Tips for cycling on slippery roads

Tips and commiseration on rainy-day cycling from the experts.

Credit: ndanger

To ride or not to ride—the Vancouver cyclist’s daily dilemma during the foul-weather months of fall and winter

You get up, grab your coffee and open the curtain to check on the weather. It’s raining and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. But that’s no problem for you: you’ve read our Rainy-Day Cycling Gear Guide and are all geared up.

You slip on your rain jacket, your pants—the whole shebang—and open the door…


Getting over the hump: the getting wet part

We asked some experienced cyclists what the hardest part is when riding their bike in the rain.

For David McInnes, master mechanic for Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), it’s getting started and stepping out the front door: “You just have to get used to the fact that you’re going to get wet.”

Kathy Sinclair of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC), says, “You don’t have to ride your bike to work everyday. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing.”

When you don’t feel like pedaling, the mass transit option is always available—although, as VACC director of programs Sean McKibben puts it, “you always end up regretting taking public transportation.”

We did find someone who doesn’t really mind getting wet, the show-off. “I’m very impatient,” says Eric Lorenz, commuter cycling skills and bicycle maintenance instructor and mapping consultant for the VACC, “and the annoying part for me is the extra time it takes to prepare and put on the rain gear. That’s all.”


Don’t slide, don’t fall

Once on the road, there are a few things you need to be extra careful of—especially in the fall: wet leaves, frosty spots (watch for shadows on the road after a cold night) and metal surfaces, for example.

You have to anticipate what’s ahead a little more than in sunny and dry conditions because it’ll take longer to brake.

TIP: Don’t slip! If you start sliding, Eric recommends you remain straight, perpendicular to the road, even when turning, and take your hand off the front brakes. Get off the saddle; relax your knees just like when crossing railroad tracks.


Watch for cars

“To me, rain isn’t a barrier, frozen roads are,” Eric says. We believe him—he used to bike commute in Chicago.

“Vancouver is a good place to bike because of its weather—not that much because of its drivers. They sometimes stop even though they don’t have to, for example, and it can get a little confusing. Every change of season implies a change in their behaviour as well.”

Come fall, motorists are not expecting to see as many bikes on the road and might not pay as much attention. Add dark skies and rain and their peripheral vision reduces.

TIP: Claim the middle of your lane. So cyclists should be extra visible with lights and by also changing their position on the road. Sides of roads are a less safe place to be, as you may not be seen, so Eric advises to get in the middle of the car lanes.

And if you’re afraid of annoying some drivers, “just think that it would ruin their day to hit you as much as it would ruin yours. And they always can move to another lane just as if there was a car in front of them,” Eric says.


Avoid the whoosh of water

Another reason to stick to the centre of car lanes: the further you are from the curve, the less you risk getting a big whoosh of water.

Typically, bike lanes aren’t traced too close to the curb. If they’re missing, you want to stay at least a metre away from it.

Finally, the good news

It doesn’t rain all the time in the fall—and even when it does, it’s not always pouring rain. So get out there and give ‘er! Bike commuting is a great way to change your life.