Even the most fair weather cyclist can get caught in an occasional rain shower or wet conditions. In fact the first time I really hit the deck on my road bike there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was breezing along San Vincente Boulevard in front of the Brentwood Country Mart when I pumped the brake lever on my Colnago Victory. I was down before I knew what happened and must have slid 20 feet on my side through the mossy gutter before I came to a halt. Luckily there was no damage except to my pride.
Maybe that experience has made me over cautious, but I am still amazed at how often I see a cyclist skid out on wet pavement (the recent Olympic Women’s Triathlon saw four different groups of cyclists go down at the exact same spot, all making the same mistake). While there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of going down in wet conditions, here are some important tips to keep in mind to help keep you upright.
What’s this got to do with wet weather riding? One of the leading causes of bike spills is over-braking the front wheel, and the issue is compounded in wet conditions. When you reach for your water bottle or something from your back pockets, use your left hand. This leaves your right hand ready to hit the rear brake lever in case you need to slow down or stop in a hurry. Even if you lock-up the back tire, you’re much less likely to hit the deck.
Dry Your Brake Pads
Well before you need to stop you can dry your pads with a few pulses of the brakes. This action squeegees the water from the rim and will make the pads more efficient even if they are still damp. When you execute the pulse, use a light touch and start with the rear brake (right hand) and then very lightly (if at all) the front.
Weight Back When Stopping
If you primarily ride in dry conditions you probably don’t give much thought to body position when stopping. In wet conditions you want to maximize rear wheel traction by shifting your weight further back in the seat. For emergency stops get out of the saddle and push your hips back over the rear wheel.
Pedal While Braking
Continuing to pedal while braking the rear wheel will make you far less likely to lock up and skid. The pedaling keeps the tire spinning even when significant brake pressure is applied. This will seem like a strange maneuver the first time you try it, so practice on dry roads until you get the hang of it.
Steer Into Corners
Avoid leaning into corners and focus more on turning the front wheel through the curve. This will keep the bike more upright and result in more downward force on the tires. And of course, take those corners a little slower!
Brake Before The Turn
The absolute worse thing you can do in wet conditions is brake in a corner (watch the London Women’s Triathlon video, above). Brake early, release before you make the turn and keep pedaling through the corner. If you do need to brake in a turn, use only the rear lever and apply pressure evenly and release quickly. And don’t stop pedaling.
Watch The Rainbows
When the road gets wet it releases embedded oils and rubber buildup, making it super slick. Proceed with caution and avoid braking or turning in the middle of a rainbow-tinged wet spot. Also avoid bombing through puddles. The puddle in and of itself is not the problem; it’s what can lie beneath. You never know how deep the water is and you could end up with a pinch flat, broken rim or going over the bars.
Other Slick Spots
As I can personally attest, gutters often build up moss or fallen leaves that make these areas deceptively slick. Likewise steel street plates, steel bridge decking and painted road markings. Proceed over these areas with caution.
There’s no need to avoid riding when it’s wet if you take a few basic precautions. Probably the best advice is just to slow down and give yourself more time when braking and turning. Good luck and happy riding.