Daylight hours are growing shorter and our toasty summer is winding down. We might even get some rain. But you don’t have to stop riding your bike just because the days aren’t perfect in every way. Riding and bike commuting when it’s less than perfect can be just as enjoyable, and it can help you become a stronger, more confident cyclist.
There are several steps you can take to extend your cycling season. First, look at what you’re wearing. Layer your clothing to stay warm. Whatever is next to your skin needs to wick moisture away. Your clothing needs to be made of breathable fabric to help let that moisture escape. It’s okay to start out feeling a bit chilled because riding will warm you up. If needed, wear gloves and a cap. If you get too warm, take a layer off and bundle up if it’s colder.
Embrace the Rain
Put fenders on your bike. Fenders help protect you and your bike from the dirt, oil, sand, gasoline, etc., that mixes with the rain on the roadway. All that junk that ends up in the bike lane or on the right side of the traffic lane is being thrown all over your chain, derailleurs, brakes, and you. That means you must wash the bike more often so these important parts don’t gunk up and break down sooner than normal. Wear a rain cape or jacket and pants and scoff at the elements. Waterproof shoes or waterproof shoe covers will save your feet. Once you’re set there’s no need to dodge puddles. Let that inner five-year-old splash through them with impunity!
See and Be Seen
You always need to see what’s ahead of you, and the sun is setting earlier every day—even more so after we get off Daylight Wasting Time. A good headlight can be had for a very reasonable price these days. Bonus visibility points awarded if it has a flashing feature you can use during the daytime. Ditto for a taillight. I prefer lights with rechargeable batteries so I can juice them up at home and at work so they’re always ready. Another important part of being seen is wearing a jacket or vest that’s highly visible and reflective. A reflective strip around each ankle combined with the pedaling motion helps catch a vehicle driver’s attention. A glow-in-the-dark T-Rex costume would be awesome and everybody would notice, but it’s not practical. Your vision would be too restricted. But it would be totally cool on a group ride where someone has your back.
Carry your stuff in something waterproof, whether panniers or a backpack. I also use a trash bag as an inner liner for extra insurance. And I put my lunch inside a zip lock bag so my leftovers don’t end up on my clothes if I were to take a spill. It’s one of those things that only has to happen once to make you implement a low-cost solution.
The Right Tires
Slick tires can slip right out from under you on a rainy day, so use tires that have some tread on them. Something beefy with thicker and wider tread works best, but save the knobbies and studded tires for the snow. Remember, I’m not talking winter riding here—yet. Beware of wet debris on the roadway. You are doomed if you make any sudden moves on wet leaves. Drop your tire pressure a little so your tires get a better grip on the road surface. Carry a spare tube, a patch kit, tire tools, and a pump so you’re not stranded by a flat. And if your commuting route is close enough to a bus route, keep bus fare on hand just in case.
At the end of the day, rinse your bike off to remove dirt and grime. And when you do, wipe the grit off those rims so your brake pads don’t sand down the rim walls. Rust is your enemy, so remember to oil the chain. After all, you want it to last all winter too, right?
Oh, wait, we’re just talking about riding in autumn, aren’t we? Heaven forbid I should give you the idea that you could keep riding through the winter—because that’s a great idea! You just apply the same principles for cold and snow. Be safe and have fun out there. //
Hank Greer is an avid photographer, runner, and cyclist. He wrote about volunteer magic at cycling events in August.