Training Tips and Techniques for Cycling in the RainDonovan van Gelder
With Spring about to be sprung, there will be more and more rain about in the coming weeks. Most of us will have spent a lot of our training time indoors during the cold, dark days of Winter and we will all be super-motivated to be testing that hard-earned form out on the roads. So, even a bit of water falling from the sky may not be enough to prevent us from heading outdoors, especially for the longer sessions, which are hard to achieve on the indoor bike. Training in the rain does not need to be terrible. There are some tricks and techniques that will make it safe and relatively comfortable to accomplish.
There is a saying in cycling, “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Dressing correctly for wet weather is definitely a big priority. In most parts of South Africa, we get our rain during the warmer times of the year. This means that we don’t need to over-dress for the occasion. The priorities are the extremities and the core. So good gloves, overshoes a cap under the helmet and a light waterproof layer is generally all we need. The gloves are the most simple of these equipment choices. Some lightweight, long fingered gloves will do the trick. Nothing too bulky that inhibits the pulling of brake-levers or changing of gears.
I have found that if my feet are warm and dry, I feel much better in the rain. Very few overshoes will keep the water out completely because there needs to be a hole for the cleat but a tight fitting option, made of thin, waterproof material, will keep most moisture out. There are some good options in the market made of an almost swim-cap type material, which hug the shoe and ankle and are not so thick that they make the feet hot. The neoprene toecap options are also great in warmer climates. They are also easy to take on and off while on the move, should the rain stop and the conditions warm up.
Some form of head covering under the helmet will depend on taste. We just want a little more insulation under a helmet, which is designed to allow airflow and keep the head cool. So a light beanie or buff will work and is easy enough to remove if things start to warm up. I like the old-fashioned casquet or cloth cycling cap, because of it’s small visor. This visor will keep the spray from another rider’s wheel, out of your eyes. It also can keep light drizzle off the eyewear, which is helpful.
Eyewear is another good addition to our rainy weather gear. Something with a clear or high contrast lens is a good idea. Keeping spray which carries grit and oils from the road out of our eyes is very important. If it is raining particularly hard, eyewear will also allow us to keep our eyes open and focused on the road ahead, rather than having to constantly blink as they are pelted by rain droplets. Our gloves will have a leather or chamois palm and this normally extends down the fingers. Use that to give the lenses a wipe from time to time when the droplets get too much. Airflow will generally wipe away most of the moisture on the lenses but we can also use a window cleaner to clean the lenses before we go out, and this will cause the water to bead and run off that much better.
The waterproof outer layer will again be a matter of personal choice. Some will prefer the full-sleeved rain jacket option, while others, will go for a sleeveless gillet. I personally, prefer the later. These are easier to put on and take off as the conditions alter and I prefer to not have the flapping sleeves of the long-sleeved option. It is our trunk that we want to keep warm and dry. Our arms will be fine with a good pair of arm-warmers. Choose something with a good, elasticated seal around the arm holes and one that closes snuggly around the neck to prevent too much water getting in. The fit should also be tight enough to prevent any bagginess or flapping but make allowances for any items that you usually carry in the back pockets of your jersey, which will be underneath. Things like cellphone, spare tube and food etc.
Once out on the road there are a few things that we need to take into account that are different in the dry. The major one is traction. The roads are wet and we need to be aware of staying off the painted lines on the road, which are glacial. Also keep a look out for patches of oil. These are normally deposited around intersections and traffic lights where cars have had to stop for a while. Cornering needs to be tackled differently. Obviously speed needs to be tempered according to conditions but sometimes it is also beneficial to steer more through a corner, rather than leaning the bike into it. Trying to keep the bike slightly more upright will keep more tyre in contact with the road and offer more grip.
There are obviously good and bad tyres for wet weather and we don’t really want to be changing these every ride, depending on conditions. So, just be aware of how your tyres handle wet roads and ride accordingly. Reducing the tyre pressure before a wet ride is definitely something we can do. This will increase the rolling resistance slightly but will increase the footprint of the tyre, giving more grip. This is also beneficial when standing, out of the saddle to climb or accelerate. With less traction, there is always a chance of wheelspin, which, in a worse-case scenario, could lead to us banging a knee on the handlebar, which is not fun. When standing in wet weather, be conscious of keeping the weight slightly further back on the bike and increasing the torque on the pedals a little more gradually than we would in the dry.
There are a lot more bikes equipped with disc-brakes and these are excellent in wet conditions as there is little to no difference in braking performance. Those who still use rim-brakes though, will need to factor in a delay in braking as the blocks clear moisture from the rim. Leaving braking too late can result in over doing it. Applying brakes, not getting the desired result as the water clears from the braking surface, applying more brake, water clears and the brakes bite harder than required. Coupled with less traction on wet roads… conclusion obvious.
The key is actually to temper the aggression and speed in wet weather, unless of course we are racing. Wet training rides should be recovery or endurance efforts rather than intervals or tempo workouts. Those should be the domain of the indoor bike in wet conditions.
Riding in the rain need not be a nightmare. It will never be as much as fun as riding in good conditions but there are always the hardcore points that you will win from your training mates to consider. Even if no-one sees you out there, uploading to Strava will confirm your position amongst the committed and respected… or the silly, depends who your mates are.