student riding a bike through the fall leaves
Autumn rain has knocked off the yellow and gold leaves of the ginko trees onto the ground around Bainer Hall as a student with a bike rides to class. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Peace, Love and Bicycles: Biking tips for the rainy season

Rain Safety Dance (You can ride if you want to!)

Quick Summary

  • Bicycle Program Coordinator and our resident bike expert, Jeff Bruchez, shares his favorite tips to get you (and your bike) through these rainy months. 

Rain is a welcome sight and, as a cyclist, one of my favorite seasonal events! The earthly smells, fresh fall air, changing leaves--it’s an extraordinary time to be outside and waking up your senses. But wet roads can bring trepidation to some cyclists who are nervous about riding on a slick surface. If you’re one of these people and thinking of putting away your bike until the Spring--don’t! Bikes are for all seasons! It’s possible to make riding in the rain not just bearable, but safe and fun. I’m happy to share my favorite tips to get you through these rainy months. 

1. Mind that tire pressure

Tire pressure is one of the easiest things to maintain on a bike (if you know how), and also the most neglected. Too often do I see low tires on campus and having low tires can damage your rims ($$$) and make it difficult to turn, even on dry roads. However, when it gets wet outside, a good trick is to run your tires a little on the soft side--not low (remember, dangerous)--soft (like a ripe peach). Lowering your PSI a smidge allows your tires to make better contact with the road and generally yields better traction for stopping and turning on wet surfaces.

  • Looking closer: Get a pencil tire gage ($6-8) and know the PSI (pound per square inch) on your tire. PSI typically is between 100 on road bikes (thinner tires) and as low as 35 on mountain bikes (wider tires) and you can find that number on the side of your tire. Using a tire gage helps you to do a quick check on your tire PSI. So, for wet roads, you can lower PSI by about 20% from its maximum rating and gain a confident and comfortable ride.

2. Get a fender(s) and rain gear

Fenders and rain gear will make even the nastiest rainy day a day prime for riding. Fenders come in a variety of styles, ranging from clip-on temporary ones to full coverage fenders which stay affixed to your bike all season long (or always). In addition to fenders, a bit of gear for your body goes a long way. Consider using rain pants, a rain jacket, and these wonderful things called waterproof socks to keep yourself dry. You can find me in rain pants, jacket, and even rocking special cycling sandals with waterproof socks (faux paux be damned). 

  • Looking closer: Fenders and rain gear can be found at nearly all bicycle shops or sport retailers. For rain gear, this is often just a waterproof shell that can easily be zipped on/off when you come indoors.

3. Protect your stuff, get a rain cover

A laptop is a critical tool these days, and getting a laptop wet can be a huge bummer. It’s wise to invest in a waterproof bag. But if your bag isn’t waterproof, don’t fret. Just get a rain cover! Rain covers are pretty universal, the stretch to cover your bag and generally do a great job of keeping the items inside dry. The best means to keep yourself comfortable in the rain, and keep your stuff safe, get a rear rack and waterproof pannier, add fenders to be a real pro. 

  • Looking closer: You might also get a shower cap (the ones for your hair) or carry a plastic bag with you. When you park your bike, cover your bike seat and keep it dry until you return. 

4. Remember to lube your chain

Applying bike lube ($7-9) more frequently in the wet season will keep your drivetrain happier. Chain lube is important because water washes away the (dry) lubricants that keep your chain quiet and in motion while riding. Switching to a wet lube could also be an option, but be aware that they attract much more dirt. Wax based lubricants work great in wet and dry situations, talk to your bike mechanic to find out more. Remember, chain lubricants repel water. Without it, your bike may rust...and you don’t want that!

  • Looking closer: If you have a U-lock, which we recommend, you might put a few drops of bike lube in the keyhole. We’ve seen some U-locks seizing up and even rusting in the rain. Those locks, after all, are made of metal and are susceptible to the elements in the same way your bike chain and drivetrain are. 

Questions? What more do you want to know? Give us an idea of what you’d like to learn about bicycling by sending us an email or call us at 530-752-BIKE (2453).

Peace, Love, and Bicycles is a series of educational bicycle articles by Jeffrey Bruchez, Bicycle Program Coordinator for Transportation Services. 

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