Don’t let rain stop training
Let’s face it we live in England, it rains regularly in the summer so you can be sure it will rain more in the coming months. Riding in the wet can be a miserable and uncomfortable experience, purely social riders can choose whether to ride but many riders book their events days, weeks or months in advance and there is no way to anticipate if it will be wet or dry. You can decide not to start the event but you may have invested significant time and money getting to that start line, a DNS may not be an option.
So if you are going to complete wet events you need to train and prepare for those conditions. The rain doesn’t have to spoil a beautiful day if you have trained and prepared to ride fast and stay safe despite the water. So how do we adapt to cope well in the bad weather?
Stay comfortable, remember it is actually heat, not water, which is an endurance athlete’s greatest enemy, and rain can help keep you cool. Because it’s cooler than your skin, rain soaks up some of the excess body heat that your working muscles produce, the evaporation of the water draws away more heat. As a result you can ride harder while maintaining a safe body temperature. Of course this can go too far, the same rain that keeps you from overheating can also cause your body temperature to drop excessively, the combination of cool water, evaporation and wind chill means hypothermia is not out of the question even in the summer.
So how do we prepare for that wet ride? If it’s already raining or rain is threatening leave with a rain jacket. If the rain is warm and you don’t use it, no harm done, you have carried a few extra grams in your pocket. But if the temperature drops significantly and you can’t stay warm through exertion alone, then get that jacket on quickly. The jacket keeps the cold water away from the skin but also insulates you from the wind chill. You will still be damp underneath but you will stay warm. It is important to keep your hands and feet as dry as possible as they will chill very fast when wet and in the airflow. Overshoes are easily obtained and provide a waterproof layer over your cycle shoes, suitable gloves are also available at a reasonable cost, these will keep your hands and feet much warmer.
Training in the rain can be made more pleasant for you and you companions by riding a bike fitted with mudguards. The guards will reduce the spray from the wheels keeping it off your legs, back and other riders near you. You can fit ‘clip on’ guards to most types of bike, even if there is insufficient room for more substantial guards. Don’t forget the rear mudflap if you ride in a group.
Wear glasses in the rain, your nice tinted glasses may not be suitable so have a set of clear glasses or lenses. This will keep water and debris out of your eyes, if they become contaminated a wipe with your glove should clear them.
Body heat. Staying warm is part of staying safe when you’re riding in the rain. If you are warm and comfortable you will concentrate better and be ready to respond to the challenges of riding in the wet.
Here’s what you need to remember about staying upright on wet road surfaces:
Avoid road paint, grates and manhole covers. Wet steel and paint are among the slipperiest materials you’ll encounter on the roads. The white lines may be the smoothest part of the road surface but they are the most slippery on which to brake or turn. Be sure to ride round metal grates and covers in corners and at junctions, if you cannot avoid them straighten up until you have passed over them and then turn.
Brake early and in a straight line. Some brake/wheel combinations work better in rain than others, but none works as well as when they’re dry. The brakes will work less efficiently and the tyres will be more prone to locking on the wet surface. Brake earlier and always in a straight line, reduce speed before the turn, never brake in the corner
Extra hazards are out there, take care where leaves or mud collects, they are also much more slippery when wet. Where possible avoid puddles, they may be deeper than you think or be hiding pot holes or debris to damage your tyres or cause a crash. Take care on roundabouts, cars and trucks spill diesel fuel on the corners which then waits for the next unsuspecting arrivals. Roads immediately outside fuel stations are particularly prone to contamination. Look out for the distinctive smell and rainbow colours in the water.
Keep the bike more upright through corners. However careful you are avoiding the extra hazards a wet road offers less grip for your tyres, you can’t lean your bike into corners the way you can when the weather is dry. Instead, keep the bike more upright and spread your weight evenly between front and rear wheels. Try to focus your eyes on where you want to exit the turn, you go where you are looking, put your outside pedal down, push your weight through it and a little weight on the inside handle bar. Be patient and corner smoothly with no jerky movements. A lot of crashes occur when riders get overzealous about accelerating out of a corner. They shift their weight and jump on the pedals just after the apex of the turn, and it’s enough to break what little traction they had. Get through the corner and then start accelerating.
Tyres on most road cycles are very narrow and the weight of the rider presses the tyre firmly on the road surface. It is not necessary to have a tread pattern like on a car tyre as at normal speeds the water will not be trapped between the tyre and the road. You may prefer the feel of the bike if the tyres are not inflated to full dry road pressure, the softer tyre will provide a little more contact area and more progressive handling.
Lights will assist other road users to see you. Cars and trucks will put their lights on in the rain to help other road users see them through the gloom. A flashing rear light will attract the attention of drivers catching up with you on the road, encouraging them to give you more room.
Give plenty of space. Other road users will also be suffering from the reduced visibility and the more difficult driving conditions. You must give them more time and space, this separation allows more time to correct the inevitable errors, don’t take unnecessary risks.
Test your equipment and skills in training to give you an advantage in your event. Too many riders never think to take their race gear out for a rainy-day test ride to prepare themselves for the possibility of rainy events. Get out there with the carbon wheels and your full race setup and make sure you know how your bike’s going to handle and how your kit works and feels in the wet.
With some thought and preparation you can ride both safely and comfortably in the rain, you may even enjoy the challenge.