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Tips for bike touring in the rain

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It's not fun to ride your bicycle in the rain, but sometimes it's unavoidable. When you're in the middle of a bicycle touring trip halfway between destinations, a rain storm can be a big inconvenience. Sometimes, the best course of action is to pull over and try to wait it out, but when the dark clouds keep rolling in and the torrential downpour continues, you have to hop back on your touring bike and fight your way to your final destination for the day. 

Although rain is often not much more than an annoying problem while biking around town or commuting, it can spell serious danger while touring in a foreign location. It's important to take extra precautions while riding in the rain so as to avoid damage to your goods, your bike, yourself and other riding partners. 

Get the right tires
If you're traveling somewhere where you're likely to run into a lot of rain, like a tropical area, you'll want to make sure you have the right kind of touring tires. If you're an experienced cyclist but new to bike touring, it may seem frustrating to have to invest in a new style of bike tire when you already have road tires, mountain bike tires or racing wheels. But the truth is you won't feel that way when you're riding on a rain-slicked road in an unfamiliar country. When you're touring, you have a lot more weight on you're bike than normal, so any tire that can help you get a little extra grip on a slippery surface is great.

When it comes to rain, the key is getting a tire with grooves, like the well-rated Schwalbe tires, Marathon Deluxe HS 420. Many people think that the grooves in a tires, either car or bike, are for grip, but they're actually for wicking away the water in order to let the rubber grip. That's why balder tires can hydroplane more easily. 

Wear the right gear
Just as you want to have waterproof bike equipment like Ortlieb panniers to keep everything dry and safe, you'll want to keep yourself dry too, Active magazine advised. Keep a rain jacket handy in one of your panniers so that you're ready for rain when it comes unexpectedly. But in addition to a water-resistant outer shell, you should dress to keep your core warm too, or else that rain will make you cold and wipe out your energy and immune system. Use wool socks for your feet, which will likely get the wettest. Layer your core with moisture-wicking jackets, shirts, vests or sweaters that will keep you toasty – your energy will go to pedaling, not body temperature regulation. 

Test your brakes
When it's raining, or has been raining, you can't trust your brakes. Rubber brake pads may have trouble getting friction with wet wheel rims when water is being kicked up or coming down, Active warned. And although disk brakes may be more effective at slowing the actual wheel in a rainy situation, the abrupt stopping of the wheels can make even the best touring tires start to slide. Try riding slower than usual, especially down hills and around corners. This may hurt your time, but it's worth it if you don't wipe out and break your bike. 

Camp smart
Whether you've been planning on camping from the start or you just need a break from the riding in the cold, dreary rain, you should be careful where you pick for your campsite, Travelling Two advised. The most important thing to avoid is places that could potentially flood while you're sleeping – dry river beds, valleys, low-lying areas, fields that may turn to muddy swamps. Consider getting off your bike to look for the site so as to avoid getting your bike stuck in surprisingly deep mud.

Instead, Travelling Two recommended finding a wooded area. Not only will the tree canopy offer some defense from the precipitation, but if you have a tarp and string you can string up a great cover for your tent and bikes. 

Ride smarter
There are a few basic bike safety tips that are extra important in rainy weather. These rules apply more, not less, to advanced and experienced bikers who may feel too comfortable on the roads. Cyclists should make sure they have lights and reflectors so that they can be easily seen. San Francisco magazine 7×7 recommended that the best thing for cyclists riding in the rain is to act as if it was night, because the visibility may be the same – use lights, be seen by cars, be cautious. 

Get luxurious
Especially in cases where rain is persistent for multiple days, take a break and treat yourself, Travelling Two advocated. Take an extra long, expensive lunch or stay at a hotel and take a hot shower. This may burn through a bit more of the budget than it should, but it can give you the motivation you need to finish your tour. 

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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