Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tricks of the Trade: Rainy Commuting

Yesterday was my first truly rainy commute of 2009. I've ridden in some damp conditions and in sprinkles, but yesterday took all that to a new level with a day-long deluge that had waned into sprinkles by the time I got off work, leaving the roads with water rushing to the storm drains.

I've had a few people asking for advice on rainy commuting.

1st: Stay Safe
Visibility is reduced for both you and motorists. Make sure your lights work and use them even during the day. Reflective clothing is a bonus. Look ahead and ride slower if you need to. Stay diligent looking for road hazards. Water can obscure broken glass and road-debris, pot-holes, storm drains and other things you would normally avoid.

Painted or non-porous surfaces get very slippery when it's been raining. Use extreme caution when riding over expansion joints, manhole covers, road stripes (especially the wide "stop" lines), metal plates on the road and railroad tracks. This one gets me on occasion, as I'll explain in a bit.

2nd: Keep your gear dry
Most commuters haul stuff to and from work: work clothes, gadgets, papers, lunch and whatnot. That stuff doesn't do much good if it's wet. I use panniers with rain covers, but even those don't keep things 100% dry. You can buy waterproof panniers and messenger bags. I just wrap my sensitive stuff in plastic or use large zip-lock bags and re-use them until they're no longer waterproof. You have many options.

I also keep a complete spare change of clothes and a towel at the office for emergencies or in case I forget something at home. On seriously rainy days, I could just ride my bike and bring nothing along with me, then change into my dry clothes.

3rd: Comfort
Fenders keep rain from splashing up on your back and into your face and legs. Long after it rains, wet roads can make your commute miserable. Fenders fix that, and when it's raining, you'll get hit mostly by clean rain from the sky instead of experiencing the constant barrage of road grime -- that is until some car passes you and splashes it all over the place or you get stuck riding behind a cyclist without decent fenders.

You can buy specialty rainsuits, but less-expensive waterproof pants often get torn up quickly on a bicycle due to snagging in the chain and wear from the saddle. High-end gore-tex pants are expensive. I usually opt to let my legs get wet unless it's below 50 degrees outside.

Keeping a cheap $3 rain poncho around can help a lot when it's pouring like it was in Kansas City yesterday morning. It covers enough of your legs to keep your shorts from getting totally soaked. Combined with fenders, a cheap poncho is a good thing to have around. They're small and fit easily in panniers or backpacks.



I got my own taste of slippery metal yesterday:


I wasn't looking far enough ahead when I rode into that region. It's an expansion joint with two metal rails and a rubber pad between them. I have no clue why it's there. Once I'd crossed the perpendicular joint just past the paint stripe, it was too late to brake. The joint comes back across the road, which forced me to hit it almost parallel. My tire slipped, then fell into the groove. Fortunately, a little bit of road rash to the knee is the only bad thing that happened.

Of course, I've already written some stuff on how to handle road rash. After cleaning the wound, I covered it with Tegaderm and got on with my life. Tegaderm stands up to showering and covers scrapes with a breathable membrane that lets the healing process happen quickly and without scabbing.

5 comments:

The Unabashed Blogger said...

The expansion joint is there because the road is actually a bridge at that point. Stop on the north west corner of the intersection and look down. That is were the parking is for the Liberty Loft building, entrance road for USPS, rear entrance for IRS, and soon to be back "yard" for the KC Ballet when they move into a not yet renovated Power House building.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have a cheap poncho, just take the plastic garbage bag form your place of employment's trash cans. This happened during the downpour today. I'm sure this will be greatly appreciated by the janitor.

helligetx said...

Great post, I made it home no problem yesterday. But, when I got there I didn't know what to do about my bike. Do I need to wipe it down or lube the chain after a ride in the rain? I guess I am most worried about rust.

Drew

Noah said...

I usually grab a rag (preferably one that isn't loose-knit material, I opt for old shirts or jeans for this) and make a fist around the bottom of the chain while spinning the crank backward to dry the chain off. A quick, light spray with TriFlow, White Lightning or some other quality chain lube (NOT WD-40) will keep rust at bay. Painted aluminum and steel surfaces should be fine, but I usually wipe my entire bike down, and a terrycloth rag would be fine for that.

Cafn8 said...

About the cheap poncho.. if you buy one with snaps on the sides you can unsnap the sides and drape the front over your handlebars (assuming you have fenders). Just use extra care to have your hands ready at the brake levers. This along with a shower cap over my helmet keeps me as dry above the knees as can be expected.

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