The National Weather Service tells everyone, including cyclists, “When thunder roars, go indoors.” Up to 70% of lightning-related incidents occur from June to August, and the cycling season is from May to September, so there’s significant overlap. Does it really matter?
What is the best thing to know when biking in a thunderstorm? I’ll bust a few myths, tell you the truth about the risks, and share what to do to stay safe.
When biking in a thunderstorm, the best thing to do is get out of the storm as quickly as possible. Cyclist can and do get struck by lightning especially if you are grouped together with other cyclists. Although your bike doesn’t attract lightning, it does increase your chances of getting struck due to greater mass and height.
To see all of my up-to-date recommendations for bikes and cycling gear, check out this resource that I made for you!
Is It Safe To Bike In A Thunderstorm
It is not safe to bike in a thunderstorm or even near one. Lightning can strike up to 25 miles away from the actual downpour.
Moreover, the rain itself is a significant problem. As soon as water hits pavement, it causes the oils from cars to rise to the surface, making riding more slippery and dangerous than you might expect.
It also fills up potholes and obscures them from sight. Moreover, rain can make it hard to see.
Is Biking In A Thunderstorm Dangerous
Biking in a thunderstorm is definitely dangerous. You should avoid riding during extreme weather conditions if at all possible.
The old adage about your chances being 1 in a million is not valid. Not only are they higher because cycling means you spend more time outdoors, but the stakes were always higher than that anyhow.
As the CDC points out, “Lightning is one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities. But the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are only around 1 in 500,000. However, some factors can put you at greater risk for being struck… Lightning most often strikes people who work outside or engage in outdoor recreational activities.”
Chances Of Getting Struck By Lightning On A Bike
A pervasive and harmful rumor says rubber tires on a bike will help ground you and protect you from lightning. Sadly, it’s not remotely true.
While rubber can act as an insulator and ground you, the amount on your tires is simply too thin to be of any use.
Sadly, there are around 49 lightning-related deaths per year and being on a bicycle has no studied effect on your chances either way.
However, since it adds height and a little mass, riding a bike should theoretically increase the probability of a strike.
The ‘good’ news is that there’s still a 90% chance you’ll survive getting struck by lightning.
However, the downside is living with the aftermath of a bolt up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5 times hotter than the sun’s surface, passing through your body.
Cycling In Strong Wind
You can’t always cycle in strong winds, but when should you park it and wait until the weather passes?
To put it in perspective, 20 mph winds will move small trees, and if it’s a headwind, this is often too much for inexperienced cyclists to handle safely.
By the time the wind white 30 mph, experienced cyclists will start struggling even if they’re powerful riders.
Finally, when the wind speed reaches over 40 mph, it is officially a gale. There is no good reason to try and ride in this level of wind. It’s not safe even for professionals.
Mountain Biking In A Thunderstorm
Mountain biking in a thunderstorm is not safe. Just as you would with a road bike, or any other type, seek shelter and get off your MTB.
The chances of getting hit by lightning, tossed off your bike by wind or suffering a slip and crash accident are high enough that you shouldn’t risk it.
Instead, wait out the storm and descend as safely and quickly as possible.
What To Do If You Get Caught In A Thunderstorm While Cycling
Hopefully, you have learned enough to know when to get off the road if you are riding outdoors.
Anytime it rains, even when there’s no thunder, you should stop riding if possible.
Additionally, you should always bring a raincoat suited to the season and your local climate on your bike and check the weather before you leave the house.
Even doing all these things, you can still get caught cycling in a thunderstorm, so here are some quick tips on what to do.
1 – Stay Warm & Dry
Remember that jacket I mentioned? It will help if you put it on at the first sign of rain.
Staying warm and dry is for your health rather than your safety, but it should always be your first thought when the rain hits.
2 – Seek Shelter
Whenever possible, you should literally get to the nearest available building. Park your bike and go inside.
Then stay there until 30 minutes after the last strike has passed. Unfortunately, any shelter exposed to the elements like a porch, overhang, or open-sided park structure will only stop rain from soaking you.
It’s better than nothing, but not enough to prevent a lightning strike.
3 – Never Group Together
Not every ride is lucky enough to be near a publicly accessible building. Theoretically, if you are cycling alone, this next bit won’t be a problem, but you need to know if you are in a group of any kind.
For those in peloton groups and crowded areas, it’s vital to understand that grouping together increases your collective mass.
As unpredictable and wild as lightning is, we know it likes more mass most of the time.
4 – Don’t Even Stand Together
Move apart once you’ve stopped and gotten as much shelter as possible. This means you need to separate from your bicycle, and so do other people nearby.
It’s essential not to huddle together or pair up because the more positively charged mass you lump together closely, the more likely lightning will strike there.
Go solo and put space between your body and everything else nearby.
Helpful Tips To Know About Biking In A Thunderstorm
It would be best if you were not out biking in a thunderstorm. It’s never worth risking your life, but life happens, and you may get stuck out in the rain someday.
Here are more helpful tips to know about biking in a thunderstorm.
- According to the National Weather Service, “The presence of metal has no bearing on where lightning will strike. Mountains are made of rock but get struck by lightning many times a year. Rather, an object’s height, shape, and isolation are the dominant factors that affect its likelihood of being struck by lightning. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct electricity, so stay away from metal fences, railings, bleachers, etc., during a thunderstorm.”
- Here is the truth behind two dangerous lightning myths. First, laying flat on the ground won’t stop you from getting struck by lightning. Second, taking shelter under a tree is a terrible idea and leads to many lightning-based fatalities.
- A good rule of thumb is to assume that you are in danger anytime you can hear or see a distant thunderstorm. Seek a safe shelter inside a fully enclosed building or vehicle with a hardtop.
The most important thing to know about cycling in a thunderstorm is always to check the weather and don’t go riding at all.
Biking in a storm is a bad plan. The water on the road can bring up oils and hide potholes or other dangers.
Meanwhile, the wind and rain can make it hard for you to ride and cause accidents.
While the lightning risk isn’t super-high, it is higher than you’d expect, and there are other hazards to consider, so it’s best to avoid bicycling in thunderstorms.