I was all stressed out from work and just wanted to pedal it away. As I got geared up to ride it started to rain. Can I ride my mountain bike in the rain?
Riding a mountain bike in the rain can be a thrilling experience. However, mountain biking in wet weather requires special skills and gear considerations. For example, braking on wet trails requires more anticipation and a gradual brake lever squeeze to maintain control.
Is riding a mountain bike in the rain worth it?
One of the things I find attracts people to mountain biking is the sense of adventure. Nothing makes me feel more like a kid than riding a bike in the woods — unless it’s riding a bike in the woods in the rain.
Don’t get me wrong. I prefer nice firm trails that let you fully enjoy the ride, but a little variety isn’t bad. Some of my most epic rides took place when most people were holed up inside their homes.
General tips for wet weather MTB riding
Here are some guidelines for riding in the wet. Later we’ll consider wet weather gear. When the trails get wet:
- It takes longer to stop, so apply the brakes early. Anticipate curves.
- Slippery trails mean less control. Brake gradually (“feather”) or pump the brakes.
- Ride straight through the middle of puddles (except when the puddle is a mini-lake).
- On wet downhills, think 70% rear brake and 30% percent front.
- Go over obstacles, like roots, with your tire path cutting right through the middle (perpendicular to the root).
- Skinnier tires with a lot of space between the knobs work best in the mud.
- If the mud is too deep and dense, consider a street assault ride.
- Clean and dry your bike immediately after a wet/muddy ride.
Now let’s dig a little deeper into the subject.
Mountain bike braking in wet conditions
The most important riding technique in the rain is braking. Biking in the rain is more dangerous since you have less control over your bike. It’s extremely important to scan ahead on the trail and brake early.
Wet brakes don’t grab as well compared to when they are dry. The brake pads have to squeegee off moisture before they engage the rim or disc. Braking with anticipation will prevent most accidents in wet conditions.
Try not to slam on the brakes. If the surface is wet or muddy, you’ll slide out. Still, even with gradual braking you might slide. When this happens, release the brake until you regain control, then apply the brake again if needed.
More wet weather braking techniques
In the wet, I like to feather the brakes. This means gradual pressure to slow down. Like I said, if the tires start to slide out from under me, I release, regain control then feather again.
You can also pump the brakes like when driving a car. The idea is to scrub off speed so you can coast through curves. So slow down well before the turn. Applying the brakes in a wet turn can be a sure way to eat a tree. If you must, use the feathering technique.
Water and mud crossings
Unless it’s been raining for days, most puddles have a firm floor. This means you can ride straight through the middle. This also helps prevent trail widening and erosion. If you want to finesse around the puddle, go ahead, but it’s not nice.
If you encounter a big puddle, there’s a good chance the water has stood for a while, and the bottom will swallow your tire. I usually dismount and hike around giving the water a wide berth.
For streams, enter the water at a steady speed and pedal as smoothly as possible. There’s a good chance you’ll spin your tires some, but keep pedalling until you reach the other side or take a dunk. Use a similar technique when you hit a slippery mud patch.
Wet and muddy climbs
Sometimes you can grind it out and get to the top. If it’s too steep and slick though, you probably end up walking. If you can, hoist your bike onto your shoulders. This avoids the tires from accumulating even more mud.
MTB descending on wet trails
This can be one of the most dangerous types of riding. If you lose control you could be looking at a serious injury. So my official advice is get off and walk or slide down.
For those who choose to ride it, slide back in the saddle to get more weight over your rear wheel. There are those who will say even distribution is better, but when it’s really slick, those rules don’t apply.
Slide back and use about 30% front brake and 70% rear. Your rear tire will probably fishtail back and forth, so you have to surf it a bit.
Conquering solid trial obstacles in the rain
The hardest falls on wet MTB trails are usually on slick roots. If you don’t hit them dead on, your your bike disappears from under you, and a sensitive body part smacks down on the root.
Be especially careful with rocks. If they look slippery, they probably are. If it’s one big rock, try to hop over or walk it. If you’re in a baby head rock field, you can sometimes wiggle and bounce through until you get to the other side.
Tire choice for mud riding. Are fat tire bikes better?
The best treads shed mud. If the knobs are too close together, they get caked. I prefer a narrow profile tire with widely spaced knobs. This allows the tire to dig down through the mud to find solid traction.
Some people say fat tire bikes are better, and it’s true in some circumstances and mud types. For example, mud that sticks will accumulate on fat tires even more. The next thing you know your bike weighs 100 pounds.
More liquid-type mud allows for fat tires to float. Still, if you’re going to buy a fat tire bike just for mud riding, it might not be worth the money.
Is it ever too wet to ride a MTB?
If it’s been raining for days, forget about it. When your wheel sinks in mud up to the hubs, you’re not riding anywhere.
One time, my buddy and I set out to ride in near hurricane conditions. The rain came at us in horizontal sheets, and we could barely move against the wind. That ride ended fast.
Urban assault option for wet conditions
If the trails are too muddy, and you still have the itch to ride, consider a street ride. If you live near an urban center, exploring the city in the rain can be an adventure. All the wet riding rules still apply though (brake anticipation, etc.).
Remember cars might not see you in the rain, so ride defensively. Also, paint on the road at crosswalks is notoriously slippery. Roll over gently without braking or turning if you can.
You might even mix trail and street assault if you ride in a city park. Pick the trails that drain water best then round out the rest of the ride on pavement.
Mountain bike riding in the rain – gear considerations
If it’s really raining, you’re going to get wet. That being said, keep your upper body somewhat dry to avoid hypothermia. A light waterproof shell is perfect.
From the waist down, there’s nothing you can do to stay dry. Ride with it.
Eyewear will get cluttered with moisture, but use it anyway. Mud flicking up into your eye is no fun. If the rain is heavy, you might have to ditch the shades though.
Bike pedals clogged with mud
Clipless pedals are better in the mud since you might slip on flat pedals. Still, if your cleats or pedals get clogged with mud, it’s a pain. If the mud isn’t too thick, you can sometimes squirt it off with a water bottle.
Here’s a little trick I use when my cleats get gunked up with mud. I pedal and tap my shoe against the chain stay part of the frame. Then I bang the pedal a bit to loosen the mud. This usually works enough for me to clip in.
If there’s enough mud, don’t be surprised if you can’t disengage your shoe from the pedal. Another tactic is to clip in and out a few times to clear the shoe clamp mechanism.
The mysterious weight gaining bike
As you know, I’m a geeky gram counter. You can imagine my surprise then when a bike of mine actually gained weight. It was outfitted with lightweight components and the frame was light too, but it felt heavy anyway.
When I weighed the bike, it had gained weight from the time I had bought it. I thought I was going crazy. One day, I removed the seat post, and it was wet at the end. I turned the frame upside-down, and water came streaming out. Case closed.
Water gets in some frames. It could be dual suspension bikes that have more holes in them. Some advocate drilling a hole in the bottom bracket for drainage. I just drained the frame after each wet ride.
Is riding in the rain bad for my mountain bike?
The short answer is yes, rain is bad for bikes. Still, most higher end components and frames are made from rust resistant materials.
If you are super careful with your bike and want it to last forever, then avoid the rain. If you ask me though, a wet ride now and again won’t make a big difference in bike lifespan. Components might not last as long, but again, the difference is probably negligible.
Now all this is true only if you…
Wash and dry your bike after each wet ride
At the end of the ride, you’re tired, wet and maybe cold. The last thing you want to do is wash your bike. Do it anyway. Washing of wet mud is way easier than after it dries and cakes on.
Also, the sooner you wash, the sooner you dry it. Use an absorbent towel and try to dry as many nooks and crannies as you can. Gently bounce the bike on the tires to shake off excess water.
Finally, get a rag and dry off the chain. If there’s any place corrosion will set in due to rain, it’s at the chain.
Save the lube for later
Avoid lubricating your bike immediately after a wet ride. Let it dry a bit first, otherwise you mix oil and water. WD40 is not a good bike lube, but it is good for cleaning hard to reach places to dispel dirt or moisture.
Blast the area with WD40 then wipe it super clean with a rag. If needed, apply regular lube to the component.
Brake and shifting cables will wear out faster with frequent wet riding. If you have the time, loosen the housing and wipe off with a dry cloth. Then you can apply a super thin coat of lube and wipe off the excess with a rag.
Is mountain biking in the rain bad for the trails?
A lot of this depends on trail design. I’ve ridden amazing trails that shed water so that mud is nearly non-existent except after many days of rain. Other trails create near permanent mosquito lagoons that are not woods friendly.
Most good trails recover well after wet rides. Some purists might not agree, but again, I think bad trail engineering does more damage than tire tracks left behind by bikes.
Not ideal, but not bad either
Of course I prefer a crisp blue sky day way over mud riding. But battling the elements adds something else to your riding experience. Plus, it sharpens your braking and handling skills.
I prefer not to ride in the rain, but I prefer to ride rather then not. So get out there.