It was a little wet in San Francisco this Saturday. And it got me thinking. Probably the number one reason people stop riding in the winter is because they don't feel confident riding in wet conditions. Now I've spent a few years up in the Northwest and let me tell you, it rains quite a bit. And folks keep on trucking all winter. here's a couple good tricks to keep you upright when it's soggy out.
Step 1. Bigger tires, lower pressure.
To people who spend long hours on the bike this is not new information. But when I see people careening around corners with their leg suck out to the side it makes me wonder. It stands to reason that the more rubber you have contacting the road, the more traction you will have. The larger the volume of the tire, the lower the pressure you can safely run without flatting. I'n my experience 32mm and larger tends to work really well. The pressure you run will obviously depend on how much weight you're hauling.
Step 2. Make your brakes work for you.
Your road calipers are super stiff and stop on a dime. Now put a little gutter juice on your rims. Do they still stop? There are two schools of though when It comes to stopping in the wet. The easiest solution of most people is to upgrade your brake pads. Ever wonder why so many people have those reddish colored brakes pads? It's cause they work really well in the wet. Way back in ancient times a guy called Scott Mathouser made brake pads with iron oxide mixed into the compound. They're softer than standard black pads and they will grab a slippery rim better without grinding road grit into your rims. The only downside is they wear out a little faster. That's a good thing. Brake pads are cheap, rebuilding your wheels is not. Yokozuna sells Mathouser pads to fit most any brake, including the original Scotty superbrake shoes.
The other school of thought is that your rims shouldn't even have a say in the matter. In the old day that meant Drum brakes or coaster brakes. You can still get both. Sturmey Archer offers them as an option on many of their hubs. These day more and more people are being won over by disc brakes. The arguments makes good sense too. You eliminate all rim wear, and allow heat from breaking to disperse far from delicate inner tubes. On extremely heavy bikes like a tandem or a loaded cargo bike it's a no brainier. Downsides, you need a frame that is designed to accommodate them, and they can be tricky to adjust. Then again, so can a rim brake if your wheel is out of true.
Step 3. Balance your weight.
If you have to carry a lot of stuff, make sure you have a good plan for where you're going to put it. Simply piling everything into a milk crate on the back of your bike is not going to work well in extremely hilly places like San Francisco and Seattle. If you take the time to plan ahead you can usually make some simple modification and additions to your setup that will make a big differences. As I've said before, Wald baskets will fit just about any bike and are a super easy way to break up your load. Lowrider panniers if you're bike will accept them, are even better because they keep the center of gravity low. And you can always add a trailer if you're really over capacity. A good ting to keep in mind is that a bike is not like a car. A few extra things that you don't really need to take with you can make a big difference. If you aren't going to need it, leave it a home.
Step 4. Fenders. Enough said I think.