you think you know the area you're in, you can be led into a false pretence with just how far places are from each other. We opted to take a back road away from Godalming and bypass the main roads of Guildford. We were on a very unfamiliar single track road for about 20 minutes which included a tough little climb so reconnaissance shouldn't be ignored.
For all those who apply the n+1 rule, we're assuming that +1 is your Winter/Summer bike so for days where the weather has turned, you know which bike to take out. We don't technically have a Winter bike but our now old Specialized Tarmac takes most of the beating. We use it for commutes mostly and zwifting leaving our Planet X EC130 (a shorter nickname would of helped!) for the more pleasant occasions. We did however want to give the PX a send off for 2019 so decided to take it for the journey down to the coast and back. We have been warned that carbon brakes are not so good in the wet and we found that out quite quickly. A short but steep rough descent before we hit Cranleigh woke us up to the limits of carbon brakes, we were slowing down but we were never stopping! From that moment onward for the next 120 miles, it was a cautious approach to every downhill section we came across.
Clothing is an area you can get it very wrong. We are on the side that there is no such thing as bad weather but as bad clothing, you gotta' be prepared for the weather you're riding in, too cold or too warm and you can really do some internal damage in terms of becoming ill. Heatstroke is something we suffer from easily in the summer and that's all down to hydration for us and the amount of fluids we lose whilst cycling. In the Winter, we are susceptible to throat infections or sinus problems so we regularly wear a neckie to protect ourselves. We decided not to wear a jacket (might sound crazy but hear us out!) all the rain jackets that we own or have worn have done nothing to stop us getting soaked so we stick a base layer on under a long sleeve jersey. We wouldn't advise this to others, just a personal preference for us until we find a jacket which does what it's supposed to do and won't cost a fortune either! We find wet weather clothing tricky and it's probably down to our body fat. Not a shame to say we are a bit top heavy but we feel this helps maintain our core body temperature so it's our fingers and toes we need to look after.
Mitts and gloves are tricky because if it's mild, you can get away with mitts like we did one our ride to the coast. But you really want to invest in water proof gloves with decent thermal lining. Overshoes. We have had loads and the honest truth, when it comes to protecting from the rain, most of them are s***! A few drops of rain you're fine, anything heavier than that, you better have spare socks handy! If you want to go water proof, than we've been suggested brands like Velotoze who uses latex rubber to keep your feet dry. Well, the feedback that we've heard that the downside to that is that your feet overheat and are soaked with sweat so it's either cold rain or warm sweat to deal with!
We've ridden in most weather conditions from snow blizzards to blazing sun to warm rain to gusty winds but it was on the ride to Pagham and back that it hit home how riding in the rain is requires a completely different skill set. You can't ride how you would in the dry, you can't be that naive otherwise you're going to find yourself on the deck with either or both you and your bike damaged so here's what we would suggest:
- Be wary of patches of wet leaves and grime. High probability that you will lose traction and it's game over. Be cautious and look ahead to the road surfaces so you can adjust your riding line accordingly. If you do find yourself braking on a patch of wet leaves or mud, be confident whilst trying to not lock up the wheel, you want to maintain friction, not lose it otherwise you might as be ice skating!
- Try not to ride through puddles no matter how childish you are! It's a puddle for a reason, there's depth to that water and who knows what's under it. Even if you know the road really well, it's not worth the risk, all you need is to hit a stone and it's game...
- This leads onto road position especially for descents. Take the primary, I even hold out my hand beforehand to indicate to the driver behind to stay back, you just hope they understand why you're doing what you're doing. You do need confidence and a bit of stubbornness with this strategy I feel, even taking primary in the dry, some drivers will still see you as in their way and won't be considerate. My advice and your bail out is to pull over somewhere safe and let the traffic pass, we have a family now and gone are the days of remonstrating with every driver that doesn't take care around us. Don't get us wrong, we will call them out if its vexed us that much but if they're an idiot behind the wheel, what will they be like when they get out of the car? The use of cameras in these incidents are your best way to pursue a bit of justice.
- If you come across a climb, look for the 'driving line', the tracks in the road made by other vehicles. The grit and grime will be pushed to the side and that's where you would usually find yourself but do you want to risk changing a flat in the pouring rain?
- Be wary of any paint on the roads and oil spills for that matter. Our only real major coming off was when we rolled over the painted lines on a zebra crossing in biblical conditions, front wheel went under from us and we slid straight into the curb and into a puddle. It wasn't even at speed but these moments do make you better prepared for next time (hopefully there won't be a next time!). Try not turn the bike when crossing paint or oil, there's only gonna' be one winner here...
These are just our own personal bits of advice, there will obviously be some who will offer different approaches or disagree altogether but I practice what I preach because as much as I want to enjoy the bike, I also want to get home in one piece. If you prepare for wet weather riding in the right way, it can be as enjoyable as a sunny day's ride (honest!). But I thought the final section of this blog would be down to you. If you have a suggestion whether it be a must have piece of clothing or your own riding advice, do let us know and we will be happy to add it on and credit to you back, after all, sharing is caring!