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Tips for biking in the wet, cold, and dark

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a person rides a bicycle on a rainy street lined with trees
Tips for riding a bike in the wet, cold, or dark, from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). Learn about visibility, road conditions, traffic, dressing for riding in comfort, caring for your bike, and alternate ways to get around when conditions call for it.
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Portland is a great city for biking and for rain. Take note of the tips below to make your ride as safe and comfortable as possible.  Want even more detail?  Watch the video of our All Season Cycling and Simple Bike Maintenance class.

Visibility

Oregon law requires: a white front light, visible for at least 500 feet and a red rear light (or reflector), visible for at least 600 feet.

Remember you need to be seen in the dark AND when competing with cars’ bright headlights – consider a flashing light to be seen, and a solid beam to light the road.

Other visibility strategies:  Hi-visibility/reflective clothing, or a hi-viz vest to wear over regular clothes; reflective bits on your bike; lights front and rear and maybe side; a helmet-mounted lamp to get drivers’ attention when approaching intersections.

Watch this video for more information on being seen:

Road Conditions

Water, snow and ice make things slippery –

  • The first rain after a dry spell brings up oils, antifreeze, etc. dripped on the road
  • Metal surfaces and leaves become much slicker
  • Freezing temperatures compound the problem

Strategies for safe handling –

A metal utility cover is covered with leaves after a rain
  • Slow down!  Rim brakes are less effective and tires have less traction in wet conditions
  • Brake early (before you get to a slick spot); tap brakes to clear water from rims before you need to slow down
  • Watch for and anticipate slippery surfaces (steel plates, railroad, streetcar and MAX tracks, sewer covers and grates, wet leaves, etc.); use brakes to slow before you get to slick spots
  • Roll through slick spots at slow, steady speed; avoid turning or braking on metal, wet leaves, etc.
  • Stay upright when on slick surfaces - don’t lean into turns; cross rails at a 90 degree angle
  • Keep tires at lower inflation for more grip on the road (try 5-10 psi less than usual)
  • Riding over bumps: unweight the seat (rise up slightly, shift your weight to pedals and hands) – this prevents being bumped off your seat and losing control
  • Avoid riding through puddles - you can't tell how deep the hole or what hazards may be under the surface
  • If you plan to ride in snow or ice, consider studded tires

Traffic conditions

Remember, drivers’ ability to see you is worse in rainy weather (rain-streaked and/or foggy windows, glare from other headlights; etc.)

Assume you’re invisible and bike defensively:

overhead view of a road with a car and a bike traveling with suggestion to stay ahead of the car or far enough back so as not to be in the driver's blind spot
  • Avoid the right hook, stay in safe zone, use biker’s intuition, watch the car’s wheels for signs of turning
  • Be hyper aware at intersections; use helmet-mounted light & audible warning if unsure a driver has seen you (ring a bell, whistle sharply, or use your voice)
  • Avoid high traffic areas, plan your trip on the lowest traffic/slowest traffic route possible - check our Citywide Bike Map for options

Dressing for comfort

Layers help manage temperature changes – your ride may start cold but you will soon warm from pedaling.

Choose fabrics that help manage moisture (from inside the garment) and keep you warm.  Try wool which stays warm when wet,  synthetics or silk which dry quickly when damp. Avoid cotton - once wet (from rain or sweat) it dries slowly and will chill you.

Water repellant outerwear can keep you dry from rain (waterproof jacket, pants, gloves and shoe covers), but may get clammy from sweat.  Look for vents to lessen this effect.

A rain cape keeps water off and allows airflow to avoid overheating.  Most also cover your hands so you don’t need waterproof gloves.

Not clothing but…  Fenders will prevent water spraying off your tire from soaking your feet – look for a mudflap that reaches as low to the ground as possible.

A cap with a long bill helps keep rain off of eyeglasses.

Options to save money:

  • use what you already have (raincoat, boots, etc.)
  • Check thrift stores and outdoor store sales for wool items and used technical items (GoreTex coat, etc.)
  • Look for post-season clothing sales at bike shops in late winter and spring
  • Shop at non-profit and bargain/used-parts bike shops
  • Check the internet for do-it-yourself options for fenders and rain gear

Caring for your bike and the Five-Minute Tune Up

Wet conditions remove needed lubrication and put grit in your bike’s tender parts – give your bike the love it deserves and it will love you back!

The Five-Minute Tune Up will help your bike perform better and last longer, try doing it once a week or after a seriously yucky ride:

closeup view of a bike's wheel and rim brake showing where dirt collects on the rim
  • Check the inflation on your tires, keep it slightly lower than normal for dry conditions (try 5-10 psi less than max inflation)
  • Wipe down your chain with a dry rag; apply lube to the chain; wipe it down again
  • Use a different rag (no oil/grease!) to wipe down your rims and wipe off the surfaces of the rim-brake pads (bikes with disc or drum brakes can skip this step)

Learn the simple brake adjustment technique with barrel adjusters, since wet/gritty conditions wear down brake pads faster. Talk to your local bike shop or check out an online video for your bike's type of brake.

5-Minute Tune Up video: 

Click here to see the ABC Quick Check in the Community Cycling Center's video

Your back-up ride

When you just don’t want to (or can’t) ride any further, TriMet can carry you and your bike.  Keep a TriMet HopPass or paper HOP ticket handy - it's great insurance in case of a flat too. (You can also use a contactless credit or debit card, your phone, or cash- see this page for all the options.)

Practice putting your bike on a bus’s rack when a bus is parked while driver is on break; or visit the Community Cycling Center or Portland State University to try a practice rack.

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