Condensed Answer: A road bike can be ridden on wet pavement, but the rider has to take extra precautions to avoid loss of balance and a potential accident.
Riding on pavement requires more calculated actions and the elimination of sudden maneuvers.
The Downsides Of Riding On Wet Pavement
- Rim brakes lose effectiveness
One of rim brakes’ major shortcomings is that they’re slower and less effective in the rain because the rim gets contaminated due to its proximity to the tire.
As a result, the first few rotations of the wheel during braking are essentially cleaning the rim. Only then do the brake shoes grab the rim wall with full force.
For that reason, some cyclists purposefully feather the brakes to clean the rim and only then apply additional force. This strategy works when the rider can see clearly what’s in front of him and make the necessary planning. However, if sudden braking is required, rim brakes will not perform as well as disc models in the rain.
Disc brakes grab a rotor that is much smaller than the rim and further away from the tire. Consequently, disc brakes don’t lose their stopping power in wet conditions. Hence why you see them on MTBs all the time.
- Slippery Surfaces
When the road is wet, the non-slipper sections become slippery and the naturally slippery segments become even slicker.
This necessitates the following precautions:
1. Be aware of metal elements on the road such as water drain covers and tram tracks. In the wet, those become extremely slippery. If they’re “attacked” with a lot of speed and from an angle, the front wheel may slip and create an instant fall.
It’s recommended to avoid them completely if possible or at the very least slowdown. In some cases, it’s also wise to put one foot on the ground for extra support when passing.
2. Be careful when riding on colored surfaces (e.g., painted crosswalks, road lines…etc.) The layer of paint is slippery in the wet and can cause a fall.
3. Avoid puddles as they may be hiding potholes that can grab the front wheel and throw you off balance.
4. During rain, it’s harder to see and be seen. It’s recommended to have high-visibility clothing as well as strong front and rear lights.
4. Consider getting wider tires (25mm or above). The extra width increases the contact patch with the ground and consequently helps with friction. Another benefit of wider tires is that they often come with greater resistance to punctures.
- Contaminated Chain
The dirt and water on the road will quickly get onto the chain, especially if the bike has no fenders. As a result, the chain will become sticky. The common way to battle this phenomenon is to use chain lube designed specifically for wet conditions.
- Reduced Grip
Wet bar tape has reduced friction and can also create trouble.
- Dirt and Water Get Everywhere
Another problem is the water and dirt on the road. Since most road bikes aren’t equipped with fenders, all of it will get on the rider and the bike. The results are wet clothes and contaminated mech.
Hence why even some professionals put on fenders (at least a rear one) on their bikes when training during the cold months of the year.
- Dirt Roads Become Problematic
A road bike is fully capable of covering a bit of gravel. In fact, a lot of the roads part of The Tour De France were gravel back in the day.
However, in wet conditions, the slick tires found on road bikes experience problems because the gravel and dirt turn into mud, and it’s hard to keep consistent friction.
Also, most road bikes have small tire clearance. The extra mud on the tires can clog the wheels.
- Potential For More Punctures
Wet surfaces act as soft glue and make it easier for small pieces of glass and other sharp objects to stick to the tire. This increases the chances of getting a puncture.
FAQ: Is it true that slick tires are less stable in wet conditions?
It may come as a surprise, but slick tires (tires without knobs) are actually less slippery on the road than knobby tires because the contact patch with the ground is larger. For that reason, many consider the thread patterns found on some road tires just an ornament as they don’t do much to increase grip on asphalt.
FAQ: Can bicycles hydroplane?
Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, is a process during which the tires of a vehicle lose all traction with the ground due to the presence of water. To prevent this outcome, car tires have special tread patterns designed to push water away and preserve contact with the ground.
Bicycles do not experience hydroplaning because the contact patch with the ground is smaller and the speed is fairly low. The smaller the contact patch, the less likely it is for a tire to suffer from hydroplaning. The tires that are the most prone to hydroplaning are wide and small in diameter.
That said, a bike tire can still slip in wet conditions. However, this outcome is not the result of aquaplaning. The tire technically remains in contact with the ground the entire time.
Summary: What You Need To Know
A road bike can be ridden on wet pavement and in some cases can perform surprisingly well.
That said, the rider has to follow certain rules to avoid dangerous situations.
Below are some key tips:
1. Brake earlier than you would otherwise. Rim brakes lose effectiveness in the rain and the wet pavement increases the stopping distance due to the lower friction.
2. If you have rim brakes, it’s recommended to feather the brakes a bit before initiating braking so that the brake shoes clean the rim first.
3. Aggressive cornering should be avoided as it may result in the front tire slipping.
4. There is no need to put threaded tires on the bike because slicks offer better traction on asphalt thanks to the larger contact patch.
5. It’s necessary to wear high visibility clothes and use strong lights because wet conditions make it harder to see and be seen.
6. Without fenders the tires will quickly contaminate the bike and the rider’s clothing with water and dirt picked from the ground. This makes riding in the wet highly unpleasant.
7. The chain can also get contaminated with small debris from the road. Hence why it’s recommended to use wet lube during the months with a higher concentration of rain.