Thursday, March 22, 2007

April Showers and All That...

As of yesterday, we're into the more-or-less official riding season - that is, not winter. I've seen more cyclists out the past couple of days than I've seen in months.

The other thing that Spring means is rain. Lots of rain. So in this post I thought I'd share some tips I've found for riding in the rain.

Note: I can't stress enough how much I think that every bike commuter should pick up a copy of Mr. Bike's Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips: Low-Tech & No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep a Bicycle. Everything I'm going to tell you is going to be in that book somewhere. I'm just going to tell you some stuff that's worked for me personally.

What to wear: well, this depends on the factors other than rain. But one item that fits no matter what the temperature is a good pair of glasses. They'll keep the rain out of your eyes (and riding fast with rain pelting you in the eyes is not fun), and if you have a pair like I do (Tifosi Slip T-V130, with tinting lenses that actually work) they will keep the glare out of your eyes, too.

I've heard a couple of different opinions on clothes. First, if it's not cold out, and you're not going that far, and you have a place to change clothes once you get where you're going... don't sweat the rain gear. Just wear your helmet, your glasses, and whatever else you'd normally wear to ride.

Since those three conditions are almost never met (especially the third - how many places in Columbus are actually set up properly for bike commuters?) then you're going to need some rain gear. I have a couple different things I use for the rain.

First, I carry a Log House Bike Cape. This is a rain poncho with small straps in front to hold the cape over your front, all the way up to your handlebars. It also has leg loops to keep the cape from flapping up in back while you're riding, which keeps your back dry. I wore this home last winter when there was freezing rain coming down and I was dry and comfortable the entire time.

I also have a cheap Columbia rain suit that I've had for years. I think it cost me $30 back in 2001 or so... it's just a simple rain jacket and rain pants. If I KNOW I'm going to be riding in the rain then I put this baby on. The cape is more for if the rain catches me by surprise.

Now, one problem with the rain suit - the legs snap shut around the ankles... but all the water then flows down and into your shoes. The way I fix this problem is with a couple of plastic bags. Yes, a use for all those awful plastic bags that you get at the market (other than lining trash cans). Wrap your ankle straps around them and tuck them under your rain pants and you're good to go.

You can get helmet covers for the rain, but I don't personally have one. My hair is so short that it's not really an issue to have a bit of wet hair when I get to work. My gloves are not waterproof, but they keep my hands warm enough so I don't worry about waterproof gloves.

The other category is what to do with your bike. First, I recommend fenders. I've mentioned them before, but I have a set of Planet Bike ATB Full Fenders. They are easy to install and do the job admirably. The ones I have are wide enough for mountain bike tires, and they also come in a road tire size. These will keep the water off your underside and pair nicely with the rain cape.

Also, make sure you're keeping your chain lubed properly. Rain and the salt left on the road by overzealous plows during the winter will eat your chain quickly. I was recommended Finish Line Cross Country Wet Bike Lube at Bike Source and so far I'm pleased with it. It takes a minute and a half or so to apply a drop to each link on your chain and you do it once every couple of weeks.

Make sure you have bike lights. In the rain, it's important to stay visible. Even if you have a big yellow rain cape or rain suit on, having that flashing light on the back of your bike will get drivers' attention. And a headlight performs the same function on a bike that it does on a car: it catches the attention of people looking behind them in their rear-view mirrors.

As far as riding goes... it's simple and similar to what you'll hear for cars: stay out of the big puddles. Brake early to slow down. Take it easy.

The only non-car thing I'll mention is that you need to take the lane any time you need to. You should be doing this anyway, but it's even more important in inclement road conditions. Don't feel you have to ride through the puddles on the side of the road just to stay on the right. Ride where it's safe for you to ride. And don't sweat the cars that are behind you. If it bothers you, pull over now and again and let them pass you, then continue to ride safely.

Riding a bike in the rain is really no big deal as long as you have what you need to do it safely and keep dry. Just keep in mind some of these tips. And if you have tips you'd like to share, please do! That's what our comments are for!

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