by Davide Pettuco (translated by Gillian Shaw) source text
September should be the month when we enjoy milder temperatures, long days and a fitness level that is still good enough to relish the last rides of a beautiful season. Unfortunately, the weather conditions are more like October.
Do you remember the Worlds road race in Florence in 2013? I went along to watch and was rewarded with a fantastic show – from all points of view – starting with the weather.
Heavy rain fell all day on the riders, to show us once again just how unique this sport is, that takes place outdoors, on the streets designed for cars and not bikes.
On one hand, I have to admit that in terms of the enthusiast who enjoys the race from their sofa, the rain made the race even more spectacular and unpredictable. Making the circuit even harder – and it was already horrendous (just ask Cancellara, Sagan and Gilbert…).
But from the perspective of a cyclist, I didn’t like seeing the riders bowled over like skittles on the straights.
I then thought of how many times it happens to us as well – in the middle of a ride in difficult weather conditions.
How should you ride in the rain on wet asphalt?
I have noted down a few rules – the result of common sense and my own experience.
Cycling in the wet – 7 handy tips
Important notice: if you can, avoid cycling when there is a high chance of rain.
This goes for races as well as training or rides with friends.
Professional riders, unlike us, are paid to do this job and can even afford to risk their necks.
Besides they race when the roads are closed to traffic. Not us.
1 – Reduce your speed
This may seem like trivial advice but what do we tend to do once it starts raining? Start pedalling like a madman to get home as soon as possible.
Such a mistake. When it rains hard, it only takes a few minutes to get completely soaked – from that moment on you won’t be any drier if you get home 10 minutes early. Cycling in the rain at high speed exponentially increases all potential risks.
You have less grip on the road, reduced reaction times, diminished visibility. All in all, accept the fact that by now you are soaked and calmly make your way home.
2 – Avoid “overlap wheels”
If you’re in a group and you find yourself overlapping wheels with your companion, avoid staying right behind them or you will get all the water (and mud) thrown up by their back wheel. This will cause reduced visibility and loss of concentration. So, stay just to the side, preferably not on the verge side of the road, but towards the centre to avoid ending up off the road.
Avoid staying in the slipstream of the rider ahead, by keeping a good distance (30-40cm) between you, to give you time to react and brake following changes in cadence and direction.
3 – Signal manoeuvres and obstacles in plenty of time.
Every move you make on a bike in the rain must be fluid and slow, avoiding sprinting and sudden changes in direction.
Remember to signal your changes of direction (such as at roundabouts) well in advance, both for the benefit of cars and your cycling companions. The same applies for obstacles, holes and dirt on the road surface: make large gestures to your companions in plenty of time to avoid incidents.
4 – Deflate your tyres a little.
A well-inflated tyre is great on smooth, dry asphalt, but the contact surface between the tyre and the ground is just a few millimetres. So in the rain it’s a good idea to deflate the tyres a little to increase this contact area and thus give more grip.
How much should you deflate them? There’s no hard and fast rule, partly because being out and about you are not likely to have a pressure gauge with you to measure the tyre pressure. Adjust them based on feel: deflate them enough to feel a little ‘softness’ under your bike.
5 – Brake early and smoothly.
Braking is a critical moment when the road surface beneath you is wet. Yet again common sense must be used and when near bends, traffic lights or roundabouts begin braking in plenty of time.
Braking should always be done with both brakes at the same time, in a gradual and smooth motion. Never squeeze too hard – once the wheels start to slip you will certainly end up on the ground.
If you do feel that you are losing grip, the trick is to release the brakes, let the bike run a little and then make ‘little pinches’ on the brakes to try to get the tyre grip back.
6 – Take bends with caution.
Bends are another critical moment, particularly when going downhill.
The rules to follow in this case are to always brake in plenty of time ahead of the bend and choose the widest possible route to allow you to keep the bike as upright as possible – this will maintain maximum surface contact between the tyre and the road.
7 – Avoid road markings.
We even saw this at the Worlds at Florence: white markings on the roads, pedestrian crossings, Give Way and generally all road markings become as slippery as soap when they are wet.
Avoid these markings as much as possible but there will be a time when you have to cross them: when you are on them, do not brake or quickly change direction.
I shall leave you with this incredible video in Florence 2013, shot by Shimano, the leaders in gear mechanisms.
Seen from the back of the group, it was a World Championship that was a real battle, demonstrating how difficult the rider’s job is, but above all it shows us how hard it is to stay upright on wet roads, even for those who do it for a living.
Put up the volume and enjoy the clip…