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I'm used to riding on a MTB, but since I've got a new road bike, I'm quite paranoid about the slick tyres. How good are they in wet weather? I'm scared of braking too hard, or even just turning!!

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The hazard is not wet roads but muddy, scummy, or oily roads. Clean asphalt or concrete will give good traction, wet or dry. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 24 '12 at 18:33

11 Answers 11

up vote 24 down vote accepted

They're fine. I live outside of Vancouver so I'm already riding in wet a few days a week some weeks. Just this morning I was coming down the backside of a climb at 70km and they were totally secure.

Since the tires are so narrow they don't suffer from hydroplaning. The biggest thing to worry about is painted lines and manhole covers (or other metal covers on the road). Both are very slick when wet. I've always been careful but I know a number of other riders that have gone down cornering hard on both types of surfaces.

You're right to leave yourself extra room to brake. Also don't forget to account for reduced visibility for both you and cars.

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Agree. Slick tires are probably actually better for wet conditions than anything with tread, since they maximize your contact area. The "anti-hydroplaning" tread features on a car tire are probably wider than your whole tire, and you're going much slower; even motorcycles don't really hydroplane. –  freiheit Sep 16 '10 at 21:27
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Another thing is to shop for tires with a "grippier" rubber compound. –  user313 Sep 17 '10 at 0:06
    
Bicycle tires are, in general, too narrow to hydroplane, regardless of tread. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 24 '12 at 18:34
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Particularly on a road bike, wet brakes don't work as well, this can be more of a problem than tires not holding on. –  mattnz Jun 25 '12 at 1:36

Since autumn is coming here (northern hemisphere), fallen leaves are very slippery.

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Wet leaves == Nature's teflon. –  Adam Franco Sep 18 '10 at 3:00

3 great answers here already, but I'll just add: ride more cautiously. You can ride safely in the rain, but you have to remember that the road will be a bit slicker and your brakes will likely be much less effective. Don't corner too hard and brake earlier than normal. When I know a stop is coming up, I usually give the brakes a light squeeze early on to dry them off and warm up the rims a bit.

And as curtismchale pointed out, watch out for drivers. They'll have the same reduced braking capacity and dramatically reduced visibility (I can see much better cycling in the rain versus driving, due to water and reflections on the windows). Dress in bright clothing, use plenty of reflective tape and bring some nice bright lights.

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It's (almost) completely safe, but you can help yourself:

  • Avoid manhole covers, you'll often wheel spin if you're not careful
  • be wary of coloured road surfaces and lines, London has just ludicrous amounts of painted tarmac (and the new 'cycle superhighways' are some of the worst)
  • take a wee bit of speed off, you'll still get there, but give yourself a little more time to look at the surface coming up
  • keep your weight balanced, especially when descending, you'll be more secure if you can maximise the grip on both wheels
  • ride a little further out than normal, cars passing you need to give you more space, so make yourself more obvious
  • mentally I prefer a tyre with some grip, rather than completely slick, but I know that many people think that there's little effective difference
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+1 about those ****ing Boris lanes –  Jonny Cundall Sep 17 '10 at 9:24
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You might also want to watch out for tram tracks, depending on where you live. Bad in the dry, diabolical in the wet. –  Anthony K Sep 18 '10 at 2:14

From my experience the biggest loss in grip between MTB tires and slicks is on the sand (especially sand on tarmac), mud and snow. On ice there is no grip in either case.

On wet surface the slicks are actually better and this makes the border conditions thinner, you either grip well or skid completely.

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+1 for the border conditions point. I find that the margins are just as wide or even wider with road tires compared to MTB tires, but once you skid, you go down. –  jilles de wit Sep 17 '10 at 9:24

The other answers covered this quite well, but I ca speak from recent personal experience. I got a Bike Friday Tikit with skinny, treadless Kojak tires earlier this year, and I had the same concerns you do -- should I ride in the rain or not?

TekTro R530 brakes over Schwalbe Kojaks

As you can see in the picture, I do ride this bike in the rain and it grips wet pavement as well as the tires on my touring bike, possibly better. I would avoid snow and ice, but wet isn't a problem. I would swap out the tires on my touring bike, but I do take that on gravel paths from time to time, and I'd like some tread for that!

Just get ready for the wiseacres who'll kid you about those "worn-out" tires! (I got that almost every day at work in the elevator.)

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As you ride in the wet, try to plan your trip around all of the slippery surfaces already mentioned. When you cannot, try to stop turning and braking until clear of the bad stuff, then get back on it.

I wanted to comment on surfaces others have mentioned, with "that's the worst" or "this is even worse than that!"...but anything besides clean pavement can be a hazard.

Something else you might do if planning to ride: realize that visibility for drivers goes way down; get lotsa lights. I keep a front flasher going throughout the day, as well as a regular tail light and a helmet-mounted tail light. The best bike I saw, the rider had colored light sticks on his spokes, lights on his handlebar ends, saddle, helmet, 2 headlights. It seemed like overkill, but I could see him through a rain-spattered windshield easily. Remember, being hit by a car once is worse than multiple slips and falls.

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In addition to all of the suggestions already, and slightly off-topic, if you're riding your bike in heavy rain and you're on skinny wheels and tyres be very careful when riding through puddles.

Even apparently shallow puddles can conceal fairly deep potholes and a buckled wheel or being thrown off your bike into the path of oncoming traffic could put a serious dampener on your enjoyment of the ride or prevent you making it to work completely (if it's a commute).

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Be particularly careful on reflective paint such as the markings of the pedestrian crosswalk omnipresent on corners/turns. Do not brake on this surface as you are cornering or you will go down.

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i have a specialized allez bike with a rear tire that's a little worn out (TACX trainer is to blame... i'm buying a new tire soon),

and i've gone down hard on Friday - riding on two manhole covers that were apparently wet... not much fun...

luckily i wasn't going fast - so it ended with bruises and blue marks on my left leg and hand...

be safe and watch what you're riding on...

Dan

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Slick Road tires are NOT safe in the wet. Bicycles do not go fast to enough to even consider the hydroplaning argument. As the road get wet the imperfections in the asphalt, that actually provide grip, fill up with water, oil, road gunk making the road and the tire very slick. If the tire now cannot channel any water away you are glass on glass. If you add cooler temperatures to this you now have harder rubber and severely reduced traction. Watch a motorcycle road race on tv. Their rain race tires have very aggressive tread patterns and soft rubber. Slick are only used in the dry and that is the only time you should trust them.

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Bike racers race in the rain all the time, often without going to any different tread pattern than in the dry. They just lower tire pressure and avoid the line paint. –  tpg2114 Oct 20 '12 at 19:10
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I'm surprised that you mention that hydroplaning isn't an issue due to the relatively low speeds of bicycles and then go on to compare them to motorcycle racing. Furthermore, the narrowness, higher tire pressure, and shape of a bicycle tire are a far greater detrerrant to hydroplaning than the lower speed of a bicycle. sheldonbrown.com/tires.html#hydroplaning and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaplaning –  jimirings Nov 20 '12 at 18:11

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