Five tips for cycling in the summer rain

Rainy_window

I don’t want to speak to soon, but I think I may have my cycling mojo back. This morning, despite a dismal forecast of rain, I got up early and trundled into work.

Typically, it began to drizzle about a mile into my cycle — and it kept on raining throughout the length of my 6.5 mile journey. To be honest, I didn’t care. It was actually quite fun. It wasn’t cold and the rain wasn’t heavy enough to turn me into a drowned rat.

Plus, the road was relatively quiet — I think the weather had put off a lot of fellow cyclists — so my journey time was super-quick (36 minutes) despite having to take it easy in places because of the slippery conditions.

All this got me to thinking about cycling in the rain. Goodness knows I’ve been doing it for years — almost a decade, in fact. So here’s some tips that may help if you’re a relative newbie at urban cycling:

1. Make sure your bike has mudguards! I know it’s summer and maybe you don’t think you need them because it will ruin the “look” of your bike, but honestly, if you don’t have them you’ll get super wet (a lovely line of road dirt splattered up your back, for instance) and anyone unfortunate enough to cycle behind you will get a face full of road dirt and water. This will not win you friends. I was livid this morning when this happened to me, not once, but twice! Personally, I think it’s a simple courtesy to make sure you’re not splattering everyone within a 5 metre radius — and I wish more London cyclists would keep this in mind!

2. Check your brake pads are okay before you head out. You should do this pretty regularly anyway and change them long before they wear out completely. Note that it can take longer in the wet to stop — a good reason to keep your speed in check when it’s raining (see point 4 below) —  and also be aware that pads can become coated in grit and debris thrown up from the water on the road so may not work as smoothly as they do in dry conditions.

3. Wear appropriate clothing. It’s difficult in summer, because the humidity is often high when it rains, so make sure the jacket you don is waterproof and breathable — something with ventilation zips you can undo to let the air circulate is ideal. Alternatively, at this time of year you can brave the rain without a jacket — skin is waterproof after all — because you’re unlikely to get too cold. But make sure you have something warm and dry to change into at the other end.

4. Take it slowly. The rain’s likely to wash extra grit on to the road and you may find the surface is extra slippery, especially if there hasn’t been a downpour in a while: the water will bring all kinds of oils and pollution to the surface (there was a lovely long patch of oil on Upper Ground in Southwark this morning, for instance). Cobblestones can be particularly precarious when it’s wet, and try to stay off the double yellow or double red lines painted on the roads: the paint is slippy at the best of times, but when it’s wet it’s super dangerous. Manhole covers and the like also become slightly harder to see when the road is wet, so watch for them too. And finally, don’t take the corners too hard!

5. Finally, just enjoy it. Why let a little bit of summer rain put you off?

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Why you need gloves, don’t need flip flops and should wear high-viz clothing

I remembered why I normally make sure I’m on the road by 7.45am when I got stuck in never-ending bumper-to-bumper traffic at 8.45am today! Yes, I left the house very late this morning. I wasn’t quite with it and left my sunglasses behind. I went back to get them, only to get out on the road to find I wasn’t wearing my gloves! Well, too bad. I wasn’t going to return for those as well or I’d be really late to work!

Mind you, I don’t see that many cyclists wearing gloves. I don’t know how people commute without them, to be honest. Perhaps they just think it’s too hot to wear them?

I’ve said all this before, but gloves have multiple uses, even in summer. They make it easier to grip the handlebars, they help soak up the sweat and, if you have gel ones, they absorb some of the road shock. And, if you fall off, they might just save your hands from a nasty case of gravel rash.

Which reminds me, I think it’s wonderful that so many people are out and about cycling, but some of them need to seriously re-think their footwear. I have seen countless people, men and women alike, cycling in flip flops and slides. How is that a good idea, particularly when you are cycling in heavy traffic? You only have to get your flip flop caught underneath the pedal and you’re in trouble, and if you put your foot down too quickly, say to save yourself from an accident with a vehicle, you’ll seriously stub a toe or shear off a layer of skin. Ewww.

(I know everyone in Copenhagen cycles with flip flops, as someone is bound to point out, but London isn’t Copenhagen, and bikes here fight for road space with everything from double decker buses to motor scooters: I believe you need to dress appropriately for the conditions.)

On another note, I got told off by a fellow cyclist on my route home tonight. She was quite right, because as I merged into the traffic I did not see her and almost collided into her. The thing is, I had seen the chap in front of her and let him go by, but I did not see her at all even though I looked.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” I said, as I swerved to avoid her.

“You should look where you’re going,” she said in a very calm, posh voice, as she whizzed on by. I mean, if the situation was reversed I would have been effing and blinding, but she was so darn polite about it all, I kind of felt like I’d been told off by a school marm.

It was only later on as I tried to analyse what had happened that I realised I had not seen her because she was wearing dark clothing and cycling in the shade. I had seen the cyclist in front because he was wearing high-viz clothing, but I missed her completely. I know this doesn’t alleviate me from responsibility, but it does prove my point that cyclists need to be highly visible on the road at all times and in all conditions.

Tall cyclists

When I got my driver's license (in Australia way back in 1988) I was taught to not sit behind vehicles that block your view. If it was safe to pass, then you should overtake them, or if it wasn't, you should drop right back so that your ability to read the traffic ahead was not obscured.

I adopt pretty much the same approach when I am cycling. Usually, the vehicles blocking my view are London buses, but in recent days it has been tall cyclists.

Now, I don't know whether you've made the same observation, but there seems to be a lot of tall cyclists out there. I never used to notice them, so I'm not sure where they have all come from.

But then I'm not quite sure whether they are tall people or whether it's simply that they are sitting on high-mounted seats. But most of them look slightly awkward because they seem so far off the ground.

The worst bit is that if you are trundling along behind them they block your sight lines so it's impossible to see what's going on ahead — are there traffic lights coming up, tricky junctions to negotiate, pedestrians you need to be watchful of, etc etc. And if they are wearing a bulky backpack, good luck in being able to take a sneak peek around them.

So, if you get stuck behind a tall cyclist, my advice is to treat them with the same respect as you would for a bus or a truck: overtake them if safe, or drop back so you can see the view ahead instead of getting an eye-full of some tall chap's sweaty back for the whole of your commute.

For first-timers

My site stats seem to have exploded in the last couple of days, so if you have arrived here via the TFL cycling page, welcome.

I started commuting to work by bicycle in August 2005. You can read my first post here.

Initially, I was petrified. I had a real fear of being killed on the road. But within three weeks I had turned into an adrenalin junkie.

If you’re a new cyclist or are thinking about trying it, here’s some posts which may prove useful:

And if you’re looking for ideas of where to ride in west London, I can recommend:

And finally, back in early 2007 I interviewed a handful of commuter cyclists from London and beyond in a series called Cycling 10. These provide great insights into what made people decide to cycle in the first place. Those interviewed include:

Enjoy! And please don’t be afraid to leave a comment or ask a question. I really do encourage that sort of thing.

Keeping safe out there

 In case you hadn't heard, another London cyclist was killed by a lorry this week.

A group of London cyclists has now created a new blog — Cycle Safe London — in response.

They have also created a flyer to download and print off for distribution among fellow cyclists which recommends the following:

1. A ban on very large lorries (HGVs) from the current Congestion Charge zone during Congestion Charge hours.
2. Compulsory installation of the latest ‘blind spot’ mirrors and more training for drivers on how to use them.
3. Removal of dangerous cycle lanes.
4. Tougher punishments for drivers and lorry companies convicted of negligent driving.

It adds: "To make this happen, we need to tell the government officials and the lorry companies about the problem and demand that they take action." A list of recommended politicians to write to is included.

I think it's a great idea, but I also think it's important cyclists educate themselves about the dangers that HGV pose, which is why I particularly like this flyer, also listed on the site:

Cycliststhink

This post by Buffalo Bill, written in response to another death last year, has some very good advice in it.

I'd like to add one important tip of my own: if you have stopped at traffic lights and you cannot make eye contact with the driver of a HGV near you then bloody well move! If you can't see him up there in his driver's cabin, how the hell do you think he can see you? (Note, this also applies to buses and coaches.)

Finally, Cycling Plus magazine in calling for recommended EU legislation on
HGV blind spot mirrors to be brought in to save an estimated 18
cyclists a year. It has set up an online petition which you can sign if you are a British citizen. The closing date is December 6, 2008.

Some handy tips for newbie cyclists

In the words of British band the Kaiser Chiefs, "oh my god, I can't believe it!"

Yes, after yet another extended hiatus (almost 6 weeks — a combination of annual leave, yet another upper respiratory tract infection, back pain and sheer bloody laziness) I finally took my poor trusted treadly out of storage and trundled into work this morning. I'd forgotten how exciting it is to battle with London traffic, but by goodness where did all you cyclists come from? Honestly, I've never seen so many two-wheels out and about at 7.45am — normally the influx doesn't hit the roads until after 8am.

I have such mixed feelings about seeing more cyclists on the road. Yes, it's wonderful that so many are ditching motorised vehicles (or the tube), but I can't stand all the idiots who ride their bikes as if the entire world revolves around them.

Here's some handy tips you newbie cyclists might like to take note of:

WATCH WHERE YOU ARE GOING!! OR, MORE IMPORTANTLY, WATCH WHERE OTHER CYCLISTS ARE GOING — DON'T EXPECT THEM TO GET OUT OF YOUR WAY BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T SEE THEM!!

DON'T WEAVE ALL OVER THE ROAD — TRY TO KEEP A STRAIGHT LINE

DON'T CUT OTHER CYCLISTS UP (SEE ABOVE)

USE HAND SIGNALS — WE'RE NOT ALL MIND READERS, YOU KNOW

DON'T OVERTAKE BUSES WHEN THEY HAVE THEIR INDICATORS ON (UNLESS YOU FANCY  BECOMING SOMEONE'S DINNER)

TRY TO TAKE OFF FROM THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS AT A FAST PACE; WHEN YOU PUTTER ALONG IT CAN PUT OTHER CYCLISTS BEHIND YOU IN A DANGEROUS POSITION.

DON'T WEAR YOUR FRIGGIN' iPOD — HOW CAN YOU HEAR WHAT'S APPROACHING IF YOU'VE GOT AMY WINEHOUSE PUMPING INTO YOUR EARS AT 20 DECIBELS?

There. Glad I've got that off my chest.

See you all tomorrow for more tales of commuting across the capital!

Total distance: 12.28 miles | Ride time: 1hr, 13min and 31sec | Average speed: 10.64mph | Top speed: 18.5mph