In a lot of states, motorists are required to turn on their headlights in the rain, even if there's enough daylight. They might wonder why, if they can see just fine, they need additional light. It's not for their benefit, though -- they're to make the car more visible to other drivers. The same principle applies when you're biking. You should ideally have appropriate lights with you at all times, but you really need them when you're riding in the rain. Think of all the extra things you're concentrating on -- speed, traction, the nice change of dry clothes that awaits you -- and chances are, most of the drivers on the road are coping with the same distractions. Your problem is, though, that you're smaller and less visible. Safe rain riding is similar to night riding -- if you make sure you're visible, you'll be in pretty good shape. Make sure that you're wearing reflective clothing and have lights on your bike and helmet, and don't assume that drivers and other bikers see you.
You can ride in the rain on any bicycle; your technique and the bike's overall condition are more important than the type of bike. That said, some types of equipment will make a smoother ride. Average tires are fine as long as they're inflated properly and have good tread -- this isn't the time to run racing tires. Using fenders, though cumbersome, will help keep you and your bike cleaner. Full-size fenders keep splashing to a minimum, and there are versions that can be quickly attached and detached.
Post-ride cleanup will keep your bike in safe condition. Rinse off your bike with clean water and rub it down with a towel to discourage rust from forming; there's no need to hang it upside down if it's toweled off. Lubricate your chain, brake and shifter cables after they've dried off. Wax or lube will also prevent your bike's bolts and seat post from rusting or seizing, but you'll still be able to wrench on them. Cleaning your brakes after a wet ride will prevent grit from embedding in the pads, which will prolong your pads' life and reduce scratches on your wheels. UltraCycling Magazine recommends a more thorough checkup every 2 weeks to ensure bad weather isn't causing your bike to deteriorate.
Considering the perils your bike might suffer, it seems inevitable that cycling in the rain will have a messy, uncomfortable outcome for the cyclist. On the next page, we'll discuss how your options for rain gear to help you stay as dry and comfortable as possible.