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How to Pick and Set Up the Perfect Rain Bike – and Why Every Cyclist Should have One

July 2017
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Across the pond in England, they call it a winter bike.  I call it a rain bike, my dedicated, “better than 15% chance of rain” bike… because not only was the good bike expensive, replacement parts are freaking ridiculous.  We call it a rain bike over in the US because they don’t get snow in the UK like we get snow, and there’s no riding a road bike in the snow.  Skinny tires are hard enough in the rain, dude!

The quintessential modern American Rain Bike

Ideally, the responsible way to pick a rain bike is to relegate the old A bike to rain bike status when you get a new A bike.  At least that’s how I did it until I bought my Specialized.  

My first rain bike was a Cannondale, all aluminum with a chro-mo fork…  Riding on an actual railroad rail would only be slightly less comfortable:

I could still make this beast average 20 mph though

Ultimately, the rain bike will be set-up quite close to the A bike – and thus why I like relegating the old A bike to rain bike status.  The closer the two bikes are in set-up, the more seamless it will be to transition between the two when the weather has a chance of getting nasty.

Now, say money wasn’t an object (it is) and I wanted to keep the Trek as an heirloom bike, updating the components.  My A bike is a Specialized Venge:

It just so happens that I know the next best thing to a Venge is an Allez.  There are minor differences of course, but I should be able to match the set-up on the Venge easily.  Let’s say I had a Tarmac for an A bike, I would go with a Secteur or Roubaix.  Those pairings in Specialized’s line-up match up in geometry fairly close.

Now, let’s get into how I know this, because most people won’t know how in God’s name to figure out which geometries work within a bike line:  I took a factory photo of an Allez, made it transparent, and placed it over a factory photo of a Venge.  The only difference to work around is the head tube height on the cheaper Allez models.  Now, if you have a shop owner who builds frames, they can look at the published geometry numbers….  I don’t have the time to apprentice for him so I can learn how the numbers work.

 Beyond that, because my rain bike has a vastly different geometry from my A bike (they’re even different sizes), I transferred the numbers from the A bike to the rain bike then took both bikes to the shop to have them compared.  I’m as close as I can get the two bikes.  I paid attention when the Trek and Venge were fitted to me, so I know what to measure and how to change the set-up.  Simple as that.

One more thing to consider….

There’s a neat reason I like my 5200 for my rain bike:  Easy Access Repairs.  I have completely stripped down and put back together my Trek.  I can change a brake or shifter cable in minutes.  I have internal routing on the Venge so it’s a little tricky should a cable fray while I’m up north on a road trip in the middle of a four day tour.  This is a tiny point, though.  Barely worth mentioning, but still, a fair point indeed.

In the end, I want my Venge to operate flawlessly for as long as possible so I prefer to have a rain bike should we be heading out under a chance of rain.  The rain bike takes the abuse so the A bike can shine. 

Worse case scenario, and this is what I really appreciate, with a rain bike in the stable I never have to miss a day on the bike with my friends should the A bike go down and have to spend some time at the shop for a repair.

Of course, there is one other non-option:  Take a day off every time you think it’s going to rain…. but that’d be silly.

UPDATE:  Ian, in the comments section, offered that a good idea for a rain bike is to go with a cyclocross bike.  This way, gravel roads are opened up as well.  It’s an excellent idea.


8 Comments

  1. Ian says:

    There is another option.. a cx bike 🙂 then rough roads, mud and rain are shrugged off 🙂 the heavy bike makes you a monster in the summer too!

  2. Also in the UK a “proper” winter/rain bike will have full length guards! Nobody wants a face full of salty goad grime served cold off a club mate’s rear wheel, haha!

    • MJ Ray says:

      There you touch on why it’s a winter bike, not a rain bike: it’s for when government salts the roads, so you’ve only one bike to clean that evil corrosive mix off of. Who cares about rain? It rains almost half the days in summer when you live on a small island, so just use the main bike for that.

  3. joliesattic says:

    All good stuff here. Oh, the guards. There’s nothing worse than eating dirt, much less trying to take out skunk marks off your clothes. Rain travel at your own risk. LOL

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