Weather is a popular topic in daily communication. However, bad weather is inclement when it comes to bicycle. With the awareness of healthy lifestyle increasingly growing, more and more people are opting for cycling. But riding in bad weather is not a good idea if you are not prepared. So what should we do? Here are some tips for cycling in this terrible condition.
Know the road
It's always tricky when you're planning routes in a different country or on unfamiliar roads, but try and do as much research ahead of time so you can take any necessary precautions. We cover lots of bike routes in France, but you can also ask ahead at your B&B or hotel to check if there are any route delays or diversions because of flooding etc. (we always recommend staying at a bike-friendly place for this reason, among others). Changing routes may mean a longer ride but it may be safer and more enjoyable. I generally avoid busy roads anyway, but they are even less pleasant in poor visibility or when there's lots of surface water spraying up every time a car passes. Also check the local Highway Code (see here for the French one in English) so you know the local laws and regulations as they relate to cycling. Allow extra time, too, for arriving at your destination if the weather is bad.
Keep an eye out
Roads in France are generally good for cycling but it does differ from area to area and route to route. Even sections of the same route will vary in surface quality. There are all sorts of hazards on the road – spotting them can be tricky but it can also save you taking a tumble. Pay close attention to your surroundings by monitoring the road surface for potholes, puddles and debris, be watchful of other vehicles and cautiously assume that blinkers don’t mean a vehicle will actually turn when it should. (In France, also assume a lack of blinkers could mean the car is turning!)
Don't forget sunglasses for cycling in France – great any time of year to keep rain (and bugs) out of your eyes, but particularly helpful in summer when it's so bright.
Maintain your bike
It's an obvious one, but excess water, dirt and debris can quickly accumulate on your bike, so you’ll need to clean and maintain it throughout the year – and especially after cycling in bad weather. Always inspect the tyres, chain and frame for any signs of wear, clean or lubricate the components thoroughly as appropriate and carry a puncture repair kit with you (hire bikes in France will usually always come with one). If your bicycle needs replacing, consider investing in quality kit like any variation of specialized road bikes or other reliable brands that can comfortably and safely handle the roads in any weather.
I'm not a huge fan of high-visibility clothes, but I always keep a high-vis vest in my pannier in case I'm riding at dusk (or if I arrive late after dark) and for poor visibility (particularly on busier roads). A bright rain jacket or jacket with reflectors is also a good idea for bad weather. Reflectors are by law a requirement in France but many road bike/sports riders prefer the better aerodynamics (and, frankly, a nicer looking bike) and leave them off. I've never heard of anyone being stopped by police for not having reflectors. Hybrid/touring hire bikes always have them, however.
Dress for the conditions
Being comfortable on your bike enables you to focus on the road ahead. Use breathable base layers, wind and waterproof outer layers – and take a dry set in your panniers for when it rains. Whether you're clip-in or not, make sure your footwear is also comfortable. And always, always(!) have a dry pair of socks and some light-weight shoes to change into when you take your soggy ones off. There's nothing worse than eating a lovely French meal with your toes frozen solid together at the end of a wet ride.
Prepare your bike
Now that you are all prepared to get out into that bad weather it's time to make sure your bike is as well. If you don't own any mudguards, make sure you invest in a good, clip on rear one. The last thing you want to do is return with the water, sleet or snow that has been splashing up your back all the way through the ride. Also check your breaks and pump up your tyres.
If it's windy make yourself small by lowering your head and crouching down a bit. This will definitely help you in fighting through the wind.
If you are riding with another cyclist, take it in turn to hit the front, the rider ahead will take the brunt of the wind and the rain.
Think about your route, you may like riding up hills on lovely summer days but this can become a real challenge when the wind and the rain are smashing you in the face.
Riding in Rain
It is hazardous to ride a bicycle in the rain days. Don’t worry, and just keep those words in mind. Because the visibility is low, you’ll want to wear bright or neon colors (this works in dim conditions, but not when it’s dark.) Make sure your bicycle is equipped with lots of bright reflectors and lights in the front, rear and sides of your bike. Wear reflective gear on your body as well. Look into putting fenders on your front and rear wheels, which will help keep water the water on the road from splashing up onto you, and may also help to keep dirt and other debris from getting caught in the gears and chain.
Understand that bicycle brakes don’t work as well when they are soaking wet. It’s a good reason to take it slower and make sure you give yourself ample time to stop. Watch out for puddles and avoid them if you can. Even smaller ones can hide things like glass, nails or other debris that could slash your tires or cause you to crash. Know that certain surfaces – particularly brick, painted surfaces and metal – are extremely slippery in the rain. Use caution.
Riding in Snow
As long as cyclists have the right clothing and equipment, it can make a lot of sense to continue riding through the cold season. In a snowstorm, for example, cyclists can get to their destination faster than motor vehicles stuck in jammed traffic.
On the other hand, it gets darker earlier in the winter as it is, and snowdrifts can result in lanes that are even further narrowed. Motorists may be even less on the lookout for riders than normal. Bicyclists who aren’t wearing warm enough gear could find themselves at risk for hypothermia, particularly in their hands and feet.
Ride in windy conditions
When it comes to windy conditions, the best way to ride in a group but don’t shirk your turn at the front. If you're on your own, avoid the wind by seeking out natural windbreaks such as hedged lanes. Reduce your frontal area by rounding your shoulders and bending closer to the handlebars. If it's a blustery wind, grip on a little tighter so you don't lose control
Sometimes called ‘the invisible hill’, a stiff wind can turn a pan-flat road into a relentless climb, and make even a modest ascent feel like Alpe d’Huez. All the more reason to get out in it, says Bennett.
Reduce your frontal area by rounding your shoulders and bending down closer to the bar, as this will help reduce wind resistance
What if you’re riding on your own? “Try to avoid the wind by heading into hedged lanes, and if you head into the wind on the first half of the ride, you can then turn around and get blown back home. Riding with the wind behind you allows you to mimic the greater speeds associated with bunch riding.”
And when there’s really no escape, he offers some tips for making windy rides a bit less painful: “Reduce your frontal area by rounding your shoulders and bending down closer to the bar, as this will help reduce wind resistance. If it’s a blustery, gusting wind, choose an easier gear, move slightly further into the middle of the road and hold onto the bar a little more tightly, so you’re ready to control the bike more at short notice.
Ride on icy roads
Pick your road carefully – stick to those that have been treated. Be wary of exposed sections of road – the wind chill can create extra ice. Go around icy patches if you have time and it's safe to do so. If you can't avoid the ice, don't make any sudden moves – try to ride it out
Lingering frost or black ice can catch anyone unawares, especially given that crisp winter days and blue skies are so inviting for a bracing ride. Stunning cloudless days go hand in hand with sub-zero nights. And when the sun does come up it stays low in the sky and relatively weak, with long shadows.
Add to that the time-poor training cyclist’s preference for early morning rides and there’s a high chance some of those shadows will be icy and make your wheels lose grip.
If you’re riding in these conditions, pick your road carefully and stick to those that have been treated. Of course, the downside to this is that many councils put a water dispersal agent down with the salt, and after a few days this too can be slippy.
Be particularly wary of the more exposed sections of road, such as where there are no hedges — the wind chill will have further cooled the tarmac there — and always keep your eyes on the road ahead so you’re prepared for icy hazards, going round them if you have time and it’s safe to do so.