Having to ride through rain is intimidating for any mountain biker.
Even a drizzle can blur the rider’s sight, decrease his visibility, and—worst of all—make surfaces slippery and hide hazards, like nails and broken glass.
But you will have to get through it if, say, you are on your way to the office or midway through a scenic trail. It is the only way to reach your destination or enjoy the sights.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can ride effectively and safely in wet conditions. To learn them, here is our primer on wet weather riding.
How to Properly Get Started
Install fenders. If you are going on a long ride, with friends, or in a group, you need fenders on both of your wheels. They will protect you or your companions from water and debris, ensuring you stay comfortable. They will also keep your line of sight unobstructed, letting you avoid obstacles.
Install full-coverage fenders, or fenders that are long and close to the ground. The longer and closer to the ground they are, the more water and debris they will keep away. They will also help keep your bike clean, making it last longer.
If you do not want fenders on your bike all-year round, get some clip-on fenders. Do not worry if your bike does not have threaded eyelets. You can mount clip-on fenders on the seatpost and downtube.
To make sure you get the fenders that fit your bike, ask at the local bike shop.
Install lights. A downpour, headlights glare, and low light early in the morning and at night make it hard for drivers to see clearly. Make sure you are visible by installing an LED lamp on the handlebar and the back of the seatpost. Or you may bring a rechargeable lighting system instead. It will have the same effect.
Either way, make sure your light source is waterproof or water resistant. No matter how bright it is, it will not do any good if it will short out when it rains.
Make sure it is also bright enough in particularly low light and heavy rainfall.
If you will only install one light source, go for a flashing, red LED rear lamp. LED rear lamps are affordable; there are water-resistant ones; most feature clips that let you attach them to your bike or to your helmet or backpack if you would like; and are sure to keep you visible even during a storm. Red is the most noticeable color. If it flashes, it will be even more noticeable.
Install clipless pedals. Clipless pedals make sure you keep a good grip, which is critical to remain safe. Also, they only need to be lubricated with some silicon spray for a quick release, which is great help with getting off in a hurry if you need to, like when the weather gets even worse.
Check whether the knobs are shallow, or are too close to each other. If they are too closely spaced together, they will get gunked up with mud easily, which makes getting through the rain harder and more dangerous.
Temporarily replace your usual tires with dual-tread, compound tires.
Whether you are riding a trail or going cross-country, dual-tread, compound tires will keep you safe and comfortable if it suddenly starts pouring. They are made of relatively soft rubber on the outside that increases traction. On the inside between the tread and the casing they are made of harder rubber that lets the bike grip surfaces and corner in virtually any terrain better. Wider tires (e.g., 25-28cm) have the same effect.
Make sure the tire belts are reinforced. Combined with heavier compounds and carcasses, which is indicated by a lower threads-per-inch count, reinforced belts keep debris, like washed-out stones, out of the inner tubes, letting the tires last longer.
If you think you will come across some mud that will stick and cake, or harden, swap out your usual tires for a couple with fewer, widely spaced, deep knobs. or mud tires. Mud tires are narrower than regular tires. Being so lets them slice through mud and gain traction, making sure you stay in control and safe.
If you would rather stick with your old tires, at least consider changing your front tire with one that has widely spaced knobs to make sure mud does not stick to it.
Check your old tires after riding. More debris get washed out when it rains, making it more likely that debris get stuck to your tires and leave scrapes or cuts, so check for damage. If it went deep enough that it got to the Kevlar, replace the damaged tire. Otherwise, repair the cut(s) or scrape(s) with some super glue.
Lower the tire pressure (e.g., from 130-145psi (or 9-10 bar) to 116-123psi (or 8 or 8.5 bar). Doing so keeps the tires relatively hard but gives you a boost in your feeling of traction . It also makes you feel more secure, ensuring you keep a level head even when it starts to pour.
Apply waterproof or heavier lube to the chain and the derailleur pulleys. Not only does applying waterproof lube to the chain and the derailleur pulleys keep water from penetrating the links and bearings, it protects the drivetrain from grit that will get kicked up from the wet roads. The debris could rub the drivetrain like sandpaper and damage it. Applying heavier lube, like Phil Wood Tenacious Oil, has the same effect. Of course, either way, the chain will be protected from rust.
To achieve the desired result, make sure the chain is completely dry before lubing up.
Check the break pads. If they are dirty, clean them with a toothbrush. They will not function properly if they are not clean. If they are worn out, have them replaced at the local bike shop.
Gear up to stay dry even if it rains hard. You need to keep your core warm even if it starts to pour. Otherwise, you will get soaked. The wetter you are, the colder you will be. Wet and cold, you are sure to get sick in no time.
No matter how well you stay dry on the outside, you will still get sick if you do not stay dry on the inside. Rain or shine, you will sweat. If you let your sweat dry on you, you will catch a cold or fever. Avoid this by wearing clothes that breathe well, like ones made of Gore-Tex-type fabrics or are ventilated on the outside. It is also a good idea to bring a change of clothes.
Wet Weather Riding Safety Gear
Waterproof or water-resistant jacket
A waterproof jacket, like one made of Gore-Tex fabric, is one of the most important gears to have to stay dry. Being the piece of clothing that covers most of your body, it will protect you from the rain the most.
To ensure this, yours should have waterproof or water-resistant seams. Otherwise, the water will seep through, especially when it starts to rain hard.
Also make sure it breathes well. Remember, you need to stay dry both inside and outside. Otherwise, your body heat cannot escape, creating a ‘boil in the bag’ situation. You will sweat more than usual and end up getting soaked on the inside.
An example of a jacket that provides a good balance between water resistance and breathability is the Castelli Gabba. Its seams are not taped, allowing the rider’s body heat to escape. That said, it is not waterproof, making it only suitable for showers, not sustained, heavy rainfall.
If you want a waterproof jacket, there is a wide range for you to choose from. To find the perfect one, take your time and do your research.
Waterproof or water-resistant cycling shorts, leggings, or tights
Keeping your legs dry is just as important as keeping your upper body from getting wet. Again, you will feel cold when you get wet, and the wetter you are, the colder you will feel. It will be harder to use your muscles, making your performance suffer and getting through the rain harder. Needless to say, your leg muscles are the most important of all in such a situation because they are the ones that get your bike going. To keep them from sizing up, you need to wrap them in waterproof or water-resistant cycling shorts, leggings, or tights.
Do not get shorts, leggings, or tights made of thin Lycra. This fabric does not provide adequate wet weather protection. But if you prefer it, make sure it is treated with a water-repellant finish which will keep your legs drier for longer even in a downpour. Examples of such cycling bottoms are Castelli’s NanoFlex and Sportful’s NoRain tights and leg warmers.
But if you will just commute, a pair of waterproof or water-resistant trousers that you can wear over your regular cycling gear or casual clothes when needed will work just fine.
Either way, make sure the gear fits you. It should not flap around even if the wind starts blowing hard. Otherwise, it could get caught in the drivetrain. Your bike will suddenly stop and throw you off.
Base (i.e., right on your skin) layer (i.e., pants and sleeves) made of wool
Wool absorbs moisture and becomes water-resistant when it is humid. Wool will also keep you warm but it breathes well. Wear long pants and sleeves as your base layer for the desired effect. Also consider checking out ‘dry-fit’ cycling apparel.
Overshoes or winter boots and water-resistant socks
Whether you like it or not, your feet will get wet if you get caught out riding when it rains. They are practically right behind the front wheel, so they are sure to get hit by the spray that will be coming from it. To keep them dry for as long as possible, wear a pair of waterproof or water-resistant overshoes.
Overshoes also serve as extra insulation. A good option is a pair of neoprene overshoes. They will not keep the water out completely for long, but they will keep your feet nice and toasty even if they do get wet.
For even more protection during heavy rainfall, wear some overshoes that are treated with a Gore-Tex finish or a similar membrane. Treated or otherwise, overshoes fit virtually all types of shoes, road, and mountain bike soles.
But if you want to keep your feet dry, wear winter boots. They are like regular cycling shoes except with a beefed-up, waterproof upper and a membrane liner, letting them keep your feet dry and warm even in a downpour.
Winter boots cost more than overshoes. But if you are riding through the winter, you will need a pair of winter boots. But if you just ride occasionally, like once or twice a week, go with a pair of overshoes.
Either way, you ought to wear a pair of water-resistant socks, like the ones made by SealSkins, as well. They are thicker than regular socks, which let them provide even more insulation. But make sure they fit. You will be uncomfortable or even in pain otherwise.
Warm, water-resistant gloves
Your hands will get cold quicker when they get wet. You will lose feeling in them if you do not warm them up fast. This is sure to be the case during a deluge. Avoid being in this predicament by wearing warm, waterproof gloves.
You can take your pick from neoprene gloves and winter gloves. To keep your hands warm, winter gloves are bigger and feature a waterproof lining or a soft-shell construction. But they are bulky, so they limit dexterity. If this will be an issue for you, go with neoprene gloves.
If you are going on a long ride and it rains hard, your gloves might not hold up. To prevent your hands from getting soaked, bring an extra pair. To make sure they stay dry, keep them in a resealable plastic bag.
Water-resistant cycling cap or helmet cover
While it keeps your head cool, a well-ventilated, lightweight helmet, like an Aero helmet, will not provide adequate protection when it rains. To keep your noggin dry, wear a wool or synthetic cycling cap underneath, or seal your helmet using a helmet cover.
As its peak acts as gutter that directs the water away from your eyes, a cycling cap will also keep your line of sight unobstructed, ensuring you avoid hazards.
If you think wearing a cycling cap underneath your helmet would be uncomfortable, seal your helmet with a helmet cover instead. Preferred by most city cyclists and commuters for the comfort and convenience they provide, helmet covers are designed to fit right over your whole helmet. They feature elastic that holds them in place. Usually, they come with reflective details intended to help riders stay visible even in a downpour or low light.
If you would wear a cycling cap, no matter how effective its peak claims to be at directing water away from your eyes, your sight will suffer without additional protection during heavy rainfall. Wearing a pair of cycling glasses with clear lenses provide the protection you need. They also keep debris like airborne grit and mud out of your eyes, which makes sure you see where you are going.
There are cycling glasses that feature interchangeable lenses with a yellow tint. They boost contrast in low light, ensuring you see clearly.
Anti-fog lens drops or wipes
The combination of the cold weather and your body heat on your cycling glasses will cause them to fog up. Prevent this by applying some anti-fog lens drops or wipes.
Wearing bright (i.e., fluorescent) colors ensures you stay visible even during a downpour or in low light, making sure motorists and other cyclists see you and do not unwittingly hit you.
Water-resistant bag, backpack, or pannier
If you did not check, there is no telling when rain can hit. A regular container will not keep your stuff from getting wet. To avoid such a tragedy, keep them in a water-resistant bag, backpack, or pannier.
How to Ride Effectively and Safely
Use a gear that is one or two gears higher than your usual ‘sit-and-spin’ gear. It is hard to retain traction in wet conditions and especially through sections of roots and rocks. The rear tire is more likely to spin out and stop your momentum, which could be dangerous when the surface is slippery as you could lose control. Using a gear that is one or two gears higher than your usual ‘sit-and-spin’ gear lets you avoid this.
Make sure you find the sweet spot. Use a gear that is too high and you will overload the rear tire, causing it to spin out quicker. Use a gear that is too low and your bike will generate too much torque or you will need to stand too much, causing you to spin out.
To know you have hit the sweet spot, you should be able to clear sections while seated and with just enough grip.
Watch out for puddles and rainbow-edged patches. If you are commuting, know that the surface of the roads will be the slickest and most hazardous just after the rain started to fall. The oil buildup in the pavement will rise to the surface, essentially turning the roads’ surface into large oil slicks. To avoid them, keep your eyes peeled for rainbow-edged patches on the street. These are oil slicks.
No matter how fun it may be for you to splash through them, avoid puddles as well. They can hide potholes, nails, broken glass, or other nasty hazards that can damage your bike or worse.
Do not try to make your way across metal, painted, and brick surfaces. Train tracks, utility hole covers, bike lane markings and the like become particularly slippery during and after it rains.
Steer more and lean less. Normally, mountain biking is about proper body language. The rider should not be steering so much as using his bike as an extension of his body. However, in wet weather, especially in corners on descents, lean less and steer more to stay safe and in control. Opt for a slower, steadier corner over a hard lean to stay upright.
Corner the right way. Cornering in wet conditions is tricky and dangerous, so know how to corner the right way.
To begin with, slow down a bit and shift as much of your weight on the outside pedal as you possibly can.
Use body English to keep your bike as upright as possible.
Lean your body more than your bike. You will stay balanced over your bike even when the tires slide over painted lines or unseen oil slicks, enabling you to corner with a reasonable amount of speed, ensuring you stay out of harm’s way.
Keep your eyes where you are going, anticipate the corner, and SLOW DOWN A LITTLE BEFORE ENTERING it so you do not have to squeeze the brakes going into or around it. Doing so can cause you to stop abruptly, lose control, and get thrown off.
Enter the corner wide, cut close to the inside, and exit wide. You will go around as wide and straight as possible, maintaining momentum and control. But if there are too many people on the road or trail, do not attempt this maneuver. There will not be enough room.
While going around the corner, lower your outside foot as far as possible and shift your weight over it a bit more. Your bike’s grip on the road or trail will increase, ensuring you stay in control.
Never brake or corner at intersections. Cars usually leave the most oil here, making it particularly slick when it rains.
Keep your bike upright when making slow, technical turns and doing fast cornering. To keep it from flying out from underneath you, focus on both your balance and grip when navigating slick sections, and keep as much of your weight and grip downward as you possibly can. Pointing your grip sideways and towards the tires’ side knobs, like you usually do in fair weather, your bike will slide about, especially if it hits some mud.
Take wider turns when possible and exert more pressure on the outside of the bike while descending, specifically on your outer pedal. You will avoid the dreaded “speed wobble,” which becomes even worse when it rains. Maintain a reasonable amount of tension throughout your body and your bike to stay in control.
Be particularly careful in tight bends. The combination of water and grit can cause your tires to lose traction, so stay alert to regain control or stop if needed.
Keep the handlebars straight when crossing over them, not turning, to avoid slipping.
Focus more than usual. Again, keep your eyes where you are going. Look up and ahead. Plot out your way by anticipating where you need to slow down or stop. When it rains, rocks and roots become much slicker. Going over them puts you at risk of getting thrown off line more easily. To avoid this, pay more attention to gripping the handlebars; position your body properly to keep your center of gravity in the sweet spot; and focus on the road or trail to stay in control and avoid skidding off course.
Be more wary than usual of motorists’ blind spots. Even if you installed LEDs on your handlebars and on the back of the seatpost, to stay safe, assume that motorists still cannot see you. This can be the case during a downpour. To stay out of harm’s way, make your way through defensively, make eye contact with drivers whenever possible, and stay out of their blind spots, like the left and right corners at intersections.
When you come across a particularly muddy section of the trail, stop, dismount, and figure out the best line through. If there is none, just walk. Better to be slightly inconvenienced than risk having an accident. If you are on a trail, go around the muddy section. Otherwise, you could destroy the trail’s integrity.
If you are riding with friends or a group, ride consistently and predictably. This includes not slowing down abruptly, turning, or cutting across them. You could put them in danger by doing so. For instance, suddenly slowing down can force them to brake abruptly, worsening the risk of someone skidding off course or crashing.
Keep a close eye on the condition of your tires so that you can replace them before they blow out.
How to Stop
Brake BEFORE you need to. Usually, it takes a full revolution for the brake pads to wipe the water off the rims and begin stopping, so brake early to give enough time for this.
As you approach a stop, give your brake lever(s) a couple of light pumps. Doing so wipes the water off the rims, ensuring the brake pads work efficiently even if they are still wet. Just squeeze the brakes lightly and start with the rear brake. No need to do this if you have disc brakes.
Shift your weight back on the saddle to gain as much rear wheel traction as possible.
Pedal while stopping. If you keep pedalling while braking, it is far less likely that the rear wheel will lock up and skid. The tire will keep spinning even if you apply a lot of pressure on the brakes, so it will feel awkward at first. Practice on dry roads until you are sure you can pull off the real thing.
Go slower than you usually do to give yourself much more time to stop. Bike brakes are much less effective when they are wet.
If you need to brake while turning, use only the rear lever, apply pressure evenly, release quickly, and keep pedalling.
Do not brake too hard. If you suddenly stop, your bike can loose its grip on the road, skid off course, and throw you off. Instead, squeeze the brakes slowly and smoothly to slow down instead of stop abruptly.
Additional Safety Tips
Bring appropriate food if you are going on a long ride. If you get caught out in the rain, you will not be able to to sit around and have the same leisurely break you usually have in fair weather. If you do not find shelter, like a bus stop or a large tree, you might be forced to eat in the rain. If you do, it could get too cold to hang around for long. Having food that require no preparation ensures you finish your break quickly but still have your fill, making sure you stay energized. Examples of such convenient food are granola bars, bananas, carrot sticks, and biscuits.
If you are riding across a trail, wait until it is completely dry before proceeding. You will not be able to go any further if your drivetrain, brake pads, as well as bearing, fork, and shock seals are all gunked up.
There lots of things usually found on a trail that can cause them to seize up, leaving your bike unusable until you clean them thoroughly, which you can most probably do when you get home, ruining your trip. Take clay for example. When it rains, clay can turn into a reddish-brown, glue-like paste fast, find its way into virtually every nook and cranny of your bike, and cake. That said, your bike will become much more heavier, making it harder to move around than it usually is, which can put you at more risk of having an accident, ruining your trip even more.
Do not mind the tread pattern when choosing the best tires for rainy days. It makes no difference whatsoever. Instead, consider getting the widest possible tires that your bike can accommodate. Wider tires have more surface area than regular tires to come in contact with the road’s or trail’s, increasing traction.
Clean your bike right after riding in wet weather to prevent it from rusting. The longer you leave it soaked, the more time you give rust to form. Wipe off water and dirt from the frame. Clean the brakes thoroughly as dirt and water are sure to have found their way into virtually all of the nook and crannies. Wipe the chain clean and dry and then apply some lubricant to keep rust at bay.
Keep tabs on the condition of the brake pads. The mixture of dirt and water can erode them fast. For example, brake pads that can last a full season in fair weather dry will run metal to metal on their rims within a month of wet weather riding.
Know your limits. If it is pouring so hard that you cannot see even just 10 feet in front of you, or if the wind is blowing so fiercely that the trees look like they will fall or get blown away, you ought to reschedule your ride. No matter how strong you think you are, there is no chance you will stay upright, let alone make your way safely. There is no fighting Mother Nature. But if you get caught out in such horrible weather and there is still public transport around, hail one. Otherwise, call for help, like the local police or hospital or the mountain rescue.
The Best Mountain Bike Features for Wet Weather Riding
If you are wondering what type of mountain bike is best for wet weather, there is no specific type that performs best in such conditions. But we suggest you check out a ‘fat’ mountain bike.
The ‘Fat’ Mountain Bike
A mountain bike is fat if it comes with oversized tires (e.g., 3.7”-5” wide). Such tires provide superior traction particularly in sand and snow. They are also easy to control.
Most fat bikes are also rigid mountain bikes. There are riders who prefer them because apart from being wide, their tires have typically low pressure, letting them provide all the impact absorption needed to make their ride truly comfortable.
Rigid Mountain Bikes
Rigid mountain bikes are called so because they do not have any suspension. Not many riders prefer them because they only provide a less-than-comfortable ride. However, they do not cost as much as most other bikes and are hassle-free to maintain.
To ensure your safety in wet weather, consider the number of gears you need.
If the terrain you will ride across is relatively flat and you consider yourself to be strong, you will not need many gears to make your way up, like a hill.
But if you think there will be plenty of steep hills along your way and climbing is hard for you, you will need several gears.
How many gears a mountain bike has is computed by multiplying how many sprockets it has on its cassette with how many chainrings it has. A mountain bike can have as many as 30 gears.
In the past, mountain bikes had only two to three chainrings to provide a range of gears that allowed for easy climbing. Now, mountain bikes with just a single chainring and a cassette with nine to 11 cogs are preferred. Such bikes weigh less and are not so complicated to use. For example, the rider only needs one shifter to move through the gears. It makes his bike perform as well as possible with hardly any difficulty.
Since it will be easier and safer for you to ride in wet conditions with wider tires, you ought to take your pick between 27.5”, 27.5+”, and 29” tires.
27.5” wheels serve as a well-balanced alternative to the standard 26” wheels and 29” wheels. They roll much easier than 26” wheels. They are far more maneuverable than 29” wheels. 27.5” wheels are commonly found on hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes.
The plus symbol (+) is an indication that the wheels are wider. They provide the most comfortable ride of all and exert only little rolling resistance. This is why virtually all mountain bikes now feature wider wheels and tires.
29” wheels accelerate slower than the rest, but they let the rider make his way across far more terrain much more easier than with a mountain bike with standard 26” wheels once he gets his momentum going. Not only that, they are the most efficient for longer rides because they are excellent at maintaining momentum. They also have a higher ‘attack angle’. Basically, this means they roll over obstacles easier than the rest. They are most common on full-suspension, hardtail, and rigid mountain bikes.
You should also consider installing disc brakes if you do not have some.
Disc brakes feature brake pads that grip onto the brake rotor that is usually mounted on the wheel hub.
There are two types of disc brakes: mechanical, or cable-activated, and hydraulic
Cable-activated/mechanical brakes need to be adjusted manually.
Hydraulic disc brakes are characterized by particularly strong, more progressive braking; need less effort from the rider to be used effectively; and adjust to brake pad wear all by themselves.
Benefits of using disc brakes
- Provide excellent performance in wet and steep terrains
- Perform consistently in virtually any condition
- Cause only little strain during the ride
- Let you change just a worn-out rotor rather than the entire wheel
Lastly, know that a mountain bike with a steel frame will perform best in wet conditions.
Steel is sturdy, less costly to use than the other materials usually used to make mountain bike frames, and provides a truly comfortable ride.
There are those who say steel is particularly heavy, but the additional weight can increase traction by bringing the tires closer to the surface, ensuring you stay in control and safe even in heavy rainfall.
Wet weather riding should not be something to avoid at all cost. While it is unpleasant and hazardous, it is not impossible to manage effectively and get through safely. Given this primer on wet weather riding, we are sure you will not have problems with it from now on. You might even enjoy it.
Keep in touch and see you out on the trails.
About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.