cycling in bad weather

How to Make Cycling in Bad Weather 100% Better

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By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

Our coaches get a lot of messages that start out with, “I was going to ride, but…”, followed by an explanation that they didn’t ride because it was raining, or threatening to rain, or too windy, etc. Some move their rides indoors, but many just end up not riding that day. Missed training is worse for your long-term progress and performance than a workout that’s less than ideal, and one of the best ways we’ve improved training plan compliance and increased training consistency is by normalizing cycling in adverse weather.

The more often you ride in adverse weather conditions, the less you consider them adverse weather conditions. In other words, riding in the rain isn’t such a big deal if it’s not such an anomaly. But we’re not talking about suffering for the sake of suffering or going to extremes. It’s not a competition to see who can ride through the worst weather. Rather, it’s a matter of aligning your gear, route planning, mindset, and workout goals – all of which you can control­­ – to work with the weather – which you can’t.

So, rather than skipping your ride because of what you see on your favorite weather app, here’s how to adapt your plans to have a good ride and a great workout.

Challenge: Strong winds

I don’t know anyone who enjoys battling their way through strong winds. Even the reward of a tailwind isn’t enticing enough, because they’re short-lived compared to the time spent pushing through headwinds and crosswinds. But when the flags are flapping and the trees are swaying, here are some ways to make riding outdoors more appealing.

  • Headwind out, tailwind home: Adjust your route so you ride into the headwind when you are fresh. If you are riding based on time or kilojoules (which are how we typically prescribe training volume), remember to add time into the headwind to account for the fact you can ride faster and do less work on the way home. For instance, if you ride an out and back route aiming for 2 hours of ride time, you may need to ride 1:15 or 1:20 into the wind because it may only take :40 – :45 minutes to get home.
  • Sheltered, circuitous route: Windy rides are better when you can get some temporary reprieves. Look for routes that offer some wind breaks in the form of trees or homes, or change direction frequently so you’re not in a straight up headwind for prolonged stretches. In Colorado Springs, for instance, I often ride the bike path or through residential neighborhoods on windy days.
  • Don’t fight the wind: People exhaust themselves in headwinds by pushing way too hard in an attempt to maintain their “normal” pace. It’s a normal response. The wind is pushing against you, so you push back. But you can’t win that shoving match, so stop paying attention to speed and pace, and instead focus on perceived exertion and power output.

Challenge: Impending Rainstorm

In spring and summer in Colorado Springs, the thunderstorms typically roll through town between 2:00 – 5:00pm. The obvious way to avoid getting wet is to ride earlier in the day, but sometimes the afternoon is the only available time to ride. Many times, even the threat of getting wet makes people skip a ride, but with the consideration below you can have a better chance of staying dry or at least be more comfortable getting wet.

  • What’s the risk? There’s a big difference between a chance of a rain shower and an approaching band of severe thunderstorms. If you do get caught in a bad thunderstorm, there are some tips in this article that may be helpful.
  • Can you ride around it? The storms that roll through Colorado Springs can be very strong, but generally move pretty fast and affect a narrow swath of terrain. If that’s the weather pattern where you are, ride perpendicular to the path of the storm to either avoid it entirely or time it so you all you have to contend with are wet roads if your route goes through the area after the storm has passed.
  • Carry the right gear. Getting wet isn’t such a big deal when you have the gear to handle it but can be both miserable and dangerous if you don’t. If there’s even a 40% chance you might get wet, the four essentials I recommend carrying are: a waterproof rain jacket, long-fingered gloves, a cap you can put under your helmet, and a waterproof covering for your phone. If you’re in a place where summer rain is warm, maybe skip the gloves. And
  • Design your route to stay near shelter. Escaping the city or suburbs to more rural roads or trails is great when the weather is nice, but staying closer to home and potential shelters is a better idea when storms are threatening. If it starts to rain but it’s not bad, you can keep riding. If it gets bad, at least you won’t have far to go to get home or to a place where you can wait it out.

Challenge: Soaking Rain

When it’s already been raining for hours, almost everyone opts for the indoor trainer, and I don’t blame you. Most of the time, so do I. But sometimes you really need to just get out there and get soaked, because at some point it’s going to happen on the day of an event or one day during a weeklong tour. If you know it’s going to be one of those days, take my advice:

  • Accept it. You’re going to get completely soaked. The first ten minutes will be the worst part, like gradually getting into the shower with your clothes on. Yes, there are clothing items that are water resistant and waterproof, and they are very good for staying warm on a rainy day, but you’re not riding in a sealed bubble.
  • Don’t forget to eat and drink. After more than 20 years of leading camps and tours on rainy days, I know cyclists get focused on the weather and forget to eat or drink. Although being wet will likely reduce sweat rate (unless you overdress), you are still sweating and still need to hydrate. And you’re working just as hard–or harder if you’re also trying to stay warm–so you have to consume calories like it was a normal, nice day.
  • Consider the surfaces. If you’re riding the road, beware of crosswalks, painted lines, steel grates and drain covers that get very slippery. For gravel rides, it pays to know if the roads and paths in your area turn to thick mud that sticks to tires… and avoid those areas. When it comes to mountain biking, don’t ride singletrack when trails are muddy.
  • Consider the company. If you’re riding in a group on a rainy day, remember that the differences in braking performance between rim and disc brakes are accentuated when wet. Try to choose a route with less car traffic and use both front and rear lights to reduce the risk of being in a collision. Bike paths are a great option on rainy days; there are fewer pedestrians than normal, and obviously no cars.

For more information about bike handling and riding safely in the rain, read this article and this article.

“I love my bike”

Even with all the right gear and the best planning, your mindset is going to be the difference between thriving or being miserable in adverse weather conditions. My coaches and I have had the privilege of riding long miles with NBA legend Bill Walton, including through torrential rain, blistering heat, and whipping winds. Bill’s positive attitude was infectious. No matter the conditions, when we asked him how he was doing, he would reply by exclaiming, “I love my bike!” If you love riding your bike, riding in the rain or the wind is better than not riding at all, so take the appropriate steps to be safe and warm, and then go have a great ride!


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Comments 18

  1. Living in Ireland ,wet and windy riding is a given… You can’t change the conditions but you can change your mindset!! You’ve got to learn to love the rain and wind and go ride.

  2. Love riding in the rain. The bike paths are baron for the most part. Don’t have to say, “on your left” 100 million times. My most serene rides are in the rain. Just wish I had wiper blades for my glasses (can’t wear contacts). I have almost always selected the route that takes me out heading in the wind and back with a tailwind. Just wish the weather apps would better predict the wind 2 hours out. I can’t tell you how many trips back end up heading in the wind. So much for best made plans!

  3. Riding in the rain at CTS Camps, has given me greater confidence to do ride in the rain on my own roads. The coaches at camps are “VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE “, and will encourage you for this skill. I can’t recommend a CTS Camp enough!

  4. I have been less and less willing to go out in adverse conditions in recent years, unless I have some support, or the road is lightly travelled or closed to traffic. I am not so concerned about myself or my bike as I am about other traffic out on the road in those conditions. Decreased visibility, slick road conditions and crosswinds are hazardous for motor vehicle traffic as well without adding cyclists into the mix, and adding no shoulders and mud or ice make me feel even more unsafe. If I have a 1 or 2 hour ride on my schedule, I will usually bail for the trainer, or a bike path, as Chris says, but not skip. Longer rides I will usually reschedule, but not skip.

  5. My biggest concern in my neck of the woods is frequent hail storms which occur when a thunderstorm arises. There’s no predicting or avoiding them and it’s like riding on tiny golf balls that slip every direction. That’s why I try to avoid riding when severe weather is predicted.

  6. Living in flat, dry country, one learns to appreciate wind and rain. A 15 to 20 mph headwind = hills! And riding through the annual thunderstorm is always marvelous (though I’m sure I would think differently if such were an every day event)

  7. Here in the Pacific Northwest where it rains often, our bike team tends to ride mountain bikes on rainy days and road bikes on nice days. Riding in rain on muddy single tracks is not a problem! You just have to know the trail and slow it down on the descents where you know it is slippery. Strong winds are a bigger issue in bad weather because of the risk of branches and trees dropping on the trail or on you, but otherwise you can control your performance in the mud, and it is great fun! I strongly encourage folks to get on your mountain bike in the rain, it is magical being in the forest!

    1. Riding on wet muddy trails is generally not cool for several reasons. The volunteer and paid trail crews that work so hard to maintain trails are forced to spend countless hours and money every year repairing trail damage caused by people riding in the mud. This includes accelerated soil erosion and runoff into our streams, extensive rutting, deepening and widening of trails, expanded low spots for water collection, and increased trail braiding. There are dozens of mountain bike trail clubs and associations from Squamish B.C. to San Diego, and you can easily find educational materials (blogs, videos, forums) on many of their websites regarding trail damage resulting from riding in the rain and how to make better choices. Some trails in the Pac. NW even have seasonal closures from Oct. 15 – April 15 every year just to safeguard against the damage caused by wet season trail riding. In other areas, such as San Diego, the trails are open all year, but they are closed to bikes whenever it rains, and there are signs posted at the trailheads with strict warnings about it. There are some trails with the proper kind of soils that drain well and these hold up better for wet weather riding as long as riders exercise prudent care. You can check with your local mountain bike club to find out which trails those might be and/or volunteer to do some trail maintenance to learn first hand the consequences of wet weather riding. Good luck and thanks for taking care of the trails.

    2. Fully agree about riding MtB’s on rainy days. Just got back from a wet 38 mile ride w temps around 72, we didn’t melt and our effort level kept us warm. Certainly better than sitting on the trainer!

  8. Really? This past week the wind here was blowing 25-35mph with gusts to 70mph and low visibility due to blowing dust and sand. And you’re telling me that I’m some kind of pansy for riding my trainer in the garage instead of braving the elements? That sounds pretty unreasonable, lacking in common sense and is condescending too.

    1. Wow…is about all I can say. I never said anything remotely close to what you stated I said in my blog.

      Good luck to you and you are more than welcome to ride inside (good weather or bad weather) and it make you no less of a cyclist regardless of your statements on my blog. I highly recommend you re-read my blog to help calm you down and feel better about indoor workouts.
      Chris Carmichael

  9. I try not to let weather stop my ride unless I deem it unsafe (icy for example). But I have not had much luck finding cycle clothing that keeps me reasonably dry in the rain. I have gloves for rain but on a ride in steady rain they get sopping wet. My rain jacket also isn’t very effective. Is this just the nature of the beast? Or have I chosen poorly with my wet weather cycling gear?

  10. As I always say, ” It’s a great day to be on the bike”
    The reason I say this is there will come a day when I can’t ride. Until then who cares about rain, wind and cold temps.

    1. If one carries appropriate gear I would concur. I have seen people quickly get into trouble with hypothermia with sudden weather changes here in the mountains. So I would add, “ride to ride another day”.

  11. but but but, being time crunched and all that, it isn’t riding in the rain and sleet that bugs me but the dang cleaning of the bike. i love cleaning my bike but sometimes the schedule is just too tight and i hate riding a filthy bike the next day. and trust me, this spring here in this part of the world has been horrendous.

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