The most important thing about coping with riding in the rain and wet is not getting hung up on it. Yeah, you’ll be wet – and quite possibly cold at times. Yes, your bike will get filthy and still grind itself to bits, however much you clean it. In fact, it might actually die faster if you clean it but more on that later. And most of your mates will whinge and/or make excuses to miss rides more often than they would if the singletrack was dusty and everyone had a tan rather than the snots.
But however hard the water is sheeting down the windows or windscreen, it really is ‘never as bad once you’re out in it’ though. In fact, with grip washed away enough to make every climb, descent, root or rock a challenge, but most surfaces softened up enough to make landings less painful, playing about in puddles is a huge amount of fun. It also flicks all those ‘things you did as a stupid kid’ switches that make everything more entertaining – including scowls and head shakes from all those sensible people thinking that we ‘look old enough to know better’. In fact, I defy anyone who’s been told to stand in the garden/yard while they get hosed off like a scolded seven year old, not to find the situation smirkingly hilarious.
It only goes to the skin
The above might be just a favorite saying among Yorkshire farmers but it’s the truth. Apart from your enthusiasm, nothing about you or your bike is water soluble. Hands and feet might get wrinkly, chains and brakes might scuff and grind away faster and rust if unloved afterwards, but metal and meat essentially shrug off the worst storms fine. Wet, cold weather and stickier/slipperier trails will actually encourage you to pedal harder – and therefore stay warmer – and even e-bikes don’t seem to need wading kits or snorkels to keep them working. You can also run mountain biking events or just go riding all year round, with no seasonal leagues, bad light, wet courts, need for snow etc. to worry about. In other words, compared to a lot of outdoor sports, biking is one of the best options for year round enjoyment.
Walkerproof not waterproof
While we’re talking wetness and skin, there’s one very important lesson to learn if you’re going to comfortable riding in the rain and winter. And that is that there’s no way to stay dry. I’ve gone into detail about this before, but even the best waterproof fabrics that are fine for hikers can’t cope with the amount of sweat you create when pedaling a bike hard. I had this confirmed again last night when I came back cold and clammy despite using a £300 Gore-Tex Shake Dry coat that’s almost certainly the best performing rain repeller I’ve got. And apart from Shake Dry, Pro mountain/military level Gore-Tex and a handful of other top cloths, few fabrics will keep the rain out for over an hour even if you’re dawdling/downhilling/uplifting. Unlike most other technologies, waterproof performance is getting worse not better as we rightly stop using eco toxic carbon rich coatings on coats.
The good news is that unless sweat is actually trickling down your skin, your body can’t actually tell whether you’re wet or not. All it can tell is whether you’re warm or cold and how fast that’s changing. That’s why materials such as soft shells, shell/fleece composites, merino base layers or even old wool jumpers work really well. They don’t keep you dry, but they do slow down the rate at which you lose heat once you’re wet. Or to put it another way, if you’re warm, being wet doesn’t actually matter.
That said, there are some tips that really help stop moist becoming miserable. First is closing any potential thermal gaps. Scarves/neck tubes that stop drips going down your next make a ridiculous difference to comfort. Gaffer tape the vents on your helmets if you want to stay warmer and don’t wear Koroyd style lids in proper wet weather as all those little straws can fill with water and add neck knackering weight.
Pull jackets over gloves so the water runs over them not into them and wear trousers, long socks or even walking gaiters to keep your lower legs warm and slow down flooding. You’ll be amazed at the difference that can make to keeping extremities warm and if you don’t believe us just go for a ride with one side ‘tucked in’, and one side ‘pulled over’. Because most of you will insist on using a waterproof or just wearing too much, learn to pre empt the boil in the bag moments.
If you know there’s a big climb coming up, then unzip well before it to lower your temperature before the work rate increases. Using any vents in the design or rolling up sleeves can make a big difference in sweat/temp control too as blood vessels are super close to the surface in your wrists. While stopping for long is never a good idea thermally, using several thin layers not one or two thick ones creates a much more adaptable ‘system’. It's often cheaper in terms of how much kit you need over the year too.
Boat your bike
Small changes can go a long way to making your bike ride much better in wet weather too. Fitting a mud tire up front doesn’t quite turn the trails back to summer, but it does at least keep one part of your bike controlled as the rest of it turns into a greased eel. They don’t have to be expensive either as Specialized’s new Hillbilly proves. If you can’t afford new rubber, then just drop pressure in the tires you have, as you won’t be hitting stuff as fast anyway. And if you’re running wide rubber, have a look in your shed for those unfashionably narrow tires you stashed ages ago, because having tread that cuts rather than surfs makes life a lot more predictable in the wet.
Whether you buy a posh wheel hugging fender or just make something out of an old race number /milk carton, stopping spray hitting you in the face means less blinking and less blind moments. It can also keep seals and sensitive bits clean. Some riders even cut up old inner tubes to add seals around seat post collars and headsets although that can actually cause more damage by locking in dampness after a ride.
Finally, buy the best wet weather lube you can and use it. Properly. You know, by checking the instructions and everything, because they all work in different ways. But don’t use a jet wash. Bucket, brush, foamy cleaner, toothbrush, 000 artist's brush if you’re a fanatic and have to turn up to the next ride with your pride and joy in concourse condition, but for the sake of every bearing and pivot on your bike not a bloody jet wash, OK?
Go with the flow
But obviously whether you’re tucking your sleeves in or not and the pressure you run which front tyre (and I’m deliberately saying ‘tyre’ not ‘tire’ here because most Americans will have no idea what I’m on about with any of this) is only part of the ‘get better at wetter’ equation. That wetness isn’t going anywhere though, so I’ll be gushing forth on how, where and what not to ride here soon. Until, then have fun in the sloppy slip and slide, because it really is ‘never as bad once you’re out in it’.