How to Make Cycling in Bad Weather 100% Better
Chris Carmichael, Founder and Head Coach of CTS discusses the matter of aligning your gear, route planning, mindset, and workout goals when you go out for a ride in adverse weather conditions
Our coaches get a lot of messages that start out with, “I was going to ride, but…”, followed by an explanation that they didn’t ride because it was raining, or threatening to rain, or too windy, etc. Some move their rides indoors, but many just end up not riding that day. Missed training is worse for your long-term progress and performance than a workout that’s less than ideal, and one of the best ways we’ve improved training plan compliance and increased training consistency is by normalizing cycling in adverse weather.
So, rather than skipping your ride because of what you see on your favorite weather app, here’s how to adapt your plans to have a good ride and a great workout.
Challenge: Strong winds
I don’t know anyone who enjoys battling their way through strong winds. Even the reward of a tailwind isn’t enticing enough, because they’re short-lived compared to the time spent pushing through headwinds and crosswinds. But when the flags are flapping and the trees are swaying, here are some ways to make riding outdoors more appealing.
- Headwind out, tailwind home: Adjust your route so you ride into the headwind when you are fresh. If you are riding based on time or kilojoules (which are how we typically prescribe training volume), remember to add time into the headwind to account for the fact you can ride faster and do less work on the way home. For instance, if you ride an out and back route aiming for 2 hours of ride time, you may need to ride 1:15 or 1:20 into the wind because it may only take :40 – :45 minutes to get home.
- Sheltered, circuitous route: Windy rides are better when you can get some temporary reprieves. Look for routes that offer some wind breaks in the form of trees or homes, or change direction frequently so you’re not in a straight up headwind for prolonged stretches. In Colorado Springs, for instance, I often ride the bike path or through residential neighborhoods on windy days.
- Don’t fight the wind: People exhaust themselves in headwinds by pushing way too hard in an attempt to maintain their “normal” pace. It’s a normal response. The wind is pushing against you, so you push back. But you can’t win that shoving match, so stop paying attention to speed and pace, and instead focus on perceived exertion and power output.
Challenge: Impending Rainstorm
In spring and summer in Colorado Springs, the thunderstorms typically roll through town between 2:00 – 5:00pm. The obvious way to avoid getting wet is to ride earlier in the day, but sometimes the afternoon is the only available time to ride. Many times, even the threat of getting wet makes people skip a ride, but with the consideration below you can have a better chance of staying dry or at least be more comfortable getting wet.
- What’s the risk? There’s a big difference between a chance of a rain shower and an approaching band of severe thunderstorms. If you do get caught in a bad thunderstorm, there are some tips in this article that may be helpful.
- Can you ride around it? The storms that roll through Colorado Springs can be very strong, but generally move pretty fast and affect a narrow swath of terrain. If that’s the weather pattern where you are, ride perpendicular to the path of the storm to either avoid it entirely or time it so you all you have to contend with are wet roads if your route goes through the area after the storm has passed.
- Carry the right gear. Getting wet isn’t such a big deal when you have the gear to handle it but can be both miserable and dangerous if you don’t. If there’s even a 40% chance you might get wet, the four essentials I recommend carrying are: a waterproof rain jacket, long-fingered gloves, a cap you can put under your helmet, and a waterproof covering for your phone. If you’re in a place where summer rain is warm, maybe skip the gloves. And
- Design your route to stay near shelter. Escaping the city or suburbs to more rural roads or trails is great when the weather is nice, but staying closer to home and potential shelters is a better idea when storms are threatening. If it starts to rain but it’s not bad, you can keep riding. If it gets bad, at least you won’t have far to go to get home or to a place where you can wait it out.
Challenge: Soaking Rain
When it’s already been raining for hours, almost everyone opts for the indoor trainer, and I don’t blame you. Most of the time, so do I. But sometimes you really need to just get out there and get soaked, because at some point it’s going to happen on the day of an event or one day during a weeklong tour. If you know it’s going to be one of those days, take my advice:
- Accept it. You’re going to get completely soaked. The first ten minutes will be the worst part, like gradually getting into the shower with your clothes on. Yes, there are clothing items that are water resistant and waterproof, and they are very good for staying warm on a rainy day, but you’re not riding in a sealed bubble.
- Don’t forget to eat and drink. After more than 20 years of leading camps and tours on rainy days, I know cyclists get focused on the weather and forget to eat or drink. Although being wet will likely reduce sweat rate (unless you overdress), you are still sweating and still need to hydrate. And you’re working just as hard–or harder if you’re also trying to stay warm–so you have to consume calories like it was a normal, nice day.
- Consider the surfaces. If you’re riding the road, beware of crosswalks, painted lines, steel grates and drain covers that get very slippery. For gravel rides, it pays to know if the roads and paths in your area turn to thick mud that sticks to tires… and avoid those areas. When it comes to mountain biking, don’t ride singletrack when trails are muddy.
- Consider the company. If you’re riding in a group on a rainy day, remember that the differences in braking performance between rim and disc brakes are accentuated when wet. Try to choose a route with less car traffic and use both front and rear lights to reduce the risk of being in a collision. Bike paths are a great option on rainy days; there are fewer pedestrians than normal, and obviously no cars.
“I love my bike”
Even with all the right gear and the best planning, your mindset is going to be the difference between thriving or being miserable in adverse weather conditions. My coaches and I have had the privilege of riding long miles with NBA legend Bill Walton, including through torrential rain, blistering heat, and whipping winds. Bill’s positive attitude was infectious. No matter the conditions, when we asked him how he was doing, he would reply by exclaiming, “I love my bike!” If you love riding your bike, riding in the rain or the wind is better than not riding at all, so take the appropriate steps to be safe and warm, and then go have a great ride!