Bike touring in the rain is rarely anyone’s first choice but when the skies open, don’t abandon your ride.
In all but the heaviest downpours, cycling in the rain is definitely possible and often enjoyable. Sometimes it’s even preferable. Rain makes landscapes come alive in a way that they don’t on a sunny day. Flowers glisten. Brooks start gushing. Rainbows appear.
Rainy days are also a great time to cycle a route that would otherwise see a lot of tourists. While everyone else sits in their hotel, you can have the road all to yourself.
In this, the second of a 3-part series on cycling in the rain, we share tips for bike touring in wet conditions. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series: the equipment we recommend for bike touring in wet weather and how to take care of your bike after riding in the rain.
On with the tips…
1. Rain Doesn’t Last Forever – In over 1,100 days on the road, it’s hard to think of more than a handful when we had rain for an entire day. Most of the time, rain lasts a few hours at most or comes in bursts, giving you a chance to dry out a bit between showers. Don’t be fooled into thinking that means you should stay in your tent and wait it out. Often, the rain didn’t leave us, we left the rain. In as little as an hour, you can cycle out of a rain system into totally different, and far better, weather.
2. Make It Fun – It’s all about attitude when you’re bike touring. In the right mood, a mountain can seem like barely a bump in the road but if you’re in a funk the same mountain turns into a climb that feels like it just might kill you. Rainy days are exactly the same. If you go outside convinced it’s going to be miserable, that’s exactly how you’ll end up. Instead, try to capture the same spirit a 5 year old has when he’s gleefully jumping in puddles. On rainy days, we know we’re going to get at least a little wet, so we hit the road with plenty of spirit and “let’s make the best of it” attitude. Rainy days are silly days. We make up contests, like “Who can sing the worst country song in the strongest twang possible?”. We tell jokes and set ourselves challenges, like figuring out how many pedal strokes we cover in a day. By the time we do all this, there’s no time left to concentrate on the rain.
3. Allow More Time – When you’re cycling in the rain, everything takes a little longer. Slippery streets and puddles mean you don’t roll as quickly as you would on a sunny day and cafes become much more tempting places to linger. That’s fine, as long as you pare back your expectations. If you normally cycle 80km a day, aim for 60km on a rainy day.
4. Choose Different Food – On a wet day, you might not want to sit around and have the same leisurely lunch break as you usually have. You might have to eat in the rain and even if you find a bus stop or other shelter to eat in, it may be a little too cold to sit around for long. For that reason, on rainy days we pick food that requires no preparation. Bananas, carrot sticks, granola bars and pastries would make up a typical wet weather lunch.
5. Pick Your Camping Spot Wisely – If it’s been raining, or you think it might rain overnight, then think carefully about where you’ll pitch your tent. Avoid low-lying areas, indentations in the ground and rivers that might flood. Fields that will turn into mud pits are also a bad idea. Camping spots with trees are wonderful because they allow you to rig up a tarp. With the extra outdoor space that a tarp brings you can cook, read and talk outdoors, without getting wet. This makes a rainy camping experience a lot more tolerable, rather than being cooped up in a tent.
For an example of what happens when you camp in a field and it rains, watch the video we took as we tried to leave a wild camping spot in Turkey. You’ll hear that we are not very happy. It wasn’t the rain that was the problem, but the mud that clogged our wheels. It took us over an hour to get out of the field and clear the wheels so they could roll again.
6. Treat Yourself – No matter how good your attitude is to rainy cycling, after a few hours you will be at least slightly wet (perhaps totally soaked if the rain is coming down hard) and you deserve a treat. This is the time to stretch your budget and have lunch in a restaurant. Better yet, if you usually camp, go for a hotel. A hot shower feels 10 times better after a wet day on the road and taking a hotel lets you dry out your gear so you don’t have to worry about waking up to wet shoes or mildew forming in your tent. This isn’t so important on the first day of rain, but if you’ve been cycling in wet weather for two days or more, your gear can start to smell if it doesn’t dry out. We followed the ‘splurge’ theory when we encountered several days of rain in New Zealand and after a wet day in Canada. Both times, it was money well spent. Tip: If you need to dry out your shoes at night, stuff them as full as you can with tightly balled up newspaper. The newspaper will soak up the water. Check after a couple hours and replace the paper if necessary.
7. Be Visible – Cars can’t see as far ahead in the rain and they’re less likely to anticipate a cyclist on the road on a grey day. Make sure you wear bright clothing and turn on your lights so that you’re as obvious as possible on the road.