We all know that rain and cold winds are yucky to ride in. They decrease friction between tyres and road, and brake blocks and rim, meaning you can’t turn or stop as safely. They spray black cack all over your nice clean cycling clothes. They magically transports bucketloads of sand into your bike’s mechanical bits, increasing friction and wearing out parts quickly. They make you cold and uncomfortable. Not only that, it gets light later and dark earlier so you are less apparent to that small proportion of potentially homicidal and criminally negligent motorists who may not care whether they hit you or not. Also, the others who make the odd dangerous mistake, like you or I.
So, what to do? First of all, we should stop complaining. Melbourne is nowhere near as bad in the crappy weather department as the average Northern Hemisphere city, where cycling is much more prevalent than down here. They do it all year round, except in deep snow.
If you look at the Bureau of Meteorology website, the historical data proves that significant rainfall is only experienced on average on 32 days (including weekends) in the year between the hours of 7am and 9am, and 4 to 7pm. So less than 10% of our potential commuter riding is done in rain.
So we should just stop our whining 🙂
Secondly, there’s plenty of stuff you can buy which will stop the cold and the wet from hitting you. There are good inexpensive jackets that will keep rain and wind out (or if you’re an oddball, maybe one of these), and let sweat vapour out but not required warmth. Superfine merino wool garments are excellent at keeping you warm and dry beneath these, and do not smell after one wear, like some synthetic ‘performance’ fabrics, although a good cycling jersey will do all right. ‘Booties’ over your cycling shoes will keep your feet warm if not dry, especially if you wear wool cycling socks. Here’s some good ones. Here’s some summer socks which work almost as well. I’m a big fan of NZ company Ground Effect, as you can tell.
3rd, Mudguards, whilst marking your bike out as one not likely to transport you to competitive glory, are REALLY GOOD at reducing the black cack-induced discomfort factor in the wet. Long, fixed ones, compared to shorter, quick-on-and-off, more flexible ones protect more of you, but both are good, and if you don’t want to look daggy in front of your go-fast mates, buy demountable ones.
4th – any money under $500 that you spend on good, bright, strong, long-lasting-battery-charge lights is not wasted. You could spend $150, front and back, and get everything you need for safe city riding under streetlights, or OK riding in the outer suburbs or country. $50 will keep you relatively safe but not let you see where you are going without streetlights. It is the best winter cycling insurance you can buy. Get bright coloured clothes – or ones with a reflective element sewn in, fluorescent yellow, if you must be a BV clone in a bright little parachute. There’s other bright colours in the spectrum (although that particular colour was expressly designed for cycle clothing by the Dutch Ministry of Transport, I’m over it). Safety vests are a good if sartorially horrendous way to keep you seen (Are you workin’ for da man in his warehouse or on his building site even when you are riding your bike?). Reflective tape can be sewn or stuck on panniers and bags for attracting wanted attention.
Buy rechargeable AA and AAA batteries for your flashing LED lights, and have a spare set ready to go, the other pair go into (or on, for battery packs) the charger (multi-chemistry battery chargers which take many different types, and even extend the life of some ordinary batteries are available and relatively cheap) straight away. I think you are being stupid if you assume that any dull and almost invisible light is going to get you seen; it just gives motorists an excuse to act carelessly around you. No excuse if they’ve got high power lights staring them down. Check them every day you are going to be out in the dark, and change them then and there.
5th, clean your drivetrain regularly. Buy a removable joining link for your chain (Wipperman are best for 8 speed and up). Take your chain off and soak it in solvent overnight, scrub, rinse and leave it to dry it the next day. Reinstall and use a quality lubricant liberally, wiping excess off after the first ride (teflon fortified light mineral oil for my preference), and lightly every week at least after that if you are riding every day. Clean between your cogs and around your derailleurs with a toothbrush, dab of solvent and a rag. Do this every month or 6 weeks and your chain will last at least half as long again as it might have otherwise.
6th – wipe your rims with citrus solvent and buff up the working surface of your brake pads with a file or coarse sandpaper every month or so. Helps you stop in the wet better. If you’ve got disc brakes, folded sandpaper around cardboard rubbed between the pads is OK (blow out the fragments afterwards), but only wipe the discs with isopropyl alcohol or proprietary disc cleaner.
7th – get good puncture-resistant tyres and keep them pumped up close to maximum pressure for many fewer punctures. Who doesn’t hate mending a puncture in the dark and cold when you’re late? The higher cost will be more than offset by time saved not wrecking your manicure in the dark.
(disclaimer: mechanical advice pertains only to equipment in good condition. Old and worn equipment should be renewed before any of this advice is any good to you)
8th – the BoM rain radar is a sterling service for figuring out if you want to extend that tour to an all-dayer, or skulk home on the train (if that’s possible nowadays . . . )
There you go. Uncle Mark’s prescription for a better cold weather cycling experience.