By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer
Anyone who knows me, knows that I ride all year long. Whether its road riding or mountain biking, I love being outside on two wheels, no matter the weather.
But I know I’m not like most people. Most people are now putting their bikes away until spring. But there are so many advantages to riding in the fall: fresh air, outdoor exercise, a boost of endorphins, a fun way to get to work, and connecting with nature to name a few. You just have to take a few steps to properly prepare and stay warm and safe.
Rain Rain Go Away
Rain is the biggest deterrent for people cycling in the fall, and to be honest, it’s also the biggest danger. But given my home base is Vancouver, if I avoided riding in the rain, I’d miss out on riding a good chunk of the year … So I ride in the rain.
First, it’s imperative that you invest in some solid riding rain gear. Yes, this may seem really obvious, but I’ve seen people skip this step, and quickly become cold and miserable on a ride.
I could recommend some specific gear here, but really, it comes down to your personal preference. You can spend a little money or a lot, pay attention to fashion or none at all.
There are a lot of great rain pants and waterproof jackets on the market. And don’t forget to wear waterproof gloves, an all-weather cap under your helmet and shoe covers.
If you’re commuting to work, I highly recommend carrying dry clothes with you so you can change when you get there. Some people find wearing a regular backpack on a bike too sweaty, so if you’re one of those people, either find a backpack with a mesh back to increase air flow or install a bike rack and a pannier system.
Just because you have your new rain gear, doesn’t mean you can ride just like you would in the summer. Even geared up, you have to be extremely careful when riding in the rain. The road itself is going to be slippery, but be especially careful of anything metal, like manhole covers, grates or railroad tracks. The painted lines on the road will also be slick, and wet leaves are a hazard. Also look out for puddles – as fun as they are to ride through, they can conceal potholes or irregularities in the road.
And because it’s slippery, Cycle Toronto (a not-for-profit organization that works to make Toronto a safer cycling city) recommends you slow down your riding in the fall, so you have more time to react, especially when braking.
Disc and drum brakes respond pretty well in wet weather, but rim brakes, not so much. With them, you have to allow yourself about twice as long to come to a full stop. You can’t hit the brakes too hard either, as you’ll skid, so feather them. That means squeeze them on and off until you feel them begin to grip. By feathering the brakes, you help remove the water and dirt that keeps the brake pads from gripping to the rim.
Another good suggestion from Cycle Toronto is to vary your route. While sticking to quiet side streets may be your preference in the summer, they are not cleared as often in the fall and winter, so can have more leaves and debris than busier routes.
Wet roads tend to kick up a lot of dirt, which makes your chain and brakes grimy. Clean everything more often. Just a quick hose down after a ride helps to get the gunk off.
And just like you wouldn’t drive your car in a snowstorm without snow tires, if you can, invest in beefier bike tires for fall. If your frame lets you go wider, then do it, you’ll get more grip in slippery conditions.
Best luxury buy? A set of fenders. Fenders prevent rooster tail, that distinct (and sometimes embarrassing) line of mud that runs from your bum all the way up your back. If you install front and rear fenders, not only will they protect you from rooster tail, it will also reduce front spray to your face and shoes. You can also use smaller clip-on fenders if larger ones won’t work.
Man, it gets dark early
I am a huge advocate for lights all year round, but they are especially important as the days get shorter. It’s also the law. Both Ontario and BC have laws on the books requiring cyclists to have a white or amber light facing forwards and a red light or reflector facing backwards from half an hour before sunset, to half an hour before sunrise.
In addition, wear as much reflective clothing as possible. The fact is, when it’s dark, you are hard to see. Rain especially obscures vision. When it’s really coming down, you should wear a jacket with reflective strips or a high-vis vest. You can get a vest at any construction outfitters for about ten bucks, fold it up and carry it in your pannier or pocket for those days you really need it. And another easy way to add visibility is with LED slap wraps.
Yes, it’s a lot of work to prepare for fall weather riding. But I promise you it’s worth it. We’re cooped up in our homes a lot these days. When you’re prepared, getting out for a ride in the fresh air – even in the rain – can be absolutely amazing.
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