Cycling in the rain

In traffic, rain can make riding hazardous:

  • it’s harder for drivers to see you
  • your brakes won’t work so well
  • a dynamo will slip, reducing the brightness of your lights
  • wet surfaces are slippery and cause dazzle
  • you’ll probably be in a hurry to get out of the rain.

So take it easy and concentrate on your riding. If you do ride in the rain, you will need rain-gear to keep you warm if not dry. Rain-gear should be comfortable and well ventilated – you will be working hard inside it and the sweat needs to get out somewhere. It should be spacious enough to allow you to move freely and to take it on and off readily, but not so big as to blow about in the wind. Make sure your rain-gear is brightly-coloured – yellow is best, red tends to look black at night. Reflective stripes can greatly increase your visibility.

Your bicycle will need extra maintenance. Rain washes the oil out of the chain, and road grime will ruin bearings and chains quickly. Consider a chain cover and hub gears if you are going to make a habit of riding in the wet. Aluminium rims provide better wet weather braking, though stopping distances can still be double those in dry weather. Synthetic brake blocks can improve performance, particularly on steel rims, though aluminium rims will still be better.


Be seen and heard on your bike

Dress in plain, bright colours. Yellow, light green and orange are best. Avoid red because it is hard to judge its distance and at night-time it looks black. Ideally, one glance by a car driver should be enough to tell how far away you are, and that you are a cyclist. 

Don’t hug the kerb or parked cars. You will be seen better, see better, and have a better margin for error if you are a metre out from the kerb. You will have a chance to avoid opening car doors. bumpy edges, broken glass and unpredictable pedestrians and dogs.

Give clear signals when stopping, changing lanes, or turning. Don’t be hesitant – motorists are more likely to treat you as another vehicle (which you are) if you behave like one.

Reflectors are essential for dusk and night riding and two are required on all bikes: white on front and red at the rear. Reflectors that move are very visible – on your pedals to be seen from the front and back. and in the wheels so you can be seen clearly from the sides. Reflective tape on your wrists. ankles and jacket all help you to be seen and avoided.

By law, your bike must have a warning device such as a bell. Bells are particularly useful on cycleways where blind corners and tunnels abound, or in zones shared with other users travelling at different speeds (such as paths shared with pedestrians).


Bicycle lighting

Bicycle lights are essential if you are travelling at dusk or at night – not just so you can see, but so that you can be seen. There are two basic forms of bicycle lighting: dynamo lights and battery lights.

Dynamo lights

Good points:

  • cheap to run
  • continuously available – always on your bike
  • easy to fit with high powered halogen or krypton globes
  • good power output and low drag with Dynapower type.

Bad points:

  • dynamos often slip in wet weather, reducing output when you need it most
  • poor output at low speeds (halogen globes help) and none at all when stationary
  • high speeds can blow globes (but most halogen head – lights incorporate some form of voltage protection, or you can use a regulator
  • some systems have excessive drag and can wear tyres.

Dynamo headlights can give good light output. You may need to pay some attention to balancing the current requirements of the front and rear lights as they both use the same generator and one can pull the other down.

Battery powered lights

Standard battery powered lights are cheaper to get going than a dynamo system.

Good points:

  • battery lights provide a steady continuous light under all conditions, making them especially good as a tail light when you are stopped at an intersection
  • some types can be readily removed from the bike for safe keeping, or for swapping to another bike
  • the light can be used off the bike – when camping or fixing a puncture, for example.

Bad points:

  • batteries need replacing regularly and give little indication of how much life is left in them
  • ease of removal means they are easily stolen if you don’t remove them
  • cheaper models may have inadequate mountings which can foul wheels or make it difficult to get the headlight to illuminate the road ahead.

Various forms of rechargeable batteries are available, including gel cells and nickel cadmiums. These are expensive, and require a battery charger. However, the cost may well be worth it for the long battery life and high power outputs available if you are regularly riding long distances at night.

Regardless of what sort of lighting you use, make sure that your tail-light has a parabolic reflector behind the bulb to increase its visibility. And remember, a light is only any use if it is turned on!


Child carriers

Child carriers should be attached to the rear for best weight distribution. The most stable carriers are those which sit low over the rear axle. If the child’s weight is carried too high, the bike becomes top heavy and unstable.

For safety, a child seat must have a high back, sides and footrests, preferably moulded in one piece. The seat must also have a seat belt and wheel guards. Shoulder straps should be fitted to provide maximum protection. If your bike seat has coil springs add guards to protect small fingers.

Remember, the best child carrier is as safe as the bike to which it is fitted. The safety of the child depends on the skill and competence of the adult rider. Don’t forget that the child, as well as the rider, needs a helmet.

Practice riding your bike with a weight in the child carrier to get used to holding the bike upright. The extra weight of a child on the back makes it hard to steer and harder to pedal. Always dress the child warmly – sitting on a moving bike without pedalling can get very cold. And don’t forget your passenger when mounting and dismounting.