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How to ride in the rain: Wet weather cycling guide

Riding in the rain
Emma Cole
12 Nov 2021

Practical tips on how to ride, what to wear and what to avoid when cycling in the rain

Unpredictable weather can be a real source of concern for cyclists. Battling a howling headwind and driving rain unprepared can be daunting for even the most experienced cyclists, but it doesn't have to be that way.

We've compiled the ultimate guide to wet weather riding to help you stay safe and dry. Whatever the weather has in store, here's what you need to know to enjoy riding in the rain.

1. Preparation is key

With British weather being what it is, even if you set out in glorious sunshine there's no guarantee it won't be pouring down before you finish.

This is why it’s always a good idea to prepare for any eventuality, and then when the heavens do open, you won't be hiding in a bus shelter wishing you'd read our article.

A neat way of always being prepared is to pack a lightweight rain jacket in your pocket – they may not protect you from the heaviest downpours but they will fend off showers and they won't weigh you down. 

The best packable cycling jackets weigh around 50g or less and won't take up much space in your pocket when not being worn. 

2. Get a proper waterproof jacket

For heavy rain, only a fully waterproof jacket will do. There are certain key features to look for when choosing a jacket.

First, a high collar will keep rain from dripping down inside at the top, and a long tail to fend off any spray from the road, while extra-long sleeves will ensure there's no wrist gap between cuffs and gloves.

If you’re putting in some effort on the bike, breathability is vital to ensure you don’t get soaked from the inside with sweat.

The gold standard for lightweight waterproofs is a Gore Shakedry jacket or one of its many derivatives such as the Castelli Idro. These ultra-thin single membrane jackets are waterproof and highly packable, but more breathable than traditional boil-in-the-bag rain shells.

For those on a smaller budget, a standard shell like the Endura FS260 Pro is still a good option. The other option – for when it's both cold and wet – is a waterproof thermal winter jacket.

3. Protect your head

Cyclist cycling cap

In summer, a helmet with lots of vents will keep you cool, but it won’t do much to keep the rain out. 

A traditional cycling cap under the helmet can be handy in wet weather, as the peak will deflect the rain away from your eyes and it will keep your head warm. 

A helmet with a built-in peak will do the same job, but these are largely the preserve of mountain bike and commuting helmets, and are typically rejected by fashion-conscious roadies.

You could also get a waterproof helmet cover that fits over your lid with an elasticated hem, and there are even a few helmets such as the Lazer Genesis Mips that accept an optional removable aero cover that doubles as a useful rain barrier.

5. Choose slick tyres for more grip

Unlike car tyres, there's no danger of aquaplaning on wet roads when cycling due to the more rounded profile of bike tyres, which easily displace water.

Therefore, for riding on tarmac, there's no need to fit tyres with a grooved tread. The best road bike tyres have a slick or near-slick tread which works better in all conditions, since it means there's more rubber in contact with the tarmac and thus grip is better.

Another thing you can do to improve grip is to let a little air out of your tyres (reduce the pressure by as much as 15-20psi), which provides a larger contact patch on the road, and therefore more rubber in contact with the tarmac at all times, even on rough road surfaces.

7. Watch out for punctures

Anecdotally cyclists suffer more punctures in wet weather. This is likely because rain washes all the debris out of the gutter and into the road.

There's also a popular theory that water acts as a lubricant, so those flints and glass shards cut through your tyres more easily than in dry conditions, but there's little hard evidence to support or refute this notion. 

Either way, while many of us don't bother change our tyres with the season, it's a good idea to look for tyres with extra puncture protection in autumn and winter, when rain is likely.

8. Consider going tubeless

Once the preserve of mountain bikers, tubeless road tyres are increasingly popular with road cyclists, especially with the fashion for go-anywhere adventure bikes.

Their main advantage in wet weather is the sealant, which means any small punctures are healed almost instantly, preventing air escaping.

Another advantage is that they can be run at much lower pressures than conventional clinchers, giving you a larger contact patch which is a real help on slippery roads.

9. Use your brakes wisely

Giant TCR Advanced SL braking

In normal riding conditions, most of your stopping should be done with the front brake. However, this changes when there's water on the road.

The reduced grip makes it far more likely that you'll lock up the front wheel if you brake hard, and once your front wheel loses traction, it's almost impossible to stay upright on a bike.

Try to feather your brakes to slow down gradually, and make more use of the rear brake, which lacks the stopping power of the front brake but is useful for scrubbing off excess speed.

10. Check your brake pads

Riding in the rain can leave your bike coated with water and grime, which will eat through brake pads and wheel rims very quickly if you're riding rim brakes, and wear out pads and rotors faster with disc brakes.

Disc brake performance barely suffers in the wet, but rim brakes will have reduced stopping power, particularly if you have carbon rather than aluminium rims. Intermittently feathering your rim brakes while riding will also help keep your braking surfaces relatively clean and make braking safer and more effective. 

With rim brakes, be sure to wipe down your wheel rims and inspect the brake pads for any embedded grit and consider fitting brake pads made with a compound designed for all-weather riding. 

For discs, switching from organic to sintered (metallic) brake pads is worth considering if you're wearing out your pads quickly – these perform better in the wet.

11. Steady in the corners

Fuji SL 1.1 cornering

Grit washed into the road by rain doesn’t just cause punctures – loose material on the road surface can significantly reduce grip when cornering.

In fact, cornering is perhaps the biggest challenge for cyclists in wet conditions. The key to cornering safely in the rain is to take it steady as you approach the bend – do your braking before you start turning, and stay away from the edge of the road where you'll find the worst of the debris.

Also look out for painted road markings, which can be slippery when wet, while in autumn, fallen leaves are a major hazard.

12. Keep your feet warm and dry

There are many reasons to invest in a decent pair of overshoes for riding in wet weather, not least because of the high-vis element many offer. 

It's practically impossible to keep all of the rain out when cycling, but a pair of overshoes made of neoprene (the same material used in making wetsuits for divers) will at least keep your feet partially dry and stop you developing a nasty case of trench foot.

We've compiled a guide to the best overshoes for winter to help you decide which ones to choose, and don't miss our advice on how to keep your feet warm while cycling.

13. Care for your shoes

Your cycling shoes are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of road spray, being right in the line of fire behind your tyres.

Overshoes can keep off the worst of the grit, grime and oil thrown up from the road, but if you're caught in a shower, always clean your shoes properly when you get home – get stuck in with an old toothbrush.

It's also a good idea to dry them out properly – but it's best not to put them on a radiator, as the heat can damage the synthetic fabrics and glues.

Instead, stuff them with scrunched up newspaper to absorb the moisture and put them in a well-ventilated area. This works a treat. 

14. Look after your eyes

Sunglasses may not be the most obvious thing to wear when dark clouds loom overhead but some form of eye protection is always a good idea.

Shades with a wraparound design will help keep stinging rain out of the eyes, and many designs come with changeable lenses for different conditions.

Clear lenses are the easy option for winter but the best photochromic sunglasses work really well too, and can offer a four-season solution.

Most importantly the glasses should have UV protection to protect eyes from the sun's rays, even in winter and especially in snowy conditions. 

15. Keep your hands warm

A solid pair of gloves is a must-have for any winter ride and you will want a pair which offer a good degree of flexibility whilst also keep your hands warm and dry.

Gloves with bonded seams are typically a go-to as they are completely waterproof but they can lack breathability.

Depending on preference you may want some palm cushions integrated into the gloves to protect hands from damage, and reflective detailing can also be a huge benefit for making sure you are seen signalling on the road. 

Another useful feature is touchscreen compatibility, so you can work your GPS system or phone without needing to take them off. 

16. Lube your chain

Among bike components, your chain is one of the most vulnerable to wet conditions. Riding in a shower will see much of the vital lubricant being washed off, which leaves your chain prone to becoming rusty and seizing up later.

Choice of lube is an ever-controversial subject, but one approach for the winter is to use a lubricant specifically designed for wet conditions, as this will ensure your bike performs well in downpours and your ride is a smooth as possible. The downside to wet lubes is they quickly becoming grimy and can attract dirt. 

Head to our guide to the best chain lubes for more and remember to clean your chain after every ride to remove the grime that accumulates on the outside – over time, this will work its way into the links and cause premature wear. Keep the rest of your components happy too with our guide on how to clean and lube your bike for winter.

17. Be seen – fit some lights

When skies overhead fill with heavy clouds, it can get a bit gloomy out there, so do your bit to ensure your visibility by using lights at all times, not just at night.

Especially in the pouring rain, having some decent lights will make your visible to others on the road but also help you identify any hazards in the road. 

Lights can be fitted to the bike frame or your helmet. 

18. Avoid puddles

When you were a kid, popping on a pair of wellies and jumping in puddles was the height of fun, but puddles are a hazard when you’re on a bike.

The simple reason for this is that you don’t know what’s lurking beneath that murky water – it could be a puncture-causing stone or worse, a deep pothole or drain cover that could wreck your wheels or send you flying when you hit it at speed.

The same rule applies to metal manhole covers, which are treacherously slippy when wet.

19. Fit some mudguards

Many clubs make mudguards obligatory on winter rides, for obvious reasons.

Aside from protecting the people behind you from road spray, mounting mudguards will leave you drier, comfier and much more presentable, and your bike and kit will also be thankful. 

If your bike has the necessary mounting points, a set of full-length mudguards are always the best option.

Otherwise, fit a set of clip-on guards or will clip under your saddle and keep the worst of the road spray off your backside, though it won’t protect following riders.

20. Clean your bike

While components such as the chain and brakes require special attention after a wet ride, it's a good idea to clean your whole bike as soon as you get home.

Despite what many cyclists think, it really doesn't take long and if you get into the habit of it, it takes even less time. Just follow our guide on how to give your bike a good clean.

After cleaning, dry the bike off as thoroughly as possible with a clean cloth, and then make sure you lubricate the chain and the other moving parts of the bike such as the brake pivots and pedals. 

You'll be back riding in the rain in no time. 

21. Adjust your attitude

Also known as 'HTFU' or 'harden the flip up'. This is all about embracing the weather rather than being afraid of it.

If you're kitted out sensibly with the right gear, there's no reason to be afraid of the rain – in fact, it can be fun to be out on the bike when the skies open, safe in the knowledge that there's a warm shower and hot coffee waiting for you at home.

Once out there, you'll often find conditions aren't as bad as you feared, and it's got to be preferable to sitting on the turbo trainer staring at the garage wall, right?