Keeping a weather eye on the road: Commuting in heavy rain or showers

Cyclescheme, 23.05.2016

Keeping a weather eye on the road: Commuting in heavy rain or showers

It can seem to cyclists that it rains more often than not.  

Last year in the UK it rained, on average, for 168 days.  But hidden within this average is the fact that many rainy days have as little as 1mm of rainfall and that it only has to rain in one part of the country to affect the overall statistic.  The reality is that, despite what the figures tell us, it doesn’t rain here half of the year!

What is of concern to when you’re out on your bike is not only when it’s going to rain and how heavy the downpours are, but how prolonged it will be.  The Met Office has a useful visual tool on their web site, also found on their app, which tracks showery conditions.  Use this to check ahead of your journey and see if rain is expected.  

Met Office weather warnings are issued for heavy rain and are given a colour depending on a combination of both the likelihood of the event happening and the impact the conditions may have. For the cycling commuter, apart from the anticipated road spray, generally the wetter it gets the more obstacles it creates.

Most roads have a camber to them that helps surface water drain off and into the gutter, rather than pooling in the centre of the road. Unfortunately cycle paths are usually situated to incorporate the gutter and some car drivers expect cyclists to keep to the left of the road, even in wet weather.

But escaping gutter spray isn’t as easy as just moving towards the centre of the lane.  Puddles, wherever they are on the road, can be hard to read and may have a pot hole lurking beneath. 

Whilst battling on against the wet and slippery road surface and dodging everything from mud to manhole covers, white lines to cattle grids, a simultaneous attack comes from your own clothing.  Glasses steam up and get speckled by raindrops and spray, whilst the flapping hood of your raincoat can block peripheral vision.

But the assault on the senses doesn’t end there. Traffic noise is louder when conditions are wet, so approaching traffic often seems bigger, faster and more menacing.  With braking less smooth, particularly if there is wind mixed in with the rain, and braking distances longer for both riders and drivers, heavy rain has to be treated with caution.

We should remain aware that car drivers also experience poorer visibility during rain showers and when the long-awaited sun finally does appear, the reflection from the wet road can momentarily blind anyone.

Despite everything the weather throws at us, it can’t take away the fact that cycling is a fun and healthy activity. We can’t stop the rain but we can make sure we’re more prepared by leaving extra time for our journey, using lights and suitable clothing and riding positively (an example being making eye contact with drivers).

Get into the habit of checking the Met Office forecast regularly and opt in to receive weather warnings for your area, by simply downloading the new Met Office app. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a dry pair of socks for when you get to work!

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