Thunderstorms had been passing through the area on and off most of the day, but I really didn’t begin watching the weather closely until an hour before I was scheduled to leave work. Heavy rains were expected shortly after I was done working, so the weather app on my phone was receiving a lot of attention.
“Did you ride your bike to work today,” a coworker asked just before I was going to leave. I said that I had, and he responded, “Looks like you should be okay.”
When I left home for my bicycle commute that day, I told my wife that I would be riding home that afternoon regardless of the weather. If it was storming, I’d wait it out at work. If the rain wasn’t too heavy, I’d ride in the rain.
I had no choice. My wife needed a car to take her mom to a doctor’s appointment at the same time that I quit work for the day. Our other car had been loaned to friends whose car was in the repair shop. I had no choice but to ride, but on a summer day that’s an easy chore. Even in the rain.
Before riding to work, I made sure that my rain suit was in my panniers. I didn’t need to make any other preparations. The temperature was forecast to be in the upper 70s, so I didn’t need a jacket or any other protective clothes.
Skies were overcast for the morning ride, but the rain held off until after I reached the office. The ride home, light rain began falling about two minutes after I left. No big deal. I was wearing my rain suit, and I rode straight home instead of going for a longer ride as I sometimes do. I kept a nice steady pace, and made it home without problem. The tops of my shoes were wet, but other than that I was dry.
I have learned a bit about riding in the rain over the years, and with some adjustments it can be done pretty easily. My education in riding in the rain is hard-earned. Multiple crashes have helped me to understand that it is important to take it easy. No not rush and do not to lean into turns. I ruined the pants of my first rain suit doing this.
Late to work, I pedaled hard into a right turn. As I leaned into the turn, the rear wheel came out from beneath me. I skidded 30 feet on the asphalt, and a 90-degree hook left me on the ground staring at oncoming traffic. I threw my bike into the parking lane, and scrambled out of the roadway, my right pant leg shredded from hip to knee. I’d like to say that I learned my lesson from the crash, but I can remember at least one other similar incident. Eventually, I did learn.
Lesson One: Ride as upright as possible to prevent the wheels from going out from beneath you. Imagine that your back is a steel rod, and you want to keep it as perpendicular to the road as possible. Most importantly, don’t lean into turns.
Lesson Two: Bike brakes don’t work very well in the rain. Brakes rely on friction to slow the wheels of your bicycle. Slick with rain water, there is little friction between your brake pads and your wheel rims. Because your brakes don’t work well in the rain, don’t ride as fast as you usually do. Also, think ahead and be cautious so that you don’t have to brake suddenly to stop.
Lesson Three: You are going to get wet. There is no way around it. Riding fast doesn’t keep you dry, it just makes it more likely that you will crash. Embrace the rain. Ride slower than usual, and don’t worry about wet clothes. In warm weather, getting wet is not a big deal. In cold rain, think how good it will feel to strip out of your wet clothes.
If you’re riding home, there are towels to dry your body, and a drier or clothes line for your clothes. If you are riding to work or anywhere else, pack dry clothes in plastic bags to change into when you arrive.
So, take it easy in the rain, and you’ll (probably) make it to your destination unscathed.