Whether it’s riding in the rain for a commute or just leaving your bike on the balcony without a tarp, your bike is going to get wet at some point. It’s just a given for the majority of bikes, except for those that remain unused and indoors most of the time. That leaves new cyclists with a big question.
Can a bicycle get wet? Will it damage my bike or chain?
Wet weather will affect your bicycle if you don’t do anything about it. Getting a bike wet for short periods won’t cause any damage on its own. If your bike ends up wet, you should take care of it but even if you ignore it for a few days it won’t destroy the bike. That said, you shouldn’t just ignore a bike getting wet. Make sure to dry it as soon as possible.
So, you’re not looking at a bike-destroying event if you leave your bike in the rain or ford some small streams early in a ride.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Keep reading, and we’ll answer the following questions.
Is It Okay for a Bike to Get Rained On?
Rain is only a problem if you don’t take care of the bike afterward. Being poured on during a ride or leaving the bike outdoors on a few rainy days won’t destroy your bike. That said, you will have to do some extra maintenance to keep it in tip-top shape.
The majority of components on your bike don’t care much about water in the short term. The killer is long-term exposure to rain without performing any maintenance.
It’s not a single rain that causes damage, so much as the bike being forgotten about when it’s raining. It’s not uncommon for recreational riders to not ride during the off-season, and if the bike is left outdoors it can develop some serious problems with rust.
The takeaway is that your bike will be fine if it rains a few times, but if you leave it outdoors all season you’re setting yourself up for a big problem for your next ride.
Can a Bike Chain Get Wet?
A bike chain will continue to function when it gets wet, but if it remains wet for a long time you’re going to have problems with rust. Choose your lubricant wisely if you live in an area with frequent rain, but it’s always best practice to dry off the chain and sprockets whenever they get wet.
The chain is one of the most vulnerable parts of your bike, at least when it comes to weather. Those who live in high humidity environments already know how bad moisture can get on an unmaintained chain.
Getting the chain wet is fine, just make sure that you dry and inspect the chain when you’re done with your ride. Or before the ride, if prolonged rain exposure was the cost.
Can Bike Disc Brakes Get Wet?
Disc brakes function better than V-brakes in wet conditions for the most part. You may get a bit of squealing but the brakes should continue to function as normal since the clamped brake will shed water quickly.
Braking will always be a bit more difficult when the bike is wet, but disc brakes will still function near-normal when they’re wet.
If you have V-brakes, on the other hand, test your brakes thoroughly before you begin any longer rides. They don’t brake nearly as well in wet conditions, so you need to know how much delay you’ll experience before riding.
Is It Okay to Spray / Wash Your Bike?
It’s perfectly fine to spray down or wash your bike. You shouldn’t use anything high pressure to spray it down, a garden hose is fine. You can also do a more in-depth cleaning once a month or so to keep your bike’s performance tip-top. The important part is making sure it’s dry when you’re done.
Spraying down bikes after a ride is almost a ritual for many mountain bikers, and a lot of road bikers do a full cleaning every 25-30 rides. Neither is harmful to the bike, as long as you dry everything.
When washing your bike, use a mild detergent like Dawn. Just make sure that it all comes off when you’re finished, especially on areas like the chain where the degreasing action can work inside and cause lubrication issues.
Pressure washers are a terrible idea. They can pack water into your bearings, tear off paint, and cause a lot of problems.
For a full wash, just use a bucket and rags. Wash down all parts and avoid using anything abrasive on the frame or you’ll damage the paint. If you’re a perfectionist, you can go even further in cleaning your bike for the best results.
Remember not to mix the water used on greasy parts of the drive train and other parts like your handlebars and frame. Otherwise, you may end up with even more cleaning before the end of the day.
How to Dry a Bike Properly
Drying out your bike is just as important as washing it.
A simple towel usually does the trick, just make sure you get all of the following:
Take extra care with anywhere that things are attached and on the chain and sprockets of the drive train. The chain is one of the most important parts to dry thoroughly, otherwise, rust is going to be the consequence.
One quick tip: try using compressed air on the chain and other intricate parts to get water out from where your towel can’t reach. You’ll need to make sure your chain is entirely dry before you go on to lubricating it.
What about drying your bike seat or helmet? Check out the following articles to know how:
- Can Bike Seats Get Wet? (How to Dry and Protect Them)
- Can Bike Helmets Get Wet? (Rain and Washing Guide)
Clean and Lubricate Your Bike Chain
If your chain is particularly dirty, you may need to use a degreasing compound on it. In many cases, just a sponge or rag with a bit of dish soap will get it clean enough.
In extreme cases, you may need a specialized degreasing agent. You can usually find them at your local bike store.
Most of the time, you’ll just want to clean the exterior of the chain. The oil or other lubricant stacked up in the rollers of the chain are what you need and you don’t want to remove them.
If you remember nothing else: clean from the exterior, oil on the interior. Especially if your chain is still dusty. The interior of the chain should be oiled, but if you do it on the outside you can help dust and grit go farther into the chain.
Dry lubricant is applied in a similar fashion, and it’s often considered a good choice in warmer conditions. We’ll touch on the differences in lubricants in a moment.
If you need a visual for getting your chain cleaned, you’re in luck:
Wet vs Dry Bike Lubricant
There are two types of bike chain lubricants. Dry lube and wet lube, both have their place and people who ride in a variety of conditions throughout the year may want both on hand.
The traditional “chain oil” used for bikes is a wet lubricant. These oils adhere to the metal in a thin coat, creating a protected area with reduced friction on the chain.
You shouldn’t just use any lubricant, however, especially since some oils aren’t good for bike chains. 3-in-1 is the most famous example of an oil not suitable for a bike chain.
Others attempt to use WD-40, which actually isn’t really a lubricant in the first place. It’ll break free rusted parts, but the chain will shed it rapidly and you’re better off with a heavier lubricant for your bike’s chain.
Wet lubricants are what most cyclists use, just out of familiarity.
Their biggest advantage is that they’re “sticky” and will resist water. If you’re regularly fording streams or riding in inclement weather then a wet lubricant will help keep maintenance down.
Where wet lubricants begin to have problems is in dusty conditions. That same “sticky” property that lets them adhere to your chain also collects dust, sand, and other debris over time. That increases wear on your chain and other drive chain components.
Wet lubricants are great if you’re regularly getting your bike wet, but in dry conditons you may need to change your chain more often.
Dry lubricants for bike chains are made of waxes and other slippery, but non-liquid, components. They’re applied in a similar manner to wet lubricants, and some even come in a liquid form before drying and forming a lubricating layer.
Dry lubricants are great for dusty conditions. They’re not sticky so they don’t collect a bunch of dirt while you’re out riding, and they last for a long time in those conditions.
The important part is that they don’t collect dirt and dust, which reduces wear and maintenance costs if you’re constantly riding during the dry season.
Where they suffer is when you’re riding in wet conditions. The water-resistance of dry lubricants ranges from “absolutely terrible” to “disappears with high humidity.” They’re just not the right lubricant for all riding conditions.
Dry lubricants are awesome, but water makes them disappear. They’re best used in dry conditions.