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RAGBRAI Training: Riding in the Rain

  • 1 July, 2010
  • TJ Juskiewicz

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Iowa we’ve had more than our share of rain again this year.  Rivers are flooding and it seems like it rains every other day, if not every day. It sure has made getting out and riding difficult.  Even if you live in a dry climate and are coming to Iowa for RAGBRAI, there’s a pretty good chance you will get rained on hard at least once during your stay.  It’s what makes our corn grow so nice and tall so we don’t complain, but it can create some possible hazards while riding in the rain so I’ll address these. 

Dress appropriately

You might want to invest in a lightweight rain jacket.  If it below 65 degrees (F), rain can be chilly. A rain jacket will retain some of your warmth.  Be sure to bring a long sleeve jersey and tights in case you do run into a cool rainy day – not likely in Iowa in July but you just never know – last year it was actually chilly some mornings. 

Above 65 degrees you are typically warm enough when you get soaked without a rain jacket.  Avoid wearing anything cotton when it’s raining – cotton holds a lot of water and will not keep you warm so save your t-shirt for another day.   Also, be sure to wear bright colors when it’s raining so other cyclists as well as motorists can see you.  Visibility isn’t as good when it’s raining.  

Consider getting a taillight for your bike 

These are small, lightweight and extremely bright. They are great for riding at dawn and dusk and very useful when it’s raining.  These light can either be set to be on steadily or to blink, which increases their visibility for both other cyclists and vehicles.

Be careful when the roads are wet

Wet roads are slippery.  Be especially careful around painted lines and metal manhole covers – these are especially slick when wet.  If you have to ride over these objects, go in a straight line and don’t brake.  Also be very careful crossing wet railroad tracks.  Avoid quick and sharp turns when riding on wet roads.  Also be on the lookout for sand and gravel that may wash across the road during a heavy rain. This typcially occurs on hills where water runs across the roads.

Don’t ride too closely behind other cyclists in the rain

Your brakes don’t work as well when wet and your stopping distance is greater so give other riders plenty of room. When you need to stop, squeeze your brake levers a few times to rub the water off your riims before applying firm pressure.   Also, if you follow too closely the rooster tail coming off their back wheel will hit you right in the face.  You may also want to wear your sunglasses to keep the water and grit out of your eyes.

Obviously if it is a downpour or if there is a thunderstorm, riding is not advised

Find shelter until the worst of it passes.  Do not stand under trees if there is a thunderstorm either.  Try to find a building.

After riding in the rain, be sure to wipe down your bike

This is best done when it is still wet as it will clean up more easily than the road grime dries on.  If nothing else, dry off and lube your chain.  It will rust overnight and your bike will squeak the next day and you don’t want to be ‘one of those riders’.   Be sure to check your tires.  Wet tires pick up sand and grit and glass so be sure they are in good shape after a wet day.  Stuff wadded up newspaper (Des Moines Register preferably!) inside your shoes overnight to help dry them out.  There’s nothing worse than putting your feet into cold wet shoes first thing in the morning.

Ride on, and try to stay dry!     – Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and owner of Cyclesport Coaching (www.CyclesportCoaching.com) . He coaches individual cyclists, the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and the JDRF Greater Iowa Chapter for the Ride to Cure Diabetes.  He can be contacted at Coach@CyclesportCoaching.com.


  1. L Arndt

    This is the first time on RAGBRAI for my wife and I. We plan on staying in hosts homes. I only recieved invites from only 2 cities should I get concerned or does anyone have any ideas?

  2. Cycling Roberto

    And don’t worry about hydroplaning when cycling. Bicycle tires do not hydroplane. However, I would try to avoid standing puddles of water since you cannot see what is lying beneath. Could be a massive pothole. Most farmers will welcome riders with open barn doors in the event of a violent downpour. And heed the advice about warm layers. I’ve had to dash into the Dollar Store in search of anything synthetic to keep me warm. In July! In Iowa! Have fun in the rain, and remember the old saying, “A smile is your umbrella.”

  3. Ron Wright

    L Arndt: Do you have sleeping bags and tents? Bring them as back-up, in case you’re out of options when it’s down-to-the-wire. Have you thought of contacting a charter service? Mine (Pork Belly Ventures) has scouted the route & lined up camping areas for us in each host community. (They also have lined up a church for us, in order to sleep inside one night.) Lastly, do you have any friend or relative who is going? Do they have tent space for you two, too?

  4. tmana

    Also, check your tires frequently/when you finish: in the rain, glass and gravel will tend to stick to your tires and worm their way through, often making holes or gashes in the riding surface at the same time as they are puncturing your tubes (if you are riding clinchers). I go through more tires (re-emphasizing tires, not tubes!) riding in the rain than riding in the sun.

  5. Ross Johnson

    While riding in the rain, also get in the habit of “checking your brakes,” from time to time when safe to do so. This is the same thing truck drivers do when running for sustained periods in the rain. With a bike with rim brakes it does not take long for surfaces to foul up. With a good line and little traffic, especially behind, make an opportunity to squeeze gingerly just long enough to feel them begin to work. Easy does it.

  6. Rhett Mezzerschmidt

    “Even if you live in a dry climate and are coming to Iowa for RAGBRAI, there’s a pretty good chance you will get rained on hard at least once during your stay”

    Wait a minute now, you’re telling me that EVEN IF i am coming from an arid area of country, i may get rained on in Iowa?!?!
    Well, that settles it then, im selling my wristband…..

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