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Is riding in the rain really that bad?

We’re a nation obsessed with the weather forecast, and as cyclists, we generally avoid riding in the rain if we can. That said, some people actually enjoy riding in the rain, but for most, it’s a necessary evil. If it’s the choice of riding in the rain or not riding at all or using public transport, we’ll take getting wet every single time. But if you’re new to cycling, there are a few aspects of riding in the rain you may not be aware of.

You're going to get wet

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Sorry, but there's no way to sugar coat this, you’re going to get wet. You can wear the most advanced waterproof fabrics in the world, fit mudguards, but rain will always find a way in somewhere. Hands and feet are particularly tricky to keep dry, the latter more so if you choose to ride without mudguards. The good news is that while getting wet is pretty horrible, once you're wet riding in the rain isn't all that bad. And there's a limit to how wet you can get.

- Essential wet weather cycle clothing and gear

Starting a ride in the rain is not easy

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Leaving the house to start a ride when the rain is pelting down is tough for even the hardiest cyclists. It's all too easy to stand at the window watching the rainfall and pondering delaying or even cancelling the ride until some point when it's not as soggy. Starting a ride in the rain takes real commitment, you just have to hope it gets better.

- 29 of the best 2019 waterproof cycling jackets — wet weather protection to suit all budgets

You’ll get cold 

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You got cold more quickly riding in the rain. If your clothing is wet you’ll lose body heat through evaporation and conduction, sodden gloves can quickly turn your hands to blocks of ice and once you lose the feeling in your extremities, it's very hard to warm up again. That's when it's time to hit up the nearest cafe for a mocha and wait for the rain to pass before venturing outside again.

More risk of flatting

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Riding in the rain increases the risk of punctures. Why? Rain washes out debris from the side of the road into your path, and this combined with the fact that water acts as a lubricant, helping small pieces of flint or glass to penetrate the tyre, is why you’re more likely to puncture when riding in the rain.

You can reduce the risk of punctures either by investing in latex inner tubes, since latex is better able to deform around sharp objects compared to butyl, or going down the tubeless route. Tubeless can be a faff to install but the sealant is very good at sealing small holes caused by glass, flint or thorns. I know from personal experience - flatting on a wet ride and the tubeless plugging the hole so I didn't even have to stop pedalling. 

I'll put up with the tubeless faff if it avoids changing an inner tube by the side of the road in the pouring rain.

How to avoid a puncture

Roads are slippery

When the roads are wet, there’s less friction between the tyre and road surface. So you need to be very careful when negotiating junctions, roundabouts, steep descents and climbs. Some tyre manufacturers produce winter-specific compounds, with softer rubber than regular tyres, to increase grip on wet roads. You can also consider increasing the tyre width and lowering the pressure.

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There’s also a higher risk of petrol or diesel spilt onto roads by motor vehicles mixing with the rain and being a hazard. Talking of slippery, wet leaves are another hazard at this time of year too, as are drain covers and even painted stripes and markings on the road can be as slippery as ice. So proceed with caution and choose your line carefully.

It’s tempting to think that a tyre with a tread pattern will provide more grip on wet roads, as is the case with car tyres, but the opposite is true. Due to the low speeds and round profile of a bicycle tyre, you'll never aquaplane - you’re simply not riding fast enough to need a grooved tyre to clear water. The only reason slick tyres have grooves and sipes is that the common perception is tread equals grip, so it's really down to marketing. 

Winterise your bike - mudguard

Your bike will take a hammering

Ride in the rain and your bike will hate you. Wet roads throw up lots of mud, grit and other debris which can cover all the expensive mechanical parts of your expensive bicycle and increase the wear rate. So you’ll be spending more time cleaning your bike after rides than you do after a dry ride to ensure it's going to be in tip-top condition for your next ride. There are lots of products on the market but a bucket of warm water, a splash of washing detergent and a sponge will make light work of a dirty bike. 

- How to winterproof your bike 

Your (rim) brakes won’t work as well

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Stopping safely is trickier in the rain. The roads are generally more slippery so braking distance shoots up, and your brakes won’t work as well. Rim brakes can deteriorate rapidly in the rain, and if you’re using carbon rims you can forget about being able to stop. Hydraulic disc brakes are a bonus in the rain as they continue to work, the only downside is occasionally it can sound like you’re strangling a fox.

You’ll love and hate mudguards

Mudguards might ruin the clean lines of your bicycle and add weight, but they are a very practical consideration and go a long way to keeping you dry when it's raining. But you’ll find that fitting mudguards is often fraught with difficulty and even when fitted correctly, they can rattle and squeak. Very annoying. Plastic clip-on mudguards don’t provide as much coverage from road spray but are easy to fit, and more importantly, remove, so are a good option. Many bikes have eyelets for fitting proper full-length mudguards, which you can even extend with homemade flaps, to provide maximum protection not just for you, but your fellow cyclists. Which brings us onto...

- 16 of the best mudguards for any type of bike — keep dry when it's wet with guards for race bikes and practical bikes

Riding in a group is messy

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Riding behind another bicycle without mudguards will guarantee a face full of water and grit. Belgium toothpaste as it's known. You won’t be able to see where you’re going, nobody will recognise you when you get home, and it’ll put you off riding in a group when it’s raining forever. Unless the group is very organised and insists on a mudguard only rule, as some clubs do in response to this problem, riding solo or in very small groups is sometimes a better approach when it's raining.

- 6 reasons to use mudguards this winter

Zwift sure looks appealing right now

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One look at the rain hammering on the doorstep can be enough to have you buying a smart trainer and subscribing to Zwift (other online training platforms are available). Riding indoors used to be grim, the preserve of racing cyclists doing hard intervals. But services like Zwift actually make it fun and, dare we say it, more enjoyable than riding in the rain? It's no wonder they have become hugely popular, leading to a revolution in indoor training. 

And it never rains in the virtual cycling world. Oh, it does? Um...

Trying to dry your kit in the office for the commute home

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Ah soggy shorts! You’ve battled horrendous rain to get into the office on time, and now you’re faced with the challenge of trying to dry your kit out for the return commute. You could be organised and bring spare clothing, or as is often more likely, hope your office has good radiators and your colleagues don’t mind you turning the place into a temporary drying room and the associated smell of sweaty cycling kit. Pulling on wet bib shorts is probably the most unappealing thing you can do in cycling, so try and avoid it at all costs. 

- 6 top tips for cycling through the winter

It’s not all bad though, riding in the rain is faster

Not just because you’re in a hurry to get home to a warm shower and hot meal, but because of science!

Going fast on a bike is all about reducing drag. Thinner, or lower density air, means less resistance so you can ride at a higher speed (which is why Hour records are often performed at high altitude velodromes). Since air density decreases with lower barometric pressure, which often comes with unsettled weather, riding before or after a storm can lead to faster times on the bike. The difference in air density is also affected by temperature and humidity so these are two factors to take into account when checking the weather forecast.

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It might not result in a hugely noticeable difference for regular riding, but if you’re riding against the clock or attacking a timed segment, it’s a marginal gain you might want to explore. 

Besides aerodynamic drag, which is the biggest obstacle to going fast, you also need to consider rolling resistance. If the roads are coated with water, then fricton between the tyre and road surface should be reduced.

Sarah Hohmann-Spohr, marketing at Continental, explains: “Following physics, the tyre would become faster, yes. This is due to the road’s surface and the micropores of the tarmac. Simply said, and depending on the (road) conditions: when these small parts get filled with water, the road surface would become rather dense and therefore provides less resistance. In the same way as this can lead to a more slippery situation, it can help to reduce the tyre pressure to a certain degree, in order to keep the grip.”

- Survival tips for cycling in the rain

- 16 winter cycling tips to keep you motivated and battle the winter 

So you enjoy or hate riding in the rain? Let us know in the comments section below.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

17 comments

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Chris Hayes [463 posts] 1 month ago
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Put some of the new SKS XL adjustable mudguards on my bike yesterday.  And invested in some Velotoze to squeeze over my winter boots.  Together with a decent rain jacket I stayed reasonably comfortable.  Of course, it wasn't cold and wet,  and I probably need to dig out my helmet cover for today, but got to keep moving!  Can't recommend the new SKS enough.  The old ones were a pain to line up and sometimes didn't leave much room, but with adjusters that enable you to calibrate the distance from the tyre the new ones are great. GBP49.99 Condor. Great staff, as always. 

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Luv2ride [135 posts] 1 month ago
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Neoprene gloves for when the rain is constant...no gloves will keep you completely dry so best to try and keep those fingers warm instead.  Oh, and a Sportful Fiandre No Rain cap has proven to be ace at keeping most of the water out but especially its relatively long peak shielding my glasses from the worst of the rain.

I agree with the article where it says it's difficult to start a ride in heavy rain, but I do tend to enjoy it once I've committed.  However, I'm less sure I'd be tempted to chase PB's on Strava segments due to lower rolling resistance given the significant increase in hazards also highlighted in the article

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Sriracha [319 posts] 1 month ago
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"If the roads are coated with water, then resistance between the tyre and road surface should be reduced."
I think maybe you are equating traction with rolling resistance. My experience is that whilst the roads are certainly more slippery when wet (reduced traction), rolling resistance goes up. I put this down to things like the tyre moving water by throwing up spray and the adhesion of the water meniscus -think of rolling a small object across a wet surface. Certainly I notice a drop in mpg when driving the car in the wet too.

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ktache [2214 posts] 4 weeks ago
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I know it is not the done thing, but the full visor on a mountainbike helmet will stop your vision being ruined in even the heaviest of rain if you need to wear glasses.  Useless in that really light, misty rain though.

You can dip your head down a bit so that you can minimise the dazzling caused by far away headlights but still be able to see the road ahead.

+1 on the neoprene gloves.

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hawkinspeter [4220 posts] 4 weeks ago
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ktache wrote:

I know it is not the done thing, but the full visor on a mountainbike helmet will stop your vision being ruined in even the heaviest of rain if you need to wear glasses.  Useless in that really light, misty rain though.

You can dip your head down a bit so that you can minimise the dazzling caused by far away headlights but still be able to see the road ahead.

+1 on the neoprene gloves.

Can't say that I've tried a full mtb visor, but I find that ordinary cycling glasses end up obscuring my vision in heavy rain. Some water stays on the glasses and then distorts my view of the road with lights/headlights being especially problematic. My easy solution is to just take them off when it rains too much.

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ktache [2214 posts] 4 weeks ago
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Unfortunately HP, my eyes are between -6 to -7 on shortsightedness, removing the glasses is not an option.

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hawkinspeter [4220 posts] 4 weeks ago
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ktache wrote:

Unfortunately HP, my eyes are between -6 to -7 on shortsightedness, removing the glasses is not an option.

Luckily, I'm only slightly shortsighted so although I struggle to read license plates at a distance, I have no trouble with seeing big car-shaped objects. I've thought of treating cycling glasses so that the water just runs off (e.g. wipe with a potato?) but as I avoid riding in the rain, I haven't bothered with it.

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Chris Hayes [463 posts] 4 weeks ago
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I always wear a peaked cap under my helmet.  The peak keeps much of the rain off.  Rarely have problems with glasses sa a result.

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IanEdward [353 posts] 4 weeks ago
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Quote:

Hydraulic disc brakes are a bonus in the rain as they continue to work, the only downside is occasionally it can sound like you’re strangling a fox.

In my experience, the time it takes for disc brakes to STOP sounding like a strangled fox is approximately the same time it takes for a rim brake to clear the rim of water and start working again...

Pretty sure I agree with the lower rolling resistance comment though, always feels like the bike is rolling a bit better in properly wet conditions, any benefit eclipsed by the additional weight and drag of a heavy mudguard equipped winter bike though!

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SuperCommuter [6 posts] 4 weeks ago
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+1 for peaked cap under the helmet when wearing specs.  Especially a waterproof one!  The Gore one is good.  As is the Sealskinz one, which has a slightly longer peak and mesh lining.  And Prendas Ciclismo have just released some very handsome waterproof caps at a great price.  I ordered one last week and am yet to test it in the wet but it looks good, again with a long peak and well sized for the larger bonce.

A couple of effective hacks:

1) Get a cheap pair of army surplus waterproof trousers and chop them into shorts for an effective and stashable emergency overshort.

2) If you ride flat pedals, chop some old overshoes into a pair of makeshift gaiters.  put them over your goretex trainers to prevent the dreaded water ingress into the tops of your shoes.

Any commuters out there who prefer a rucksack, be aware when choosing a rain jacket that some of them will fail with rucksack straps: the thin racecape style ones for example.  I learned this the hard way.

 

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alexb [209 posts] 3 weeks ago
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hawkinspeter wrote:
ktache wrote:

I know it is not the done thing, but the full visor on a mountainbike helmet will stop your vision being ruined in even the heaviest of rain if you need to wear glasses.  Useless in that really light, misty rain though.

You can dip your head down a bit so that you can minimise the dazzling caused by far away headlights but still be able to see the road ahead.

+1 on the neoprene gloves.

Can't say that I've tried a full mtb visor, but I find that ordinary cycling glasses end up obscuring my vision in heavy rain. Some water stays on the glasses and then distorts my view of the road with lights/headlights being especially problematic. My easy solution is to just take them off when it rains too much.

 

Try a squirt of furniture polish on a soft cloth, rubbed onto your glasses. It's usually silicon based and water repellent. The water beads up and runs off (up to a point).

Cheaper than Rain-Ex and the like.

I also run a thin line of clear bath sealant along the first two fingers of my long fingered gloves. It gives me better grip on brake levers and allows me to "squeegee" the rain off my glasses if needed.

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OldRidgeback [3236 posts] 3 weeks ago
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hawkinspeter wrote:
ktache wrote:

Unfortunately HP, my eyes are between -6 to -7 on shortsightedness, removing the glasses is not an option.

Luckily, I'm only slightly shortsighted so although I struggle to read license plates at a distance, I have no trouble with seeing big car-shaped objects. I've thought of treating cycling glasses so that the water just runs off (e.g. wipe with a potato?) but as I avoid riding in the rain, I haven't bothered with it.

There are various products you can buy that help reduce spray on your glasses. Most motorbike dealers will have them. I use a Bob Heath spray for my motorcycle helmet visors and I've also treated my old glasses that I have for riding in bad weather (or racing).

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MoutonDeMontagne [150 posts] 3 weeks ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:
ktache wrote:

Unfortunately HP, my eyes are between -6 to -7 on shortsightedness, removing the glasses is not an option.

Luckily, I'm only slightly shortsighted so although I struggle to read license plates at a distance, I have no trouble with seeing big car-shaped objects. I've thought of treating cycling glasses so that the water just runs off (e.g. wipe with a potato?) but as I avoid riding in the rain, I haven't bothered with it.

There are various products you can buy that help reduce spray on your glasses. Most motorbike dealers will have them. I use a Bob Heath spray for my motorcycle helmet visors and I've also treated my old glasses that I have for riding in bad weather (or racing).

During winter, I tend to treat my cycling glasses with Rainx - the stuff you use on car windscreens. Its super cheap, doesn't obscure your vision, and means that water just beads on the lens so either runs off if riding along at 30kph, or all comes of with a tap at slower sleeds. Tends to help with fogging and muck build up too. 

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hobbeldehoy [42 posts] 3 weeks ago
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I've been caught in the rain plenty of times but never departed in the rain. I've never found garments claiming to be waterproof in any way keep you dry in a deluge and on the bike the rain is like a jetwash. Summer showers are more bearable than spring, autumn and winter. Personally I check the forecast and if it's going to rain I use the turbo.

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MoutonDeMontagne [150 posts] 3 weeks ago
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hobbeldehoy wrote:

I've been caught in the rain plenty of times but never departed in the rain. I've never found garments claiming to be waterproof in any way keep you dry in a deluge and on the bike the rain is like a jetwash. Summer showers are more bearable than spring, autumn and winter. Personally I check the forecast and if it's going to rain I use the turbo.

Would have agreed before buying a Castelli Idro. Worth every penny, only jacket that has ever made riding in the rain 'enjoyable'. 

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Boatsie [536 posts] 3 weeks ago
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Been raining all night.
Stopped raining just before my ride home. Wet road. It does seem faster. I put it down to a tail wind.
Might have to fit the front guard soon; copt a bit of face spray.
I like it. Was spewing because I left my pants at home but didn't need them. Dunlop Volleys are wet, feet are cold yet during ride that doesn't seem to matter because of the effort providing warmth.
Heavy rain I like motorcycling thermo gloves. Everything is toastie, feet are wet. Extremely happy to be using wide tyres.

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CyclingInBeastMode [128 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes
ktache wrote:

Unfortunately HP, my eyes are between -6 to -7 on shortsightedness, removing the glasses is not an option.

You'd only be riding at standard motorist vision levels but with greater attentiveness and care, so you're all goodyes