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They Call It Stormy Friday

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

I canceled a group ride recently. We were scheduled to leave at 8:30. I made the decision at 7:00am. The rain came at 9:00.

Err on the side of safety.

I’ve ridden in rain before, everything from a downpour to a light mist. On the Southern California coast it’s called the “marine layer”, but it is rain (or so I found out, once). i

A few years ago, riding from Santa Cruz to King City, the rain started as we came into Salinas for lunch. Then, heading south on a farm road, the rain was so heavy it obscured the landscape, intensifying and deadening the senses at the same time. I was gripping the handlebars so tight my hands hurt.

The tailwind (usually a good thing) moved my group along at a pace slightly faster than safe on a road that was basically pot holes strung together, testing the traction of our skinny tires. I was fortunate to have my emergency rain jacket, but others had fashioned makeshift ponchos out of large black garbage bags. They looked like turtles. We eventually rode out of the downpour. Only a few of us were able to complete the ride that day.

Every now and then, my group here in Lincoln will get caught in the rain. Usually, our “rain resistant” wind breakers are enough to keep us dry for a short time or we have prepared by wearing actual rain jackets. We often plan rides with several “bailout” points where we can cut a ride short and head for home if rain looks inevitable.

This time of year, it’s easy to get caught, especially if you are a commuter or ride your bike to school . . . or don’t watch the weather report. Here are a few quick tips for riding in the rain.

Of course, always do everything you can to make yourself more visible in the darker weather. Allow more stopping distance. If possible, occasionally lightly apply your brakes to help dry off the braking surfaces, especially if you are traveling downhill.

Avoid making sharp turns and remember white lines and leaves are extra slippery when wet. I know it’s fun to splash through puddles on a fat tire bike with suspension, but you really don’t know how deep that puddle might be.

If you have the chance, you can reduce your tire pressure just slightly. This will give you greater contact with the road and increase traction. Just be careful to not make the tires squishy, which will increase the possibility of a pinch flat when you ride through that pot hole. Also, realize there is a greater chance of a flat tire on a wet road, as small bits of rock and glass are more likely to stick to your tire when it’s wet.

If possible, fenders are a good idea. They will help keep water from the road hitting you in the face or giving you a stripe of mud up your back. There are many inexpensive models that will clip on and off, as needed.

Finally, clean your bike when you get home. For some bikes, that may mean just hosing it off to get rid of mud on the frame and grit from the chain. For higher end, more delicate road bikes, you may need to perform a serious cleaning, drying and lubing.

Of course, slow down when the roads are wet.

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