Cycling in the rain can keep you in shape and active throughout the long winter ahead.
TACOMA — A couple weeks ago, some friends and I spent a morning pedaling around the Kitsap Peninsula.
As we took a quick break at a Hansville beach and looked out over Puget Sound and Whidbey Island to the snowy summit of Mount Baker, I couldn’t help but feel a little pang of disappointment.
As spectacular as this day was, soon the weather will change and most cyclists, me included, will spend much less time cruising Western Washington’s back roads.
But there is good news. With a drier-than-normal fall and winter in the forecast, maybe a good number of ideal riding days are still left.
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Also, when the weather does get wetter — and you know it will — it doesn’t mean you have to stop riding. With the right gear, the fall and winter weather doesn’t even have to slow you down that much.
Here’s what you’ll need:
I admit I fall short here. When it’s raining outside, I have a hard time rolling the bike out of the garage. Of course, the days I do, it’s never as miserable as I feared.
Learn to love riding in the rain (and when you figure out how to do this give me a call).
In miserable weather or on gray days, it can be difficult for motorists to see cyclists. A light ($20 and up) can be added to the handlebars to help you see better and help you be seen. Don’t forget rear lights ($15 and up), too, so you’ll be seen coming and going.
Those helmet vents that kept you nice and cool in the summer are terrible for keeping out the rain. Luckily, this problem is easily fixed with a helmet cover ($15-$50) or a skullcap ($15-$30) worn under the helmet. These also can add a little warmth in the cold.
Eye protection ($30 and up) is a good idea any time of the year. A little gravel kicked up by a passing car or a fellow cyclist can spoil a good ride. In the winter, eyewear is a good way to keep debris and rain out of your eyes. Clear and yellow-tinted glasses work well. Some cyclists put water-repellent windshield treatments on their lenses for a clearer view.
A good waterproof, breathable jacket ($10-$400) is a must if you are going to ride in the cold and rain. Many bike jackets add extra covering in the back to keep your rear dry. They also are designed not to slow you down like a traditional rain coat, which is likely to act almost like a drag-racing parachute.
It is always a good idea to layer up when riding in cold and wet weather. A pack, saddlebag or other type of storage can be handy for stowing unneeded layers.
There are a lot of ways to go with leg covers. Tights ($40 and up) or leg warmers ($60 and up) will help you stay warm and insulated tights ($60 and up) will do an even better job. You can wear your synthetic long undies over your bike shorts, too. (But if your riding buddies are anything like mine, be prepared to be ridiculed.) None of these options works as well for staying dry as a pair of waterproof rain pants ($25-$200).
Some cyclists think fenders look silly, but one person who doesn’t is the cyclist directly behind you. Fenders ($15-$80) also will keep you a little drier, too.
Your feet can get cold quickly on a bike. I once headed out unprepared and had to wrap my feet with trash I found on the side of the road just to regain enough feeling to finish the ride.
There are much better ways to stay warm. I’ve had better luck wearing wool socks and shoe covers ($20-$100) and sticking hand warmers in my shoes.
You can buy a pair of full-finger riding gloves for $10 or more. But I’ve seen cyclists take on the elements (and insist they’re still comfortable) wearing various concoctions including ski gloves and even latex gloves under gardening gloves.
A local bike-shop mechanic got on me recently for getting lazy with my bike maintenance. He was right; it had been a while since I took care of my chain. “It’s going to cost you,” he said. “It’s shortening the life of your chain.”
Riding in the rain can shorten the life of your chain even faster if you don’t tend to your chain regularly. You can find degreaser for $8-$12 and lube for $5-$30. You can get a chain cleaning tool for $20-$30.
It’s not a bad idea to allow a little more time for your ride in poor weather. You want to ride a little slower to feel safer in the rain or you might want to take a less direct route on roads with less traffic.
Avoid fog lines, other painted asphalt and grates, all of which get slippery in the rain. Also, knobby tires — great for off-road traction — are more likely to slip on wet asphalt than road tires.
And, think bright. Whether it’s your cycling jersey or your rain jacket, the brighter the color, the better the odds motorists will see you.