In Part One I ran through the basics of cycling in the rain, which means we can move to the next level of wet-weather performance and answer some of the questions readers posted on the previous article.
Only stop if continuing puts you in danger
When the skies open up you have to evaluate your situation and make some decisions, like the decision whether to seek shelter or continue. If there’s a significant threat of lightning, flooding/fast-moving water, wind that prevents you from controlling the bike, or poor visibility for you or the cars around you, then seek shelter. However, if the conditions are more miserable than dangerous you should stop quickly to put on a jacket and then keep going. You’re going to be wet anyway, but riding will keep you warmer than standing still. In many cases you’ll ride out of the storm faster than waiting around for it to end, which means you’ll dry off and warm up sooner!
If you’re at a higher altitude you want to keep moving so you can get down to a lower altitude. If you stop and wait while you’re up high you’re going to get cold. Then you’re going to get even colder when you get going again and ride downhill. When it’s just rain or light snow, better to turn around sooner so you can descend while you still have some body heat, or push over the summit quickly and get down the other side to a lower and warmer altitude. If there’s lightning up high, go down and/or seek shelter.
Don’t forget to keep drinking
Sometimes it’s difficult to remember to keep drinking when water is coming out of the sky and up from your tires, but you’re still working and sweating so it’s important to stick to your hydration habits. Since the rain will help keep your core temperature from rising as much as it might in dry and sunny weather, your hourly fluid consumption may be lower than on a hot day, but it shouldn’t be zero. This is particularly important during long events like an Ironman, a 100-mile mountain bike race or gravel grinder, and even a century ride. If you drink nothing while riding one hour in the rain, and then the skies clear and the hot sun comes out, very soon you’re going to be playing catch-up on your hydration status.
Stay out of the gutter
Tires are easier to puncture in wet conditions because the water acts as a lubricant for sharp objects to get through the layers of tire and casing. While you may normally be on the lookout for glass and other tire-shredding debris, redouble that effort in the rain. The only thing more miserable than riding in the rain is standing by the side of the road fixing a tire in it.
Learn to brush your tires safely
If you do run through debris, brush your tires off with a gloved hand. I thought this was second nature, but I keep finding people who don’t know they should do it. Though it should go without saying, you should always do this in front of your front fork and between the seatstays and the seat tube for the rear wheel. Hooking your thumb on the seatstay is a good idea for making sure you don’t slip your hand too far down your rear tire. Getting your hand stuck between the frame and your rear tire really sucks! If you have short-fingered gloves you can use the area between your thumb and index finger. If you have full-fingered gloves you can also use your fingertips. If you your tires are coated by debris, like when you pull off onto a sandy shoulder, it’s a good idea to brush your tires off as soon as you get back to clear pavement, even before you remount the bike. If there’s shallow water running across the road, ride through it to rinse most of the debris off and then use your hand to finish the job.
Be wary of deep water
Big and/or deep puddles may look peaceful from above, but their depths may conceal wheel-eating craters.
“Does tire type matter?”
It can. A softer rubber compound may offer slightly enhanced traction. But the reality is that you’re going to get caught in the rain with whatever tires you normally ride. Mountain bikers and cyclocross racers are more likely to switch tires based on the conditions (muddy vs. hardpack vs. sandy), whereas most road riders just reduce air pressure a bit and stick with the same tire.
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“How about advice for the Dirty Kanza 200 this coming Saturday ? Possible thunderstorms on a vast open prairie – any particular safety advice? Sounds like we will have lots of muddy roads anyway.”
In general, if you’re caught out in the open in a thunderstorm, find a ditch and crouch down as low as you can with only your feet touching the ground. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), you want to get as small as you can and minimize your contact with the ground. So don’t lay flat. Here’s an article on the practical steps you can take to stay safe when you get caught in a thunderstorm.
“What tricks do you have for steep descents in the rain?”
Really the biggest thing is that you have to slow down. Your brakes are less effective, so it will take longer to slow down to a safe cornering speed if you build up too much speed in the straightaways. Even if you have the braking power (like with disc brakes), you have less traction so you have to slow down and keep the bike more upright in the corners anyway. During or after long descents and long days of climbing/descending in the rain, check your brake pads for wear and for embedded bits of rock/glass/wire. These things can score your rims.
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