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Friday, February 18, 2011

San Francycle: How to Not Die from Riding Your Bike in the Rain in the City

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 7:30 AM

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Oh man it is nasty out, eh? This dreadful weather is almost enough to make you lock up your bike in the garage and take Muni. Almost.

Riding in the cold and wet is uncomfortable at best and truly scary at worst. But there's plenty that you can do to stay warm and dry and safe. We dropped in at a couple of bike shops and asked for some tips for riding safely in the rain, and now we're happy to share them with you.

Slow down, for one thing. Are you part of some all-bike volunteer fire brigade? Ease up on the speed, especially through the swervy Panhandle, and make sure you're never going so fast you can't slow down in time. Remember, when your brakes are wet, they'll take longer to slow your bike down.

If you can find a plastic bag -- which is getting harder and harder these days -- wedge a couple underneath your seat, and then when you lock up your bike outside, use a bag to cover your seat. That way you won't have to ride home with a wet ass, unless that was the whole point of your errand.

But let's talk gear. Fenders, specifically, unless you enjoy having a wet splatter pattern streaking up the middle of your back. You can pick up cheap clip-ons for around $15, or a nicer more permanent variety for $50. These will make puddles slightly less messy -- just remember that floods can conceal road hazards.

If you encounter a flooded intersection, call 311 to report it. They'll send someone out to unclog the catch basin, which is the entrance to the sewer at the streetcorner.

In terms of apparel, you'll probably want a sturdy rainproof jacket and some gloves. Over at Freewheel, Connor Spencer gave a thumbs-up to Northface jackets. If synthetics aren't an option, opt for wool, because it dries quickly. Tuck a scarf into your collar to keep the rain from dripping down your neck.

And you DO wear a helmet, don't you?

Heather Bixler at SF Cyclery grins kind of bashfully when we ask her what raingear she likes. "I'm actually really into these," she says, pointing to what look like a pair of chaps. They're waterproof covers for your thighs, capable of keeping your legs dry without overheating them. "It's for when pants are too hot," she says. Just, um, remember to wear something underneath them.

In terms of tires, Andrew Yao at Avenue Cyclery recommends the Continental Gator Skin variety.

"They're pretty grippy," he says. Just like real alligators!

And of course, don't forget lights. Strap on a few extra when it's drizzly and grim, even if it's daytime. Make yourself even more conspicuous with a bike bell, because nothing says "get out of my way" like a charming little "ding-ding."

You can go the more aggressive route with an AirZound bike horn. Have you ever seen anyone use one of these? We've found ourselves wishing for one now and then, especially when someone's blocking the bike lane by Arco. In those situations, we opt for slapping their side-view mirror as we coast by.

Of course, rain can cause additional wear and tear on your ride. If you can, dry your bike when you get home so it doesn't get rusty, and give the chain a frequent lube job.

Got any good wet-weather tips? Share in the comments.

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Matt Baume

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