On my way commute work this AM I was greeted with heavy rain and lots of puddles on the road. When I say commute I mean in the comfort of my truck not a bike. I probably hydroplaned a few times on the commute but nothing serious. This reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my athletes last evening.
He was racing out west in a normally arid state but ended up racing in the rain for well over 100 miles. He messaged me the day before knowing this was going to happen and we discussed tactics around clothing and a few other mechanical items. But what neither of us expected was the behavior of the other participants.
The athlete described the scenario as most cyclists holding straight lines until said cyclist would approach a puddle and then would suddenly and even violently dodge a puddle without thinking about who or what was coming up behind them.
This is most certainly the behavior of a squirrel! Why on earth a cyclist cannot hold a line and feels the need to make sudden line changes is beyond me.
So lets look at some of the myths and truths of puddles/standing water
I will hydroplane if I go through a puddle
Myth: Bicycles do not hydroplane. Please stop spreading this myth! Bicycle tires due to their small contact patch are susceptible to loosing traction but this is not hydroplaning! Hydroplaning occurs when a tire encounters more water than it can scatter.
The puddle maybe hiding a pothole
True: Puddles in the right light and viewing angles can hide potholes and this is the real reason for avoiding puddles.
The puddle will contain more road oil than the rest of the surface
Myth: I can see the logic in this idea, as the puddle is obviously lower than the rest of the road surface and could be holding all kinds of debris. But oil will not sink as much as flows across the top of water as a slick. Usually seen as rainbow across the water’s surface. Also of note these oil slicks usually dissipate after the first 30 to 60 minutes of rain. Early on in the rain these oil slicks are the most treacherous to cyclists.
I will get grit in my drive line
True: Puddles will hold more grit than the rest of the road surface but due to wet road conditions you are going to get grit in your drive line and bearings either way.
It will become harder to brake if I ride through puddles
Maybe: Really you are going to have a tough time braking with rim brakes no matter where you are on a wet road. Just take time to recognize the problem and give yourself a little extra time to stop. Also feather brakes before starting to brake in an effort to squeegee the brake surface to clear the water before harder braking.
Not having any of this information still does not justify behaving like a squirrel while riding in the rain! The same rules of pack riding and bike handling apply to wet weather roads. While we do not use many or any verbal cues in races like we do in club rides we should still be predictable in the rain!
While in the heat of a race or in a haze of lactic acid it is very easy to make sharp line corrections without thinking of yours or your competitor’s safety. If you find that you are doing this in races often, and I don’t just mean road races this also applies to Duathletes and Triathletes out there, you maybe riding to hard or need some more training.
Be safe other there!
Until next time,
Train Smarter Not Harder