They cycle with team names like Riders on the Stormwater, No Rain No Gain, and Hurray for Gortex! There’s even the cheeky Let It Snow.
The Washington Bikes “Ride in the Rain” Challenge wraps up this week. Cycling teams from across the state pledged to cycle as much as possible in the wet, dark month of November. The Challenge aims to turn a common barrier to biking — inclement weather — into a celebration, thereby encouraging folks to bike year-round.
Misery loves company? Think again.
“I kind of like the challenge,” says Susan Lahti, of Mukilteo.
And she’s not talking about a single month. She’s simply talking about the rain.
Lahti, a retired physical education teacher from Mountlake Terrace High School, was a seasoned year-round bicycle commuter, one year pedaling to work all but 18 days. She still hops on her bike nearly every day, though she’s not part of the Ride in the Rain Challenge.
“The rain never really bothered me. Unless I was in one of those real downpours, it felt less than if I were driving,” she said. “I think we’re wimps. We think, ‘Oh, it’s awful, it’s icky out there.’ It seems more that way when the wipers are wiping it all out of the way (in sheets). On a bike, it’s like you’re riding between raindrops. It didn’t feel as bad.”
Robert Bean, of Lynnwood, commutes by bike many days to his job at Sound Transit in Seattle. He organized the “November Reign” team for the Ride in the Rain Challenge that includes co-workers and friends.
November Reign members had collectively logged more than 1,500 miles by last week. That’s the equivalent of burning 75,000 calories.
Bean has commuted by bike since 1995.
“In those days I only lived one mile away from my work. Now my commute is 22 miles one way,” he said.
The civil engineer said rain is a reason to ride with more caution — with an eye to seasonal dangers like storm grates, slick leaves, darkness, and fog — but not a reason to skip the ride.
Safety tip No. 1 is dressing for the weather, with enough warmth to combat wind chill and low temperatures, but not so much that you get soaked with sweat a few miles in.
“If you’re focused on riding — and not being too cold or too wet — then you’re more aware of your surroundings,” Bean said. “I find that it’s when I’m focused on other things and not the riding that the dangers come up.”
Making sure that clothing is designed to be seen is another safety tip, said Josh Pfister, the new shop manager at the nonprofit Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop in Everett.
“It’s darker earlier, so high-visibility clothing is a big one,” he said.
A non-flashing headlight on the front of a bicycle is required for cycling in the dark. A rear reflector is required as well, and newer LED taillights can be switched to a flashing function for extra visibility.
Other things that help on a rainy ride are fenders and putting tires at a lower air pressure, Pfister said. And foot protection of some kind is key, be it high-end socks or bread bags. “If there’s anything that’s going to make somebody miserable, it’s wet, cold feet.”
But mostly, being safe on slick roads is about behavior and attitude. “Winter’s a good time to relax and enjoy your ride. It doesn’t have be too spirited. Worse case, if you do find yourself getting chilly — just ride a little harder,” Pfister said.
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Rainy ride tips
B.I.K.E.S. Club of Snohomish County members share these rain riding tips:
Bread bags can be cheap shoe covers
A plastic bag keeps your bike seat dry when it is parked or on the front of a bus
Beware metal grates and wet leaves — they can be slippery
In addition to fenders, mud flaps make a world of difference in keeping you dry
Plastic shower caps from motels make great helmet covers
Put your bike on a bus if you really don’t want to get wet
LED flashlights are easy to attach to your handlebars if you need a cheap headlight
A quality headlight can help a lot on dark commutes — they help you see the road ahead
Red rear lights are not required by law (only red reflectors are), but are highly recommended