Silicon Valley has been scheduled for rainstorms, but they’ve neatly occurred at night and not interfered with my bike commute at all. Just in case, I have been carrying two essentials with me: a) Giant poncho for sudden downpour since my jacket is only water-resistant and not waterproof. Oh wait, do ponchos come in any size other than ridiculously giant since they’re supposed to fit everyone? b) Waterproof cover for the stuff in my basket. This is actually a plastic coated reusable shopping bag that Safeway sent us in the mail when they opened the new one downtown. I put my stuff inside and fold over the top and secure with a binder clip I swiped from work. It works pretty well, but then I haven’t taken it out in a deluge yet, but I think it’ll be at least decently functional.
The first couple times we were forecasted for rain, the people at work asked me if I was going to ride my bike in the rain. Apparently this is an odd and freaky thing to do, especially since I wear civilised clothing for civilised riding. People simply do not think that someone like me would bother riding in the rain because… news flash… I might get wet.
In reality, I don’t mind riding in the rain and find it actually pretty fun. It’s usually a bit cooler and it’s fun when the raindrops hit you in the face. Well, I have a couple hangups:
1) Riding in the rain is just fine. Parking in the rain is not. For some reason, I don’t mind bringing Blue out in the rain as long as we’re actively riding somewhere. If she’s just sitting outside in the rain, it makes me feel really sad, like I left a puppy locked to a pole in the rain.
2) Blue’s brakes suck. They just do. The brake pads are original from when she was first assembled back in the late 70s and I just haven’t gotten around to changing them yet. This means that it takes me a long time to stop when it’s dry and even longer when it’s wet out. Also, each wet stop is accompanied by a really horrible screeching sound effect. Between the bell ringing whenever I hit a bump and the screechy brakes, people are usually aware of where I am.
Lastly, I’d like to share (another list, sorry) a few more general tips for riding in the rain. There are about a million lists out there that are probably better done, but hey, I feel like sharing so deal.
1) Fenders work. they keep the mud stripe off your back and stop the spray from the front wheel from hitting your face.
2) Get something to keep the rain off your body, like a jacket combined with a brimmed hat. The brimmed hat (or helmet) will help keep the rain out of your eyes (and off your glasses if you wear them). It’s not perfect, but it helps.
3) Gloves are nice and can keep your hands dry in case the rain is chilly.
4) Know how your bike behaves when it’s wet out. This includes understanding that your brakes may not be as effective and your wheels may not be as grippy when it’s raining. Know how your bike will react. This is especially important when it comes to riding with other bikes and on roads with cars that may do unpredictable things. Speaking of riding with cars…
5) Ride in a straight line. I seriously cannot stress this enough. If you have a bike lane, ride in the bike lane, far enough from the right that you won’t get doored by parked cars. I tend to ride closer to moving traffic, about 3/4 of the bike lane over. This is usually far enough from parked car doors, but still well within the lane so that I don’t have to worry about traffic hitting me.
If you don’t have a bike lane, for god’s sake, do NOT zip in and out of the traffic lane. I feel like this is worse than simply taking up space in the lane. At least if you are in the lane, the car is aware that you are there and might grumble to have to change lanes to pass you, but at least they are aware you are there.
Ride where the car’s passenger-side tires would go and ride in a straight line. Of course, if you have a parked-car-free shoulder to ride in, just use that instead. Sometimes I see people darting into the lane for a short distance and then back into the shoulder to pass parked cars and I think it’s a little scary for a car when you suddenly jump into the lane.
Cars are usually only aware of what is on the road since that is what affects them directly, so when you are in the shoulder, you are "out of sight, out of mind." If you take the lane, then you will be consistently in a driver’s field of vision and will not be a surprise when you dart into the lane to avoid a parked car.
6) And finally, be aware that cars have more limited vision in the rain and ride defensively. With wipers on and possibly fogged up windows, a car may not see you, so be ready to get out of the way or stop in case someone pulls out in front of you. When it comes to car vs. bike, the car usually wins, so prevent it from happening at all.
I feel like we should educate the cars on how to ride with bikes on the road, since most cars simply do not know how to act when there is a bike in the lane. I don’t remember there being any guidelines when I was taking Driver’s Ed way back in high school other than, "Do not mow down a bicycle with your car. Thanks." The only way to get cars used to riding with bikes on the road is to have bikes on the road. Everyday I ride at the same time on the same route and I probably see the same cars. I feel that the more I ride this same route at the same time, the more the drivers will expect me to be there riding in the right lane and will learn how to deal with bikes on the road. As for me, I ride very predictably, stopping at lights, riding in a straight line, acting like a really slow moving car with only two wheels. I think the more I ride like this, the better the cars treat me.
Just trying to do my part.