How to Ride Your Bike through #ElNiñoLA

The City of Los Angeles is the backdrop to countless scenes broadcast through the lens of a camera around the world. Most commonly, the City is associated with surfing, high school love, Noirs (animated and acted), miles of freeway, and the apocalypse in the form of volcanoes, meteor showers, martians, zombies, and, of course, earthquakes. While movie directors are interested in portraying the destruction of Los Angeles in cinematic productions, civil servants work day in and day out to make sure these catastrophic plot lines don’t unfold and life in the City goes on as usual.

This year, a main focus of the City’s is to prepare for the upcoming winter season. Scientists predict one of the strongest El Niño’s recorded will torment Southern California and parts of the Northern Hemisphere from January to March 2016. On November, 2015 the City El Niño Task Force was created by an Executive Directive signed by Mayor Garcetti. The goals of the Task Force are to bring together different City departments to collaborate and ensure the City is prepared to respond and, if necessary, recover from any issues caused by El Niño weather conditions. From stockpiling sandbags (200,00 of them!) to scheduling extra street sweeping, City agencies are ready to handle the wet weather our drought-parched landscape will soon receive.

Executive Directive on El Niño

Mayor Garcetti signing Executive Directive No. 14, which formed a City task force in preparation for El Niño. #squadgoals

To help Angelenos prepare for changing weather and stay informed about any emergencies, the City has some helpful resources available at its El Niño LA websiteAngelenos should check their roofs for leaks, clear gutters of leaves, and make sure their cars’ wipers, tires, and brake pads are up to spec. What if you get around on your bike, you ask? With a little bit of know-how under your belt and the right gear, you can keep riding through El Niño too. Stay one step ahead with our helpful tips below to keep moving through the winter, whether on foot, bike, bus, train, or car.

Tips for Riding in the Rain

Just as if you were driving a car or taking transit in the rain, you’ll have to adjust your behavior when riding your bike in the rain. Unlike putting on that fancy rain cape you’ve been storing in your closet, the following tips for riding in the rain involve a little more effort:

    • Check the Anatomy of Your Bicycle: The following tips all assume that your bike is working well. Take a few moments to inspect your bike’s most critical parts before your ride. If your bike’s brakes were having trouble slowing you down in dry weather, this is a good time to fix them or take your bike to a shop for a professional’s touch. The rear wheel should lift off the ground when you squeeze your front brake and lean into the front handlebars. Spin your wheels and make sure they aren’t loose. The last thing you want on a wet day is for your wheels to pop off!
Anatomy of a Safe Bike

To ride on streets, California law requires you ride a bike that meets all these specs, rain or shine.

  • Slow Down: Water between the roadway and your bike’s tires reduces traction. Less traction means slowing down and stopping will take more time. The best way to avoid skidding is to lower speed. Take your normal riding speed and ride at 75% that speed or so in the rain. Slowing down gives you enough time to correct any traction issues.
  • Brake Early: In the rain, roadways, tires, brake pads, and rims all get wet and, combined, extending braking time. If your bike has rim brakes, it will take a few tire revolutions before water between the brake pads and wheel is cleared and the brakes can grip the rim. Plan for this delay, look ahead, and start slowing down early to make a complete stop.
  • Brake Straight: Your bike’s brakes work best when you are traveling in a straight line. If you have to slow down or stop, do so before you’re making a turn.
  • Corner Wide and Slow: Make turns at corners slower and wider than usual. Start further out and take the widest and straightest path possible. Avoid sudden sharp turns.
  • Braking while Turning: Don’t do it! Slow down enough (see ‘Brake Early’ tip) before turning so you can coast through the motion. Sudden corner braking may cause your back wheel to skid and slide a bit. If this happens, don’t panic! Just let off the brake and look straight ahead, the bike will straight itself out.

Watch Out for Tricky Surfaces

Now that you’re riding, braking, and cornering safely, there are some special surface conditions caused by El Niño you should know how to handle.

  • Oil Slicks: After the rain, all the oil and gunk leaking out cars will float to the top of puddles and on the roadway. Keep an eye out for an iridescent sheen when riding and try to avoid riding over it to prevent skidding. If you can’t avoid a slick, coast through it without pedaling or braking to maximize traction.     

    Street. Yellow lines. Oil.

    Avoid oil slicks brought to the surface to prevent skidding. Photo courtesy: Flickr user Nik Stanbridge

  • Puddles: What looks like a bit of standing water could be a foot of water filling a hole in the roadway. To help avoid puddle-related hazards, ride towards the center of the lane (take the entire lane when possible) to give yourself enough room to move left or right around puddles.
  • Road Markings and Metal: Road markings can become slicker when wet. Similarly, drainage grates, manhole covers, and other metallic surfaces can become more slippery when wet. Ride slowly enough that you will be able to proceed cautiously over or around these surfaces.

Helpful Gear

Riding tips will help you maneuver through wet conditions and the right equipment and attire will help you stay warm and cozy in any ride.

Helpful Gear when Biking in the Rain

Don’t let the rain stop ya! Get suited up and arrive on your bike.

  • Get Fenders: Invest in some fenders for your bike! These metal contraptions keep all the debris washed onto the roadway by the rain on the ground and off of you.
  • Turn On Lights: By law, you should have a front white light and a red rear light. When it’s raining, even if you’re riding during the day, you should turn on your lights to increase your visibility.
  • Wear Waterproof Garments: A stylish rain cape is a particularly useful do-it-all piece of equipment during inclement weather. It drapes over your whole body, so you can wear whatever you want underneath. Other great options include waterproof jackets or plastic bags in a pinch.
  • Dress in Layers: If you’re not outfitted properly, you’re going to get wet. Make sure you’re wearing clothes that prevent water from getting in while allowing you to vent away excess heat and sweat. It may be cold out but you’re going to work up a sweat riding to your destination, so dress in layers to accommodate your needs. Consider wearing thermal under-layers made of wool or some other moisture-wicking fabric under your clothes during colder, windier days. Gloves are another great addition to prevent your wet and wind-blasted hands from getting too frigid.
  • Save your Stuff: While keeping yourself dry is most important, you should keep your electronics and important documents moisture-free too. Make sure your backpack or panniers are waterproof. If not, cover them with a waterproof layer. You can put the last of your plastic bags to good use here.  
  • Protect your Peepers:  Wind-whipped water can take a toll on your eyes, so protect them by wearing clear-lensed glasses. Remember, you should be able to see at all times when riding.

Rainy days, courtesy of El Niño, are rapidly approaching. Share your new found knowledge and preparation skills with your friends, so we can all keep riding through the rainy season.

8 replies
  1. Kristen M. Pawling
    Kristen M. Pawling says:

    Thanks Bike Blog!!! I’ve been digging through the internet trying to figure all how to ride in the rain.

    Kristen (Torres) Pawling

    Reply
  2. alisonkendall
    alisonkendall says:

    Thanks for this useful article just in time for the rains. It is missing some obvious advice for those not afraid to look goofy to stay safe: Wear a helmet and high visibility “neon” jackets or vests with reflective tape.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Varnado says she is always available on Twitter @Nonavarnado to offer biking tips, rain-related or not. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation also has more tips on riding in the rain on its bike blog page.  […]

  2. […] ICYMI: How to ride your bike in the rain (LADOT Bike Blog) […]

  3. […] Bike Blog offers timely advice on how to ride your bike through an LA El Niño, although speeding up the red lights for cyclists […]

  4. […] How can cyclists avoid a spill during the rain? Slow down, brake early and watch out for oil slicks are some rainy-day bike riding tips. LADOT Bike Blog […]

  5. […] Tips For Bicycling In the Rain (LADOT Bike Blog) […]

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